Today we are going to begin our new series on the Ten Commandments, and if you’ve got your Bible, go to Exodus 20. I jokingly chose the title of “The Ten Suggestions?” because that is the mindset of our culture today. The Ten Commandments are seen as a buffet line where we just pick and choose those things we like, those things we find palatable, and those things that if convenient we will apply to our lives.
So today in Part One I have called it “Start Here,” because as we’ll see, this is the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of God’s people. They’d been set free to live free, but they’re still living in bondage, a self-imposed slavery, they hadn’t realized the hope and the promise that was before them. So what God is talking about is about rebooting your life, going back to square one, starting again… and getting it right.
In this series we’re going to see how to develop new habits and priorities that will empower us to create a new life and a new future. One filled with hope and promise built upon a daily, one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ. And I've been looking forward to this series for a long time, because it's about one of my favorite topics: starting over. You see, one of the great things about the gospel is that it gives us a chance to start over... again and again. You don’t have to read far through God’s Word to discover that it reveals this cycle of God’s people starting over again.
And this is a good thing, because there will be times in your life when you find yourself turning a new page, beginning a new chapter in your story. Sometimes this happens for positive reasons, such as you've given your life to Jesus Christ and you're ready to start living for him. Other times, it may have been a seemingly negative experience that brought you to this new beginning: a divorce, a lost job, or a health crisis. Other times you arrive at this place simply because you come to the realization that your life isn't working the way you want it to, and it's time to start in a new direction. And I believe everyone finds themselves in this place sometimes, where they say, "You know what? It's time for a reboot. I need to clear the slate and start over."
So this morning, I want you to know that this series will help you make the most of each new day. And each of the messages in this series will take a closer look at one of the Commandments and as we work our way through this series we'll be taking a closer look at who Jesus is, what he wants us to do, and what it means to follow him.
Now since we’re starting in the middle of the book, let’s catch the context. Exodus is actually part of something called the Pentateuch, which means “book in five parts.” So, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were all written by Moses. It is really one book in five parts. And the Ten Commandments are right in the middle, tucked away in Exodus chapter 20.
So the story begins in Genesis after sin enters the world. Now for the last four weeks we saw that God was starting over. He cleared the slate and started over with Noah and his family. Next we find God picks a guy named Abraham to be saved and to be used by God to bring forth the nation of Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ. And he promises to bring a family and a blessing through Abraham. So Abraham and Sarah have Isaac; Isaac has Jacob. And as we near the end of Genesis, we see that this man, Jacob, has a lot of sons.
And one of these sons, the younger son named Joseph, is dad’s favorite. Well, bad things happen when dads play favorite and his brothers get sick of it. So, they decide to get rid of him, sell him into slavery, and tell their dad that he’s dead. So, he is sold into slavery in Egypt and even though he is far away from God’s people, he is not far away from God… because God draws near to him. God comes, loves him, and blesses him; rescuing him from all his troubles. And God gives him favor before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.
Now a great famine came upon Egypt and Canaan; and Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons to buy some. There’s this amazing reunion between Joseph and his brothers, he forgives them, and invites his family to move to Egypt so that they can live under his blessing and provision. Jacob and all his relatives come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all and as the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of God’s people in Egypt had greatly increased.
And so what happens is now there is a new Pharaoh who knew nothing about Joseph. Jacob’s family now 440 years later, has become the great nation of Israel, a nation of a few million people. And this new Pharaoh despises, enslaves, and abuses God’s people. They are in misery. And so God’s people reach a point where they cry out to him, begging for deliverance, and God answers. God determines that he will set his people free, and he does so through a mediator, a prophet named Moses.
God appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush and says, “Go tell the Pharaoh let my people go so that they might be free to worship me.” He sent Moses to be their ruler and savior, and by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness. Moses was with the Assembly of God's people in the wilderness, when God spoke to him again at Mount Sinai.
“The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ " (Exodus 19:3-6).
So here we are with a few million former slaves suddenly set free, but they’re not living free. They’re committing adultery. They’re stealing from one another. They’re coveting. They’re lying. They’re not raising their children in the Lord. They’re worshiping false gods in addition to the real God. And though they’re set free, they’ve chosen to not live free, so God’s going to speak to them. God’s going to be loving, gracious, and patient just as he was with the Pharaoh and just as he is with us.
And I give you all this background because if we only start in chapter 20, we take the Bible out of context like those who are Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon. You know it’s like if you do this God’s going to punish you… if you don’t do that God going to bless you. But that’s not it. We read chapter 20 in the context of God has already loved, he’s already set free, he’s brought them to himself, and he’s already adopted these kids into his family.
So it’s not about obeying him so that he’ll love you; it’s about him loving you and helping you to obey. The context is very important. We can’t ignore the first nineteen chapters and launch into some form of self-imposed morality in the twentieth chapter. And so here Moses passes on the life-giving words we’re going to read today. God speaks to his people, and here’s what he has to say: First, he tells them that he is the Lord God.
Reading at Exodus 20:1–2,
“And God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
So the first thing, I want to draw your attention to is who speaks? It’s God. This is what God says. This is what we believe, it’s what God says, it’s what the Bible says, and though Moses is writing here, it’s ultimately God who is speaking. And we need to know this. When we open the Bible, God is speaking to you. You’re hearing from him. So, we don’t believe that this is speculation about God. We believe this is revelation from God. And at CCC this is at the core of what we believe.
So God’s going to say something. And He’s going to start by telling us who he is. This is very important, because apart from revelation, we wouldn’t know who God is; if God didn’t tell us who he is, we wouldn’t know who he is. And here’s the good news: our God tells us who he is. He says, “I am the Lord your God.” It’s very personal.
And so what God is going to do here is give us laws. Laws that are repeated, described, and explained in a multitude of ways. 10 ways to be at peace. 10 ways to be secure. 10 ways to be safe. 10 ways in which God is saying, “I’ve adopted you, and I need you to do these things because I love you, they’re good for you, and they’re good for others.”
I’ll give you an illustration. Our dog Ruby just turned six months old yesterday. And when we first got her we wanted to protect her from the dog next door who is very territorial. I know this because we had several serious brawls with our last dog. So anyway we got a wireless electric fence and collar to keep Ruby near our house. If she approaches the safe boundaries she hears a beeping noise and turns back. If she pushes the boundaries of what is safe she experiences the shocking excitement and tingling jolt of the corrective action because I care for her and don’t want her to be dog food.
Well in the same way, God has built a fence around our yard; not in an attempt to oppress us or to limit our freedoms, but as an act of love. Because if we hop the fence or wander off property, we could get hurt. So God wants us to enjoy the whole yard and every law he gives is a board in the fence to protect us. Every one of God’s laws is just another plank in the fence, reminding you that your Father loves you, and has given you the freedom to play in the yard, amen?
So before we get into the Ten Commandments, how are we to understand these things called laws? Jesus says this in Luke 24:44, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
Jesus says, “The law is about me.” As we read the law, we realize that God is holy, perfect, and good. He has commands for us, commands which we have fallen short of, which show us our sin and our need for a Savior.
And then Jesus comes as my Savior and he fulfills it all. He lives with complete obedience to all of the law, and he dies in my place, and he causes the wrath of God to pass over me, and he blesses me and sets me free as a child of God to live a new life, a life that is free from the land of slavery.
Jesus tells us this… he says, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The religious folks answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Every time I read that, all I can think is how quickly they forget. You know every year at Passover they celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt.
But Jesus ignored their boasting and replied,
"I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)
Now I imagine, some of you are probably thinking, how thankful you are to be free, how thankful this doesn’t apply to you, but let’s be careful not to excuse ourselves prematurely. Here in the United States of America it’s supposed to be the land of the free, but let me assure you it has become the land of the slaves. It’s the land of the slaves, because Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” What he is saying is, “Anything that overcomes you, anything that overtakes you, anything that rules over you, anything that reigns above you, is like your Pharaoh. It’s your master and it enslaves you.”
In Romans 6:16, the Apostle Paul tells us: “Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey…” (Romans 6:16)?
Now we don’t use the language of slavery today, but we use other words like addiction. And addiction is merely a contemporary word for the biblical concept of slavery. So, the person who admits, “I’m addicted to alcohol.” Is a slave to the bottle. “I’m addicted to drugs.” Is a slave to the substances. “I’m addicted to whatever.” Is enslaved… period.
The Lord says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
I want you to know that God has brought us out and when you’re tempted to sin, when you hear the Holy Spirit convicting your conscience, know that breaking God’s law is also breaking God’s fatherly heart… he’s grieved… and his heart is filled with pain” (Genesis 6:6).
When you’re tempted to sin, remember this: to choose to sin is to choose to suffer. God doesn’t want you to suffer, doesn’t want others to suffer, and when you choose sin, he is broken, weeping, and devastated. You cause him pain, because you’ve sinned, and he knows the consequences.
Christ has come, he died, and set us free, but some of us choose not to live free. We’re still looking back.
How many Christians do you know like that? They’re stuck. They’re not progressing. They’re not learning. They’re not growing. Their life is just a series of laps around the beltway. They’re not getting anywhere.
The children of God were like that. They were literally walking in a circle in the wilderness, and God comes to speak to them to help them to obey him and to walk with him, so that they might walk in righteousness. That’s exactly the condition of the children of God here at the base of Mount Sinai. They’re sitting, they’re waiting for a meeting with their dad. What will he say? What does he say to them?
It’s the first commandment. He tells us that he’s the God who’s set us free so that we can live free. He says it this way in verse three…
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
First things first, the most important thing. “Don’t forget this: one God.” That’s where he starts. And the commandments are in order of importance, one through ten, and they’re in a progression where this enables this, contributes to that, results in this. The first four are about our relationship with God, because the relationship with God is most important. And then, the last six are our relationship to neighbor, how we treat others in light of how God treats us. It’s why when they came to Jesus and ask, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God… and second: 'Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:36-39).
He says, “Here’s the summary. 10 laws that I wrote down on tablets of stone, but really it’s just two big ideas: love God and love your neighbor. That’s the whole Ten Commandments summarized. That’s Jesus’ tweet for the 10 commandments right?
So here’s the issue at the foot of the mountain… they’ve been set free, but they’re not living free. They’re still in slavery. They’ve left Egypt, but they’re committing adultery, they’re stealing, they’re lying, they’ve got a little spirituality, they’ve got their dream catcher, they’re false gods, and somebody even has plans for a golden calf. And so God the Father is going to sit his kids down and have a talk with them. He says, “First things first: there’s only one God and I’m him. You’re not God. They’re not God. Nobody else and nothing else is God. I’m God.”
And he tells them, “You can’t live free until you realize there’s only one God and you’re not him. You’re not the center of the universe. You’re not the most important person. And just maybe the reason you’re so miserable and discontent is because you’re worshiping yourself and you weren’t made for that. You were made to worship God. You were made to enjoy God. You were made to glorify God. And when you make yourself the center of your life, you make yourself miserable, because everything has to be connected to God, your purpose, and your identity in God.
Now in that day, they had all kinds of false gods and goddesses, but what they really are is demons who bless people. You can read about them in the Bible… there’s Ashterah, there’s Baal, there’s Molech, Chemosh, there’s lots of them and the reason they had multiple gods is because that each supposedly would give you different things. This god or goddess, would give you fame, money, pleasure, comfort, fertility, children, power, or promotion. God says there’s one God… him alone… him at the center.
And basically what God is saying here is that "You shall have no other gods before me.” It’s like hypothetically, if my wife came to me and said, “I love having a relationship with you, but I don’t think it should be exclusive. There’s a man, or other men, I’d like to see. Where would you like those men ahead of you, to your right, to your left, or behind you?” Of course the answer is, “Under my boot.” That’s where I’d like them; right? So because I’m in a covenant with my wife, our love is exclusive, and it doesn’t include anyone else. If it were to include anyone else, it would be ruined. And so God loves his children like a father loves his children. God loves his people like a husband loves his wife.
So, God is looking us in the eye and he’s saying, “We’re married. You don’t get to run around with anybody else. You don’t get to sleep with anybody else. You don’t get to have anybody but me. We’re married, I love you, and I’m not going to share this relationship with anybody else.”
As we close I want to remind you, God says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The second most important decision you will ever make is whom you marry. The most important decision you’ll ever make is whom you worship. Who’s your God?
Have you been set free? God set us free, but we’ve got to walk with him. That’s the living free part. God does all the setting free. God leads and helps us in the living free. But we have to walk with him in the freedom that he’s set before us.
Paul, looking back at the law, says this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Don’t stick your head through the yoke and carry that burden that Jesus already carried.
Have you been set free? As we close, we’re going to sing, remembering Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, our Passover Lamb who was slain. God’s wrath is removed because of his broken body and shed blood. Jesus has conquered our pharaoh, Satan. We have been set free. We can live free. We have a Father King who loves us and adores us. And we get to take to the streets, and we get to sing and shout his praises. We get to worship and enjoy him, and when we get together in song, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Free people have someone to celebrate.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
October 26, 2014