Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. A number of years ago, my family drove from our home in St. Louis, Missouri to visit my brother in California…yes, we drove that whole way! We got on I-70 in Wentzville, Missouri and drove all the way across the states of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and into Utah. Eventually we made our way south through Arizona and Nevada into California. But I’m not going to lie, out of all of the states that we drove through on that trip, my favorite by far to drive through was Utah. Why? One simple reason: the speed limit.
The second you cross the border from Colorado into Utah, the speed limit on the interstate changes to 80 miles per hour. That is my kind of interstate driving! You’re cruising through the desert and you don’t have to pay any attention to how fast you’re going for two reasons. First, the speed limit is so high that you can’t really speed too much. And second, there’s absolutely nothing there and you’ll see any policeman coming from miles away. Jokes aside, though, this attitude that I just described sums up the way that most of us feel about laws. We have the attitude that laws are there to hold us back and get in our way. The only good laws are laws that allow more freedom and offer less restrictions. In short, we believe that laws are only good when they benefit us.
2. But interestingly, that’s not how the writers of the Bible feel about God’s laws. Time and time again they go out of their way to highlight how wonderful God’s laws are and how much they love them. I could give you a number of examples of this, but probably the best one to use is a line from our Gradual, Psalm 19:7, which says: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. We believe that God is holy and perfect, so we probably don’t have too many objections to saying that God’s law is perfect. But to say that God’s law “revives the soul” …that seems like a bit of a stretch, right? How can restrictive laws revive our souls? Yet this is the exact attitude that most of the biblical writers tend to adopt. The Bible teaches us that God’s law is good, helpful, and beneficial for us. And so, today we’re going to take a closer look at our Old Testament reading from Exodus 20 where God gives the 10 Commandments to Israel. And as we do, we’re going to see that The Lord graciously gives us his law to lead us into the fulness of life.
3. You might think that these verses from Exodus 20 are filled with nothing more than monotonous laws which you had to suffer through learning about in Confirmation class. While there may be some truth to that, there’s also something quite incredible going on in this text as the Lord gives these commands. Notice how this chapter starts. It doesn’t start with what we always think of as the “First Commandment.” It starts with a command to remember: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, our of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2). But that’s not it. In the midst of giving what we would consider as the first commandment, the Lord gives a rationale for why he is giving this commandment. The commandment You shall have no other gods before me is rooted in the character of God. God is simultaneously a just God who punishes evildoers and a loving God who shows steadfast love to those who love him. Then, a couple of commandments later, when God gives the command to Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, he again roots this command in his own character and what he has done by saying: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:11). But here’s the thing that I want to make sure you don’t miss in all of this: These commandments were not given to Israel so that they could become God’s people by keeping them, but because they already were his people by grace. These commandments are what made God’s people distinct. They are what allowed them to participate in bringing God’s blessing to the world. They are a guide for living the fullest, best life possible under God’s grace.
4. And my friends, the same is true for us. Adherence to some moral set of codes, whether it’s the 10 Commandments or something else, it will not save you. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins. But at the same time, blatantly ignoring God’s good commands isn’t good either because these commands come from the author of life himself. And so, to treat his law and commands as though they’re restrictive or even that they’re optional reveals the depravity and selfishness of your sinful heart which loves comfort, pleasure, and convenience more than the Savior who died to free you from slavery to those things.
5. How do we escape from this sick, twisted, selfish attitude? We need to start by recognizing that it’s our own sinful mind and heart that has gotten us into this mess—we would be foolish to think that we have the capacity to get ourselves out of it. Only Jesus can rescue us because only Jesus could fulfill what the law required and save us through his death. Only Jesus, by the power of his Spirit within you, has the ability to change your hard heart into a heart that loves him above all things and that loves his law, knowing that it leads to true life.
6. Here’s where I could say, “Amen” and we could all walk away with a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling inside, content that Jesus loves us, forgives us, and gives us his Spirit to change us. But to end here would be irresponsible on my part because I’ve made it sound like you’re off the hook and don’t have anything to worry about or do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. God’s Spirit certainly does the work of transforming our hearts, Jesus absolutely is the only one who can save us from ourselves, but you have to participate. If you leave here expecting God to change your heart, but all you want to do is the same thing you’ve always done, you’re going to be disappointed with the results. That’s the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Jesus wants to change your heart. He wants to make you into the kind of person who loves his law. Jesus wants to make you the kind of person who lives the fullest life possible by living according to his word, but he’s not going to do that unless you work with him.
7. So I want to close by challenging you to take a concrete step in this. Develop a regular, daily routine of reading God’s word. After all, you can’t grow to love it unless you actually spend time with it! If you make that commitment, even for 5-10 minutes per day, to read your Bible and immerse yourself in his law and word, you’ll notice a change in yourself. No, it’s not always going to be easy. There are going to be times when you have to pray extra hard for God’s Spirit to be with you and motivate you. There are going to be times where you’re just going through the motions because you don’t feel like it. And that’s okay—because if you never go through the motions, then you’re not giving opportunity for God’s Spirit to work in your heart. But one day, I pray that all of us will notice that change in ourselves and be able to join with the Psalmist in saying, The law of the Lord is perfect, and it truly revives my soul.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.