We return to a rather long message series today, “The Old Testament isn’t Old.” This particular sermon brings us to the book of Exodus and the Ten Commandments. Now before you get all negative about them, we learn today that the framework and basis of God’s Law is actually love. You’ll find the answer to yours and society’s ills in what we talk about today.
The Old Testament isn’t Old
Exodus 20:1-17 and Matthew 22:36-40
I was born with a conscience. You were too. But our conscience is a fallen conscience, one that needs to be trained and retrained. Because I was a kid once, I had a not-too-developed conscience, especially if I were with friends and for me they were cousins.
So here I am, walking down a tree-lined street, with my cousins. And we came to a house that had a neat row of recently raked leaves, all in a nice pile along the street. So, what did we do? We systematically walked through the pile, scattering leaves everywhere and laughing as we did so. Now my cousins were a lot more wary of their surroundings than I was.
Suddenly, I was the only one messing up the neat row of leaves. The lady of the house we were in front of had come roaring out, angry at the little hooligans that were doing this, and she only had oblivious Bruce to grab and she did so. She yelled at me, with a grip on my little shoulder, and then she made me rake that pile back into place. Being kinda sensitive anyway, that left an impression on me, after she released me and huffed off to her house. I should always respect the personal work and property of others. Sorry Mom, I probably never told you that story before.
All humans need to learn what is good and right and holy and what is not good, not right and unholy. Left to our own devices we would choose a much lesser standard that is destructive.
God has revealed Himself to man. And at the point in the Old Testament where we rejoin the story, God is revealing not just Himself, but His rightly so standard of good and right and holy for the sake of the people listening that day and for the whole of mankind. We know them as the Ten Commandments.
Ho boy, here he goes. That negative list of don’ts that we’ve taken out of schools and public buildings. Well before you turn me off or start reminiscing about Charlton Heston, how about we look ahead to where Jesus is asked a question about the Ten Commandments and taught everyone what they were really about.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
I think of this as a child’s mobile. There is a horizontal crossbar that holds up all the items suspended below. Jesus said this: everything you see in the Law and beyond into the Prophets, is suspended on two things, two ends of one crossbar. The Law, the Ten Commandments is suspended on Love. First and most importantly, Love of God, with all the heart, soul and mind. And then Love for your neighbor, using your own awareness of and preservation of self as a guide. What?? Wait. Love is behind the Ten Commandments? Uh huh!
So, let’s look at the big ten in a new light.
And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me.”
It’s Me. This is Me. And because I love you, this is the right and wrong way to think and act for your benefit.
The First Commandment: You have no other gods before Me. Are there other gods? No, not really. But there are others that people put in front of God and put God down the list of priorities in their lives as they serve someone or something else. Don’t have other gods.
But the positive side of the First Commandment: You can have Me as your God and relate to Me, even though. So here I am, ready to be your God.
Here’s the Second Commandment:
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
So, don’t create something visual and tangible that you bow down to and worship. The house. The car. The spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. The beautiful images of and seeking after the famous, the gorgeous. Anything physical that you give way to, that you serve, will hurt you. Don’t do that. They are cruel masters in the end.
But…you will be loved and experience mercy by hearing from me and relating to Me by faith. No, you won’t see me like the temporal things all around you. You will see Me and can see Me by faith and later by sight and benefit from that relationship.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
This isn’t just a don’t have a potty mouth or swear all the time, although it does pertain to what you say. The deeper meaning is this: don’t say you’re a God follower, be religious, and not be truly a follower of God in reality and integrity.
But the positive side of this one is amazing. You can have God’s name and all the benefits of that name and live up to that great Name. Who are you? I have become a child of the Living God. No longer the spirit of fear again to bondage but it’s the Spirit of Adoption in me that cries out Abba, Father!
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
So, one day out of seven, rest and worship. Don’t work your tail off and work seven days a week and only sleep and eat. In My honor, take one day and week and do what’s restful for you and spend some time making it holy by worshipping Me.
God is no slave driver, He has codified rest. Do you?
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
So, don’t dishonor your parents, who are representative of all who are in authority in your life.
But instead, respect and honor authority, beginning with your first set of authorities, and rightly honor them. The promise? Your life will be as long as God intends it to be.
13 “You shall not murder.”
You don’t kill someone for your advantage or anger or revenge. And as Jesus taught us, you can murder someone by hatred and evil speaking, just as effectively as if you used a .38.
But on the positive side, stand up for life. Yours, the lives of people around you and the unborn. Life is a precious gift from God. Love it, uphold it, knowing that it is His gift. Lots of applications here.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.”
In other words, keep your sexuality in the right place. God designed sex, so it is very powerful and very good. But like a fire, in the fireplace or woodstove it’s wonderful, but on the living room rug it’s destructive. So, when you sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend or someone you hook up with, you are committing adultery, because they are not your spouse, even if you think they will be. It destroys many things to do so. And as Jesus said, even lustful looking and thinking falls into this category and hurts you. And them.
It has everything to do with covenant keeping, too.
But on the positive side, God is commanding us to hold marriage in high regard and when you are, fully enjoy and fulfill the sexual parts of you. Yes, God is for married sex.
15 “You shall not steal.”
You don’t take for yourself what isn’t yours. Things. Credit for a great job. Time. Money. Possessions.
But you can and should work and own things, use them and give to others. Private ownership is here endorsed and Communism and Socialism will never work long term.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
So don’t lie, don’t smear the reputation of, or say anything false or untrue about someone else either in court or around the water cooler at work.”
Positive? You can live life in the truth, speaking the truth in love, without fear, looking at and appreciating the persons around you. That is so freeing. We don’t have to have the false identity, the shame, the spin, the outright lies as a burden we could never bear.
And the Tenth:
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Once again, God tells us that private stewardship of things and relationships is the best for human beings.
But on the negative side, we’re told not to covet. This covers the underlying motive behind the things described in many of the previous commandments. Don’t lust after things that aren’t yours and get jealous of somebody else’s things or situation or relationships. You have a life path that is specific for you, designed for you, so you will get stretched into stealing, killing, cheating and a whole lot of other things if you covet. It starts in your interior.
But on the positive side: you can be content. You can be at ease with your life, no matter what, and still be a hard worker, a lifelong learner and work to improve your situation.
That’s the Ten. And you know what? I can see God’s love in all of that for us, because imagine the world we would live in if everyone held those ten in high esteem. What if every kid learned them like we just did and were encouraged to follow them. All of our society’s ills would be addressed if we just did.
Question: Was God kinda mean and scary in the Old Testament but became nicer with time, especially after Jesus stood between us and Him?
No. The gracious, merciful, all powerful, all knowing, transcendent and yet immanent God that we see in the New Testament is the exact same God of the Old Testament. I change not.
Was God good and merciful to teach us right and wrong and release our conscience?
Absolutely. This is God reaching to us in love.
Pray that everyone would love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind and their neighbor as themselves.
If you’re human, you’ve broken this law, even though the goodness of God gave it to us. You have no standing with God if you approach Him here or after you die, holding up your record in any way. Run to Jesus. God is goodness itself, He is love and He is mercy to offer you any way to relate to Him. And He offers it to you today.