Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 20:1-2, “The Foundation”

8 Apr

Exodus 20:1-2
The Foundation

We come back this morning to the book of Exodus. When we left Moses and the people of Israel, they had been delivered from 400 years of slavery in Egypt through the plagues and the miracle at the Red Sea. They had traveled for some three months through various trying situations to come to the base of Mt. Sinai. As they camped there, God called them to wash their garments and to spiritually prepare to hear from Him. God’s presence rested on the mountain in thick smoke and the ground trembled. It was an awe-inspiring sight. And now, in today’s passage, God will begin to speak to the people. In Exodus 20, God will give His people the Ten Commandments. These ten statements are some of the most famous words in the whole Bible. We will be looking at these commandments in the weeks to come, but today I want to take a look at the foundation behind the commandments found in verses 1 and 2. If we don’t pay careful attention to the foundational verses laid in verses 1 and 2, we might easily misunderstand what these commandments are for.
So let’s look for a few minutes at the foundation. This foundation has three stones which set the stage for understanding the right use of the Ten Commandments. So let’s look at these three stones today.

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.

In the opening words of this chapter we see . . .
“And God spoke all these words.” As we come to the Ten Commandments, we must recognize that these commandments have come to us directly from the voice of God. They are not the invention of man. These are the very words of God. Moses did not make them up. The people of Israel did not get to debate them before they were given. They are direct statements from God.

Our culture is in decline in large part because it has almost totally abandoned the idea that what God says matters. Our moral direction is not shaped by revelation from God but is instead derived from our own inward desires and driven by our sinful appetites. Most people, even Christians, construct their own morality free from the commands of God. I have walked with people through seasons of sin in their life where they knew what they were doing was wrong and they were fighting it but I have also seen people justify their sin because it felt right to them at the time. They would never say it, but their way of thinking was, “Never mind what God says, what is important is how I feel.” And when I have confronted people with the clear truth of God’s Word, the response has been, “Well, that’s true, but . . .” and then some excuse as to why they can’t possibly follow the revelation of God. And it usually boils down to . . . “If I do what God says, I won’t be happy.” And sadly, that same kind of thing has happened in my own heart. Doing our own thing feels good. We deceive ourselves into thinking our way is better than God’s. Our sinful nature delights in any opportunity to assert our pride.

If you want to know what is wrong with our country, you need go no further than this failure to listen to and walk in God’s revelation. Think about the massive ways we have ignored God’s Ten Commandments. We are a nation full of idols. One of the most popular shows of the last decade is American Idol. We make idols of celebrities. We make idols of our homes. We make idols of sex. From our commercials to our computers we worship the sensual. We are a nation of idolaters. We don’t make statues to bow down to but we do make sure our cars are nice and shiny and that we have all the latest electronic gadgets. All the while we take the name of the Lord we don’t worship in vain. God’s name is tossed about with irreverence at every turn and we don’t even bat an eye or change the channel. There are different views among Christians on how we should approach the command to remember the Sabbath but truth be told, most people in our country never give it a second thought. There is no consideration of a day of rest, no consideration that one day should be set aside for worship. Every day is the same as every other day. There is a woeful lack of respect for parents in our culture. Many children yell at their parents and treat them like dirt. And when we think about our culture of murder, from Sandy Hook to the 50 million babies that have been murdered through abortion, to the senseless violence that fills our local news, we are a culture of death. We are a culture of adultery. From our soap operas to our romance novels to our online lives to the reality of our lives, unfaithfulness is looked at by many as no big deal, just another form of self-expression. We are a culture of theft. Whenever I am out visiting around lunchtime I sometimes have our local AM station on the radio. When I hear the crime report, it is almost always at least 2/3 stories about people stealing things. The days of leaving our doors unlocked are over. The days of building walls around our houses may be coming. We are a culture of lying. From the White House to the university campus to the office, dealing in untruth has become a way of life for many, a way to get ahead. And finally, maybe more than any of the others, we are a culture of coveting. We are the wealthiest country in the world but we always want more. Most of us have more things than 95% of the people in the world but we are not happy with what we have because somebody else has more. Fundamentally, Americans are discontent. This is the explanation for much of the depression we see in our own hearts and in the lives of others.

Our culture is in a downward spiral because we have ignored God’s basic principles for living. We have in fact in many cases embraced their opposites as a good thing. If you wonder about the decline of our country, don’t go first to the economy or which political party is in power. Go first to our failure to pay attention to the revelation of Almighty God.

Now things might be better if Christians in our country paid real attention to these Commandments because a good percentage of our country claims to be Christian. But the sad truth is that professing Christians do little better with these things than non-Christians. We claim to believe the Bible but we don’t spend a lot of time seeking to do what it says. Mostly we live by our own wits and our own feelings of what is right and wrong. So as Christians we too are accountable for the downfall of our nation. And it has come because we haven’t paid attention to God’s revelation. God’s revelation is the foundation stone of everything else.

This first part has been sad to consider because of our failure, but let’s be encouraged as we look at the other two foundation stones.

“I am the LORD your God”
We can’t look at the Ten Commandments without remembering that they are a revelation from God. We also can’t look at the Ten Commandments without remembering that they are given in the context of a relationship.

God had called a people. He called Abraham way back in Genesis 12 to be the founder of a great nation, the nation of Israel. God would make a covenant with Abraham and with the nation that would come from Abraham’s descendants. This covenant was what motivated God to rescue Israel from slavery. God is faithful to His promises and so He will not abandon His people. So He saved them and brought them to Mt. Sinai to reaffirm His covenant to them by giving His Commandments. So we need to remember these laws are not arbitrary but they are given in the context of the relationship between God and His people.

Since these commandments are given by the Lord they reflect His character. It will never be right to murder or steal or lie or worship idols or any of the other things because the commands of God spring from His very nature. It is wrong to lie because God is the truth. It is wrong to murder because God is the author of life and because people are made in God’s image. It is wrong to worship idols because God is the only real God. So all of the commandments are rooted in who God is as God. “I am the Lord.” We can see in fact that these things were wrong before God ever gave the ten commandments. In Genesis Noah’s son and grandson were cursed for dishonoring him. Cain was cursed because of murder. Abraham lied. Lot’s wife in all likelihood was judged because she coveted, looking back at the city she left behind. In Exodus the plagues were judgments on the Egyptians, who had many other gods instead of the Lord. At the burning bush Moses was taught to honor God’s name. The manna only came down for six days each week and when people tried to gather in the wrong way were punished. So we can see that God’s laws were already in effect before the 10 Commandments were ever given. What happens at Mt. Sinai is a clear statement for God’s covenant people of God’s will for them. So these Commandments are given in the context of the relationship of the one true and living God to His covenant people.

“I am the Lord YOUR God.” There is great blessing here in the Hebrew text because the word “your” is singular. Even though God is speaking to all the Israelites as they are gathered at the foot of the mountain, He speaks to them each as individuals as he uses the singular word “your.” So every one of them could feel the power of the relationship with God into which they had been called. “I am the Lord your God” is one of the greatest phrases in Scripture. It is used 42 times in the Bible and it is so wonderful to me because it brings out two aspects about God that I love. He is the Lord, He is powerful. He is your God, He is personal. He is utterly unique, immortal, almighty yet compassionate, loving, full of grace.

So second we must not look at the Ten Commandments apart from relationship. This helps us realize why many of the people in our nation ignore the Ten Commandments. It is because they have no relationship with God. Our money says in God we trust but most of us trust in our money rather than God.

We won’t understand the Ten Commandments rightly apart from revelation and apart from relationship. And finally, we won’t understand the Ten Commandments rightly apart from REDEMPTION.

Foundation Stone #3: REDEMPTION

“who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

One of the most important truths we need to realize from this passage today is that the basis of God’s Commandments is His grace. The law was not given to put Israel into bondage but was given because they had been brought out of bondage. In the same way, our obedience to God’s word is not the way to be delivered from slavery to sin, but is our response to having been delivered from sin by the work of Jesus in his dying and rising. Having just celebrated Easter, it is a good time to remember that the foundation of our life before God ultimately rests in His redeeming grace. None of us are good enough to earn His favor. None of us deserves to be saved. The Israelites were not saved from Egypt because they were good or worthy, but because God was gracious. And now in response to the saving acts of God, the Israelites were to walk in His ways. In a similar way, we who have been saved by Jesus were not worthy, we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive through Christ. And now, in light of all His mercy to us, we seek to live in obedience to His Word out of gratitude for all His goodness to us.

The law has never been a way to earn God’s favor or to be saved. Obedience to the law has always been a response to grace. Even the events that surround the giving of the law in the Bible illustrate this truth. Before Israel receives the law, the waters of the Red Sea part and the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt. After the law is given, at the end of Deuteronomy, the Jordan River parts and Israel enters the Promised Land. God’s gracious acts are like bookends for the giving of the law.

Sadly, we all too easily forget this truth that we are not saved by keeping the rules. So many people live with the false notion that their obedience is what saves them. We have a tendency to try to work our way to grace rather than trusting in God’s grace for our salvation and life. We are always trying to earn our way, which is really just another manifestation of pride. Even as Christians, we can be tempted to think that we can make our way with God by keeping the commandments.

We are saved by grace. Obedience is our response to God’s gracious work for us. We are free to serve not as slaves but as sons and daughters of God. Just as the Israelites were set free from slavery so we are set free from slavery to sin through the work of Jesus. Redemption is foundational to the law, the law is not foundational to redemption. The order is so important. Grace comes before law. God saves a people and then He changes them. You don’t have to clean yourself up to come to Jesus. You just have to repent and trust in Jesus.

Now as we move through this book of Exodus and also in our Romans study on Sunday nights, we will see that Christians have a different relationship to the law than the Israelites had. We will get into that some in the weeks ahead. But we can say with confidence that these Ten Commandments are for us, because all of them except the command about the Sabbath are repeated in the New Testament. So we are called to walk in these things by the grace of God. And that grace comes to us through revelation, relationship and redemption.

God has spoken, so we can know that we have a trustworthy Word.

God has called us, so we can know that He is for us, not against us.

God has saved us, so we can know that we don’t have to earn our way through obedience, but can obey as an act of worship.

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