Our familiarity with the Ten Commandments – at least Christians – shrouds the fact that it was a “bombshell” when it was first “published”. By the time of Moses, man had devolved from monotheism (one God) to polytheism (many gods). So the book of Genesis was a shout and shot of rebellion against the times: there is only one God, and He is LORD, and He has come to us with terms for peace, lest we perish before Him. Eons later, the terms of this covenant are no less rebellious and offensive to our polytheistic age.
Setting the Table
The Commandments themselves are the centerpiece of the law that God gave Israel at Mt. Sinai. All the rest of the law grows out of these “Ten Words”. The first four have to do with God; the “second table” – the final six – have to do with our neighbor. This may remind you of Jesus’ words, when asked how to sum up the law and the prophets:
Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The Ten Commandments, with their two tables – one for God, one for our neighbor – are the centerpiece of what it means to love. This fact alone is a shot at our culture, which so easily defines love by its own lusts and insanities. They could not be more opposed to each other:
- The Ten Commandments: Love means not coveting your neighbor’s stuff (10th), like her career, and therefore not murdering to get what she has (6th).
- The Present Culture of Death: Love means freely coveting your neighbor’s career (and calling that lust “dreaming your dreams” and “living your truth”), and therefore love means being “free” to kill your own baby to get freed up to have that career. Of course, that “freedom” leads to 80-hour workweeks and missing out on the magnificent calling of motherhood, but that and the lifelong guilt are conveniently left out of the marketing brochure.
Context, Context, Context
Yet we Christians strip the powerful good news of the Ten Commandments when we isolate them from their surrounding context. When we bark about the Ten Commandments being removed from this or that public place, that’s a distraction play, because the vital context was never enshrined on that bronze courthouse plate in the first place.
And the context means everything. God never intended us to read the Ten Commandments in a vacuum. Take note of the Commandments’ bookends:
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.
And then, at the end, there is the mediator, between God and the people:
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
God seems to think that we need to read and live out the Ten Commandments by thinking about the gospel (the first bookend), and the Mediator of this gospel (whom Moses only prefigures). God seems to think we need the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to live out the Commandments.
That’s the Power of Love
In this sense, the Ten Commandments are only law – they tell us whether we are within or outside the boundaries, but they do not in themselves contain the power to follow them. That has to come from somewhere else. The STOP sign does not stop your car – your foot does (or doesn’t).
And the feet of our souls get the power to push the brake – to love this way – not from the commands themselves, but from seeing that we were loved first, by the sovereign grace of God to deliver us from our slavery, through His Mediator Jesus:
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God did not love us like this because He’s changed since the Old Testament. Some think of God as being cantankerous and irritably depressed in the Old Testament, but now, with a little Xanax and age, He’s mellowed out in the New Testament – now He’s all about LOOOOVE, baby. Thus some say we don’t have to worry about obeying the law; Jesus fulfilled the law.
Not true. God is still the same holy, holy, holy God of Mt. Sinai. But because He sent His Son, we can approach Him, through Jesus. That’s because Jesus actively obeyed the law, for us, and in that way He fulfilled it, as our substitute. But that love frees us to then walk ourselves in that same newness of life (Romans 6:4), by faith, in the love that is in Jesus.
Good News – and Bad – and Good!
This is good news, worth proclaiming. It is bad news, too – there is a God, and LORD over all, who has staked His claim over everything by raising His Son from the dead. He’s your Creator, and He’s King, over all. Therefore He makes certain demands of the world. But our hearers, or even you, dear friend, may have disregarded those laws all your life. You have fallen into the hands of an angry God.
And yet He sent His Son, to forgive us and make us stand righteous before Him. More than that, Jesus gave those of us what have trusted in him His Spirit, to made us alive and able, for the first time, to walk in the way of His law. Which is the sane life, the good life. What God demands of us, God provides, in His Son. Do you have him?
Praise God that for those of us who do, we no longer meet Him as the holy fire, on top of an unclimbable mountain. Instead we meet in a festival of light, in a joyful celebration of His holiness:
Hebrews 12:18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
There are the two bookends again, in v. 24: the better mediator of a new and better covenant, bringing by his blood a better word. The woke gospels of our age, only have the word of Abel: their “loves” always end in blood – in abortion, in hatred, in canceling, in destruction. That gospel can only proclaim condemnation without redemption; it can promise sanctification only through endlessly groveling before the gods of our times; and it can only call for endless repenting, without ever providing the power to “walk in the light”. How could they? The false gods are little gods. Only the God of the Bible – only the God of this New Jerusalem – only the God Who raised Jesus from the dead can raise us dead men walking, too. Thus the Ten Commandments continue to be a shout and a shot of rebellion against the cruel insanity of our times. Here is love, and here is deliverance, through this better Moses, Jesus.