By Chris WittsSunday 24 Nov 2013Morning Devotions with Chris WittsUncategorizedReading Time: 0 minutes
It was back in 1956 the epic movie “The Ten Commandments” was produced and seen by millions of people. Even today it’s among the top 10 best movies of all time. It was a tremendous movie with special effects and told the story of Moses straight from the Bible. Today,we don’t often talk about the 10 Commandments.
And if you just Google “Ten Commandments,” you’ll find all kinds of interesting things.You’ll find “Ten Commandments for Computers.” You’ll find “Ten Commandments for Frugal Living.” You’ll find “Ten Commandments of Driving,” plus many others. And even though we’re familiar with the phrase,we’re not always familiar with the content. How many of us can recite the 10 commandments?
Well,you shouldn’t be feeling bad if you don’t know the Ten Commandments because 200 pastors of a certain denomination were asked to name all 10 and only 68 of 200 could get all 10. Why the Ten Commandments? So that we can be reminded of the guard rails for living. To ignore the core of Old Testament Law,which is what the Ten Commandments are,is to find ourselves on very dangerous ground. Why is that? Because they are still God’s rules for living. But it doesn’t stop us asking an important question .. who and what is the basis for moral authority in our world today? Who says that we ought to obey something given 4,000 years ago? How can you say for the 21st century people we should obey these 10? Certainly not Ted Turner. He’s the cable TV and communications mogul.
He once said that the Ten Commandments are obsolete,and here’s what he said..,”We’re living with outmoded rules; I bet nobody even pays attention to them because they’re too old.” So what are Ted’s replacements? He came up with 10 Voluntary Initiatives. And here are just a few. I can’t read all 10 of them,we don’t have time,but here’s a few.
1. I love and respect the planet earth and all living things that are on it,especially my fellow species,mankind.
3. I promise to have no more then two children or no more then my nation suggests.
7. I promise to contribute to those less fortunate than myself,to help them become self-sufficient and enjoy the benefits of a decent life. (That’s not bad.)
9. I support the total elimination of all chemical,nuclear,and biological weapons.
Now these are good statements. There’s a lot of good stuff in here about stewardship,peacemaking,and justice…things that we all should be concerned with. But in challenging the validity of God’s Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai… whose moral standard are we now supposed to be adhering to? Ted’s… right?
And any of us could come up with 10 rules or 10 things,but we cannot take the place of God in saying this is the way it ought to be. And his irreverence is not primarily based on his substitutions; it’s based on his discounting the Giver and Author of these divine statements. The authority of the Ten Commandments and their meaning are based on the truth that God has given them and that Jesus has affirmed them as the expression of love toward God and others.
One clergymen used to say “You know,really we do not break God’s Law. If we ignore it,it breaks us.” It just is the nature of not heeding the boundaries that God has set up for living.
I believe God accepts on the basis of the grace of Jesus Christ. But at the same time,we’ve always recognized that the Ten Commandments describe a morality of relationships that is a clear boundary for how we ought to treat each other and how we ought to respond to God.
And you may know that Jesus compressed all the law into one great commandment,”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,mind,soul and strength; and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” He said everything,if we would do this thing,we would be heeding all the commandments.
But we don’t. We don’t do it. We stumble in many ways,the Scripture says. I mean,honestly,think about this past week. How many of us have broken one of the Ten Commandments? I mean,you don’t need to tell me,but have we said a mistruth along the way? Have we bent the truth? You know,and Jesus didn’t just say,hey,just check off this list,he went right to the heart of what the commandments are about.
He knows that following the commandments is all about internal following,not just about external legalism. But one clear sign of the fact that our whole culture has lost sight of what is right and wrong is a statement that the Vatican put out just not too many weeks ago.
A Vatican official said… the sacrament of confession and penance,the sense of understanding the awareness of our distance from God and our sinfulness,for decades it has been on the decline. People just don’t go. And this is what a Vatican official said. He said,”Fewer people distinguish between good and evil,and as a result they don’t feel a need to observe confession.” Like who says what’s right or wrong anymore,right? “And they don’t have a sense of sin and may confuse confession with a psychiatrist’s couch.” I don’t know how many psychiatrists still use couches,but he’s trying to get to the point that we have lost the sense of what’s right and wrong. What stood out in the article was not the Vatican official’s statement,I think this was a journalist’s concluding sentence on the article,and it struck me as a little bit funny. It said,”The Vatican plans to publish a handbook on confession to drum up enthusiasm among Catholics towards the sacrament.”
How do you drum up enthusiasm for a sense of sin? I don’t think it’s going to be a bestseller. But in some ways,the Ten Commandments are given to us so that we can even define what a sense of sin is. Everything that departs from the essence of those 10 words…the Ten Commandments are also referred to as the Decalogue… 10 words.
Now we’re going to read Exodus,chapter 20,verses 1 to 6,:
“And God spoke all these words,saying: ‘I am the LORD your God,who brought you out of Egypt,out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath or in the water below. 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 sins of fathers to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me,but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Interesting to study this,because you’ll see that some commandments have a lot of commentary to them,and some have nothing. And that’s probably because over time they became part of a catechism and some things came into the text as part of a catechism. But here we see from the very end of six,notice the repetition of the word love. These commandments are all about people showing love to me,the people I show love toward.
So Commandment Number One: “You shall have no other gods besides me.” I mean really,what do these stone tablets have to say in a wireless world? Number One… here’s what it says: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Now why should we listen then? Because of three reasons,and those three reasons are all centred in the nature of the Giver. And I’d like to share them with you briefly.
Number One. The person,or if we stretched a little bit,the personality of God is revealed. See my hope today is that you will have a deeper appreciation for who the person of God is because we all have definitions of God in our head. But listen to these three points to help us understand the nature of God.
Okay,the first,the person of God is revealed here. And the commandments come from a God of perfect love. In 20,he says,”and God spoke all these words saying I am the LORD.” Let me stop right there. “I am the LORD.” Whenever we see in all capital letters in the Bible,the word LORD,that always translates the name of God,Yahweh,the name that God gave to Moses when he was revealing who he was.
And so he says,”I am the LORD.” And it is the loftiest of all the names of God. I AM that I AM,I WILL BE what I WILL BE. And by revealing a name,just by revealing to our finite minds,the best way that we could even understand who God is,just by revealing that name,God is saying something very important. He’s saying I’m not just a God who’s far off. I don’t just want to be a God who tells you what to do and have no relationship with you. I want your love and I want to love you. Have you ever met anybody who could care less about your name? They just kind of zip on by you,they don’t really care to remember,or they keep…if somebody focuses on you,they remember your name,and they look you in the eye. At some level,even in the first moments of meeting,it’s saying to you,Listen,I’m interested in having some kind of relationship here. We can’t relate to everybody at the same level,but if I take the time to know your name and to speak your name,then that’s indicating some openness to relationship,right? I mean when boy meets girl,when girl meets boy.
That’s one of the first questions. “Como se llama,Senorita?” (Singing) What’s your name? Is it…you know,what’s your name? Because you know,that’s where you start,and that’s exactly where God is starting,in a personal way. And who is this God who engages us? The God who made heaven and earth. The God who causes all things to come to pass. The God who can close God’s hand and the breath of every living thing would expire. The God who is the beginning and the end. The true and living God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Look at Exodus,chapter 6,verses 6 and 7. I want you to note a phrase that is so important to this whole understanding of the Ten Commandments. This is back earlier when God was coaching Moses,he says,
“Therefore,say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD [There’s Yahweh again],and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them,and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people,and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God,who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.'”
Look at that phrase,”I will take you as my own people.” That is a marriage metaphor. Even in Exodus 19,there are all kinds of marriage metaphors. Cloud over the mountain like a canopy,the cleansing of the people before God was going to encounter them. A lot of marriage metaphors and you know,that’s what wedding ceremonies sound like,”George,do you take Ellen to be your lawfully wedded wife? Ellen,do you take George to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
We take each other; we commit ourselves to each other. It’s marital imagery. God is not metaphysical abstraction out there. God is not deep inner consciousness in here. God is an infinite,yet personal being who reveals God’s very self to us in a personal,disclosing way. And before God ever commands us anything,he delivers us. Before he ever delivers one commandment,before he ever says one thing by way of commandments,he delivers us out of a situation that we could never deliver ourselves. Grace always precedes law.
When Jesus prayed to the Father,and he said “Father,I have manifested thy name to the disciples,” what was he saying? He was saying,”I have shown forth the character and purpose of the living God.” And he showed that by laying down his life,that’s what we’re about to celebrate in a little bit. Again,the laying down of his life so that we might be brought back to God. He delivered us from the power and the penalty and the presence of sin,a strength and a power that had us in bondage far stronger then any Egyptian task master. It tells us about the person of God. He wants…he’s so powerful,but he wants to free us.
Secondly,not only do the commandments teach us about the person of God being revealed to us,the passion of God is revealed to us as well. He says not only,”I am the LORD,” and you know,right here,that’s it,do whatever I say,like it or lump it. “I am the LORD,your… your God.” The first commandment,in the essence of all the commandments is based again on grace. We don’t try to keep the commandments in order to establish a relationship with God. We follow them as our guide to life and conduct because we have a relationship with God.
Again,marital imagery shows the commandments are based on God’s keeping of the covenant and initiating the covenant. Wouldn’t a bride really be upset if she heard the following vows from her groom? You know,the groom says,”I got some surprise vows for you,and I’m going to make the commitment today. I take you to be my favourite wife. I will have no other wife before you. You’re at the top of my list of wives,and I’ll always think of you as first.” Now to tell you how the moral sea change is going on,if you think that same sex marriage has been a moral battlefield and will continue to be,I got news for you,it’s not stopping there. Have you ever heard of the new word,triogomy? Triogomy,that now,why can’t one person commit themselves in a place of commitment? It’s coming,believe me,its coming. It’s sad to say.
But it gives you an idea of where everybody does what’s right in their own eyes and we lose sight of the boundaries,of the guidelines,of the guard rails. If a groom said that,any smart woman would walk away. And so we see that the commandment really doesn’t mean you shall have no other gods before me. It really means,you shall have no other gods besides me. And again,this was written to people where monotheism was not even in the mind of most people. Everybody had more then one god. Everybody had a sun god and a sea god and a rain god… Now the true living God reveals through Moses and says this is the first commandment,”I’m it.” There is no other. Why should… I mean if we think…if we would be offended not to have a singular commitment toward each other in marriage,why are we surprised that God knows that the singular commitment for our health and well-being in relationship to him starts with him alone?
I read about a counsellor recently asking a wife in a counselling session,”Do you ever feel great about your marriage?” And uncomfortably she said “My husband doesn’t abuse me or cheat on me and hasn’t left me,so I feel blessed.” So that’s good from that one snapshot of an understanding. But he said the wife’s comments seemed more focused on what is thankfully absent than what is nourished by that which is abundantly present.
See God wants so much more for us in a passionate relationship with the Lord. So I want to ask you,When is the last time,or do you ever feel great about your relationship with God? He knows that if that’s going to happen,it’s going to be based on an unconditional commitment towards his unconditional love.
Third thing… God’s person,God’s passion and God’s power is revealed. The Giver of the commandments is the all powerful. “I am the LORD your God.” Now the name changes; God is now Elohim,the All Powerful One,the Ruler of everything. God is to be our first love because he first loved us by powerfully delivering us,by watching over us.You know,I think we go throughout our whole day,our whole week,and we don’t realize how many times God has protected us in a given moment. He’s always…God is always there,powerfully protecting.
One of my favourite stories,I think it was a Paul Harvey story that I came across one time,but it goes like this: On March 1,1950 in Beatrice,Nebraska,at the West Side Baptist Church,all of the good choir people who usually arrived early for 7:30 choir practice were mysteriously late.Marilyn,the organist,overslept from her after dinner nap. A young high school sophomore was having trouble with her homework and so she was late. Another couple,their car wouldn’t start,so they and the people they were supposed to pick up were late. And all 18 choir members,including the pastor and his wife,were late. All had good excuses,and at the usual 7:30 start time,not one person was anywhere near the choir loft. It was the first in ages.
That night,the only night in the church’s history that the choir wasn’t starting practice at precisely 7:30 was the night that there was a gas leak in the basement of the church and that leak was ignited by the furnace,and the whole church blew up that evening. And guess where the furnace was located? Right under the choir loft. Now if you’re out there in the parking lot at 7:35,and you’re standing with your jaw on the ground,watching the church go up in flames,and the Lord God comes to you and says,”I’m the LORD,your God,I have delivered you from death. You shall have no other gods besides me.” Wouldn’t that display of power… not the explosion,but the protection… wouldn’t that influence your decision and your response?
The person,the passion and the power of God are behind the first commandment and all Ten Commandments and most clearly seen,in Jesus Christ. You know,again,Calvin said God could have very easily come to us and made us obey him,but he set aside all of his rights to all his power and all his right to rule over us and set it all aside and came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and showed a humble,passionate intimacy that desires a relationship with us,not just today,but forever…and not just forever,but for today.
And so I want to call all of you who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,who have come to God by faith,I call all of you to gather again around this table. Some of you may be coming today filled with doubt. I call you in his name to still come to this table so you might be assured of his gracious love. Think about it. We get to take into our hands,to ingest the representation,the mysterious presence of the living God. If I’m not getting across,the table gets across the truth. Let’s come to this passionate,powerful,personal God.
Let me close with just,probably my favourite verse in the whole New Testament,the one I think about,and I always kind of feel like is an anchor or a north star,Matthew 6:33 when Jesus says to his disciples and all who will listen:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Seek first the rule of God in your life,and all other things that you need will be given to you as well.”
Let’s go,let’s pray: Lord,thank you that we can come around this table. Thank you that we can humbly realize again how you humbled yourself toward us. Lord,we recognize that we have not kept the commandments. We have broken every single one. Somewhere in the recesses of our heart or our mind,all we like sheep have gone astray,each one to our own way. But with great gratitude we gather around this table and we say thank you for transforming us and transferring us by the power of your spirit from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of your beloved Son. Lord,we pray that by your Holy Spirit,you would come upon us and upon these elements so that they might be to us nothing other or less than the body and blood of our Lord Jesus who assures us that our sins are forgiven,that he will powerfully be present to us today and that we have a hope in the future that will not fade.
Thank you Lord for your grace and your love,in Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray by saying “Our Father,who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name,thy kingdom come,thy will be done,on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts,as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,Amen.”
© 2009,Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church,Baltimore,MD 21204 410/823-6145 www.centralpc.org