God with Us: The 10 Commandments
Exodus 19:1-7; 20:1-17
Today we are in the fifth week of our six-week sermon series about God with Us. We have looked at the story of Noah and Flood, God and the rainbow. We have explored the promise to Abraham and Sarah. We have journeyed with Joseph to prison. And we have delved into the parting of the Red Sea. Through it all we have learned that God is with us always, and never abandons us. God is with us when we invite chaos into our lives through our own sin. God is with us when we embark on a difficult journey, no matter if that journey is literal or figurative. God is with us when we suffer as a result of other people’s sins. And God is with us by liberating us from literal or figurative enslavement. Through all of these ways that God is with us when we are in trouble, God is also with us when things are going well. God empowers us to help those in need: God sends us out to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Now we come to the covenant that God made with the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness. Part of this covenant included giving the people the 10 commandments. For many of us, when we read the 10 commandments we find them so negative: don’t do this, don’t do that. We have seen over the last few weeks how dynamic and relational God is. How can we find God-with-us through these commandments? Many of us would much rather talk about texts like the two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” Or Micah 6:8, “You know, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” The 10 commandments are about the exact same things as these other two texts. Where the two greatest commandments and Micah 6:8 tell us in broad terms how to live as Christ followers, the 10 commandments tell us more specifically how to do it.
How does God say that we should live? Let’s look more closely. In Exodus 20:2-3 it says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” In other words, I am the God of liberation. “You shall have no other gods before me.” In this first commandment, God is saying that the Israelites should make God the center of their lives.
The second commandment starts in verse 4 where it says, “You 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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Nowadays we have a hard time understanding the concept of idols. Idols represented other gods. Ancient society was very religious; there were many gods. Today, our society is secular; there is an absence of God. So what would an idol be today? Today, we can think of an idol as power, wealth, popularity, or anything that we would make sacrifices for or organize our lives around. The idea here is that God should be first and foremost in our lives. If things like power, wealth, or popularity come to us, fine, but if not, that’s fine, too. We should not worship them or seek them out, but rather, we should worship God and seek God with our whole hearts.
The third commandment is in verse 7, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” This means using God’s name to justify breaking one of the other commandments. For example, when Europeans came to the Americas for the first time and claimed that God gave them the land and then used that claim to justify killing indigenous people. That is making wrongful use of the the name of the Lord your God. This kind of thing comes up in Ezekiel 36:16-32, when Israel proclaimed themselves God’s people but “spilled blood in the land,” and God’s name was dragged through the mud so to speak - this made God angry because they made wrongful use of the name of the Lord their God.
The rest of the commandments can be summarized. Keep a sabbath, meaning rest and don’t overwork. Honour your parents. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not want what someone else has.
Last week we focused on God being a God of liberation. God liberated the Israelites FROM slavery. If God liberated the Israelites, then why does God place so many restrictions on them? God did not want them to end up suffering the way that they did when they were slaves. God wanted them to live in a safe and just society. A society in which people could trust each other and rely on each other. This is what God liberated the Israelites FOR. A good life, a better life, a safe life. A life centered around God instead of idols of power, wealth, or popularity. A life in which they were not overworked and could rest. The limits that God placed on the Israelites through these commandments are liberating. They do limit what we should do, but they enable a fuller, better life. This is what God liberates us FOR.
Imagine if God had said to Moses, “Tell the people, disregard your parents and feel free to kill each other. Have sex with whoever you want at any time. Be sure to steal, and lie. Embrace the jealousy that you feel when you want someone else’s stuff. And finally, make anything but me the center of your world.” That is a society that I would run from as fast as I possibly could. In fact, many people are running from their homelands when this opposite-of-the-10-commandments rules the day. That is why we have so many refugees in the world right now. Most of the refugees from South America are fleeing from their homes because gangs have taken over. For example, on a regular basis, people are killed by gangs who want to steal their homes or businesses. Today there are also a lot of refugees from Africa and the Middle East as well. The Nobel Peace prize winners this year are Dr. Denis Mukwege from Congo and Nadia Murad from Iraq. Women in both Congo and Iraq have experienced sexual violence as a weapon of war. Dr. Denis Mukwege helps victims and Nadia Murad was a victim herself. These wars are happening because armed militia are trying to steal power and wealth. Many refugees fleeing their countries today are trying to escape these kinds of situations.
The 10 commandments enable a free and just society to exist. We crave a society in which, people are not killed, we are not robbed, spouses are faithful to each other, people don’t lie, and we aren’t jealous of each other’s lives or possessions. We crave a society in which people do not worship power or wealth. We crave this in our relationships with family, friends, neighbours, and strangers. This is what God had liberated the Israelites for and what God liberates us for as well.
While we come to these commandments and might find them negative, we must remember that they help us to live out the two greatest commandments and the prescription in Micah 6:8. These commandments are, actually, a cause for thankfulness. That is what we read in Psalm 19. Let’s see what it says there, starting in verse 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clean, enlightening the eyes;” and then skipping to verse 11, “Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
While we might come to the 10 commandments and find them unnecessarily negative, the Psalmist here describes them in a completely different way. They revive the soul, they make the simple wise, they rejoice the heart, they enlighten the eyes. There is great reward in keeping them. They helpfully warn us about behaviours that will cause us pain and will cause pain to others. Even though they tell us what not to do, they are actually liberating. They give us a starting place for how to do do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. They give us a starting place for how to love God and neighbour. They are a reason to give thanks to God.
This leads us to the New Testament text for this morning where Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. Today is World Communion Sunday and also Thanksgiving Sunday. On this day we celebrate Christian unity by celebrating communion on the same day as many churches all over the world. Despite our differences, we are brought together by Jesus. Communion is the sacrament that we celebrate by eating bread and drinking wine or grape juice. It can be called the Lord’s Supper or also the Eucharist. Eucharist in Greek is εὐχαριστία which means thanksgiving, which is apt for today. How does this relate to Jesus fulfilling the law?
Well, sneak peek to next week, in Jesus, God puts the 10 commandments on our hearts. When we turn to Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills us and enables us to be transformed so that we can follow the 10 commandments. For some of us, we grew up in the church and have followed these liberating commands our whole lives, but for those of us like me, who did not come to faith in Christ until college, learning how to live as a follower of Jesus was difficult. The Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us to follow Jesus. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes and sometimes we find ourselves in bondage to sin, again. But God never leaves us or forsakes us, so God stays with us and leads us back to liberation and the path of new life.
In Christ, our sins are forgiven, and we are enabled to follow Jesus, living a life in keeping with the 10 commandments. In this way the law is fulfilled in Christ. The sacrament of Communion, also known as the Eucharist or the Thanksgiving, is the spiritual food that we need to help us sustain our Christian life. In this sacrament we deepen our union with Jesus and with each other.
And so let us give thanks. Give thanks to the Lord for giving us the 10 commandments. Give thanks to Jesus for fulfilling them in us by forgiving our sins and enabling us to follow the 10 commandments. Give thanks to God for the Eucharist in which we deepen our union with Jesus and with each other. Amen.