Sermon: Exodus 20:1-17
Lent 3 - March 4, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
As you know very well about three weeks ago a very young man with a very destructive firearm walked into a school in Florida and proceeded to shoot to death seventeen people, high school age students and teachers. We’ve seen this happen too many times of course.
And the suggested solutions are many: ban guns or put greater restrictions on gun ownership, don’t allow those who are mentally ill to have weapons, have stricter background checks, provide greater protection for our schools, have armed guards in schools.
All of these suggested solutions may have some merit. But there’s one part of the solution to this problem of violence and shootings that doesn’t get talked about or respected enough. As a matter of fact, we’re considered fools and are denounced as very naïve if we suggest this as the most significant component in this whole troubling issue.
And what do you think I’m talking about? It’s pretty simple. We don’t teach the Ten Commandments to our children anymore. We don’t teach God’s basic moral values to our children anymore. We don’t teach our children to love God and love our neighbor. We don’t teach our children respect for human life. Gun violence is a spiritual problem first of all.
With Exodus 20 as the backdrop, God giving the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, we’re going to consider this great American spiritual problem:
WE DON’T KNOW THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ANYMORE
I know these are general statements. I know that there are plenty of parents who teach the Ten Commandments or at least basic biblical morality to the children and set good examples for them. We teach the Ten Commandments and their meanings to the children of our church and school. And we have good parents in our congregation who teach and demonstrate God’s moral law to their children.
But most parents in our society don’t. Most parents don’t take their children to Sunday school anymore. Most parents don’t take their children to church anymore. Most parents don’t even have in their own minds and hearts any list of commandments or moral laws that come from God. So why should we expect them to teach any commandments, much less the actual Ten Commandments, to their children?
God thought the Ten Commandments were really important, and he still thinks they are. In our text today from Exodus 20 we have the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20 takes place very shortly after the LORD God directed Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. But God didn’t take the people directly to the Promised Land. He led them south first of all to Mt. Sinai. And there God gave them the Ten Commandments. And it makes sense that he would. If Israel was going to be his nation of people, the nation from the which the Savior of the world would one day be born, there first of all had to be an understanding of what God’s will is, what basic morality is, how they were to live their lives as God’s people.
Do you know the Ten Commandments? Can you recite the Ten Commandments? I had considered beginning this sermon today by challenging someone to come up in front of the congregation to recite them. I’m sure there are some of you who could do that. But I would also imagine there are a lot of you who couldn’t. If we think the Ten Commandments are so important, if God thinks the Ten Commandments are so important, if we’re going to condemn our society for not teaching and respecting the Ten Commandments anymore, if it angers us when left-leaning people in our society have the Ten Commandments removed from courthouses and public school and public buildings, then we better know what those Ten Commandments are.
If you don’t know them make a regular habit of reading Exodus 20. Or get a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism. There’s a wonderful new version of the catechism with excellent explanations from Northwestern Publishing House. Order a copy for yourself and make use of it. Each section, each question, can actually be a wonderful Bible study or devotion for you and your family.
You have to know some of the commandments. Do you know what the 5th commandment is? How you answer is going to depend on how you number the commandments. Not everybody, not every church, numbers the commandments the same. As a matter of fact, if you asked God what the 5th commandment is he might say, “Well, I didn’t really number them.” And he didn’t. He really didn’t - except for the 1st commandment - “You shall have no other gods.” When Jesus expounds on the commandments in the New Testament he doesn’t specifically number them and say, “This is the 5th commandment,” or “That’s the 6th commandment.” He speaks about them more randomly or generally.
The term “Ten Commandments” is actually found in the Bible only three times, and the Hebrew words literally translated are “ten words.” If you carefully count the “you shall not’s” and “remember the Sabbath day” and “honor your father and your mother” there are actually eleven commands. If you even more thoroughly count all the commands within this list of ten commandments in Exodus 20 there are actually fourteen commands. We group similar commands into one commandment and number them as ten commandments.
This all illustrates that God’s greater concern is not that we number the commandments correctly but that we know what his commandments are and that we respect them and strive to live by them.
There’s wonderful order in God’s Ten Commandments. He begins in the first group of commandments to teach us about our relationship with him. He is the only true God. His name is I AM and from the rest of scripture we know that he is a triune God and that he sent his Son Jesus to be our Savior from sin. We are to worship no other god by any other name, and obviously not make or worship physical idols of false gods. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above all things.
We are not to misuse his name by cursing or swearing or falsehood. We are to call on God’s name “in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” We’re also commanded to regularly and publicly worship God, praise his name, and hear his word.” We call this the 3rd commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
I sometimes think that the 3rd commandment is the commandment that too many confessing Christians have forgotten or willfully ignore. Granted, we don’t keep the Sabbath in the New Testament the same as God commanded his Old Testament people, but God’s clear intention in this commandment is that we worship him and hear his word. If it’s true that we don’t know the Ten Commandments anymore, this 3rd commandment is one that way too many people don’t know or respect.
The rest of the commandments, what we sometimes call the second table of the law, have to do with our relationship with others, with our neighbor. The 4th commandment tells us to honor those closest to us, our parents, and then others in authority in society. The 5th commandment commands us not to murder another human being. This commandment protects human life and the human body from conception to the time that God takes a person from this life.
The 6th commandment protects marriage as the lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. It forbids adultery and unfaithfulness. It urges the godly use of our sexuality. If it’s true that we don’t know the Ten Commandments anymore, this 6th commandment is one that way to many people don’t know or respect anymore.
“You shall not steal.” You shall not bear false witness.” God protects our property and our reputation with these commands. And finally “You shall not covet.” In the 9th and 10th commandments God urges us to watch our hearts so that we don’t have unchecked desires for things and people he doesn’t want us to have.
We don’t know the commandments anymore. I hope that can’t really be said about any of us here. It certainly can be said about our society, our nation, and most of our population. And this statement means more than just not knowing the list of commandments. Not knowing the commandments also means not respecting these commandments as God’s word, as God’s commands, and therefore not obeying them.
The left in our nation has done a very good job of winning the hearts of many people, including the hearts and minds of too many of our young people. University professors, intellectuals, philosophers, Hollywood, and others have taught them to reject God and, most tragically, to reject God as the source of what’s right and wrong, what’s moral and immoral.
So what becomes the source of right and wrong, moral and immoral, for those who reject the Ten Commandments? A person’s own heart, a person’s own ideas and desires. But God warns us through the prophet Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
And what have people’s sinful hearts chosen? Not to believe and trust in God. To use his name with filthy language, very publicly, both men and women. Not to worship God. To disrespect parents and teachers. To kill millions of unborn children. To disrespect human life. Is it any wonder the murder rate in our large cities is unimaginable? Is it any wonder people pick up automatic weapons and enter schools to randomly kill people? And what else have they chosen? To practice and promote sexual immorality, to disregard the obvious reality of gender. To be hopelessly materialistic with an insatiable desire for more. To have no real spiritual values.
Our society, our nation, doesn’t know the Ten Commandments anymore. More serious, they don’t know the God who gave those Ten Commandments.
When God gave the people of Israel his Ten Commandments he began this way: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God first saved them. Then he gave them his commandments to live by. If God were giving us the Ten Commandments today he’d begin, “I am the LORD your God, who sent my Son Jesus to save you from your sins that you might go to the eternal Promised Land. These are my commandments. Demonstrate your love and thanks to me, your God and Savior, by walking according to these commands.
We don’t know the Ten Commandments anymore. Make sure no one can say that about you. Amen.