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Free At Last
Scripture: Exodus 20:1-3
Track 1 of 10 in the Ten Commandments series
Running time: 39 minutes, 51 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, July 3, 2005
1st sermon in a 10-part series
"Free At Last"
"Ten Words to Guide our Lives"
(Exodus 20:1-3)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

You heard about the little boy in Sunday School who was attempting to answer the teacher's question. The teacher asked, "How many commands did God give us?" And the little boy immediately said, "Too many!".

I went back this week or within the last couple of weeks and have been re-reading that section that we're going to be engaging in over the next several weeks. I made my way through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and I decided the little boy's right.

I don't know if you've read Leviticus lately; and, I don't mean to any way say that some part of Scripture, you know, isn't really valuable and all, but, boy!

They say there are 613 commands somewhere in the Old Testament. I, whew! That's a lot of weeks, by the way, if we take them one week at a time.... Ah, actually, we're just going to do ten, if that's alright with you. We're going to do those common ten, the Ten Commandments. We're going to try to take a look at them over the course of this summer. I hope that you will engage with me this question; "What in the world does the Law, the Ten Commandments, have to do with me?"

It's obviously been in the news recently. Supreme courts making decisions about it, all those kinds of things. That's not the direction we're going to go at all. I'm not here to do political battle with whether or not you can post them or not. I'm not personally overly concerned about whether you stick them on a wall. My question is, "Do you have them in your heart?" That would be a far more significant issue for me. Although I probably have an opinion on the other. If you ask me in the hallway, I'll probably be willing to tell ya.

I am concerned about how they do apply because, after all, they were given to Israel in the Old Testament; and, I just wonder about what the application of that Law is to our particular situation right now.

In some ways, it's kind of interesting that you're that far into history with God's people before you get a formal written code of any kind. You know, when you think about where the Law occurs, we've had from Adam to Abraham, in which we don't really have a good sense of how much time we're talking about, but we don't have any particular set of written codes from God. There's obviously a law because people got in trouble; and so, they were breaking law and God made it very clear that murder was wrong and some other things shouldn't happen. So we have those kinds of experiences, but, in relationship with God, it was this covenant that they agreed to that they would live with; and, God would do his part and they would do their part. But there doesn't seem to have been any kind of formality in the sense of some kind of written code.

You get to Abraham and it begins to narrow just a bit and God says, "Abraham through you I am going to bless the people and it's through you that I'm going to create this nation out of which all of the world will be blessed." And then, of course, you follow the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

You get down into Egypt and you've got this 430 years of slavery that they're involved in, in Egyptian history, when God comes and says, "Okay Moses, it's time for you to bring my people out of Egypt." And apparently there was some kind of a system of Law that governed how they lived and yet, there didn't seem to be any particular written standard.

You crossed the Red Sea. There is that miraculous event where God frees his people from slavery and you move into the wilderness. They journey to Mount Sinai and it takes them a little while, a couple of months; they get there and all of a sudden, now you're at the base of the mountain and God shows up. And there's smoke and there's fire and there is thunder and there is lightening and there is this cloud that hovers over the top of the mountain and there is a fence built around the bottom of the mountain and God says, "Don't let anybody come up here except for you."

And so there's this rather striking experience where God calls for Moses to come up because God is going to speak to the people and somehow it frightens the people to hear the voice of God and so the agreement is, I will give my Laws through Moses. Moses will give it to you. Moses goes up on the top of the mountain. He carves out a couple of stones. We think we know what those look like. At least every cartoon has the two little arched things that kind of look like McDonald's only with laws written on it. He comes down off the mountain. This is the story we'll get to next week. He comes down off of the mountain and of course they've already decided to create a golden calf. He gets mad. He throws all Ten Commandments down on the ground and breaks the two stones. The only man I know that broke them all at once.

You've broken them all, more than likely, but he broke them all at once. So then you've got to go back up and get them all over again. Start again.

There is this legal system that now is in place. The Ten Commandments are just ten. I mean, they are pretty simple. First four have to do with God. The last six have to do with our relationship with each other. If you're not familiar with them, let's look at them. They're in this 20th Chapter of Exodus. For those of you who are new to your Bibles, that's the second book in. Start at the front cover and move your way over a couple of books. You'll run into it. The second book is what we call the Torah or the Pentateuch. The Book of Exodus 20 is the first record of the giving of the Law. Now that's repeated for us, again, later in Deuteronomy 5. We're going to concentrate on this first giving, Exodus 20. I'm going to start reading at the very first verse of the 20th Chapter.

. . . . .God spoke all these words:

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations, of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

By the way, for those of you who have King James running through your bloodstream, that's the one that says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Just so you're with this reading.

Verse 8: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, no the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord make 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.

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

I am grateful that it does not list Harley Davidson. And by the time we get to the 10th Commandment, ten weeks from now, I'm going to figure out how to keep that in there.

Ten words. These are primarily, (here's your big word for the day). These are Apodictic Laws. Okay, I got that out of my system. What that means is, they are simply statements of law. You will not do this. You will do that. There are other kinds of laws all through the Old Testament. They are case laws. Case laws are "if this happens. . . . .then this is the result." Most of the case law is built on these ten laws.

The interesting thing about law from our perspective (and I'm making the leap now from God giving this to Israel in the Old Testament to those of us in the New Testament) is when we come to the New Testament writings the authors wrestled with, "how do you handle law?," because we're under a new covenant and the law was presented as both "good" and "futile" at the same time. There was something about law that had great value; and yet, it was absolutely useless when it came to making a person right with God. And that was the tension that existed in those New Testament writings. "How do you handle law?" This is not a new question, by the way. I didn't make it up so that we could have something to talk about this morning. This has been the question ever since the New Testament came into existence. "How do we handle Old Testament law?" In fact, that was the first church council in Acts 15. "What do we do about law?" How do we handle it?

Let me ask you to come over to the Book of Romans and look at two different places where Paul speaks, that kind of show this contrast that we struggle with, this tension that exists. The first statement is in Romans 3. Romans 3:31 The question is, Do we, then nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Here's the statement. He's been wrestling in Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in Romans about our relationship with God and how we are all sinners and the law has pointed that out. And so the question then becomes, "well, is there something wrong with the law? Does somehow when we come to faith in Jesus, that eliminate the law?" And he says, "no, it upholds the law." It somehow teaches us about the law.

But then you come over to Romans 7 and you get this statement. Romans 7:1 , it's an illustration and it's an illustration out of every day life. He says, Do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to men who know the law - that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Chapter 3 says the law has value. Chapter 7 says, but we're not under the law anymore because when we became Christians, we engaged Jesus by dying to ourselves, the law became dead to us.

We now serve God under completely different circumstances. And here's the tension in which Christians exist. That if I can try to confuse this as much as possible in 30 seconds or less. The Old Testament law, particularly the Ten Commandments has enormous value for humanity. But we are not obligated to keep it because it is not our law. We live under a New Covenant. We're in a new relationship with God that is established by faith not by law.

But the law has value. So the question becomes then, "What value does the law have?" How does the law serve some purpose for those of us who live in the 21st Century, if we're no longer obligated to it? If you have an answer to that question, by the way, I would be glad to meet you in the Hospitality Room right after services, so that you could get that ready for me for second service.

It is an ongoing tension that I think is extremely difficult to wrestle with, but we're going to wrestle with it. Romans 3, again. One of the purposes is clearly identified for us here and I want to just identify that and a couple more. He says in Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Paul's comment is very clearly this, one purpose for law is to teach you what sin is. Do you remember Paul's statement, "I didn't know that it was wrong to covet, until I read in the law - "Thou shalt not covet." Then I knew I had done something wrong. The law served that purpose. From the giving of the law on Sinai under Moses up until the days of Jesus, what Israel dealt with, was an every day experience of understanding that man was not capable of living before God without breaking the rules. And part of that system was that every day experience of offering sacrifices because you broke the law.

An annual feast every year called the Day of Atonement where literally thousands of animals were brought to the priests to offer at the temple in order to remind the people "you have spent the last year breaking law" and this is the system for fixing it. The value of law is to teach humanity that they are not capable of living righteously under their own power. But it also has this value. It teaches you that God has a way to fix that.

One of the values of studying the Ten Commandments will be this. It will teach us the difference between right and wrong. It will teach us what it means to live in a relationship with God when you can't do it on your own power. It will give us a vocabulary of sin. It will also help us understand the system by which God was going to redeem us from that sin and help us understand the value of the death of Jesus.

Well, there are a couple of things that I think are really important for us to get on this first Sunday as we launch ourselves into the Ten Commandments and I want to come back to Exodus 20:1.

I don't know how many years I lived as a Christian before I saw this verse. I'm embarrassed to tell you it was more recent than I'd like to admit. Because you'd a thought that a person would see this fairly soon along the way. I didn't!

Exodus 20:1 "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Exodus 20:3 "You shall have no other gods before me."

If you ever look at a list of the Ten Commandments, the first commandment is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." That's Exodus 20:3. Why do we never look at Verse 2? "I'm the God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." Some of you are sitting there thinking, "okay, so what are you talking about?" Here's what I'm talking about. Before law was ever given, grace was established. Before God ever said, "These are the things that I would like you to do in response to me" The first thing he did was remind us that he's the one who freed us from our sin, from our slavery. Law was never intended to create righteousness. Law was always intended, from the very beginning, to be a reflection of the grace of God and our obedient response to that grace, as a means of saying, "We are grateful for what you have done." That was the mistake that was made by the Pharisees and others. They believed that they could create righteousness. If they could just tow the line, if they could just keep the law, then they could be perfectly okay with God. That's a clear misunderstanding. First of all you can't do it. Secondly, it's what led to that enormous legal system that was so full of legality.

Did you know that I broke the law this morning? I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't even think about it. I, I,. . . . It was nice out this morning. Did you go out this morning, I mean other than to get in your car? It was so pleasant out and I love to out on an early Sunday morning and think about the sermon and think about church. And so, I decided I'd walk in hopes that my wife would pick me up on the way. Otherwise I would be late for church. But I'm sure I walked further than the law allows on worship day. But I might have broken the law in another way. I was carrying something that weighed more than the weight of three dried figs. Because, see, if you're going to live by a legal system, you've got to define everything because you can't work on the Sabbath. By the way, this is not the Sabbath. (Keith will straighten you all out on that four or five weeks from now.) But if it were the Sabbath you couldn't work. Well, what's work? Well, work is lifting. Well, but how much is it weigh before it really counts. Well, I mean, if you lift your ring when you raise your hand, that's not. . . . . . do you see the problem?

But I have the benefit this morning you see. I have cuffs on my (you don't need to notice that) but I have cuffs on my pants. If per chance the weight of four or five dried figs ended up in the cuff of my pants and I didn't know it was there, I wasn't really carrying it.

So the Pharisees created robes with cuffs so that stuff could get in their robes and they could carry it without breaking the law. See, that's what happens when you try to make law do something that it won't do. Law cannot make you right with God. You can't keep the law perfectly enough to ever satisfy the standard of the law. So God says, "Let me tell you a little story. . . .I brought you out of Egypt. I redeemed you. I freed you. This is a relationship of grace. I did my part. Now, here's what I'd like you to do. Honor Me." That's the bottom line of the First commandment. You shall have no other gods before me. The bottom line of that commandment is very, very simple. You shall simply do that which honors Me. The Law was an expression of our love for God and it gave it some definition. God didn't give Law to be cruel. God gave Law to be kind, to give us some parameters in which to live that would protect us.

I know none of you parents have ever done this so those of you who have children that. . . .you can ignore this story. This is for those of you who will some day have children. This is what you should not do.

I needed to paint the roof cap on my house when I was living in Oregon. It was a two-story house and I was too poor to have a ladder. My wife was somewhere and I had our two-year old daughter and her little friend and they were going to play in the side yard while I was up on the house painting this strip. I said to my children, "Do NOT leave the yard." Now I didn't do that because I'm a cruel, mean person. It's not like I drove a stake in the ground and wrapped their leg to it. I just said, ya know, here's a fence and a gate and just stay inside this area. We lived on a fairly busy street in that little town.

I shimmied up the (I won't tell ya how I got up there), but I shimmied up the side of the house until I got to the roof. I crawled out to the very front of the house. I had probably taken four or five brush strokes of paint and I looked down and guess what's happening? My children are opening the front gate headed straight for the street. I did what any self-respecting parent would do. I quietly said, "GET BACK IN THERE". Well that didn't work, any more than it ever worked for your children. So I shinnied all the way back to the other end of the house, down the chimney (not inside, but outside) to get to the ground. I go out to the street. I do what any self-respecting (in the early 1970's) parent would do. I took my children in the house. I warmed the back side of their little bottoms. I stuck them in two chairs and said, "if you even move, your life will be really miserable." I went back outside and I finished my painting.

Now the Law "Don't leave the yard" was not to be restrictive. The Law was to be protective. That's why God gave Law, not to restrict us, but to protect us. And as we walk our way down through "Thou shalt be honest. Thou shalt not commit adultery. . thou shalt not......... Those laws are not to somehow hem you in and make your life miserable. Those laws are there to help you live life fully within the confines of that which God knows will make your life good.

See, Law is a statement of grace to us to help us understand how to live in a way that will be good for us. Well, that's one of the things that I hope comes out of our study of the law. This first commandment is such a clear statement and so important for us as a foundation because every other law is built on this first law - - "Have no other gods but me."

The Ten Commandments are (now when I use this word, please don't misunderstand me) they're relative, they're situational. I don't mean they're relative in the sense that you can do anything you want with them. What I mean is, they fit a particular situation. Remember Israel had just come out of Egypt. You remember the ten plagues? The water turned into blood and the flies and the gnats and the boils and the darkness and all of that stuff. Every plague, each one of those ten plagues, was a direct assault on an Egyptian god. You cannot read the Old Testament without encountering the fact that every nation had gods (plural). Molech, Baal, Asterias . . . and nobody cared that you worshiped Yahweh as long as you were not so intolerant as to believe that the worship of Yahweh was the ONLY way. Just make Him part of the pantheon of gods that you worship. And God comes along and says, "In that culture, in that situation, I AM THE ONLY GOD. This is not Me first among a bunch of others of equal value. I"M IT!" "And don't you dare have any other God besides ME."

I think if there is any challenge to studying the Ten Commandments, it's this challenge in American culture to put away our gods and the only question is, "WHAT ARE THEY?"

I'll leave that for you today. I'll come back to it next week and try to pick that question up and run with it a little further. This idea of God alone is so prominent in Scripture. He's not one of many. He's IT. He's the ONLY GOD there is.

When Jesus was asked this question, "What is the greatest commandment in the Old Testament?" Do you want to know what his answer was? The first and greatest commandment is this. Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And then he said, "there is a second one that is pretty good too." Love your neighbor like you love yourself. "The whole law," he says, "is wrapped up in those two commands."

You want to summarize the Ten Commandments? The first four tell you to do what?

Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the last six tell you to do what? Love your neighbor like you love yourself. But it starts with our understanding that God is God and there can be nothing that interferes with his place. Nothing can come into existence in our life that somehow puts Him on an equal plane with something else, or worse, put something in front of Him.

I ran across this quotation this week. I was struck by it. It is a statement by Steven Van Zandt, who happens to be in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He said, "I am a reformed Taoist, part-time Buddhist, Hindu, animist, pagan, Jewish mystic, and Christian." He may think he is. What that makes him, is a pagan. Because God is not tolerant of that. In God's camp, there are only two conditions. You either worship Me, or you don't.

Now I recognize that one of the struggles that we have in American culture as one of the things that we'll have to wrestle with all of the time, not just over these ten words, but we will wrestle with it all of our time, is that we live in a culture that is intolerant of intolerance. This culture will tolerate anything except intolerance and God, I'm afraid to tell you, is intolerant. Did you hear it in the very next command? I am a jealous God.

So here's the question, "Is God genuinely the sole proprietor of your life?" Sometimes I wish I were bright. I guess I'm just grateful that sometimes things finally dawn on me after a while, you know. I remember the first time I saw this bumper sticker, being troubled by it. But I had no idea why I was troubled by it. I just didn't like it. The bumper sticker said, "God is my co-pilot". And I appreciated the sentiment in that. You know, me and God are together, but there was something about it that just kind of left me. . . . . .yeaouuuuuuuuuu!

It was sometime later that I saw another bumper sticker. "If God is your co-pilot, move over." God is not interested in being your co-pilot. God is interested in sitting in the "driver's seat" and He doesn't plan on sharing it with anybody else.

So, here's my question this morning. If the goal of Madison Park Christian Church, and therefore, I hope the goal of every person here, is this - to become a community of people who look like Jesus. If our goal as a Christian is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, then how would Jesus live out the first commandment? Have no other gods before me.

I just jotted down three things that I thought were evidence of the way Jesus did this. The first one is this statement. "I came to do your will, O God." He worded it differently in another place. He said, "Not my will, but yours be done." The second thing I jotted down was this statement from the Gospel of John when Jesus says, "I can do nothing of myself. I can only do that which I see my Father doing." And I jotted down this third one. It came out of the fourth Chapter of Matthew where Jesus is being tempted by the devil and three times he quotes Scripture from Deuteronomy right back at the devil, but the last one Matthew 4:10 he says, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only.

When pushed to the limit Jesus' response was the first commandment. Have no other gods before me.

In future sermons what I hope we do is see what keeping the law looks like. To try to begin to answer the question, "what are those potential other gods that we might put in front of God?" And one of the tensions that I wrestle with is not just imposing on you my own list of what I think are contemporary idols, but rather really wrestling with the issue of what is or what does it mean to have another god. Israel obviously didn't do very well at this. We won't get another chapter into the book of Exodus before we discover that they've already started the process of breaking law. And God's choice of terminology to talk about law breakers was to call them adulterers. They were unfaithful to their covenant. We'll have to unpack that just a little bit.

Well, if the value of the law is to teach us about God and to teach us about his character; if the value of law is to teach us about the value of humanity, that we're not capable of saving ourselves; if the value of law is not to create a relationship with God, but rather to reflect a relationship with God; then is there something that we need to come back to today to remind us of this one fundamental truth that in 2005 the most important thing in your life must be your relationship with Jesus because he's how you come to the Father.

I want to come back to the book of Romans one last time and read just a text here that I think captures this question.

Romans 10:5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or, 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Paul creates this incredible contrast. If you're going to try to live by the law, you're going to be responsible to live by the entire law and you can't do it. So if you want a relationship with God you're going to have to do it some other way and that some other way is by faith. And it. . . . . . . . . . .trust in Jesus. Anyone, he says, who calls on his name, will be saved.

The value of the law is to help us understand how lost we are. The wonder of faith is the privilege of knowing Jesus and not having to keep a law in order to be saved - but to merely allow that law to help us reflect our saved condition - a statement of gratitude.

I want to introduce you to a couple of young people who lived out this Scripture this week. Last Sunday we did something really different. Now I can't tell you this whole story and I won't get all of the details right, but I'm going to share just a wee bit of it.

You know we took the Lord's Supper in a kind of an odd way last week and for some of you it was cumbersome and for others of you, you really liked it, and I'm grateful that you're really all willing to let us do things a little differently from time to time.

But the Scheiter family went back to take the Lord's Supper together and they did what we did on that particular occasion. They allowed their children to participate as I told that story last week.

And this young boy that I'm about to introduce you to, his name is Rylan, turned to his mother and said, "I feel like I have Jesus inside me." So this week, right over here in this little room behind those double doors that you don't get to see open very often on Sunday morning, Megan and Rylan confessed with their mouth, faith in Jesus Christ and they submitted their hearts to Him in Baptism and they identified with Jesus in His death and resurrection that they could literally call on the name of the Lord in the promise that they, like many of you, would be saved.

They are here this morning with their family. They're sitting right over here and I want to ask them to stand up and let you welcome them into the family of faith and into Madison Park Christian Church.

We don't do anything in this place any more important than helping people call on the name of the Lord. That's why we're here.

This morning, we're going to sing a song. It's one of my favorite songs about having a passion for God, a holy passion to follow Him. If you've never followed Him and you're ready to make that kind of decision, would you please come and see us. Let us talk with you. Let us share with you how to call on the name of the Lord. The worship team is going to come and lead us. I'm going to ask you to stand while we sing and then we'll have our communion meditation. We'll meet around this Table and be reminded that we have been set free at last. Please stand with me.

Martin Luther King, Jr., on this great speech of his, that we probably should remember, had this ringing line in it. "I'm free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last."

This is Independence Day weekend. We celebrate in American freedom. We're grateful for those who have made it possible for us to be free. And in some way we will celebrate around picnics and fireworks and we will remember people who have died for this Country and that'll be important. And I don't want to minimize that at all. The symbol that stands in this corner is an important symbol but, my friends, I want to come back to Exodus 20 one more time. I am the God who brought you out of Egypt. I set you free. And the symbol that sets on this table is the symbol of a far more important freedom because when you are free in Christ, it doesn't matter whether you are free any other way. When you are free in Christ, you are free in deed.