It’s safe to say that we live in a day where the Word of God is not in favor with many in the world, even amongst Christians. The authority of Scripture has been attacked on many sides, both inside and outside of the Church. It’s not unusual to see a television show belittling the Scriptures that God gave us. It’s not unusual to read in the newspaper that religious freedoms have come under attack by those who have little desire for God and His Word. Nonetheless, we turn to the Word of God for our strength and our comfort.
Our Old Testament account from Exodus begins with the children of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai. God had descended upon the mountain in fire. The mountain trembled and God called Moses to come and meet with Him. God gave him words that we heard in today’s reading: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” With these words, it shows us that God cared for His people. He had a deep desire to protect them from that which was hurtful to them, in both a physical and spiritual sense. In order to protect His people, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments to guide the people in the relationship as God’s people within this covenant. They would live as His people and He would bless them.
Before we hear those words of God, we cannot forget that God had already given His people, Adam and Eve, a singular command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” There is no fancy and colorful language here; rather, a very simple statement – eat and die. It did not take long for them to break that singular command of God and they died. They would die a physical death, but more importantly, they died a spiritual death. They were no longer like God, that is, perfect and holy. They would never see that spiritual state again.
Now, God sees fit to give to His people a new Law, His Ten Words, or as we call them, the Ten Commandments. And why would God give such a thing to His people when they clearly could not handle one command from God? God gave the Law for the good of His people.
A quick summary of the Ten Commandments is revealed to us by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – love. In each of the first three commandments, He spoke of the people’s relationship with God. Jesus sums it by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” First and foremost should be the proper respect due to God, the Creator of all that exists. Commandments 4-10 would govern their relationship with their fellow man: “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In His mercy, God had brought His chosen people out of many years of slavery and was bringing them to a land that was good, a land where they could live and prosper as His own. As they traveled, God established a new relationship with them. The people were gathered at Sinai in His mercy and He came to them and said, “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; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The Law had a very particular role in their lives. God wanted them to turn away from things that were worshiped by other people they would encounter in their communities. As He gave the Law, God declared that He was a “jealous God.” That may sound strange, but it meant He wanted His people solely for Himself. There are no other gods. Anything else was an invention by man guided by Satan. The Triune God is the sole being who could rescue them from sin.
God established the Law not as a curse, but as a help to His people, then and today. Unfortunately, if we read past our text, we see how the people had already broken the First Commandment before they even got it by the fashioning of the golden calf. They failed to keep the very First Commandment, which opened the door for them to break the remainder. You and I fail to keep the First Commandment each and every day, also opening the door for us to break the remainder. Sadly, we have gotten so good at breaking God’s Law that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or making excuses or justification of our breaking God’s Law.
So with the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel and their failure to keep the very First Commandment, let alone the remaining nine, all is doom and gloom for Israel. They will be forever lost to their failure of keeping God’s Law; they will be forever lost to their sin. It would easily appear that way, and at times for Israel, it seems as if God had completely abandoned them. If God had forsaken Israel, then that means there is no hope for you and I. And if that’s what you think, then you would be wrong. There is indeed hope for you and I; there is salvation for us. God did not completely abandon Israel to their sin. God has not abandoned you to your sin. He has sent to Israel and to the entirety of His creation a Deliverer, One that would keep the First Commandment in its entirety. And not only the First Commandment but also the other nine. And not only the Ten Commandments, but also the 613 commandments. And not only those, but One who has kept the entirety of God’s Word and His Law. There is for Israel and for you a Savior, one who goes to the extreme to atone for your sins, for each and every one of them, for every single time that you have broken God’s Law, for every time that you have not done as His Word has declared.
This Savior, this Jesus, is the One who has done for you all that you could never do yourself. In keeping every iota of God’s Law, He has done all that the Father desired of His creation. He has achieved for all those who trust and believe in Him full salvation. For all who have faith and call upon the name of the Lord, all those sins that would make you stand before God as a condemned sinner have been removed and God only sees that the holiness and righteousness that has been achieved by Jesus’ all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. God has promised salvation and that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the One promised of long ago. As Jesus says in our Gospel for today, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Through His bodily temple, the Son of God lays down His life, only to take it up again three days later. In doing so, He proclaims eternal victory over sin and death for the sinner.
With the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was not meant to punish or tie the hands of Israel. They were given as a response to whom God was, their creator, provider and protector. He had promised to be with them all the days of their life. In line with man’s breaking of God’s Word and commandments, One is sent for us who keeps these Commandments in order to grant to us everlasting life. We have failed time and time to keep these Commandments. Fortunately for us, there is One who has kept them, One who would give His life so that we would live. Christ has come, keeping these Commandments and more, to grant to you life and salvation. Steadfast love from God has been shown to you, all because Christ has kept these Commandments in your place. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.