By Simon ManchesterSunday 8 Jul 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 16 minutes
We are following the Exodus on these Sunday mornings. This is the 9th in a series of 12. Today we’re at Mt Sinai, and we are listening to the Ten Commandments. I don’t know what your reaction is when you hear the phrase ‘Ten Commandments’?
- Do you think of them as being good news?
- Do you think of them as being depressing?
- Do you think of them as being relevant, ancient history?
- Would they make a good blueprint for a government?
- Are they for the world?
- Are they for unbelievers?
- Are they just for religious red-necks?
- Should we be boldly displaying them in our church as some people do or should we hide them away because they may put people off Christianity?
- Are they still commands or are they just good principals?
- Are they pretty optional?
Now let me tell you that there is virtually a “yes” to every single one of those questions across the world and the church today. There is an absolute spectrum of opinion about the Ten Commandments. I presume there are some people around the world at the moment who are trumpeting the Ten Commandments and pushing them into peoples’ faces and then you have other people around the world who hate the Ten Commandments.
I was reading that in America some years ago in Alabama a judge was dismissed from office because he refused to remove a monument set up in the judicial centre with the Ten Commandments inscribed and the suit against the judge which removed him from office came from the American Civil Liberties Union – unbelievable.
So the Commandments are very polarising for the secular world and even for the church, and because there is so much misunderstanding, I want this morning to try and say a few words which will help us to see them as we are meant to see them.
Three questions we are going to ask this morning if you would like to jot a note down on the back of your Notice Sheet or that Bulletin you received. The three questions are these:
Who are they for?
What do they mean?
Where do they lead?
Under each of those questions, I actually have two answers.
So first of all, Who are they for? Well, now I hope you know that the first answer to the question – Who are the Commandments for? Is that they are for God’s family. They are for God’s people. Again listen to the first three verses of chapter 20 where we read “God spoke all these words – I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt – I have already brought you out of Egypt out of the land of slavery – you shall have no other gods before me.
I don’t know if that’s ever struck you before, but it is impossible for me to overstate that verse 2 comes before verse 3!
God says “I have rescued you”. Now, this is how I want you to live. He redeems his people, he saves his people, and then he instructs them. To make it very simple – he delivers then the directions. He gives the liberty then the law. He makes the relationship then the rules – or as one commentator says “Look at what he does before you see what he demands”.
And if you think this is a small issue, I challenge you to talk to the famous man in the street, and you will discover the famous man in the street gets this totally wrong. The famous man in the street thinks if you do the rules, well you may one day after death get the relationship and if you live well, you will get the life eternal. The Bible says the exact opposite.
The other religions of the world also get this completely wrong. The religions of the world essentially teach that if you are religious in the directives which they give you, you will get the reward. If you are good, you may get God.
And this is exactly the opposite of what the Bible says. So when Jesus sat by a well with a woman who was sad and sinful – you may remember John 4 – he began pretty well by saying to her “I will give you living water”. “I will give you a brand new life”. And then, of course, she started making excuses, and he began to talk to her about God’s standards so that she would see her need for a new life but notice the sequence – Jesus begins grace first. Exodus begins with grace first. In all the Bible it’s grace first. God offers rescue relationship freely, and then he provides instructions when you have responded.
Some of you may be familiar with something called “dispensationalism” which is a movement which began in America in the mid 19th Century. It divided the Bible up into phases or dispensations.
So you have the Abraham Phase and the Moses Phase, and at its worst, it argued for different methods of salvation, so the Abraham Phase was Salvation by Promise, and the Moses Phase was Salvation by Works. This, of course, produced dreadful confusion and totally wrong confusion because in the end, the Bible has always taught Salvation by Grace. There are not two Gospels in the Scripture – you don’t have an Old Testament gospel by works and a New Testament by grace, the Old is by grace, and the New is by grace – all Scripture teaches grace.
Why are the Commandments mostly negative? People dislike being restricted, and the Commandments look very restrictive. The answer is that ‘negative’ is actually more liberating.
If you are told positively what you must do, then it is much more restrictive.
One commentator puts it like this: A positive command, telling you to do this, restricts life to that one course of action whereas a negative command leaves life open to every course of action except one.
So if you visit a park or a library or a museum, you often see a little list of “what not to do”. It’s very, very unlikely you see a list of “what to do because there are huge freedoms in the park or the library or the museum – just a few things not to do.
Why are the Commandments traditionally on Two Stone Tablets or Two Boards? –(you can picture the Cecil B. Demille movie and Charlton Heston coming down with the big two stone tablets) and the answer is not because Commandments 1-5 go on one and Commandments 6-10 go on the other but because in a treaty in the ancient New East there were two parties. Each got a copy and because God’s copy (if I might put it reverently did not need to go back with him so he could remember it) went into his temple, and the Israelites’ copy went into the Israelites’ temple; both copies went into the temple.
Now that’s the first answer to the first question – Who are the Commandments for? – they are for the rescued people of God.
There is, however, a second answer to the question as to whom the Commandments are for, and that is the Commandments are also meant to be reflected to the world to show the standard of God for his people. In a sense when God instructed Adam and Eve in a whole lot of areas like, serve me, relate to me, be in relationship with me, you are made in my image, I’ve got some work for you to do, this is what family is all about – there is a sense in which the Commandments are re-stating Genesis so that the world would know the sort of world that God expects, that God seeks, that God is working towards.
Does this mean that Christians should use the Ten Commandments to help their evangelism? Is it a good idea to go to the Ten Commandments and show a person that they have broken them and show them that Jesus will forgive them and save them?
The answer is that in rare situations, that may be helpful. Christians in former times have talked about the Commandments as being the needle pulling the scarlet thread of the gospel.
But I think it is right to say that in an un-churched culture, and our culture is a very un-churched culture, there is too much preamble needed to explain the Commandments and what they are for and what they say and what they mean and who is behind them. It’s much better for us to bring people as quickly as possible, face to face, with Jesus Christ who has his own challenge of kingship and rescue for people.
Now I am getting weary of telling people now that I work as a Minister, and so I am going to tell people that “I am being paid to help people take Jesus seriously”! That’s my new plan so I think what should be the focus of our witness is to take Jesus seriously.
The first question is who are they for? People of God radiated to the world of God.
The second question is what do they mean? What are they actually saying? Of course, we could have five sermons or ten sermons on each of these Commandments. We could go for two years on the Commandments; we could probably go for 10 years on the Commandments.
One commentator has 170 pages on this chapter. John Frame in his book “The Christian Life” devotes 465 pages to outlining some of the implications of the Ten Commandments and there are hundreds of books in theological libraries just on the Ten Commandments.
For example, I just noted some of the things we might say about stealing. Commandment No.8 – Do not Steal. Think about this for example:
We could talk for a little bit of time about stealing or shoplifting,
Making false claims
We could talk about people at work who waste money, who are lazy, who take unwarranted sick days.
We could talk about making illegitimate phone calls, surfing the net during work time.
Playing computer games
We could talk about things like corporate fraud
Abuse of Copyright
Identity Theft – on and on and on – it’s a huge subject.
So here is a very quick skim of the Ten Commandments and what they say:
1. Have no other gods. Love and trust the God of the Bible. Your one heart is meant to be given to the one God.
2. Make no idols. I’m just reminded of how many people are here this morning and possibly are way, way, away from God because there is another god in their life. There is another priority and another passion and another person who absolutely dominates their heart and life, but the Bible says make no idols, don’t invent one, don’t do it mentally, don’t do it with metals, use the word of God to help you understand God. Don’t make inventions.
3. Don’t misuse his name. Don’t take his name, character, and don’t take the relationship with God lightly. Don’t try and distort him, don’t try and re-shape him. Your devotion to him should be glorifying to him, and your speech about him should be glorifying to him.
4. Keep the Sabbath. This is a reminder that the world is not the goal but the kingdom is the goal. More important than the world is the kingdom and so you and I must show that we are ‘kingdom people’ in the world. You may remember of course that the Israelites in Egypt would have had no Sabbath. It’s a privilege to have a Sabbath.
5. Honour your parents. Take your elders seriously. It’s entirely possible that your parents will provide stability for a sensible life for you and also may even provide the gospel of eternal life for you so listen carefully to them.
6. Do not kill. You are a private individual, you are to seek the security and the welfare of every person from their conception to their expiry.
7. Do not commit adultery. Sex is good, safe, and right in the context of heterosexual marriage. Aim to be as pure as you can be.
8. Do not steal. Keep the boundaries of property – live honestly – live fittingly.
(I was reading that one hotel in its first year of business lost 18,000 tiles from the bathroom, 355 coffee pots from the restaurant, 38,000 spoons from the rooms and 100 Bibles from the cupboards – in one year!!
9. Do not lie. Your word should represent the truth. Do not speak so that another person is damaged.
10. Do not covert. Your heart should be content and to want more and more is greed which brings us back to idolatry and godlessness.
Now that is just a skim of what these Commandments are saying. The question we now want to ask is – what do they do? When you have read them, what do they do?
And of course, what they do is they show us something of the greatness of God, they tell us what life could be like. I don’t need to tell you that if we had the ability as a nation to keep these Commandments, it would be a sensational nation but a huge amount of our sadness and our destructiveness and our divisiveness and our damage comes because we just don’t, or don’t have the ability to keep these Commandments.
They do in some sense, restrain society but they don’t have power, and so they are not that good at retraining society. They don’t convert people, they just convict us. They don’t save us; they make an absolutely hopeless ladder for climbing up to God. If it’s ever occurred to you that you might climb a ladder up to God across the Ten Commandments, that will never, never happen.
So God gave the Commandments to Israel so that they would live by them but of course as they sought to live by the Ten Commandments, they realise they couldn’t do it and so God caused them to see most clearly that they need a Saviour.
I’ve tried to brush over the Ten Commandments for God’s people, and in a sense, they then reflect to the world. We’ve also tried to skim across the meaning of them, and we can see what they do and now the last question I want to ask you is: Where does the law lead?
Now the New Testament tells us that the Law leads to Christ. The Law is not an enemy of Christ. The Law is a friend of Christ. The Law leads to Christ.
In Romans 3 we read the Law, and we become conscious of sin.
We look at Commandment No.1 no I have not kept that. No.2 – no I have not kept that. No.3 – no, No.4 – no – right down to 10 – we have not kept them and we are conscious of sin. But Galatians 3 says – it leads us to Christ. It points us to a Saviour.
Again I want to say the Law and the Gospel are not enemies, they are not two different missions. In a sense, the Law is doing the X-Ray and showing the need and the Gospel is doing the surgery and bringing the healing. They like X-rays and Surgeon in a hospital are working together. They are God’s provision so we’ll know the problem and the solution.
When we follow the Law to Christ (I don’t know if you have ever thought about this) – and there are many reasons to go to Christ – The Law may be one, his love may be another, his hope may be another, his truth may be another, his fellowship may be another – there are many reasons to go to Christ but if you do follow the Law to Christ, you discover some remarkable things.
You discover that Christ embodied the Law. When you go to Jesus, it’s like seeing the Ten Commandments lived because you see he shows us the true God, he shows us the true image. He is the name above every name. He gives the rest, the Sabbath. He brings us into the family. He gives us life, saving us from death. He’s the bridegroom, saving us from lostness. He’s the treasurer and the inheritance. He’s the truth, not the lie and he’s the sufficiency, enabling a heart to be satisfied and at rest. So he embodies the Law.
Another thing about Jesus is that he keeps the Law, unbelievably keeps the Law in thought, word and deed. At the deepest level of all the Commandments, he kept the Law.
And even more wonderfully he saves lawbreakers. He knows what we are like. He’s the one person who kept the law and can save the lawbreaker. And so when we turn to him and we ask for mercy and we put our trust in him, he gathers us up and he places us in his own victory, his own performance, his own faithfulness.
We then discover that we are secure, not because we are just trying to imitate him (that would be impossible) but because we are caught up in his success. He puts us in the very centre of his faithfulness and we are saved because of him and his performance.
And then he begins to produce in us by his spirit a new faithfulness. Slowly and steadily we start to do his will. We have a new willingness, it’s not a perfection but it’s a new willingness. We no longer are frightened under the Law thinking ‘how can I be saved’? We now know that he has paid the penalty for that standard and we are now under the Law with direction seeking to live a new life that he has given us.
That’s why the Law also leads to godliness. We find ourselves in our best moments with a new question which goes like this: This is our best moments, how godly can we be? Today I want to be as godly as possible. We are no longer asking the question, ‘how much can I get away with’?
We don’t find ourselves saying ‘how much vengeance can I do’? We find ourselves saying ‘how reconciling can I be’?
It’s not ‘how much sex can I get away with’? It’s ‘how pure can I be’?
It’s not ‘how much can I steal or how little can I do’? It’s ‘how honest can I be, how faithful can I be’? It’s a brand new question.
The Law in a sense becomes attractive to the Christians. It’s as if we look at it and we say ‘this is constructive, this is like the directions on a medicine bottle, this is helpful, this will do me good, this is like the recipe directions. If I follow this, it will be good. This is like the instructions I’ve been given about getting to somebody’s holiday house – if I follow them, there is a benefit, there is a blessing’. We begin to see the Commandments as good.
So the Law is put on our hearts. It’s not just there on a stone tablet. God, by giving us new life, has put the Law on our hearts and our whole life is affected and we find ourselves with a new devotion to God and a new work ethic, a new rest ethic, new relationships and new property ideas and our deepest desires are being ministered to by God’s good word.
It’s possible this morning you are thinking about Christianity. It’s always wonderful to hear that people who come are seeking and it’s possible you are thinking to yourself – ‘this Christianity has got certain attractive options and I am just trying to weigh up whether I should actually carve off 10.00-11.00am on a Sunday morning as my Christianity.
Well let me tell you, God wants the 24 hours of the 7 days of the week. You don’t give him a hand or an ear or a foot but the Bible says because of his mercies to us “give your body to him”. God wants you. He wants to bless you. He wants to own you. And he wants to use you.
Therefore you see we don’t find freedom by keeping the bulk back and giving a little bit to him. It’s when we give ourselves to him completely, we find our freedom. That’s where he begins to bless every single part of our life.
Now of course most people are here this morning are believers, you belong to the Lord Jesus and you understand a little bit of freedom, you wish you were a little more free and of course we are always tempted to think, aren’t we, that we would be a little free-er if we just gave a 50/50 with God or maybe on a good day a 90/10.
Real freedom comes when having put our trust in Jesus Christ and being free from the penalty of sin and having a brand new life in our heart, we then say to him ‘I want to walk with you in the fullness of your word, not playing any games of half/half or 9/1 but I want to give to you myself, heart, mind soul and strength and for you to give to me the willingness to walk in the way of your word, that will be a tremendous freedom.
Of course the devil would tell you that that kind of freedom is to lose your freedom but you will find that that freedom is really to find your freedom because it’s in his service that we find perfect freedom.
So there is the salvation first and the service second. The salvation frees us from every danger and the service frees us from many secondary dangers as well.
So I want to urge you all who believe, and myself as well, that as we move on from this service this morning that we in our mind and heart say to God ‘you have rescued me, you’ve given me clear instructions in which I must live and walk and I’m now praying that you will give me the willingness, deep, deep willingness to do your will and to do your word and there you will find great peace and joy.
Let’s bow our heads and pray. Our Father we thank you for your grace by which you have initiated a rescue and we thank you for instructions by which we find great freedom. We thank you for the Commandments and for the way in which they point to you and point to heart and point to Christ.
We also pray, our Father, that as we reflect on our inability to keep the Commandments, please give us an increasing gratitude for the Lord Jesus for his faithfulness, for his death for us, for his new life in us, for his governing and guiding of us and we pray that you would help us genuinely, truly, deeply and honestly to walk with him with a willingness to do your word.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen