The Covenants that Culminate in Christ – The Law
We Love the Law of the Lord!
A sermon based on Exodus 20:1-17
Sunday, March 11, 2012 – Lent 3B
You remember the scene from Mary Poppins where the kids don't want to clean their room because they know that cleaning their room is no fun. But then enters their new nanny with her magical powers and Marry Poppins shows them how "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun," and how "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down." And turning the chore into a game, the kids suddenly love to clean their room.
In our sermon text this morning we have some tough medicine to take. In what are commonly known as the Ten Commandments God tells his people: "Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't steal. Don't want what's not yours! Do obey me. Obey my representatives. Honor my name. Listen to my Word. Love one another in all you do. Be content in all things!" Those are tough pills to swallow, aren't they?
So, can we find some sugar that will help us keep the Law and help the medicine go down? Can we keep the Law of God gladly? Can we love the Law of the Lord? And if so, how? If we just turn the commandments into a game will it suddenly be fun?
We can love the Law of the Lord. In fact, as Christians we do love the Law. We love the Law because we love the Lord who loved us first. We love the Law of the Lord because the Lord fulfilled the law for us. We love the Law of the Lord and are eager to keep it all to show our love for him. Listen now to the ten decrees of God listed for us in Exodus 20:1-17…
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.
3 "You shall have no other gods before me.
4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 "You shall not murder.
14 "You shall not commit adultery.
15 "You shall not steal.
16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
I. Look at the Law of the Lord!
It's often been noted that these are called the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. And how true that is. Because it's God who speaks, we must listen. We don't have a choice. And because God spoke all these words, we can't pick and choose which commands we'll keep and which ones we won't. So let's take a quick review of the mandatory list of jobs that God gives to every person. Let's start at verse 7:
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…" Keep God's name—that is, his reputation—holy and set apart for a special use. Ever hear someone say, "If that's how Christians act, I don't want to be one." Mahandas Ghandi famously said, "Jesus I love, it's his followers I can't stand." So God's command is to bear the name Christian and live in such a way that we always improve God's reputation.
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Sabbath literally means rest. But God's not telling us to take a day to sit on the couch, but to make time to worship and to find rest from our burdens in God's Word. Luther adds, "gladly hear and learn it." You're here, but are you glad to be? Or are there times you'd rather be somewhere else?
"Honor your father and your mother…" Kids, note it's not just obey them, but honor them. Show them love and respect. Adults, that's not just for your aging parents, but for your local and national government, those that God has put in authority over you. And for you too, it's not just obedience that God commands, but give them respect (whether earned or not) as God's representatives.
"You shall not murder." Don't hurt or harm God's gift of life. That includes your own life in the way you treat your body and care for it. In what you choose to eat and what you choose to do. In how you actively seek your neighbor's good, defending him, caring for her physical needs.
"You shall not commit adultery." Honor God's gifts of marriage and sex, recognizing that God commands the two go together and neither one should be without the other. Guard your thoughts and your heart to keep them pure.
"You shall not steal." Work faithfully at your job, lest you unintentionally rob your employer. Use your gifts to your full potential, lest you unintentionally rob your family. Give generously to those in need, lest you unintentionally rob your God.
"You shall not give false testimony…" Don't lie and don't hurt others reputations, even with the truth. Defend them. Speak well of them. Take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. It's been said that the only exorcise some people get is jumping to conclusions and running others down.
"You shall not covet…" In other words, be content. And this is the heart and core of the Law. Be content with all the blessings God has given you. Then you won't need to run others down. You won't need to lie or steal. Be content with your marriage or your singleness, and you won't lust or cheat. Be content with the Grace of God and you'll love his name. You'll love his Word and long to read and learn it and grow in your faith.
Ah, but there's the catch. We don't always stay content with God's blessings, do we? We do break the commands of God. And break any other one and we also break the first commandment as we don't put God first. All too often we put ourselves first as if to say "I matter most, God."
And that's a big problem because God is serious about his Law. He's holy and cannot tolerate sin. He impressed that on the Israelites with the way he gave the law: with smoke and lightening, with an earthquake and thunder, and mysterious supernatural trumpets blasting at the top of Mt. Sinai. And the people stood in holy fear and awe. They knew they were sinners.
So do we. And God said he showed love to "…those who love me and keep my commandments." So, how can we possibly love the Law when it sets a standard that's so high, we can never even come close to keeping it? How can we love the Law, when the Law condemns us—when it condemns us to hell?
Well, in order to love the Law, we need to stop looking at the Law. Instead we need to see God's love, revealed there at Mt. Sinai too…
II. Look at the Love of the Lord!
Did you know that not all churches number commandments the same? Lutherans, like Roman Catholics, follow the ancient church's numbering. Most other Protestants don't. They split our first commandment into two: 1) "You shall have no other gods…" and 2), "You shall not make for yourself an idol…" Then they combine our ninth and tenth commandments, which are essentially the same: "Do not covet." But either way, if you count them, it seems there are nine commands, but Moses refers to them as the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:24, Deut. 4:13; 10:4), so one of them needs to be split. But I think there's a better solution…
Literally in the Hebrew it doesn't say Ten Commandments, but Ten Sayings or Ten Decrees. They're not necessarily all telling people what to do, just telling people something important from God. And the most important of God's decrees really comes in verse two: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." "I am…." God says, "the God who rescues. I am the God who delivers from slavery. I am the God who saves lost sinners." And God did rescue his people from Egypt and greater still, he rescued them from sin. He appeared to Moses at the burning bush. He released his people by the Ten Plagues. He led them to cross Red Sea to safety on dry ground. He fed them manna from heaven.
But why did he do all this? Because they were so good? Because they were faithful? Because they kept all his commands? No! They grumbled and complained. They told God, "We wish you'd left us alone in slavery where we had better food to eat than this stupid manna!" They built a golden calf. And Joshua pleaded with them more than forty years later, "Will you finally get rid of your stinking idols?" No, they didn't deserve God's deliverance! So why'd he do it? Out of love alone. It was his grace that led him to rescue them.
Just as he's rescued us.
The Passover Lamb, the sacrificial system that followed, the bronze snake, the water from the rock. all pointed to Christ. The Law itself pointed the people to their need for Christ. And it still does for us! No one is made right with God by the Law! It only makes us aware of sin and aware of our need for help. (cf. Romans 3:19-20) I won't see the doctor if I think I'm just fine. Most guys won't unless the bleeding doesn't stop after a couple of days. But God's law shows us how serious the problem is. I can't fix it. But he can. He has.
Out love alone, God has delivered us! It was his great grace alone that led him to rescue us from our slavery to sin.
It's interesting that the first thing God says in Exodus 20 is "I am…" It's interesting because that's what God told Moses to call him. "Call me Jehovah or Yahweh," he said from the burning bush. "Call me 'I am.'" It's God's covenant name (in all caps) that's used in verse five where God says, "I, the Lord your God…" And God kept his covenant, didn't he? "I am," Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, knocking the soldiers to the ground. (John 18:5-6) "I am," Jesus told the high priest when he was asked if he was the Christ. (Mark 14:62) "I am the good shepherd…." said Jesus, "[who] lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11) "I am the resurrection and the life," said Jesus to Mary before he brought her brother back from the dead. (John 11:25)
And the Great I AM has done this all for us. By his suffering, by his death, by his resurrection, he says to you, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of… slavery." And that's a wonderful decree. That's a pill we gladly swallow because it's the medicine that saves our souls. Now you are forgiven. You have the Promised Land of heaven! What love the Father has lavished on us!
III. Love the Law of the Lord!
And that love has brought us into a relationship with him. And for that love we love God and we're eager to serve him. We're glad to keep his Law. We're excited about the challenge of loving him back. Think of it this way: If you're not right now, think back to when you were dating. Imagine that your dream date says, "Let's not see other people. Let's be exclusive." Would you consider that a burden? Of course not! It would be exciting! You'd be thrilled!
Well, in a sense, that's what God says to us. "Let's be exclusive." Love me as I've loved you. Don't have idols (literally "carved things.") Of course we're more sophisticated than that. We don't worship blocks of stone or wood. But God says don't love our idols of paper money or plastic gadgets more than him. Why not? Because God is a slave master? No! Because he loves us so much that he's jealous for us! He loves us so much that he carved up his son for us. So now, we long to worship and serve.
And we long to honor his name. The opposite of "Don't misuse" is "Do use correctly." And because of his love for us, we long to call him in prayer to tell anyone who will listen how awesome our God is, just as the guy who gets the date with the dream girl is eager to call her back and to tell his buddies all about her.
And if that guy should get a love letter (or an email or a text) you know he'd grab it right away to learn more of what's on that special someone's heart and mind. And God has given his love letter to us in his Word. And we rejoice in God's work for us, we love his Word and gladly hear and learn it.
In fact, we love everything about God. We love the blessings he's given and strive to use them to his glory. We love the government he's blessed us with and honor our leaders. We love the life that God's given to us and to others and strive to preserve it. We love God's gift of sexuality and use it only as he would have us use it, longing to be faithful to him. In short, we love the Law of the Lord, because we've seen his great love for us and we long to reciprocate it.
A young man once sat in his cramped apartment on a wooden crate eating mac and cheese off a TV tray. He had no money for better food or for good furniture. And yet, he had a huge grin spread across his face. How come? Because he sat across from his brand new bride. And after he swallowed his mac and cheese he told her, "If I have you, I don't need anything else." He was full of love and he was eager to serve the object of his love. God's love for us, fills us with gratitude and love for him. And we are eager to serve the object of our love. And this is love for God: that we keep his commands. We are glad to do all he asks. We're eager to serve because we're in love. And we really do love the Law of the Lord. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.