Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words: 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 13 "You shall not murder. 14 "You shall not commit adultery. 15 "You shall not steal. 16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
What a sight it must have been! Three months after the Israelites left Egypt they were camped at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert. Through Moses the Lord told the children of Israel that He was going to make a covenant – a solemn promise – with them. If they would now obey Him fully and keep His covenant, then out of all the nations they would be His treasured people (Exodus 19:5). To this all the people responded with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Exodus 19:8).
For three days the Israelites prepared for their meeting with God when He was going to tell them what He expected of them. At this meeting, the Lord put on a pyrotechnic light show complete with surround sound unlike any the people had ever seen. “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” (Exodus 20:18-19). Then God gave them His words which we call The Ten Commandments.
The whole scene was terrifying – with thunder and lightening and smoke around the mountain. Then the Lord descended upon the mountain in a dense cloud. Then God spoke. And the absolute demands the all-holy God gave these whining, distrustful, sinful people were no less terrifying.
Especially when we read the Commandments as ten “Thou shalts …” and “Thou shalt nots …”!
But how different are the Commandments if we read them as ten “You wills …” and “You will nots …”?
How different are the Commandments when we read them being not so much about legal obedience as they are about love?
The Commandments are all about love. God gave them to us out of love, to mark those as whom God loves, and to guide us in demonstrating God’s love back to Him and to others. They talk about what it means to love God and love your neighbor. Jesus summarized the Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 23:37-39).
Most people are not used to talking about what “love” – real love, divine love – looks like. We Americans have gotten used to talking about love as a feeling. But in the Bible, love is not a feeling, it is an action – or at least it demonstrates itself in actions. Love is something you do. You DO love. Love that is not seen in actions is not real love.
The first three Commandments describe how love toward God works – or how it looks. You can read these Commandments as descriptive rather than prescriptive. They are describing what we will be doing as Christians rather than telling us what we have to do to be Christians. A very subtle but very important difference. Then they would read something like this:
“Since you are my people, and I am your God:
#1. You will have no other gods.
#2. You will not be taking my name in vain, or using it as if I did not exist.
#3. You will always remember my Sabbath as a day of rest. You will keep it holy, treating this day as unique and precious, set aside for my worship.”
The obvious implication is that where we see those actions, we are likely seeing those who love God. Where those behaviors are missing, we are seeing those who do not have a true love for God. Love for God is not something you merely think about or feel. Love – true love – for God is something that you do, that you act upon. Love results in behaviors. It does things, and makes you do things. God is saying that if you love Him above all things, then you will naturally do these things as part of demonstrating that love.
The last seven Commandments describe love for God from a different perspective. They describe a Christian’s love for God demonstrating itself in love toward a Christian’s neighbors.
“Since you are my people, and I am your God:
#4. You will honor your father and mother, for they are my gift to you and they stand in my place before you.
#5. You will not murder each other, or even hate one another.
#6. You will not violate the marriage bed, or misuse my gift of sexuality.
#7. You will not be taking from one another, but you will be satisfied with the blessings with which I have given you.
#8. You will not lie to one another, or speak evil of one another, or gossip about one another.
#9. You will not crave or try to obtain the property I have given to another.
#10. You will not crave or try to obtain the people I have given to another.”
Doing any of the things described or forbidden is not love. It is not love toward our neighbor. And it is not love toward our God.
How are you doing with validating your love toward your God? How about demonstrating your love toward your neighbor?
Listen to this story and think about how you would have responded.
Recently, a despondent, drunken, unemployed man called the local TV station to let them know that he intended to set himself on fire. The TV station sent a camera and sound man to record the event for the evening news. But the moment the flames started, those two men were put in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, as reporters, they had to record the event as passive and disinterested spectators. On the other hand, they felt that they should be caring fellow human beings and save the man by putting out the fire.
Time the video footage and you will see that the TV crew stayed professional for 37 seconds. For 37 seconds they recorded the burning man. For 37 seconds they did what their bosses told them to do.
Then, after 37 seconds, one of the men did what God had told Him to do in His Commandments. It was almost too late. With the help of a volunteer fireman who was in the crowd, they were able to put out the blaze.
So, what would you have done? How long would it have taken for you to jump into action? How many seconds would it have taken for you to refuse your employers and obey your God? How long does it take to demonstrate love?
We would all like to think that we would have jumped into action. But would we?
I haven’t seen many Christians crying out for the U.S. or N.A.T.O. to do something to stop the brutal killings of Christians by ISIS.
I haven’t witnessed any of us clamoring to put an end to the holocaust of unborn babies in our nation.
I haven’t observed too many members filling the sanctuary to capacity on Sunday mornings begging to worship their God.
Sadly, many of us – perhaps all of us – can watch starvation, disease, riots, murder, and all our world’s evils on the evening news … while calmly eating supper.
It is a sad thing to acknowledge that somewhere along the line our hearts have become hardened and immune to the pain in our world. It is a frightening thing to admit that we are willing to observe people around us suffering, but we stand by dispassionately unwilling to put out their fires. It is a tragic thing to confess that we have broken every one of God’s Ten Commandments time and time again … because we do not love.
This is where Jesus, our Savior comes in. We do not see Jesus on Mt. Sinai. Instead we see Him in other locations, fulfilling what God gave to Israel on Mt. Sinai. In the Jordan River, Jesus took humanity’s sins upon Himself in those baptismal waters. In the desert, Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations of which we so often succumb. In the synagogue, Jesus kept the Sabbath and worshiped His heavenly Father, which we often fail to do. On the sea, Jesus calmed His disciples’ fears, which so easily overtake us. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus received His Father’s commendation for keeping His commands. In the garden, Jesus knelt to pray for us.
In all of this He demonstrated His love for us.
But His greatest love was demonstrated at Mt. Calvary. For the Law was given at Mt. Sinai. The Gospel was observed at Mt. Calvary.
Observe the soldiers shoving Jesus to the ground and stretching His arms against the rough, wooden beams. Hear the hammer pounding nails through flesh and wood. Feel the ground shake as the Son of God is killed for your sins. Colossians 2:14 proclaims what happened on that mountain: “[Jesus] canceled the written code that was against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” That’s love!
Jesus brings a different kind of message than the people got at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Whether you read the Ten Commandments as “Thou shalt …” or “You will …”, either way it is telling you to do something. The Gospel tells you something completely different. It says, “Through Jesus, it is all finished. It has all been done.”
The Ten Commandments tell us what we are going to naturally do as Christians. Unfortunately, because we are also sinners, keeping the Ten Commandments does not come naturally to us. That’s why we need Jesus. He did not come to get rid of the Commandments – to give us a license to sin, but to fulfill the Commandments – to grant us a license to lovd. Galatians 4:4-5 explains: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
You can summarize the Commandments with one word – “Love.” You can summarize Jesus with one word – “Love.” For this one word describes exactly what Jesus did in His obedient life and His sacrificial death. He literally loved us to death!
The Commandments are not only a command, but a promise. Now because of Jesus and His love for you, now you will love Him in return, now you will love your neighbors through Him. Even though Jesus has fulfilled the Commandments, they are still true. They still tell us what love is like.
The Commandments no longer need to be terrifying. Not now after you have witnessed that Jesus loves you; now that you know what Jesus has done to fulfill the Commandments in your place; now that you believe that Jesus has forgiven you for your continual lack of love in breaking His Commandments … you will demonstrate your love toward your God and love toward your neighbor. Love is not just a feeling. It is not locked up in your heart. It is not a Sunday morning, come-to-church kind of thing. If there is love, it shows. It acts. It blesses God and benefits others.
Because of seeing Jesus in the Commandments, God says to you, “Since you are my people, and I am your God, this is what you will be like.” And it won’t take you even 37 seconds to decide the right way to love. Amen.