I Am Yahweh Your God
Exodus 20:1-17 (7/3/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Exodus 20:1-2 And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… The text for this morning, as you heard, is a presentation of The Ten Commandments. Now, before I attempt to preach on every one of them, let me begin simply by saying something less than profound: the Ten Commandments are good and right; they are the best things we can do. They are important; they count for something; they matter. They can bring to those who heed and obey them earthly blessings; things can go well with you, and you can live long on the earth. The Ten Commandments are basic to the Godly life. AND the Ten Commandments are all of these things to the redeemed people of God. They are all of these things to you and to me, those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ.
This is important to say because the Ten Commandments have been given a bad name, even in the church. They have been trivialized by those who want to put them on every front lawn in order to make a point yet at the same time ignoring the Christ who fulfills them for each and every one of us. But let’s not go down that road just yet.
One of the problems we have with the Ten Commandments is that folks want to get rid of them as though they are to be shunned and avoided like the plague, as though they are something ugly and hideous. Along with this, some try to dispense altogether with the subject of sanctification which is the godly life that flows from faith in Christ. But when we do that, the word of God becomes much thinner; less than whole.
Another problem is that we tend to lump all the commandments into one word: LAW; and then we say, “I don’t like the Law; I only want the Gospel.” When that happens we never really get around to looking at what the Ten Commandments actually say and what they can do for us. And in so doing we demonstrate that we are hopelessly confused about both Law and Gospel.
It is vitally important to see and understand that the Ten Commandments were given within the context of grace. In the opening verse of our text God said to the people, “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The Ten Commandments begin not with what we do; they begin with what God has already done. Before giving them God had already chosen Israel as His people. He had already tucked them away as His precious possession. He had chosen them by grace from the time of Abraham.
Immediately after giving the Ten Commandments, God gave the people instructions for building an altar. On that altar they were to offer burnt offerings to maintain their fellowship with God through forgiveness, as well as peace offerings for the continued enjoyment of that fellowship. When Moses could not believe how God could forgive the people for making the golden calf, God showed Himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
It is precisely THIS God – the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” – it is THIS God who, with all the forcefulness the people could endure, spoke the Ten Commandments to them. This is part of His revealed will. This is what He wants. What goes on in the life of His redeemed people before they get into heaven matters greatly to God. It is important enough to God that He gave ten specifics, roaring them and engraving them on two stone tablets, and then continued with 613 other stipulations which flowed from these first ten – and all the while knowing that the Promised Land already belonged to His people. Did you get that? The Ten Commandments were not given in order that the people would, by doing them, inherit the Promised Land. They were given BECAUSE the people had already been given the Promised Land.
And it is precisely that beauty and importance of the Ten Commandments that makes our sins against them so grievous! The more we see that the commandments are good and just and right, the more we see how horribly we have missed the boat by failing to do them. That leads us to see that when we confess our sins, we do not say that we have a problem with what God wants in His commandments; we admit and confess that the problem is entirely with US!
In the section on Confession, which is the Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism, blessed Dr. Martin Luther instructs us as we prepare for confession to “consider your station [in life] according to the Ten Commandments.” There is absolutely no question about who is right and who is wrong when we make the comparison. The call to each of us is “Examine yourself!” Examine yourself according to each and every one of the Ten Commandments, not according to some generic concept of “Law,” not according to the societal standards of today, not according to how these commandments make us feel, and not even according to how you compare with your neighbor. We examine ourselves by letting God’s Law cut, expose, and reveal our sins.
Very few Christians ever do this; very few Lutheran Christians ever do this, even though it is part and parcel of our confession of faith. We would rather use the Ten Commandments as a goal to achieve, or as a battering ram to pummel the world around us into shape, or as a placard on our lawns, or as some kind of a checklist as to how many of the commandments we can keep in hopes that the number is at least even with if not larger than the ones we don’t keep.
But all of these usages miss the mark entirely. Dear friends in Christ, we have the awesome privilege and joyous delight of examining our lives in light of the Ten Commandments, of letting God’s Word of Law have its way with us so that the joyous gifts of the Gospel may be given and received.
Violations of the Ten Commandments are a terrible thing. In fact, it is a problem so acute that God the Father marshaled all the forces of heaven and earth to address it and cure it. It took the living Son of God, even Jesus Christ Himself, to live the perfect life that you could not live, as He did the will of His Father. It took the Son of God Himself to suffer willingly all the punishment of hell and death that you deserved for your sins and offenses against God’s Law It took Jesus Christ to pour out His lifeblood for you on the cross in order to purchase for you forgiveness and eternal life.
It is not our “doing of the law” that saves us. It is not our keeping any of the commandments that gets us any brownie points with God. In fact, those things condemn us because we cannot do them. St. Paul makes that clear when he says that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin,” and we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom. 3:20, 28)
Simply but profoundly speaking, the Law of God shows us our sins so that we might confess those sins and rightly receive what we have coming. And what do we have coming? Not condemnation, but forgiveness from God in Christ. Since Christ has already paid the price for our sins in His body on the tree of the cross, we are free to confess, we are free to admit and own up to our sins knowing that we will receive not God’s wrath but His delivered proclamation that we are His own dear children whom He has redeemed and purchased with the blood of His Son.
To be sure, living under the grace of God as we do, the performance of the commandments counts nothing toward our salvation; it never did and it never will. As Israel was destined for the Promised Land long before the commandments were given, we were elected to eternal life long before we ever had a chance to keep or break the commandments. And only by the grace of God the safety of our own necks was never in question. And that means that in thanksgiving to God we have the joyous privilege of paying all our attention to Him by paying attention to what He wants.
And what does God want? He wants more than anything to keep you in His grace, and He has provided the very means by which that happens. God continues to deliver to you His love and forgiveness in the blessings and benefits of Holy Baptism wherein He has placed His name upon you, called you by name, given you the gift of the Holy Spirit, and forgiven you your sins. God delivers his love and forgiveness each and every time His Gospel is preached, that saving and life-giving Gospel of the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ for you.
God delivers His love and forgiveness in Holy Absolution, both corporately as we receive it in the context of the Divine Service and individually in Private Confession and Absolution, where, your pastor absolves sin, an act which is “just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
And God delivers to you His love and forgiveness in His Sacrament where, under the forms of bread and wine Christ Himself is present with His holy, sinless, and perfect body and blood which He willingly places into your sinful, imperfect, and dying bodies in order that you may have His life and His forgiveness within you to strengthen you and keep you in His grace.
The Ten Commandments are most simply one commandment: “You shall have no other Gods,” followed by nine commentaries on that one word. But remember also what God says just BEFORE those words: “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” I am your deliverer, I am your Savior, I am your God, who continues to lavish My gifts upon you, My beloved children. Not that you deserve any of this, but simply that I love you to death and life again.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.