First Mennonite Church
September 8, 2019
The Ten Commandments (Introduction)
Text: Exodus 20:1-17
Today and in the next couple of Sundays, my sermons will be based on what is known as “The Ten Commandments.” I hope you do not find the idea of preaching from the Ten Commandments a little confusing, being that evangelicals often say that we no longer live under the law but under grace, quoting Paul’s words in Romans six, 14. And this claim is made despite Jesus’ words who said, “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. 18 For (Amen) truly I tell you, 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).
Jesus affirmed the Law—the Torah and the Prophets. Jesus affirmed that in the Law God revealed his will to his people. The Commandments and the whole of the Law testify to God’s will and work in history. In fact, the very coming of the Messiah was part of Scripture being fulfilled. Therefore, the coming of Jesus does not nullify the law nor make obsolete the commandments of God. But Jesus’ fulfilling of the Commandments and Law does not mean that he simply managed to obey them in a legalistic manner. No, he lived according to the commandments to the fullest extent of their intended meaning. He taught them and reemphasized their importance when he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times . . . .” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). But Jesus also reinterpreted the Commandments, revealing the spirit behind God’s intention in giving them, when he said, “But I say to you . . . .” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). What Jesus did when he addressed those commandments was not only to give them a new and deeper interpretation, but he actually relocated the authority of the commandments in himself. That is, the commandments have now come under his interpretation and authority. The meaning of the commandments is what Jesus said it to be. In Hebrews, we are told that God had spoken in past times through many forms, but now He speaks through his Son, who is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3). It is for those reasons that I want to invite you to see the Ten Commandments in a new light, the light of Jesus as the final authority of Scriptures.
Can you recite the Ten Commandments? To begin with, you might not know that there are three versions of the Ten Commandments. There is the (1) Jewish, (2) the Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, and (3) the Reformed, Anglican, Protestant/Evangelical versions of the Ten Commandments.
The Jewish version has the following:
|1. I am the Lord your God|
|2. No other Gods(and no graven images)||1. No other Gods (and no graven images)||1. No other Gods|
|2. No graven images|
|3. Do not misuse God’s name||2. Do not misuse God’s name||3. Do not misuse God’s name|
|4. Keep the Sabbath||3. Keep the Sabbath||4. Keep the Sabbath|
|5. Honor father & mother||4. Honor father & mother||5. Honor father & mother|
|6. Do not murder||5. Do not murder||6. Do not murder|
|7. Do not commit adultery||6. Do not commit adultery||7. Do not commit adultery|
|8. Do not steal||7. Do not steal||8. Do not steal|
|9. Do not bear false witness against a neighbor||8. Do not bear false witness against a neighbor||9. Do not bear false witness against a neighbor|
|10. Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse or house||9. Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse||10. Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse or house|
|10. Do not covet your neighbor’s house|
The differences are not without reason. The first difference between the Catholic and the Protestant versions obviously is about the issue of graven images. The Protestant version, since the Reformation, highlights its rejection of the Catholic practice of having statues and icons. Therefore, the second commandment in the Protestant version is “You shall not have graven images.” The other difference is in the commandment regarding coveting. In the Catholic version, the commandment is divided into two, making the ninth and tenth in its list. In the Protestant version, the tenth commandment includes both objects of coveting—coveting the neighbor’s wife, house and other household belongings.
Later, I will tell you the difference there is in the Jewish version.
The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Old Testament. It appears in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. And there is a difference between them regarding the commandment to observe the Sabbath Day. In Exodus, the reason given for the observation of that commandment is because on the seventh day God rested from His work of creation and because God blessed and sanctified that day. However, the reason given for the observance of the Seventh Day in Deuteronomy is because the Sabbath Day should be a reminder to the Israelites that were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord rescued them.
Let us begin by asking ourselves, “What, then, are the Ten Commandments? What is its purpose?” First, God did not give the Ten Commandments to Israel, and for that matter, to anyone, that through their obedience of the commandments they would attain salvation. Israel’s chosenness did not depend on their obedience to the commandments. Israel was already chosen and delivered by God when he gave them the Ten Commandments. That is why the Jewish version of the Ten Commandments begins with: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2). For Israel, the commandments cannot be separated from the covenant and their story of redemption. The commandments could only be understood in light of what God had done for them. The Jewish understanding of the commandments is: redemption first and then commandments to guide the relationship between Savior and saved. Therefore, the first commandment according to the Jewish list demanded their acknowledgment of the Lord God as the one who rescued them from slavery. Based on that first and fundamental acknowledgment, the rest of the commandments follows.
When we see the inscription of the Ten Commandments today, we only see a list of “You shall not . . . .” It seems as if the Ten Commandments were the selfish demands of Yahweh. But that was not the case as we can see in chapter 19, where God instructs Moses on what to say to the people of Israel: “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 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, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
In that regard, the commandments point to the covenantal relationship God was establishing with his people. Through the obedience of the commandments Israel would attain the marvelous qualities of becoming God’s “treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” By obeying the commandments Israel would display before the watching world what it looks like to be Yahweh’s chosen and holy people. The commandments had the purpose of creating a people whose loyalty and reverence was only to God. And the direct and natural result of that love for God would be love and care for the community—the neighbor.
Therefore, what does the very basic analysis of the Ten Commandments mean for us today?
First, is that God does not give the law as a means to salvation. Any attempt to obey the commandments as a way to earn salvation, to win our soul’s way into heaven is not only a misunderstanding of their purpose but also impossible. To attempt to obey the commandments in order to be right with God is also a mistake. God does not give the law as a way to establish a relationship with anyone. The way of God is to establish a relationship and then to give instructions on how to respond and keep that relationship.
This leads to the second point about the commandments. The purpose of God in giving the commandments is not to make the observer a better person. If that were the case, then the focus of the commandments would be you and me as individuals. But as we have seen, the focus of the commandment is God and our neighbor, just as Jesus and Paul said. (Jesus) said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Paul puts this way: For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Loving God and loving the neighbor is only possible when we ourselves have experienced the love of God. We can love God because, just as the Israelites were first liberated from slavery, so we have been saved from the bondage of sin. Jesus has freed us through his work of salvation. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have been freed, redeemed, and entered into a relationship with God—the new covenant in his Son. Because we have been freed, we can love God and the neighbor. That is why the apostle John said, “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1John 4:19-21) Amen!