The 10 Commandments
Exodus 20:1 - 17
Today we are beginning a new series titled, “The Ten Commandments” and I will take the next ten weeks to talk about what each commandment means and how they still apply for us today.
Whether you are a believer or not you are probably familiar with the concept of the 10 commandments. I would venture to say that this portion of scripture is possibly the best-known set of rules in all western and eastern culture. Depending on how you were raised and when you grew up it is likely that you at least heard them recited or were even made to memorize them as a child.
I would be interested to know how many of you can recite all ten commandments. (Leave a message in the comments section) Or how many of you even know where they can be found in the Bible? That is sort of a trick question since they are found in two separate passages (Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5).
Listen to this sobering and somewhat abnormal fact. According to an October 2007 Reuter’s article that at the time of the writing less than 15% of Americans can name the 10 commandments. By comparison 25% of Americans could name the seven ingredients in a Big Mac and the names of all six Brady Bunch children. Now, I wouldn’t consider a scientifically accurate tests because there are many variable to consider, but it is an interesting article, just Google 10 Commandments and Big Macs and read the article for yourself. Do you have anything better to do today?
When I mentioned that we are beginning a new series on the Ten Commandments maybe your mind was brought back to the 1956 movie with the same name and possibly had a mental picture of Carlton Heston (Moses) standing before the court of Pharaoh with staff in hand demanding, “Let my People go!” Or maybe you had a vision the of Heston standing on the mountain with the stone tablets in hand, rebuking the Israelites for their sinfulness and throwing the stone tablets at the Golden calf thus blowing it to smithereens.
Whatever picture comes to mind it is important to know that the 10 Commandments are more than an entertaining Hollywood movie, a bunch of rules recited from memory, or the false idea that if we keep them to the best of our ability then we can go to heaven. No, these commandments are intended for far greater purposes and we will look at them today and, in the weeks, to come.
Jesus & the Law
Now, before we get too involved in this message, some of you may be thinking, “Why are we doing a study on the laws or commands of God, aren’t we under grace and not the law? That is a good question and John 1:17 does affirm “for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus.” You may also be thinking if Jesus came to fulfill the law, then why do we need to observe the 10 Commandments? It is true Jesus did come to fulfill the law according to Matthew 5:17, but He also says that He did not come to abolish or end it. In Matthew 22:34 – 40 Jesus was asked by the Pharisees which commandment is the greatest to which he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… The second it like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets depend on these two commands.”
All of them, yes, all 613 laws in O.T. The Ten Commands summarize all 613 laws which are summarized into two laws: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.
Author and theologian J.I. Packer writes, “Jesus himself is in fact the embodiment of the Ten Commandments and living below the standard of service that his life sets is, quite simply, falling short in neighbor-love.”
The purpose of the 10 Commandments
As I have already mentioned the 10 Commandments are not just a list of do’s and don’ts or rules that must be followed in order to go to heaven, win God’s approval and put him in our debt. No, they are commands given by God to his people whom he just delivered, rescued, and redeemed from Egypt and keeping the commandments should be, at the minimum, the grateful response to His love, grace, and mercy. They reflect the way God’s people are called in response to be holy (set apart) and they reflect God’s nature (attributes) that shows us what He looks like and what He desires from His people.
The true purpose of the ten commandments are to reveal our sin nature and rebellion: Ultimately, they reveal that we do not like God (or anyone for that matter) telling us what we can and cannot do. The truth is the law, or 10 Commandments should bring us to our knees and point us to our great need for Jesus. They show us that we cannot reach perfection and we cannot keep His commands perfectly. They reveal that we are sinful people. Now, we can either view the 10 Commandments as rules constraining and restricting to keep under God’s thumb or we can view them as ways for free people, His people, to live in obedience to the God who has truly rescued, delivered and set them free.
Background (Exodus 19)
Before I begin talking about the first commandment, I think we all would benefit from gaining a better perspective and background leading up to Moses receiving the commandments.
As many of you know Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years and God through Moses had recently liberated the Israelites from captivity. Moses and the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for three months and they set up camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses goes up to the mountain and God called to him from there.
God instructs Moses to speak to the Israelites on his behalf and declares that Israel will be His own possession out of all the peoples in the earth, and they will be God’s kingdom of priests and His holy nation. Ultimately, God is declaring that Israel belongs to Him.
Moses comes down and tells the people what God has said the people respond that they will do whatever the Lord says. He then goes back up to the mountain and receives specific instructions (ceremonial consecrations) as to how the nation must prepare for God’s descent to the mountain. Once again Moses goes down and tells the people what they must do.
On the third day it began to thunder, and lightning and a thick cloud enveloped the mountain and a loud trumpet sounded. God calls Moses back to the mountain to give him the 10 commandments.
“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me.” (Exodus 20:1 – 3)
There is a reason the first commandment is the first commandment. If you remember Israel was delivered from a pagan nation (Egypt) who had many gods. It is believed that there were over 2,000 gods in ancient Egypt. And out of these 2000 there were lots of impressive gods and goddesses and it was inevitable that some of the Israelites had assimilated to Egyptian culture and religion. However, Israel had been called by God to be a holy nation and this means they were a set apart nation; they were called to live differently, act differently and worship differently from the rest of the world. Thus, God needed to establish that He alone is God.
Vs 2a: “I am the LORD” The word LORD is the Hebrew name for God YHWH. He is the same covenant keeping God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He is the same God whose name is “I AM WHO I AM”. He is same the self-existent, self-sufficient, sovereign God who created the world. He is the same God who delivered them from Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, and provided for them in the wilderness.
Vs 2b: “your God…” He is not just the LORD; He is a personal God. He is the God of Israel. God says, I am YOUR God. He is not a distant god who is unconcerned with the well-being of his people. Nor is he a tyrant who wields his exponential power and authority without restraint over His creatures. He is “your God” who cares for and loves His people. He is the Father. He is on our side. He gives the commands for our good and His glory.
Vs 2c: “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.” God reminds Israel what He has done for them…
Vs. 3: “Do not have other gods besides me.” This does not mean that God is one of many gods. Nor does it imply the most powerful among inferior gods. He is declaring that no other god exists except for him. God affirms that no other gods should be worshiped because THERE ARE NO OTHER gods except for Yahweh. He is One, and there is none beside him. God is saying: “Worship me alone or don’t worship me at all.”
The Bible records the statement over 20 times that God is ONE and there are no other gods besides Him. God will not take a backseat to anything or anyone and we will talk more about this next week as we look at the second commandment.
Application: How Commandment 1 Applies to Christians today
So, what does all of this mean for us today? What is the takeaway from this message? How does keeping the commandments apply to Christians today? Here are three takeaways.
God cannot be worshiped rightly or properly if he is worshiped alongside anyone or anything.
So why do we need to keep this commandment? Because love is at the very heart of this first commandment. When we love God with all of our being, we cannot and will not worship anything or anyone over the God who has called us to Himself.
As I close, I would like to issue a challenge to all of you hearing this message. As a collective body (physical church and digital church) I would like for us to journey together to memorize the 10 Commandments. Each week I would like for us to memorize the commandment that we just studied. This week we will memorize (Exodus 20:1 - 3) as a church together and as we memorize we can make it a practice to not only know and memorize God’s Word, but to commit to living it out as well.
 (Packer, J. I.. Keeping the Ten Commandments . Crossway. Kindle Edition.)
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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