Summary: God gives us his commands for our good - to protect the crown of his creation: us.
“No running. And no diving into the shallow end.” These are a couple rules you might find at the local swimming pool. Aren’t they annoying? That’s what I used to think until I realized that these rules keep me safe. If I run on a wet surface, for example, I may slip and bang my head. That would really hurt.
Today we start a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. Are you pumped? No? I have to admit I wasn’t as excited about writing this series as I was when I preached on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Ten Commandments are so demanding and therefore so…wearisome, or so our sinful nature thinks. But God gave us these commands because he loves us. As we take a look at the commandments one by one we’ll see that they each protect a different aspect of our lives. Today we look at the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” With this command God is protecting his crown – not just his crown of glory but the crown of his creation: us. Listen to the words of our text from Exodus 20:1-6.
Let’s go back 3,500 years ago to the time when the Israelites camped at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. It was here that God gave the Ten Commandments. Do you remember how that happened exactly? Moses trotted up the mountain and brought back two stone tablets on which God himself had written the commands, right? That might be the storyline you get when reading a children’s Bible but that’s not exactly how it happened. Instead God told Moses that he himself was going to speak the Ten Commandments to the people and so they were to spend two days getting ready for the event (Exodus 19:10, 11). Next Sunday I’ll be preaching in Red Deer and Wetaskiwin but I don’t suppose the pastors there have told their members to take Friday off of school and work, and cancel all hockey games and trips to the mall on Saturday to get ready for my sermon. That sounds laughable until you consider what I will be sharing: God’s Word. That’s a big deal. Listen to how God himself drove that point home with the Israelites at Sinai. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled... 18 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, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:16, 18, 19).
Fire. Smoke. Thunder. Earthquake. Trumpet blasts. What was God up to there on Mt. Sinai? God was simply being his holy self and expressing that the Ten Commandments he was about to speak were not the Ten Suggestions. The experience was so overwhelmingly terrifying that the Israelites begged Moses, “…we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. 26 For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey” (Deuteronomy 5:25b-27).
When Martin Luther set out to explain the First Commandment, he said that God was telling us to fear him above all things. On that day at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Israelites did fear God above everything else. How could they not considering all that they had seen, heard, felt, and smelled of God’s raging glory?
Do you fear God above all things? That may be hard to do considering you have not come to Mt. Sinai but find yourself before a puny pulpit and an imperfect preacher. And so you may walk away from here unimpressed and more afraid of rejection by your friends than rejection by a holy God. My voice may be unimpressive but it is still an echo of that thundering voice the Israelites heard at Sinai. The fact that you can still hear an echo 3,500 years later should affect you as it would cross-country skiers who hear the echo of an avalanche a valley away. The rumbling sound may be faint but the skiers know it’s evidence that a great power has been unleashed, a power more potent than they may have imagined and it will make them uneasy as they look up at the snow-filled slopes that tower above them. No, we did not witness the avalanche of God’s glory at Sinai but we do hear its faint rumblings making us uneasy as we look up to this holy God.