What Do We Do With These Words?
This doesn’t apply to you. Hospitals are places that are full of rules. I remember one of the first times I had to visit a hospital as a pastor. One of my members was in the ICU. So I got to the door just outside of the ICU. And it was closed. And there were no knobs or latches to get in. And beside the doors was a large poster. And on that poster was a massive lists of commands. You cannot come in here if… And even when if you can come in here, you can only come in during these hours. After reading the huge list I was beginning to conclude that no one could come into the ICU. Then a guy wearing scrubs walked past me, swiped a hidden box on the wall and the doors opened. And of course, when the doors opened, I snuck in after him. But notice, my friends in Christ, that the rules didn’t apply to him. He could come and go as he pleased. This morning we look at these ten “words” that the Lord speaks to his people. But the first lesson to learn is what applies to us and what doesn’t. And so, In Exodus 20, we read: “1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 3 Do not have other gods besides me. 4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. 7 Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:1–7 CSB17)
The first lesson we need to learn as we approach these words is that much of this does not apply to you. In these words God commands his people to not make any carved images.1 Yet look around you. You see pictures and images all around you in this church. Even more than that, you have pictures of God put right here on your altar. And so, there are parts of the second commandment that do not apply to you. And the same is true with the third. Moses tells us: “8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. 11 For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 CSB17)
What day of the week do we usually worship on? And yet here we see the command to worship on the Sabbath—on Saturday. Part of the third commandment does not apply to you. But here’s the question we need to ask: why? Jesus fulfills all the commandments in our place—all of them. And so, there are parts of these ten commandments that do not apply to us. The apostle Paul uses a beautiful picture for this: “16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17 CSB17) The illustration I use is this: If there’s a person walking around a corner, you see the shadow. You focus in on it because the closer the person gets the more details you find out. But when the substance (the person) comes, you don’t look at the shadow anymore. So there are parts of even the ten commandments that are shadow. And Jesus is the substance that fulfills them in our place.
This might be a strange topic to plow through on Sunday morning. But, my friends in Christ, this is important. This seems like irrelevant data until…until your friend who goes to a Calvinist church tells you that you’re sinning because you have pictures and sculptures of Jesus in your church. It seems irrelevant until the neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist tells you that you’re sinning because you don’t worship on Saturday. There are parts of these commandments which do not apply to you. And just as it’s a sin to ignore the parts of the commandments that do apply to you, it’s just as bad to feel guilty over the parts of these commandments that do not apply to you.
So then, understanding this, we can begin to answer that question, “What do we do with these words?” First, recognize that each of these commandments has a heart and core, a foundation that applies to you. Recognize that these commandments—all of them—are commandments you cannot keep. These words are not rungs of a ladder that we can use to climb up to heaven. No, these words are commandments that show us how really, truly sinful we are. And the most piercing way we see this is by looking at our gospel this morning. As we compare ourselves to Jesus in the temple it’s not pretty, is it. Somewhere along the line we learned that anger is a sin. But, what these words here in the gospel for this morning show us is that Jesus was perfectly angry and zealous for his Father’s house and there have been times where we should have been angry and zealous but were not. It should make me angry when there are times that I do not treat this place at a holy place where people worship. It should make us angry when other people do not treat this as the holy place it is. I still remember the one of the worst spankings I ever got when I was a child. I was a little child and my parents were taking forever talking after church was done. I was running through the church like a wild-child. They told me to stop and I ignored them. Then, out of nowhere, was a spanking. But why was it so swift and so severe? My mom said, “You are in the Lord’s house. This isn’t a playground.” She was angry—and properly so. But how many times have we should have been zealous and even angry, but we weren’t?
Recognize that these words are commands that we cannot keep. But isn’t is wonderful and amazing that Jesus was perfectly angry in our place. Look at your lives. There are times that we are angry when we should not be. And there are times when we should have been angry but weren’t. Then look at Jesus. Look at the Savior who shows such burning anger and keeps the third commandment in your place. Recognize that these words are commandments that you cannot keep. But also recognize and rejoice that Jesus could keep them and did. And the perfection and forgiveness that Jesus has in your place he gives to you through his word.
So what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that we cannot keep, but Jesus kept in our place. but notice then, that when we recognize this, it changes how we look at the commandments. When we see that Jesus freely and completely kept these commandments in our place, we naturally want to keep these commandments. We don’t want to keep these commandments to earn heaven. That’s impossible. No instead, God has given to us a new person alongside that old person. This new person thanks and praises our Savior and looks for ways to thank him. And what is so beautiful about these words is that these words are not just commands. They are also promises. Listen to what the Lord tells us: “12 Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 Do not murder. 14 Do not commit adultery. 15 Do not steal. 16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:12–17 CSB17)
Look at the fourth commandment here: Honor you father and mother. But there’s more to it. There’s also a promise. God promises to lengthen life so that, out of thanks, we would thank him in the way he would like to be thanked. And that’s the key thought. If we ask the question, “how can I thank God,” there’s your answer. If he really wants us to follow the commandments and really likes it when we do so, we can humbly follow down that path. Think of the promises in these words as the opposite of fruitcake. Now, if you like fruitcake, then you can forgive me for beating up on fruitcake. But, let’s face it, fruitcake is pretty much the universal anti-gift. You can’t eat it. You can’t use it for a book-stop. It doesn’t decompose. You didn’t want it. But someone gave it to you anyway. These promises here in these words are the opposite of fruitcake. What a great joy it is to know that the promises in these words are what our Lord actually wants and likes.
And so, what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that are only kept by Jesus. And we recognize that they are promises given to us. Amen.
1 ”פֶ֣֙סֶל֙“ (Exodus 20:4 BHS-T)