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Third Sunday in Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, March 8, 2015

The Ten Commandments: A Precious Gift

Text: Exodus 20:1-17

How do you feel about the Ten Commandments? Do they seem oppressive to you—rules you have to obey? Or do they seem like a gift from God? The psalm we said together this morning celebrates the Law of the Lord: it says the Law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul. It says the Statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart. (Psalm 19:7, 8) This is a mere hint of the longest Psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119, which goes on for 176 verses proclaiming the beauty, perfection, wisdom and righteousness of God’s Law. The Hebrew people considered the Law a great gift from God.

The Book of Exodus tells us that, early in the years of the Hebrews’ wilderness wandering, God called Moses up onto Mt. Sinai. There He gave these Commandments to Moses, and then wrote them with His finger on two tablets. The Tablets of the Law were later kept in the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence was believed to be. They were highly precious.

That is not how the Ten Commandments are viewed these days.

•  Christians joke about how the Ten Commandments take the fun out of life.

•  Activists file lawsuits to have the Ten Commandments removed from public places.

•  There are Christian leaders who actually say they don’t apply anymore, because of grace.

•  And public school children are taught in the Common Core Curriculum that all moral values are opinions and do not have the force of truth.

Today I want to talk about why the Ten Commandments are a precious gift from God, and why they are every bit as applicable as the day God gave them to Moses. First, let’s look at their general nature. If you will notice, the first four commandments (Exodus 20:1-11) are about our relationship with God.

•  They tell us that He is the only God, and that we are not to worship anyone or anything but Him.

•  They tell us not to take God’s name in vain.

•  And they tell us to keep holy the Sabbath day.

The second six Commandments (verses 12 through 17) are about our relationships with one another, our parents, our spouses and our neighbors. They tell us how to behave toward one another. In just ten laws, God has laid out for us a code of conduct for right living with Him, with our family and with one another. That is what Jesus was saying when He gave what we call the Summary of the Law, or the Great Commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind and your whole strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. On these two depend all the law and the prophets. [Matthew 22:38-39]

It is hard to imagine a better guide for life than this compact statement from the Creator who knows everything about what makes us to function, and what happens when we don’t. And yet, man would throw out the Ten Commandments.

Some years back, a number of folks from our congregation attended a meeting to discuss issues for the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The preacher that day was a highly educated priest, who told us that the Ten Commandments no longer apply. His assertion was based on a distorted reading of Romans Chapter 6, where Paul is wrestling with how sin works in our lives, and he says, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)

Some itching ears may want to hear that the Ten Commandments no longer apply. But Jesus told us bluntly in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. [Matthew 5:17-18]

Let me offer an example of law and grace in my own experience. When I was a boy, I was told that going to worship on Sunday was a duty, and that there were certain holy days when we had an obligation to attend worship. I was told that if I failed to attend, I would have to go to a priest and confess it as a sin. I went obediently to worship. And, though I hope God was glad I was there, my heart wasn’t always there. Later in life, I came to love the Lord. And when that happened, worshipping Him became my joy. I wanted to be in church on Sunday and Christmas and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On Sundays when I would get up, I had stopped thinking, “Shall I be good today and do what I am supposed to do?” Instead, worship had become my priority. But it wasn’t because I had to be there or else. It was because of grace. We need both the law and grace. The law tells me that God wants me here worshipping Him, and Him alone. Grace makes my presence in worship a joy to both God and to me.

The Anglican Church in North America has published a catechism, which is a wonderful tool for studying the Christian faith. The last section of the new catechism is about Christian behavior, and there is a long section on the Ten Commandments. Question number 256 asks, “Why did God give the Ten Commandments?” Here is the answer:

God’s holy Law is a light to show me his character, a mirror to show me myself, a tutor to lead me to Christ, and a guide to help me love God and others as I should. [To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, p. 107 (Anglican House 2014)]

The four parts of that answer help us understand why the Ten Commandments remain a precious gift from God and why they are in force today.

The first reason God gave us the Ten Commandments was to show us His character. These are not arbitrary rules that God laid down to test us. They flow from who God is.

•  He is the sovereign Creator of the universe, so He is to be worshipped.

•  He is love, so He made us to love.

•  He is faithful, so it is in the nature of His creation that we be faithful.

•  He is truth, and so He made us to tell the truth.

•  He is life, and He made us to nourish life, not to deal in death.

•  He is all-sufficient, so He made us to be content and not to covet what each other has.

As we think about these things, we realize that God is also showing us who we are. First of all, God is showing us who He made us to be. We can see that if we kept the Ten Commandments to the letter, the world would be a different place.

•  Families would be happy and healthy.

•  Marriages would be permanent.

•  The world would not be violent.

•  You could trust everything people tell you.

•  We would all be content.

This is what God created the world to be. And that is what God said to us through Moses when He gave us the Ten Commandments:

32 So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess. [Deuteronomy 5:32-33]

But there is another aspect, and that is how I am versus how God created me to be. The consequences of the Fall are very much with us. We still are prone to disobedience, rebellion and sin. And that is another reason why God gave us the Ten Commandments: to show us how far off the mark we are. These are the benchmarks for human life. And when we break them, even though we love the Lord and want to please Him, we see how far short we fall of His glory.

Does He do that to shame us? No He does that to save us. For He discloses to each one of us how desperately we need a Savior. That, too, is a precious gift from God. For without this awareness, we tend to think that we have it all together. We aren’t so bad. We are a whole lot better than some other people we know. And yet, look at our track record keeping God’s law. Can we, on our own, restore the glorious imprint of God upon us? If we could, we would have done it long ago. But we can’t do it on our own. Only God, in His grace, can do that. As Paul said in Romans, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

God’s plan to rescue us from this body of death was in place before we were ever born. It was in place before Adam and Eve ever committed the first sin. The great God who knows everything had His plan in place before Satan even rebelled against Him in heaven. And that plan was that in the fullness of time, God would send His son, His only Son, Jesus, into the world to pay the price for our sin, and triumph over evil and death. But in order to receive that gift, we have to know Jesus, and we have to believe in Him, and we have to repent of our sin. That is why God goes to the trouble to hold a mirror up to us, as the Catechism says, to show us ourselves. And that mirror is the Ten Commandments. We see there our desperate need for what only God can do, and what He has done through Jesus Christ, to be rescued from our sins.

The fourth reason God gave us the Ten Commandments, as stated in the Catechism, is that they are a guide to help us love God and others as we should. When a person grows up without knowing God, without the Bible, without any moral teaching, he may want to be a good person, but how would he do that? This is not a hypothetical question. Many people fall into that description. Suppose such a person read somewhere that he should love God. Where would he look for guidance?

•  He wouldn’t find a good answer in the movies.

•  What about comic books?

•  Maybe he could go to the Hallmark store and look at the birthday cards and valentines. He’d get mighty confused.

But if he came to you and asked you how to love God, you would know right where to look. The first four commandments tell you:

•  Worship Him.

•  Don’t give your loyalty to any other god.

•  Don’t take His name in vain.

•  And set aside a day to rest in Him.

And suppose this person asked you, “How do I love other people?” Again, you would know right where to look. For the Ten Commandments tell us about the loving family: faithfulness between husband and wife; respect from children. And they tell us about loving our neighbors, how to bless the world with peace, honesty and proper boundaries.

We hear about these lawsuits brought on behalf of unbelievers seeking to have the Ten Commandments removed from courtroom walls or from the halls of government. The thinking behind these suits is that we are a pluralistic society, and it isn’t seemly for Christians and Jews to display their religious symbols as if they applied to everyone. But let me assert plainly that those Ten Commandments belong on the Courthouse walls, and in the halls of congress and the state houses. These aren’t just religious symbols. These are God’s Holy and precious gift, not just to those who believe, but to every person in every nation and every tribe and every culture. These are the blueprint for life as God made it to be. And if we as a society do not live by these laws, then we can be certain we will devolve into chaos.

•  We will have violence in the streets.

•  We will have pervasive crime.

•  We will have broken families.

•  We will drown in a deluge of lies.

•  We will have unequal protection of the laws.

•  Our children will be brazen and disrespectful.

•  And our leaders will be corrupt.

But a nation whose laws are based on God’s law has the potential to be a nation where we can “live and prosper and prolong our days.” Yes, indeed, the Ten Commandments are God’s precious gift to us. How blessed we are that God has not just wound up this old universe and left us to figure it out all out on our own. He so loved the world that He chose to communicate with us. He chose to reveal Himself to us. He chose to teach us and guide us. And when we fell into sin and became subject to evil and death, He chose to save us. Glory to God whose mercy is great, and whose steadfast love endures forever!

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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