Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD
descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke
of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And
when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became
louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by
voice. Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the
top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top
of the mountain, and Moses went up.
IMAGINE THAT you are among the vast throng of Israelites who have just been delivered from Egypt, following Moses in the great Exodus. You have seen the incredible power of God with your own eyes. You watched in awe as He rolled back the waters of the Red Sea to allow you and your countrymen to cross on dry land. Then, safely on the other side of the sea, you saw the waters come back together, covering the terrified Egyptian solders who had been pursuing you.
You have tasted the manna that God sent from heaven to feed you, and quenched your thirst with water that flowed from a rock at His command. Yes, you have seen God's power to save and heal, and you have also seen His power to destroy and kill.
And now, you stand before the mountain of God-Mount Sinai! It is shrouded in cloud and smoke, as if from a furnace. There is lightning and thunder. The mountain shakes and trembles.
And you, too, are trembling. Your heart is melting within you as you fall upon your face with all the others and cry out to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:19).
What an incredible day it was when the Almighty came to sit, as it were, upon a gigantic throne of granite to dispense His laws to His covenant people! They were the operating instructions from the Creator. On this occasion, God did not use the voice of a prophet, but spoke with His own voice. He did not use the pen of a scribe, but wrote with His own finger upon the tablets of stone.
They were the Ten Commandments of God, His moral laws for all mankind.
And you-lying in the dust before the smoking, flaming mountain of God-would never, ever consider breaking one of them. After all, you knew what would happen to you if you did. The Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt some 3,500 years ago feared and respected God and His laws because they saw the consequences that came from disobedience.
But since the day God wrote His laws on those tablets of stone, innumerable individuals and nations have hurled themselves against them. The remnants of their destruction may be found in the hospitals, the asylums, the prisons, the battlefields, the skid rows of this world. What was true thousands of years ago remains true today. You cannot break the law of God; you can only break yourself upon it.
Consider a small sampling of what happens when people think they are free to disregard the Ten Commandments:
Leslie met her husband, Ron, in a church youth group when both were teenagers. They fell in love and were married just three years later, shortly before Ron's twenty-first birthday. When some of their friends questioned them about the wisdom of getting married so young, Ron said that no matter how long he lived, he knew he could never love another woman as much as he loved Leslie.
That was then; this is now.
Just a few weeks ago, Leslie discovered letters tucked away in one of her husband's drawers. Her heart broke because the secret letters caused her to believe Ron had been unfaithful to her. Not once, but at least three times . . . and possibly more.
When she confronted Ron, he admitted his guilt. But that was all. He was completely unrepentant. Unwilling to break off the relationship with his current girlfriend, Ron chose to walk away from his marriage and his two young children. The kids are really too young to know what has happened, except that they miss their daddy. However, Leslie is devastated and lies awake at night, wondering how a fine young man who seemed to love God and his family with all of his heart could have slipped into this kind of lifestyle and become so callous and unfeeling toward people he once loved.
David grew up in a safe neighborhood where kids could play freely and parents didn't have to spend a lot of time worrying that they might be getting into trouble. It wasn't a rich neighborhood by any means, but it was secure, and he always felt safe. Now, thirty years later, he worries when his twelve-yearold daughter rides her bike alone in their affluent neighborhood. If she isn't home exactly when she promised, he prepares to look for her.
Is he overreacting? Not at all. He knows the statistics. He understands that thousands of children just like his daughter are kidnapped, molested, or victimized by lesser forms of violence every year. And he also knows that no neighborhood in America is truly safe.
Just last month, a student was expelled from the local high school for bringing a gun to class. David shakes his head as he remembers the America of his youth. He wonders what happened to that nation. How did we get to this point?
Dana has always thought of herself as an honest and upright person, but she has trouble telling the truth when she thinks it might hurt someone's feelings. So, when her friend Joyce called recently and asked her if she wanted to go out for dinner, she said she had a headache and was going to stay home and go to bed early. She didn't want to admit that she already had plans with someone she'd just met-a coworker from the school where she was a teacher. She justified her dishonesty by reminding herself that Joyce was easily hurt and might not understand.
She didn't count on Joyce coming over with a big pot of soup for her "sick" friend and discovering that Dana wasn't home. Talk about being hurt! And now Joyce says she feels that she can't trust Dana and no longer wants to be her friend. Dana has tried on several occasions to get things patched up, but Joyce says, "I just don't understand why you lied to me."
All Dana can say in reply is, "I don't know either, and I wish I had never done it." Sadly, she can't go back and change what has already happened.
The situations I've just mentioned are typical of those faced by thousands of people in modern American society. All around us, families are breaking up, once-safe neighborhoods are falling victim to violence and crime, and moral absolutes are being discarded whenever they get in the way. Furthermore, every one of the situations I've just described results from direct disobedience to one of God's laws.
For example, one of the Ten Commandments says, "You shall not commit adultery." Ron has broken that law, with the result that he has also broken his wife 's heart and split his family apart. He has touched off a cycle of hurt and shame that will last for generations, and unless he repents and changes his ways, he will be broken eventually.
The difficulties in David's neighborhood-and in neighborhoods throughout the United States-have also occurred because the Ten Commandments are not being heeded and obeyed. God says, "You shall not murder," and "You shall not steal," but modern society-having attempted to turn its back on God's laws- has created a world where few seem to know the difference between right and wrong, and where stealing and killing are commonplace. Am I overstating the case? Hardly. For example, consider that murder isn't even front-page news anymore. In big city newspapers, the latest murders are usually relegated to tiny reports far back in Section B.
As far as Dana is concerned, she would have preserved a friendship, and she would have felt better about herself, if she had obeyed God's command not to bear false witness, which is another term for lying.
A SOCIETY TURNS AWAY FROM GOD
Sometimes it seems as if our entire society is attempting to turn away from God's laws, with very dramatic and unpleasant results. People act as if the Ten Commandments are pass?-a relic from a long-gone era. But the truth is that they are the lynchpin that holds our society together.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling forcing a small town in Indiana to remove a monument featuring the Ten Commandments in front of its city hall. What a tragic mistake! Were it up to me, I would make sure the commandments were posted in every courthouse in America-and not only in America, but all over the world! I would also make sure they were posted in a prominent location in every public school. That is why I am so pleased with the courage and conviction of Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, who placed a granite monument bearing the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state supreme court building. Both his courage and conviction were put to the test in 2003 when a federal judge ordered him to remove the monument. Moore refused to do so, citing the obligation imposed on him by his oath of office, and he paid the price. He was removed from office by a state judicial body, an action he has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not long ago, a snippet of a song from the late 1960s caught my ear. If you're old enough, I'm sure you remember the hit song "Aquarius" by a vocal group called the Fifth Dimension. The song proclaims again and again that "this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius." And it talks about all of the "love and understanding" that are going to be so much a part of everything as the world moves into a wonderful new era.
In 1969 that song sounded like an anthem of optimism. Today it sounds more like a sad, pathetic joke. What has this "age of love and understanding" brought us?
Neighborhoods where people are afraid to venture outside because of the threat of gang violence.
Drive-by shootings involving kids as young as twelve and thirteen years of age.
The tragedy of Columbine High School, and a number of other shootings in schools throughout the United States.
The tragic decimation of the family.
I am certain you can think of many more ways in which our society has regressed over the past few decades and even in the last few years. As a society, we have blatantly turned away from the Ten Commandments, and as a result, our world has become unstable, frightening, and dangerous.
GOD'S LAWS CAN NEVER BE BROKEN
Now, one reason why the age of "love and understanding" never materialized is that those who proclaimed its arrival didn't know God or understand His laws. They envisioned a world in which we would throw off the restraint of "old-fashioned" morality, forget about God, and live in complete peace, freedom, and harmony. They didn't understand that God gave us His laws for a reason. His desire has never been to hold us back or keep us from having a good time. God gave us His laws because He knew that only in following them can we achieve our full potential-which is not the potential of "enlightened, fulfilled men"-rather, it is our potential to become the obedient sons and daughters of the living God.
Dr. Paul Johnson, an eminent historian, has written a book titled Modern Times that chronicles the events of the twentieth century. He points out that one of the most important events of this century was the publication, in 1905, of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
Johnson notes that ever since that theory came to be accepted as fact in the world of physics, others have been trying to make it work in every conceivable discipline, including ethics and religion. It has been one gigantic experiment, testing whether man can live without absolutes.
The answer, apparently, is that, yes, man can live without absolutes, but not very well.
Please do not misunderstand me and think that I am blaming society's slide into anarchy and relativism on Albert Einstein. The great scientist expressed his fear over where this movement would lead us when he said, "Relativity applies to physics, not ethics."
Yet for most of the twentieth century, people were willing to listen to the voice of a person like Karl Marx, who insisted that man is controlled not by the absolutes of God, but by economic factors. They nodded in agreement to Friedrich Nietzsche 's proclamation that "God is dead," and therefore, the only thing that controls man is the quest for power. They marveled at the wisdom of men like Sigmund Freud, who maintained that man is controlled by sexual desire and not by the laws of God; and Charles Darwin, who vowed that the only law that really mattered was "the survival of the fittest."
What is left of the legacy these men handed down to us? The Communist empire that was built on the teachings of Karl Marx lies in shambles-a bitter, failed experiment, leaving behind a sordid history of torture, murder, genocide, corruption, and betrayal of the innocent.
Friedrich Nietzsche? The man whose theories gave rise to the secular religion known as humanism-which would elevate man into the position of God-lived out the last years of his life in a mental institution.
Sigmund Freud is no longer revered in psychological circles. In fact, his theories are considered pass? by most modern psychologists. Sadly, it is too late to undo all the damage his theories did by unleashing a sexual revolution that perverted one of God's great gifts to mankind.
And what of Darwin? His views have largely been discarded by scientists working in the field of genetics. Why? They just don't seem to fit the facts. Yet thousands of people go on blindly believing the theory of evolution rather than accepting the truth that there is a God who created the universe, just as the Bible says.
ABSOLUTE AND IMMOVABLE
The truth is that God's laws are not relative. They are absolute and they are immovable. That this is so is a fact borne out by several thousand years of world history.
At this point, you may say, "But Dr. Kennedy, didn't the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ fulfill our obligation to obey the Ten Commandments?"
We will allow our Lord Himself to answer that question from a statement recorded in the gospel of Matthew:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).
If we want to fully understand what Jesus was teaching in this passage, we need to understand that when God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave three kinds of laws.
The first were the civil laws-the laws of government for Israel. You see, there was no legislature or parliament in Israel to pass new laws or tack amendments onto existing ones. Israel was a theocracy, and God was the only Legislator.
When you read the Old Testament, civil laws are easy to recognize because they always mention a punishment that is incurred when they are broken, such as a fine, a beating, or an execution. No one could plead ignorance. If you broke a civil law and got caught, you knew exactly what your punishment would be, and you could count on the fact that it was going to be swift.
I think it's worth noting that there were no prisons in ancient Israel. Instead, they had cities of refuge to preclude vigilantism. The Babylonians had prisons. So did the Assyrians and the Romans.
But not the Jews. They did not need prisons, because crime was dealt with quickly and, when necessary, severely. What happened to the civil laws of the Old Testament? When Rome destroyed the theocracy of Israel in A.D 70, the civil laws were simultaneously abolished.
The second type of laws found in the first five books of the Old Testament were the ceremonial laws. They dealt with the sin offerings, the trespass offerings, and all of the various offerings and sacrifices of the Jewish religious system. All of these sacrifices served as a foreshadowing of Christ, the Messiah, who was yet to come.
Through faith in the atoning death of the coming Messiah, as set forth in the sacrificial offering, a sacrifice that included the blood of bulls and goats, a Hebrew of Old Testament times could have his sins temporarily covered. They could not be forgiven, but the "payment due" date could be put off for a certain period of time.
When Christ gave His life "as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28), that changed. There was no longer any need for ceremonial sacrifices because Jesus had paid the price for our sins once and for all (Hebrews 10:11-14). The Bible tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).
And that is exactly who He is, the Lamb whose blood was shed so that we might obtain forgiveness for our sins-forever. When Christ died and rose again, the requirements of the ceremonial laws were canceled. There is no longer a need for animal sacrifices or the other ceremonial components of the law. We are saved, we are forgiven, we are purified, through the blood of Christ.
Third, there were the moral laws, embodied in the Ten Commandments. These laws represent God's moral character, and His moral character does not change-ever.
Is it not a bit ridiculous to think that 3,500 years ago God was opposed to stealing, but now He has changed His mind? Is it not ludicrous to say that adultery offended Him then, but it is of little importance to Him now?
Yet this is exactly what some people think. They view God as having mellowed over the years-like a parent who was more strict with his oldest children, but then lets his last-born get away with everything. But God is consistent. He is fair. His character is firm forever. He is the same today as He was 3,500 years ago- just as He will be the same four million years into the future. Thus, we find frequent references to God's moral laws in the New Testament as well as the Old. And when Paul gives a wonderful summation of the Christian Gospel, he ends by writing, "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Romans 3:31).
The Old Testament Scriptures promised that the commandments of God-His law-would one day be written upon the fleshly tablets of human hearts. And now they are. For the Christian, who has been saved by faith alone, each facet, each commandment, answers some aspect of the great question: How can I behave in a way that glorifies and pleases God and allows me to live the best life possible on this earth?
THE BALANCE BETWEEN GRACE AND LAW
The word "law" in Greek is nomos, and those who say that the law has no place at all in the Christian life are called antinomians, which means "against the law." Ever since the first century, some people have said, "We are saved by grace through faith, so we are free to do whatever we want." Interestingly, the first heresy trial conducted in America was for the heresy of antinomianism.
Whenever I encounter people who hold this view-and there have been quite a few-I always ask, "Having accepted Christ and been saved by His grace, is it not your desire to please Christ and to show your love to Him out of gratitude?" "Oh, absolutely," they answer.
My next question is: "Can you name one thing you could do that would please God more than obeying His commandments?" That question is always met with silence.
There is nothing that would please Him more. He doesn't want us inventing ways to please Him. Like most fathers, He wants us to show our love by respecting Him and living in obedience to His commandments. In the Old Testament, God makes it very clear that He does not want us inventing activities to please Him, when He says, "Who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?" (Isaiah 1:12). In other words, "Who told you it was all right to walk all over My righteous decrees and scorn My laws?"
We who love the Lord, who are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, desire to please Him in everything we do. For us, the moral laws of God-His Ten Commandments-serve as a guide, showing us how we can demonstrate our love and gratitude for Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, some people obey God because they are afraid of what He will do to them if they don't! They fear His wrath and punishment. They see themselves winding up as derelicts or unhappily divorced people chasing after meaningless sexual encounters. They are terrified of becoming the empty modern man, for whom nothing is absolute, sacred, or meaningful.
But that is not the right motivation for keeping God's commandments.
We do not obey out of fear, like slaves who avoid the sting of the taskmaster's whip. We obey because we are children of a loving Father, and we want to please Him. We should strive to be like King David, who said, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalms 119:97).
CHOOSE MERCY OVER JUSTICE
As we begin our study of the Ten Commandments, let me assure you that your obedience to God's laws has nothing at all to do with obtaining, earning, or meriting salvation. But I also hasten to assure you that obedience is the way you express your gratitude for salvation.
I have heard it said that the teachings of most of the world's religions can be summed up in one small word: "Do." "Do this and do that, and perhaps God (or the gods) will be merciful to you."
Only Christianity says, "Done!" The last words of Christ on the cross were: "It is finished!" (John 19:30). In Greek the expression is tetelestai! "It is accomplished!" Christ has paid it all. There is nothing you can do to attain salvation because Christ has already done it all. As Dr. William Culbertson, Moody Bible Institute 's president from 1948 to 1971, put it, "Every pagan religion in the world sings this hymn: 'Something in my hands I bring.' Only Christianity says, 'Nothing in my hands I bring. Only to the Cross I cling.'"
The only thing that remains for you to do is to accept by His grace what Christ has done for you-the salvation He offers you. Salvation, you see, is by grace and grace alone. Almighty God has given His Son to endure the requirements of justice, to pay the legislated penalty, to suffer infinitely in our stead. And now all those who come to God empty-handed, abandoning all trust in their own goodness and clinging to Christ's Cross, will be granted mercy.
You may stand before God, having violated every commandment, worthy of nothing but condemnation. But if, like the dying thief on the cross, you place your faith in Christ, you will be granted everlasting life in His kingdom. You will be adopted into His family, allowed to take His name, given a place in His will, and permitted entrance into Paradise. That is the wonder of grace.
Have you accepted the saving grace Christ offers you? If not, I urge you to take a few moments to receive Christ and His pardon right now. Wherever you may be, stop and pray this prayer with me:
O God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I have no hope of eternal life except through the blood of Your only Son, Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me so that I may live eternally. Lord Jesus, cleanse me of my sinfulness. I open my heart and life to be pleasing to You. Thank You for the promise of eternal life, which even now I possess. I ask this in Your precious name. Amen.
If you just prayed that prayer, or if you had already accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have stepped out of the realm of guilt and condemnation and into the realm of mercy. If you are a Christian already, may this be your prayer today:
Father, even though I am Your child, I cannot protest my innocence
to You. I have broken Your moral law, and I have sinned-not only
against You but against others as well.
But I long to show You my gratitude for dying for me. I long to live in ways that are pleasing in Your sight, and witness to others of the life that is good.
Teach me, Father, where I am living outside Your law. Correct me, Father, and help me to become Your obedient child. To Your glory and honor. Amen.
Copyright © 2005 by D. James KennedyCLICK HERE TO ORDER