Today we begin a new series entitled simply, The Ten Commandments.
And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that 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 bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
The Ten Commandments are known in Hebrew as the Decalogue, or “Ten Words,” and we devote our time to these Ten Words. They are an essential step for a healthy Christian life. Some of you may not have considered the Ten Commandments since your days in religion classes at a private Christian school. Many of you may have never memorized them. I issue a church-wide challenge to all our families: Let’s memorize the Ten together during this series.
The Ten Commandments & American Law
Some take the Ten Commandments personally while others have a more political reflection of the Ten Commandments. For you, you’re agitated that the Ten Commandments have been removed from our schools. The debate over whether the Ten Commandments should be posted in public places is a serious debate. Many of us remember when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments in 1995. It’s fueled by the idea that the foundations of our morals are under attack. We live in lawless times where disrespect for authority and rules reign supreme. We live in a day where there is little broad moral consensus. It’s as if everyone is making up their own personal Ten Commandments. The commandments of God stand against this for they begin as follows: “And God spoke all these words, saying…” (Exodus 20:1).
The History of the Ten Commandments
While the immediate future of the Ten is unclear, the origins of the Commandments are clear. We find that the Ten Commandments themselves were written in stone by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18). God wrote these in stone for they would remain in effect as long as time endured. He wrote them with His own finger to show He personally spoke and wrote these Ten Commandments. They were special. The Ten were placed in what the Hebrews called the Ark of the Covenant. This golden box was at the center of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem. God keeps these Ten Commandments at the center in order to testify of their eternal significance. To quote ABC News Ted Koppel when he spoke to Duke University’s commencement address: “What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions… they are commandments. Are, not were.”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in your Bibles twice: Exodus 20 and again in Deuteronomy 5. Deuteronomy means the second giving of the law. So Exodus 20 is the announcement of God’s law and Deuteronomy 5 is repeating the Ten for the next generation for sake of emphasis. It was given the first time on Mount Sinai and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 at Mount Horeb (which is a different name for the same mountain). If we were to read through the entirety of our Old Testament, we found the Ten Commandments repeated by such prophets as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:9), Hosea (Hosea 4:2), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 22:1-12). The Commandments play an important part in our New Testaments as well. Jesus Himself said this about the Commandments:
“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 truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).
My goal this morning is highly practical: I want you to see the value of God’s law for your life. I think these Ten Words from God represent a treasure of insight and wisdom that have not been mined by the minds of most Americans. Here are ten directives that are designed by our Creator to teach us how to live.
To accomplish this, I want to paint the scene for when the Ten Commandments were first given.
1. Meeting God is a Terrifying Experience
Before we examine the Commandments themselves in detail, I want you to look at the setting of when and where the Commandments were given.
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ 20 Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
“So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. 9 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.’
When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”
16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them” (Exodus 19:7-25).
The Ten Commandments communicate the character of God. The setting tells us something of Who He is.
Notice carefully the scene described to us by Moses. Some two million Israelites (2,000,0000) have left slavery in Egypt and God has purposefully placed them in the “wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:1). The whole mountain was ablaze with fire as God intended to impress the people. He wanted them to see the greatness of the Lawgiver before they studied His law. A line was to be drawn around the foot of the mountain where they must not cross (Exodus 19:12). If anyone (or animal) touches but one stone of the mountain, he was to be stoned or shot with bow and arrow. They must not touch the mountain not because it was a magical rock but because the mountain was the place where God’s holy presence had descended.
A thick cloud also covered the mountain as the mountain itself began to shake violently. Then they heard a loud trumpet blast from heaven that grew louder (Exodus 19:19). After three days of preparation to meet God, the people witnessed the desert mountain covered with think clouds. As we have seen our share here in recent weeks, they heard the thunder and witnessed the lightning. One flash of lightning can be nearly twelve inches in width, two miles in length and it has the ability to pack a billion (1,000,000,000) volts of electricity.
The mountain was further described as being filled with smoke (Exodus 19:18). When Moses spoke to God, the voice of God sounded forth in thunder (Exodus 19:19). God did not reveal His law with the sweet sound of a harp and the song of angels. Instead, the law is given with the awe-inspiring voice of God that shakes the mountain.
It was as if you are a citizen standing on the shores of Libya in our day, and you feel the full dreadful power of the American navy ships far off the shore. It is a dreadful sound to hear their artillery. And it was a dreadful scene to hear the salvos of the dreadful artillery of God at Mount Sinai. No wonder Scripture asks: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live” (Deuteronomy 4:33)? What happened at Sinai happens whenever anyone one of us feels the force of the law inside of us. The law thunders inside of us. When the prophet Habakkuk encountered God near the end of our Old Testaments, he writes of his experience: “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me” (Habakkuk 3:16a). This was God’s intention. He wants you to see the flames that Moses saw and abandon forever all hope of acceptance by works of the law.
God’s law is designed to tear us to pieces. It is so pure. It is so uncompromising that when we experience its force, it makes us tremble. It causes us to drop to our knees. Inside our conscience, we feel the full dreadful force of the law and it feels as if God’s artillery has appeared. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The law of God is an excessively bright light that searches us. Much like the bright light of a highway patrolman who searches the car of a drunken man in the mid-morning hours.
God intends His law to be a whip of wire. When the law arrives, all boasting of keeping the Law ceases. The death penalty was reserved for any person who violated any of the first six of the Ten Commandments. The nation of Israel's judicial system was to kill such a person for their actions kindled the wrath of God Himself. God intended you to look into the flames of Mount Sinai and abandon all hope of being found accepted by God on the basis of keeping the Ten. When God comes near any person in His holiness, He kills any and all of us. It is no trifling thing to stand before the face of an eternal God.
Can you imagine Him arriving again one Day? If His giving of the Ten Commandments were so scary, what will it be like on the Day when He returns?
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (Revelation 6:12-17).
2. When You Meet God, You’ll Need a Mediator
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
The children of Israel were not always so infatuated with Moses for one at least one occasion they took up stones to stone him (Exodus 17:4). Nevertheless, they called for him now. The people were terrified by the presence of God and they cried out to their leader: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). He was everything to them at that moment.
When you appear before a holy God, you would no more approach Him than you would walk into shark-infested waters. When God appears in front of you and you tremble in awestruck fear, it is a wise thing to call for a mediator to stand between you and He.
Notice the order of how this works both then and now. God’s whip of wire lashes our conscience first. Then and only then we run to the Mediator. “NO MAN KNOWS THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE GOSPEL TILL HE UNDERSTANDS THE BLACKNESS OF THOSE CLOUDS WHICH SURROUND THE LAW OF THE LORD” (CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON)
Moses was their mediator. He was their chosen person (and God’s chosen person) to represent all of Israel. They were too afraid to stand before this thrice-holy God. Moses was a very good mediator. Later, he prays on behalf of His people: “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 33:32).
If God’s thunder has stricken you this morning, then run to a better mediator than Moses. Run to Jesus. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5). “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’” (Matthew 27:46)? It was none other than Jesus Himself who said: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
Isaac Watts wrote a poem that is approximately three centuries old. He captures the need for a mediator:
“Till God in human flesh I see
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terrors to my mind.”
“But if Immanuel’s face appear,
My hope, my joy, begins;
His name forbids my slavish fear,
His grace removes my sins.”
3. God’s Law is Surrounded by God’s Grace.
“The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:3b-6)
Question: Is the Law Opposed to Grace? Another way of asking this same question is: is the Old Testament Opposed to the New Testament? Not at all. Did you see verse four? “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4)? Notice carefully that the law was given after God set His people free. The commandments follow the Gospel of undeserved deliverance.
People assume that in the Old Testament salvation came by the doing the law, whereas the New Testament salvation comes by grace. The truth is that salvation has always come by grace. God did not give the Ten Commandments until Exodus 20. Chapters 1-19 come first. God was at work in order to set His people free. Chapters 1-19 tell the story of God’s grace. They tell the story of God keeping His promise that He gave to Abraham. It’s in these chapters that we learn of God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel. The law came after they were delivered. Law came after God’s grace. They were delivered in order to encounter God Himself: And still, God’s grace comes after His law. Much like a sandwich, God works His grace, then His law, and then His grace again.
Cling closely to the Son and His cross. When you are in Christ, the Father’s wrath is gone for He sees the Son in your place.