And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
“A guardrail would be nice.” That’s the thought that went through my head. I was 18 years-old in the country of Peru. While I was a senior at Luther Prep I applied and was selected for this mission trip where we visited the different churches throughout Peru. There were 6 of us. We led the songs in worship, read passages that we had learned in Spanish, and did our best to encourage them in Spanish during fellowship meals. It was uplifting for us to see what the gospel does in very different and often very remote places. And you could tell that they were just as excited to meet a bunch of Lutheran high schoolers from the US, who shared the same faith. Like I said, some of the places were remote and I’ve got plenty of memories from that whole experience. But one thing fits very well with the section of God’s Word in front of us today.
On these mission trips for the Prep students they make sure to set some time aside for fun trips. Our group had a very breath-taking trip to Machu Picchu. It is the ancient and iconic Incan city built high in the Peruvian Andes mountains. To get up to this mountain top town, you need to take a bus up a steep switch-backed road. I had been on mountain roads before, but not like this. There were about 40-50 people in a bus on this narrow and dirt road where guardrails were not to be found. That was fine I guess, but did I mention there are multiple buses on this very narrow dirt road zigzagging up a mountain. When I started to get a little freaked out was when our bus was backing up because another bus was coming down the road. I was sitting in the back of the bus that overhangs the back wheels, the part that was hanging out over the switchback. That’s when I thought a guardrail would be nice.
Guardrails are good things. Their job is to protect you from the possibility of going off the road down a mountain side or into a river. That’s good. The guardrail also promotes the right way to go. It says, “Stay away from that. Here is the right way. Keep your eyes on the road.” And it doesn’t matter if you think the guardrail could be closer to the edge of the cliff or it should be in tighter to the road, it has already been placed and our job is not to move it. Our job is to abide by it.
That’s where Exodus 20 comes in. These are God’s Commandments for all people. God records them for us here, in Deuteronomy 5, and many are repeated for us by Jesus and other New Testament writers. This is how God wants people to live. He wants to stay on his course. His commandments are like guardrails to keep this world safe from harm and danger. They also serve Christians as a guide to promote the right way, the way God wants his people to go staying away from a sinful world.
A lot of people have their own ideas on how to be good moral people. Diet Coke commercials are telling us to “just do you.” If it makes you happy, then do that. And people kind of like that idea. It means they set up their own guardrails to protect them from what they have decided is bad. Sometimes it changes with culture, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s up for you to decide. You get to be your own moral judge.
God disagrees. “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.” This is the first of God’s Commandments. There are no other gods. When it comes to priorities everything else must come after our relationship to God. If that does not happen, then you have yourself an idol.
An idol can be anything that you love and can’t imagine your life without it. But I’ll tell you why none of them are worth the high priority we often give them. Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your job, your boat, your camper, your hobbies, your sports, your favorite singers, movies, shows – none of these things can save you from sin or death or hell. So, God has set up the guardrail to protect you from loving those things too much. He promotes the good course for us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, because he does save us from sin, death and hell.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” There are plenty of titles God uses about himself in the Bible, and all of them need to be used properly. Anything else is going to hurt you. It is not allowed to use God’s name to show how excited or frustrated or serious you are. Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something doesn’t help you more than them. Putting any stock in things like a horoscope or a physic would also fall into this category of misusing God’s name, because you have decided his name is not good enough or powerful enough for whatever you have going on. God set up this guardrail to protect us from dragging his name and reputation through mud. He promotes the good course for us to use his name regularly for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Sabbath was a day of rest. That’s what the Hebrew word means. Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” The problem is that we often look for rest in other places. People get nice beds, comfy couches, massagers and spas, or they look for relief in bottles or hobbies. We surround ourselves with all these conveniences, but they cannot remove weariness, much less deal with the burdens we carry physically, psychologically, or spiritually. So God sets up a guardrail to protect us from all the different things this world presents to give rest. There is only one thing that give our souls rest, God’s Word. God promotes the good course for us to love and use his Word and to love and use his house.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” This commandment specifically deals with the authorities God has set up in the home, but there are also plenty of places where God describes the authorities he has established at work, in government, and in the church.
I guess the simple question to ask yourself is, how well do you handle having others in a position over you? I don’t know if it’s always as good as we should. God says, “in humility value others above yourselves.” If you don’t like hearing that, if you struggle with authorities, if all this political stuff gets you riled up, then that is exactly why God put up this guardrail. It protects the authorities he has established to serve us. If we are forced to do something God forbids, then we must obey God rather than people. But if it’s just something that doesn’t always jive with my ideas, then we need this guardrail in place to protect the authorities that care for us. God promotes this good course for us to honor, serve, and obey our parents and those in authority, because we need them for good order in the home, at work, in society, and in the church.
“You shall not murder.” If you have been a believer for a long time or a short time or if you are completely confused by the Bible and God and faith, this commandment still makes sense. All human lives matter to God. Taking a life is not up to you and never will be. That means murder, abortion, suicide – it’s all wrong. If God has given you a life in this world he created, then only he should decide when it is over. But this commandment also covers the way we think about human life and not just what we do with it. If you think your life would be easier and more enjoyable without that bully in your grade, or that jerk in your office, or anyone else – it doesn’t even matter if you know them or not, maybe it’s just a really terrible person on the news – then that is just like murder, except that you did it with you mind and heart and not a gun. So God puts up the guardrail to protect his gift of life. God promotes the good course for us to help others with our words and actions.
“You shall not commit adultery.” In the Bible God is so very very clear about marriage and sex. Marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman based on the consent and commitment of love. This is the part where tons of people would want me to add stuff or take out other stuff. Because marriage should be for everyone. Sex is a basic right that you should be able to enjoy with anyone at any time. And if you can’t have that, then just look up some porn. Children are so great that if you want them then go ahead. If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be then you can get out of it and try again. Better yet don’t get married at all; it’s just a sheet of paper. And the cycle continues. I can’t say those things, because God doesn’t. He puts up this guardrail to protect us from the devil’s easy traps of immorality and lust. He promotes the good course and right way to use his gifts of sex and marriage so that we are pure and decent.
“You shall not steal.” It helps when we remember to whom everything belongs. God is the owner; we are merely managers and caretakers of everything he gives us. He gives these things to us through the work we do, through gifts we receive, through returns on investments. God can and does provide everything we need for body and life. When we forget that he is the giver, when we forget that we are caretakers, when we forget that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, that’s when we collide with this guardrail, where God protects our possessions and the possessions of others. God doesn’t want us to be selfish, dishonest, or tightwads. He also doesn’t want us to be wasteful and careless. God promotes the good course where we use our own possessions properly and look to help others with theirs.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Do you ever wonder why God has a commandment to protect the name and reputation of people? It’s because sin makes it so easy for us to destroy others. Maybe you won’t use a gun. Maybe you won’t take their property or possessions. Maybe you won’t usurp them if they are in a position of authority. But just a couple juicy tidbits can do the deed all the same. That’s why God is so serious about his name and the names of others. We need God to protect us from gossiping and lying. So God promotes the good course where our mouths are not used for spreading anything but his praise and proclaiming his gospel. We will defend others and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” I’m thinking coveting is not a word you throw around every day. Basically, God is saying that if he has not blessed you with something that you want or something that other people have, then you don’t need to worry about it. The possessions you have and the possession others have shouldn’t consume you anyways. The Bible says that kind of materialistic heart has pierced people with many griefs and even robbed some of faith. So God puts up the guardrail to protect us from being to earthly. God promotes the good course where we are content and thankful for what we have and keep our attention where it needs to be, on our Savior, Jesus.
Maybe you have noticed something as we walked through God’s Ten Commandments. Maybe you realized for the millionth or for the first time that you have broken them all. The law is like a mirror that exposes every glaring weakness. And when I say weakness, I don’t mean that you can make up for them with all your strengths. I mean you and I have broken God’s law to pieces and the punishment for that is not enjoyable. The punishment is death and hell. Period.
And that’s why it’s good to see Jesus the way he is in the Gospel for today. He takes God’s law seriously, because in order to be our Savior from sin, he had to be perfect. Every thought, every attitude, every action, every word had to be pure and selfless and helpful. He had to be complete zealous for the God and his name and his Word.
His perfection is all that matters. Jesus’ road to redemption was perfect so that my pitiful excuse of a godly life and the punishment I deserve is removed. On the cross God exchanged my sin for Jesus’ holiness. On the cross Jesus wiped my slate clean and replaced it with his perfection. That’s the only way I can avoid the punishment for sin. Jesus had to take it for me. And he did.
God still has the guardrails set up for us. This is a life and world where sin still veers us off course. The perfection we have through Christ will be fully recognized in heaven. For now, we need the guardrails to keep us on course. By God’s grace these commandments are not just a mirror to expose all our offenses against God and others. They are also guardrails to protect us from going off his road and to promote the right way for a child of God. So let’s stay on course. God grant it. Amen.
(There is so much to talk about in each one of these commandments. That’s why we take more than 10 lessons to cover them in Catechism class and 3 lessons in Bible Basics. This was just a brief snapshot to see what God is protecting and promoting. If you want to get the fuller picture, come to the Bible Basics on Monday night or go back in dig around in your Small Catechism, which organizes so much of what God says in the Bible into nice sections for each commandment.)