Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/1VCdrrkLx7w)
3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
1Then God spoke all these words:
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve dwelled in these ten commandments a couple times. First, we heard what Luther had to say on them in his small and large catechisms as we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation last year. Then, earlier this summer, we dedicated a 4-week sermon series to them. And here we are again reflecting on God’s commandments, yet with a focus on God’s covenant with us. You see, his commandments are a means of establishing a covenant with us just as He established covenants with Noah and Abraham. God uses Moses to establish boundaries to his kingdom here in this world. That’s what these 10 clear and concise rules do—they set parameters around which God’s kingdom can exist. If these rules are broken, then God’s kingdom can no longer exist for us. God wants us to know his kingdom in this world, not just the next world. God gave us these rules so that we might know his kingdom. This is the whole purpose of these rules—to show us God’s kingdom. I’d even take it one step further and assert that these rules are the keys to the Promised Land that God promised the Israelites so long ago. The Promised Land isn’t a destination per se. It is wherever God’s kingdom is found. But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
In reflecting on this week’s reading, I came across a quote that essentially summarizes God’s commandments. A man named Lou Holtz was quoted as saying, “I follow three rules: do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” Seems pretty straightforward, right? Dig a little deeper…how do we know what’s right? How do we know we’ve shown people we care? How do we know we’ve done the best we can? Well, by honoring God’s commandments of course! We know what’s right by loving and honoring God. We know we’ve shown people we care by not murdering them or sleeping with their spouses or stealing from them or lying about them or wanting what they have. We know we’ve done the best we can by keeping these commandments. Look, these are not easy commandments to keep. It is hard not to want what our neighbor has. It is hard not to ignore the needs of our neighbor. It is hard not to lie about our neighbor. It is hard to resist lustful urges. It is hard to set a day apart to rest and reflect on God’s blessings. It is hard to love God above all else. These are hard commandments and I challenge anyone to say otherwise. But, as with all difficult choices, the rewards are far greater than obeying easier commandments. Assurance and self-dignity are no small rewards. We live in a world with few assurances. Our jobs, our health, our families, our friends, our homes, our incomes, our futures…none of them are assured. We can lose all of them in a heartbeat. But God offers us unconditional assurance. We are assured of his unconditional and everlasting love. We are also assured of his order underneath all of the madness of this world. His commandments create an order that reflects a deep and abiding love. The madness and chaos of our world are the work of the Devil. He wants us destroyed, either by each other or the world around us. But God gives us order to fight the work of the Devil. Paul writes in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” (3:3) Our God gives us these commandments to shelter us from the chaos and destruction of the world.
Just as I know it is difficult keeping these commandments, I also know that keeping them can inflict great personal harm. This world doesn’t want order and assurance. This world is inclined towards disorder and doubt and fear. There are great forces in this world that resist God’s love and order. These forces will even try to destroy those who live in God’s love and order. When faced with such forces, I remind myself of David’s wisdom, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.” (Ps. 34:19) God doesn’t forget those He loves and who love him. God protects us from those who seek to harm us. We cling to the assurance of Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10) This is the God we know and love. This is the God whose commandments we obey!
Keeping his commandments reveals more than order and assurance. In keeping his commandments we have a part in revealing his kingdom. We are freed from our bondage to sin and enabled to build relationships with each other and with God, the very foundation of God’s kingdom. Relationships are the building blocks of God’s kingdom. When we are in harmonious relationship with God and each other, we are actually in God’s kingdom. What a gift to dwell in God’s kingdom! Let us give thanks for these commandments as the keys to God’s kingdom. God didn’t have to give them to us. God could have left us to succumb to the madness and chaos of this world. But out of his great love for us, He brings order and assurance. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.