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The Ten Commandments - Why They are Good News


I once heard a story about a young family that went to dinner at a pizza place and it was one of those open kitchen concept type restaurants where they’re cooking right in front of you. And there was some dough on the counter next to where this family was sitting. And one of their sons was just fascinated with the dough. And his parents said, hey, do not touch the dough. And so the little boy did what five year olds often do, he put his finger out like this, looked at his parents. And again they said, do not touch that dough. And so, the little boy touched the dough, grabbed it, took a bite of it, put it back on the counter and ran away.

His dad chased after him, caught up to him and said, “Okay, now you're going to have to go say you're sorry to the owner of the restaurant because he can't use the dough anymore. You disobeyed and now you’re going to have to live with the consequences.”

And here the little boy just started freaking out, crying hysterically, now causing an even bigger scene in the middle of this restaurant. Finally the little boy’s dad calmed him down, trying to figure out why he was losing it like this.

You see, the little boy thought that the owners of the restaurant were named Mr. And Mrs. Consequences, and that because of his actions, he was now going to have to live with “the Consequences.”

The dad gently reassured him that no, he didn’t have to go live with a couple total strangers, but that yes, he did have to go live with the consequences by going over and apologizing to the owner. And together the father and son got on the same page as to what it truly meant to “live with the consequences.”

Now, funny as it might be, I share this story with all of you because I think it paints an important picture as we begin our message and new sermon series this morning:

And that is, for kids and adults alike I think this story illustrates how we think about the purpose of the law of God in the Christian life today, where we sometimes think that God gives us his law, his commandments as a punishment for our own disobedience.

In other words, we as followers of Jesus today can sometimes think of God’s law and commands as God’s way of forcing us to “live with the consequences” of our own disobedience.

And this morning, and over these next 11 weeks, I’m here to tell you (and remind myself for that matter) that it is in fact just the opposite. Where God’s law and commandments are not a punishment, but rather a gift. Not a curse, but rather a blessing. Not a means of confinement, but rather freedom. As we’re about to see, and here’s our big idea for today, God’s law and commandments were given to a people who were set free so that they could live free.

And so, this morning, we begin a new sermon series on the 10 Commandments. Over this last year, many within our church have been going through a study called the New City Catechism, and during our time together we studied the 10 Commandments. I loved and benefitted from that part of the study so much that I thought to myself, I want our whole congregation to get in on this. And so from now through mid-September, we’re going to slowly savor and reflect on each commandment, looking at a different one each Sunday. And as for today, this morning’s message will serve as an introduction of sorts. We’ve got some groundwork to lay before we hit the ground running with the first commandment next Sunday.

So let’s get after it. Though we read all 10 of the Commandments moments ago, this morning, we’re mostly going to consider the implications of the first two introductory verses. As we’ll see here shortly, these opening two verses point us to a context and backstory that radically transforms how we understand these commands. Here again is what it says,

And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

And so begins the reading of the 10 Commandments.

These short opening verses alone remind us of a powerful truth, and that is, the 10 Commandments were given to a people who had just been set free so that they could live free, be free, stay free.

In fact, to show you how I arrived at that point, let’s back up even further, so that we can illustrate this truth all the more. We find the 10 Commandments in Exodus chapter 20 and here’s the 2 minute movie trailer of everything that has happened in Exodus thus far:

God’s people, the Israelites, were serving as slaves in the land of Egypt, under the oppressive rule of King Pharaoh. Day after day after day they toiled in the hot Egyptian sun stacking brick on brick on brick. They people cried out to God, “Save us, have mercy on us, free us!” And God heard his people. And so he raised up Moses as one of their leaders to speak to King Pharaoh. Moses told Pharaoh, God says, “let my people go!” and Pharaoh said, “No!” And so God brought plague after plague after plague, putting the pressure on Pharaoh to get him to change his mind … he sent down frogs and gnats, boils and hail, he turned water into blood, darkness into light. Moses kept saying, God says, “Let my people go!” and Pharoah, friends, it starts with an N, ends with an O, say it with me now people, just kept on saying, “No!” Until God brought down the greatest plague of all, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, where he wiped out the firstborn in every Egyptian family while sparing the Israelite families the same fate, and this time finally, before Moses could even finish saying, “Let my people go!” Pharoah said, “Get out!”

And so they did. But soon enough, Pharaoh had second thoughts. He liked having them as slaves and wanted them back in his possession. So Pharoah and his army began to chase them down and it looked as though they would, for God’s people were at the edge of the Red Sea, with nowhere to go, until God suddenly and miraculously separated the waters in two as if the water was jello. God’s people traveled safely through to the other side, then as Pharaoh and his army tried to cross, God brought the congealed waters back together again and destroyed their enemies once and for all.

God’s people had been set free. They were free at last! Finally! And it’s at this very moment that we find God saying …

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me … it’s the 10 Commandments!

Friends, do you see it? God did not give his people the law, the 10 Commandments, in order to re-enslave formerly enslaved people. Rather, he gave it as a way of further freeing newly freed people. The law, you see, was not a curse, but a blessing. Not a punishment for disobedience, but rather a charge, a calling for those he had chosen by name.

In other words, God invited his people to experience his grace and mercy and salvation and then called them to obey his law.

Now, think about that for a moment and how that informs our own understanding of the role and purpose of the law in the Christian life today.

Sometimes we can get caught up in knots and think to ourselves, you know these 10 Commandments, they’re an Old Testament relic, they’re a thing of the past. For Jesus has come, he died on the cross, he rose from the grave, now my sins have been forgiven, and since I've been saved by faith alone, in Christ alone, the law can be set aside, right? I can do whatever I want, whenever I want now, right?

Well, not so fast. After all, the playbook that once was continues to this day. It’s grace before law. Rescue before obedience. Salvation before commandments.

Like the Israelites long ago, this too is where we stand on this side of Jesus, as people who have experienced and received his grace and mercy and salvation, who have been freed from sin, we now obey his law, not in order to earn his love, but rather to reflect it.

After all, it was Jesus himself who said, “If you love me, obey my commands.”

Now that’s not to say that you and I are called to obey every single Old Testament Law. Many of them as the New Testament writers explain to us have been fulfilled through Jesus’s death and resurrection. And as to exactly which ones are still in effect and which ones aren’t is the subject of an entirely different sermon, it requires careful study and reflection, but just about everyone agrees that the 10 Commandments themselves are foundational for living the Christian life today.

And to demonstrate why this is the case, consider when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. He says the first is to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

These two greatest commands that Jesus gives serve as the perfect distillation and summary of the 10 Commandments. The first four of the 10 Commandments are all about loving God. For example, the first command, “you shall have no other gods before me.” You can’t love the triune God while worshiping other gods. You also aren’t loving God when you use the Lord’s name in vain (which, by the way, happens to be the most misunderstood of all the commands, more on this in a couple weeks).

The last six commands are all about loving your neighbor. And you can’t love the neighbor that you steal from, or lie to, or of course, murder.

You see, the greatest commandments and 10 Commandments work in concert with each other. When we obey the 10 Commandments we are loving God and loving our neighbor. And the way in which we (at least, in part) love God and love our neighbor in everyday life is by obeying the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments are still worth obeying and following to this day.

All this said, at this point in today’s message, we might summarize things like this: the 10 Commandments were and are given to a people who have been set free so that they might live free.

And yet, the second half of that line, set free to live free, probably still needs some explaining and convincing. Like, how exactly are the 10 Commandments freeing? How are they life giving? I’ll be honest, some of them feel less like dessert and more like vegetables to me. Sure, they’re good for me I suppose, but they don’t always taste very good. And choosing to do what is best or right in the moment doesn’t always come easy now, does it?

Well, here’s one thought experiment to consider how the 10 Commandments are freeing and for our ultimate good. I want you to consider a 10 Commandments world. What would it look like, what would the world be like, if in every town, city, nation and world, everyone always obeyed the 10 Commandments? Think about that for a second.

I think it would be a beautiful world. Dare I say it would be a heavenly world. A world free from mass shootings, because there is no murder. A world where more marriages go the distance, because adultery is no more. A world where you could trust every word that a person says, yes, even the people on your phone and T.V., because no one ever lies. It would be a world where you leave your homes and car doors unlocked because no one ever … actually, we’ve already got that one going for us here in small town Montana, don’t we? But you get the idea. Would you even need courtrooms and prisons in a 10 Commandments world? Maybe, but they’d be in far less demand, that’s for sure. Friends, a 10 Commandments world is a world I think we’d all sign up for.

Or think of the freeing nature of the 10 Commandments this way. Parents, grandparents, caregivers, anyone who has ever worked with kids before. Have you ever said “no” to a child and said no because you love them? Of course you have! “Don’t touch that dough,” for example. I think we can often look down upon the 10 Commandments because many are framed in the negative, “Don’t do this, don’t do that” (there’s a positive “do” in each of the “don’t” by the way, more on that in weeks to come). But God is demonstrating his love and helping us live free through both the do’s and the don’ts.

In fact, think of it this way. It’s 4th of July Weekend. I’m sure many of you will enjoy and set fire to a firework or two Tuesday night. Would you, as parents, say you’ve got kids under the age of 10, just give them a lighter and a bunch of fireworks and say, here you go kids, have fun. No way! And I should amend that by the way, to kids under the age of 18, after all, it’s those middle school boys you’ve got to watch out for. At the very, very least, you’re going to set some ground rules, some boundaries as to how those fireworks are to be used and enjoyed.

You see, the 10 Commandments are working in a similar way. Think about the gravity of these commandments. Commandments about worship and idolatry, murder and adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, about who you worship and how you worship, about family and marriage and society itself for goodness sakes … friends, we’re dealing with live ammo here, these are relational fireworks we're handling here. How could God not put boundaries around those things? Graciously, lovingly, through these 10 Commandments, our Lord is trying to steer us clear of harm’s way, protecting us from danger, he’s helping us who have been set free to stay free. To be free. To live free.

The 10 Commandments were and are given to a people who have been set free so that you and I can live free.

And friends, for today, let’s finish here.

The reason why I wanted to do 10 Commandments in 11 weeks is so that we could start on this note. For us to see that grace comes before law. That salvation in Christ is what compels and drives our obedience. That, as followers of Jesus, we are set free from sin so that we can obey his law. And so, this is where we must start, otherwise we’ll either dismiss the 10 Commandments altogether thinking that God is some killjoy putting us in a straightjacket, or we’ll instead obey them for the wrong reasons, obeying them in hopes of earning God’s love, rather than reflecting it.

And yet beyond all that, we must start here for one more reason, and that is to remind us that grace is always the best motivator for obedience.

In college I briefly worked at an apartment complex, where I helped with odd jobs around the building. And I remember a conversation with the manager who was talking about how great of a guy the owner of the apartment building was. The manager was telling me this story about how when he was new on the job he once put down the carpet in one of the units incorrectly and how the carpet was ruined, he was going to have to start over and how he was fearful about telling his boss. But when he went to tell his boss, the owner, the owner just looked at him and said, “It’s okay, no worries, we all make mistakes. I’ll pay for it, no problem.” The owner showed the manager, there’s that word again, grace.

Which instantly made sense to me when I remembered when this same manager showed me grace when I destroyed the vacuum power cord when I tried getting out of the elevator one time (but let’s not miss the point here people).

Think about how that experience of grace impacted the manager when he messed up the carpet. Do you think he said to himself, “This is amazing, I now have the freedom to do the carpeting wrong in every unit!” Of course not. Rather, because of the grace he received he was more compelled to work hard and do a good job for the owner, and he worked out of a sense of gratitude and obedience because of the manager’s graciousness, then paid that grace forward with me later on.

Friends, that’s the kind of power grace has and that’s the kind of grace God shows us through Christ. And that kind of grace has, is and always will be the best motivator for obedience.

So friends, what do you say, over the next 10 weeks, as people who have experienced Jesus’s grace, his mercy, his love, his salvation, together let’s learn to love and obey the law all the more.

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