Exodus 20:1-17: God’s First Word

Ten Commandments (610x351)Even after God had given His Law to us, when He gave tablets of stone to Moses, we still shouldn’t have needed God to do that.  For, at the dawn of time, God engraved His Law on our hearts.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this, even about those who aren’t Christians:

When [they], who do not have the law [that is, the Ten Commandments], instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. [Romans 2:14-15]

But if God wrote His Law on our hearts, then why did He later have to give us His Law on stone tablets?  It’s because when we fell into sin, it wasn’t that we tripped over a rock.  No, we fell into a deep, fathomless crevasse.  And so as sinful, fallen creatures, we take what remains of God’s Law on our hearts and twist it to our own ends.

It’s true: We shouldn’t need the Ten Commandments.  After all, we have the golden rule.  Jesus says, “Treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).  God engraved that idea on our hearts.  By His design, it’s hardwired into our genetic code.

We know what we like and dislike.  We know what we want done to us and what we don’t want done to us.  So, it’s not that difficult to figure out what is right and what is wrong.

If we didn’t want to be killed in our mother’s wombs, then abortion is wrong.  If we don’t want our spouse loving and having sex with someone else–if that hurts us and gives us pain, then adultery is wrong.  If we don’t like people slandering us or saying unkind words about us, then gossip is wrong.  It’s not that hard to know the difference between right and wrong.

But, unfortunately, we are such good liars that we even lie to and fool ourselves.  And our corruption compounds over time.  For example, when we allow our sinful natures to abuse others, and after we repeatedly receive abuse from others, our fallen hearts become even more corrupted.  And this downward spiral can continue unabated if someone or something from outside of us does not come to break the cycle.

Abuse confuses and hardens us.  It can get so bad that we sometimes don’t even know what we want.  We fall prey to a spiritual Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological event that takes place in the mind of some people who have become hostages.  Over time, some hostages begin to have sympathy and positive feelings toward their captors, even to the point of defending them.  But such feelings are irrational, especially considering the danger and risk the captors pose to them.  Those with Stockholm syndrome even mistake a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

We fall prey to a spiritual Stockholm syndrome.  Our captors and abductors are sin, death, and Satan.  Those forces of darkness confuse, trick, and manipulate us.  And what happens?  Here’s one example.  A young woman thinks that if a man hurts her he is showing her love and attention.  She lives on a dangerous tightrope of terror, simply because she is desperate for someone else to love her.  Others are tricked to think that they are fat, even when they begin to look like concentration-camp victims.  They think the only way for them to be attractive or desirable is to starve themselves into some distorted view of beauty.

Sinful, fallen confusion exists in us all–and this makes us unable to apply the golden rule, freely and without flaw.  Even worse, we are experts at rationalizing, at making excuses, and using double standards.

How do we see this lived out in our lives?  You think it’s wrong if someone listens to a rumor and then gossips against you and disparages you.  But then how quick are you to tame your tongue when you hear something juicy, something that you would relish to pass on to others?  Sometimes, we men may think it’s wrong if someone’s wife or daughter dresses in a way that all-too-easily stimulates our evil thoughts–but then maybe not.  But oh watch all hell break loose if someone looks at my wife or daughter with such lustful eyes!

At our worst, we even make theological excuses.  We use a pet Bible verse or theological rationalization to justify some horrific sin we are doing, even convincing ourselves that it is something good.  Oh, others can see how messed up we are, but our sin keeps us from taking their words of correction as someone trying to pull us back from the road to Hell.  Sometimes, we even have the nerve to blame God for the mess we’ve made!

Scripture says that we battle against unholy angels.  “For our struggle is not against a human opponent, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the forces of cosmic darkness, even against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

And so we see, even more, how badly we need God’s Law!  And because we need God’s Law, even His Law is something for which we should rejoice.  God’s Law shows us His will for us, even whom He created us to be as His people.

When the Law says “Do not kill,” it’s not just telling you not to harm others, but also not to harm yourself.  When the Law says, “Do not commit adultery,” it’s not to keep you from having enjoyable sex, but to have sex, recognizing it as a gift from God to help strengthen the marriage bond.  When the Law says, “Do not steal,” it’s not to keep you from having something, but to learn how to serve one another with God’s created world.  And so, God’s Law is something good for our lives.

But we are fallen creatures, and so we often despise God’s word of Law.  For the Law also shows that we are evil and broken, not merely victims.  We are also perpetrators of wrong.  The Law shows that we are co-conspirators with evil.  For our troubles, our arrogance, and our selfishness sends ripples of pain across the world.  We are victims, to be sure, but we are also perpetrators.

And so we find the only way out for us is rescue.  The Lord begins His great declaration of the Law with a promise and a historical reality: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  The Ten Commandments show God as our true Lord who begins a relationship with us.

Even more, our Lord even ties Himself to His own Law.  He does not place Himself above it, but willingly holds Himself to the standard of the Law that He sets.  And what is that standard?  Is it this: He will be our God.  He will not quit or stop, no matter what.  Even if we commit treason, even if we prostitute ourselves with other gods, even if we rebel and kill His Son, He will not stop being who He is.

The first Word of the Lord is that He is the Lord our God.  He brought us out of slavery and rescued us from death.  He will not stop.  That’s who He is and who He will always be.  God holds Himself to that standard.

That means true righteousness does exist, one that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  But it’s not ours–it’s the righteousness of Jesus!  For only Jesus Christ keeps the Law.  He does everything it demands.  He does nothing it forbids.  He endures temptation in every way but does not fail.  He does not sin.  He does not long for what is not given Him, even bread in the desert when He was hungry.

Jesus accepts what the Father gives Him.  He waits, never doubting that God the Father is good and will provide.  Jesus endures in that faith and hope to the end, even when the Father leads Him to the cross, even when Jesus embodies and becomes all sin for us.

Jesus has, not just the outward righteousness worthy of honor and respect, but a perfect faith.  Jesus has the correct and proper relationship with God the Father.  Since our Fall into sin, no one has had such righteousness or faith, except Jesus.  He is the Creator who joined His creation to become a man, to fulfill the Law and satisfy the demands of justice.

Jesus did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  Instead, He kept the Law in obedience, even keeping the Law during His suffering and sorrow.  He allowed the Law to do to Him everything it should have done to us.  He took on its full force.  He took into Himself and endured all the sins of all humanity.  That was the true suffering that Jesus endured as the sinless One became sin itself.  And then it was finished.  The Law was fulfilled.  There was no more.

And that’s the righteousness He gives away for free to those who believe in Him.  He pours it out in the waters of holy baptism, in His Word and preaching, in holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord bespeaks us righteous, bright with His own holiness.  He says it–and it is.  He once said, “Let there be light,” and there was.  Now He says, “You are forgiven, free, and righteous.”  And you are.  You now have nothing left to pay or to do to make yourself righteous before God.

That’s the only reason you have died to sin and now live to Jesus Christ.  Jesus has divorced and separated you from sin and, in its place, He embraces you with His love.  Soon, death, sin, and Hell will be no more.  Soon, you will rise, free from your confusion and bondage, free to bask in the grace of Jesus Christ who loves you to the end.  Amen.