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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The First Commandment

Copyright June 1, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Exodus 20:1-18

Let's play a game.  Let’s see if you can finish these famous commercial jingles! 

Ok.  Try this one without the music:  “Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese…”
            How'd you do?  I bet you did pretty good.  At least 90% of my church congregation knew them all!  I guess those jingle writers did there job well and made some memorable commercials.  Now, let’s try something a little different.  How many of the Ten Commandments can you name?  Too hard?  How about this then:  What is the first commandment?
I'm guessing you didn't do as well remembering the Ten Commandments.  Perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  My message series this summer will be about the Ten Commandments and how they apply to our lives.  I would like to challenge you to memorize the Ten Commandments this summer and to come hear the message each Sunday.  We will take one commandment each week.  Today, we will look at the first commandment.  But before we do, let’s list all Ten Commandments.

1.     Do not worship any god except the Lord.
2.     Do not make idols of any kind.
3.     Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
4.     Remember to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your father and mother.
6.     Do not murder.
7.     Do not commit adultery.
8.     Do not steal.
9.     Do not testify falsely against you neighbor.
10.  Do not covet.

Exodus 20:1-18
            This list is my paraphrase of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:1-18.  Let me read the full passage.
1Then God gave the people all these instructions:
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
“You must not have any other god but me.
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You must not murder.
14 “You must not commit adultery.
15 “You must not steal.
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.
Explain the Passage
These Ten Commandments are listed in two places in the Bible—Exodus 20:1-18 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  They were given to the Israelites in the dessert after they were freed from slavery.  After 400 years of slavery, this brand new community was unaccustomed to living on their own.  Gone were the masters who formerly told them what to do every step of the way.  The Israelites needed someone to teach them how to live as a civilized, free people.  And so the Lord gave them His Law—rules for how to live as a community.  And these Ten Commandments were the essence of the law distilled down into 10 easy to remember principles that covered every area of life.  Exodus 31:18 says the Ten Commandments were written “by the finger of God” on stone tablets.  God gave the tablets to Moses and they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21).  The original stone tablets were presumably lost along with the Ark of the Covenant a few hundred years later. 

The Purpose of the Ten Commandments
Obviously as we have stated, the commandments gave instruction to the Israelites fledgling community on how to live a moral life and thus avoid the consequences of sin.  They can serve the same purpose for us today.  However, the Ten Commandments serve another purpose.  They show us how sinful we are (Romans 5:20) and thus our desperate need for grace and deliverance. 
If we are honest, we will each admit that we have broken many (if not all ten) of the commandments at one time or another.  Have you ever stolen something?  Even something small like a pen?  You have broken the 8th commandment.  Have you ever told a lie (even a little, white lie)?  You have broken the 9th commandment.  Have you ever committed murder?  (Jesus said if you even hate someone in your heart, you have committed murder in your heart.)  If so, you have broken the 6th commandment.  Have you ever misused God’s name (have you ever used God’s name in a trivial way)?  OMG!  You have broken the third commandment!
It doesn’t take long to see even the best among us are very sinful when we examine the 10 commandments in this way.  As Romans 3:23 says, “All fall short of God’s glorious standard” and are in desperate need of God’s saving grace.
So, with that being said, let’s examine the first of the Ten Commandments (or rather, let us allow God to examine us with the First Commandment). 

The First Commandment 

            Exodus 20:3 says, “You must not have any other god but me.”  In other words, “Do not worship any god but the Lord.”  It is notable that the command doesn’t speak to the issue of whether or not other gods exist.  It simply states, “You should have no other god but me.”  Whether or not there are other gods is beside the point.  (We will see in a moment that we often turn things into gods.  Whether or not these things are really gods is irrelevant.  They sometimes become real to us.  And the Lord warns us not to have any other gods in our life.)
            The people of the tribes and nations who lived around the Israelites worshipped many different gods.  Undoubtedly, the Israelites had seen this and would be tempted frequently to worship the gods of other nations.  But God says, “I am the one who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  I am the one you should worship.  You should not worship any other god.  I am your God.”
            In our time, we put other “gods” before the Lord all the time.  Anytime we choose our desires instead of God’s will, anytime we put our hopes in the things of this world, anytime we seek fulfillment from people, places, or things that we can only find in a relationship with God, anytime we give honor and praise that belongs only to God to someone or something else, anytime we place anything before God, we have violated the first commandment.  We may not call these things “gods,” but we make them our gods when we put them before the Lord.  And these little gods will always let us down and leave us empty and broken.  They cannot deliver us the way the Lord has.
            Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”  Egypt is a figurative place for us.  We weren’t slaves in Egypt like the Israelites.  Nevertheless, each of us has been enslaved in some way.  Some are enslaved to depression.  Some are enslaved to pornography.  Some are enslaved to the scars of the past.  Some are enslaved to worries about the future.  Some are enslaved to what people will think about them.  Some are enslaved to your money, possessions, power, or influence.  Some are enslaved to their own pride, or guilt, or shame, or greed.  We are all enslaved by sin.
            Enslaved.  It means you have lost the power to choose.  When you are a slave, your master controls your life in every way.  Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, you are or were a slave to whatever controlled you in this life—even if it was your own warped, inflated sense of self (which always falls short of the grander plans of God which are far greater than the individual self).
John 3:16 tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His one, and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Through Jesus Christ, we can be delivered from slavery to whatever little gods control us.  If you trust in Jesus and follow him, you have been set free!  And the words God spoke to the Israelites all those millennia ago when he gave the Ten Commandments, now apply to you.  Exodus 20:2, “”I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”  And God gives you His first commandment:  “Do not worship any god but the Lord.” 

            If we are honest, we will certainly see that we are all guilty of putting things before the Lord from time to time.  As Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  And Romans 6:23 tells us the consequences and also the wonderful Good News.  “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  So though we have broken the First Commandment many times and deserve only God’s punishment, instead we receive grace because of Christ. 
            Each time I receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, it reminds me how much God loves me and how His grace cleanses my sin.  The bread represents how Jesus gave his own body to be punished for my sin.  The wine represents the blood he shed on the cross that washes away my sin.  He was innocent, yet he willingly gave himself to pay the price for my sins.  Therefore, all my sins are forgiven.  All yours can be too.  Won't you ask Him to forgive you and wash you clean today?
Here's a simple prayer you can use to help you do just that:

            Thank you for loving me enough to die for my sins.  I'm sorry that my sin broke God's heart and cost you so dearly.  Please forgive me.  I don't want to sin anymore.  Come into my life and lead me and I will do my best to follow.  Please save me and be my Lord.  Amen.

If you prayed this and asked Jesus to save you today,
I would like to hear from you. 
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