I Am the Lord Your God (Exodus 20:1-17)
You only get one chance to make a good impression. Have you ever been embarrassed by making a bad first impression?
I most certainly have. In college, a friend preached in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. One weekend, the church where he worked was having a gospel meeting and a fish fry. Curtis and Sandy asked me to drive up for the weekend. I did, and Curtis and I are sitting in their family room waiting for the visiting preacher, Sellers Crain, to arrive. We see Dr. Crain pulling in, and I excuse myself to go to the restroom. I’m in the restroom, and when I come out, Brother Crain and Curtis are talking. Curtis introduces me to Brother Crain, and he and I shake hands. Brother Crain asked if he could give me some advice. I said, “Sure.” Dr. Crain is highly regarded in the Tennessee Valley, and I wanted any advice he could give me. He said, “Justin, the next time you meet someone for the first time, make sure your pants are zipped.”
May 19, 1996, was my first Sunday as a paid preacher. I was the youth minister for the Main Street church in Pikeville, Kentucky. It just so happened that Tammy’s mom and dad were hosting a youth group devotional at their house. When we get to Tammy’s parents’ home, I really need to go to the bathroom. When I enter their home, a bathroom is just about staring me in the face. I rush into the bathroom and lock the door. Unbeknownst to me, Tammy’s parents are remodeling the bathroom. They have purchased a toilet seat, placed it in its proper place, but they have not attached it. Justin sits down and goes flying across the bathroom and hits a wall. Everyone runs to the bathroom to see who has been thrown off the toilet, and the new youth minister walks out. That is not the first impression I really wanted to make.
Have you ever been embarrassed by a first impression yourself? Was everything smooth the first time you met your spouse? What type of impression did you make the first time you met the in-laws? Have you ever gone to a job interview and messed up? Have you ever wished that you could go back and make a new impression?
We know God is perfect, and He has no need to go back and make another impression. However, it seems to me that God takes opportunities to reintroduce Himself to man.
- In the Patriarchal Age, God revealed His power at Creation; He shows His grace by making garments for Adam and Eve; and He demonstrates His faithfulness in keeping His promise to Abraham.
- In the Law, God reveals His moral perfection in a new way. That moral perfection meant God’s people needed to live a certain way: “I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). That moral perfection is seen in the fact that God required sacrifices when men failed to live up to God’s perfect plan.
- In Jesus, God reveals Himself in a new way. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:2).
Today’s text speaks about what God disclosed of Himself in the Law of Moses. As God is giving the Law to Moses, He says, “I am the LORD your God” (v 2). As you think about what God reveals to Moses here, it becomes very clear that “God reigns.” That is the message of this text. Let’s think about how we can apply this text and understand that “God reigns.”
Scripture (Exodus 20:1-17)
Because God reigns, God is a Sovereign God. God can tell the Israelites how they should live, for He is a Sovereign God. Only One who is over all can give instructions about how all should live. “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Ps 10:16). “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim 1:17). Because God reigns over all, He was able to give the Law to Moses.
Because God reigns, God is a Speaking God. “God spoke all these words” (v 1).
Why would I even bother to mention that God speaks?
- God speaks in understandable terms. God did not speak to man in some angelic language or some other language man could never understand. “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
- God inspired words. God did not speak ideas to Moses; He spoke words. The very words of Scripture are inspired of God. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Cor 2:13). When I read Scripture, therefore, I’m reading the very words of God.
Because God reigns, God is a Surviving God. “I am the LORD your God” (v 2).
The divine name indicates that God is eternal. When Moses asks God for His name, YHWH says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). God, because He is eternal, stands outside of time. Only because God is eternal is He able to reign. Wherever you go in history–past or present or future–God will be there, He will be on His throne, and He will be reigning.
Because God reigns, God is a Strong God.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (v 2).
Obviously, God has marvelous power. He demonstrated that power long before the time of Moses: e.g., God had created the world, sent a Flood upon the earth, and providentially led Joseph to Egypt. Yet, in this passage, notice that God has used His power for the benefit of the Israelites. The slave masters made life highly difficult for the Israelites. The Egyptians “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens” (Ex 1:11). While keeping the Hebrew quota of bricks the same, Pharaoh forced the Israelites to gather their own straw (Ex 5:6-8). God, with His awesome power, was able to lead His people out of Egypt.
Another testimony to God’s power is found in verses 8-11. God commands His people to keep the Sabbath. But, why? He created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh day. Since the creation of all that is was done by God’s power, think how great that power is!
And, the Creator used that awesome power to rescue the Israelites.
Because God reigns, God is a Singular God.
God does not want half-hearted service. The Lord tells the Israelites, “I want all of your heart. Don’t give me a piece and an idol a piece.”
God wants all of our hearts. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt 4:10). “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Matt 6:24). Yes, I know that the context is money; we cannot serve God and mammon. However, notice that Jesus says we cannot serve two masters.
Because God reigns, God is a Spiritual God.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (v 4).
Why? We’ve already mentioned that God is jealous. However, I wonder if part of this prohibition against idols has something to do with the fact that we could never carve God’s likeness. God is a Spirit (Jn 4:24). It would be an impossible task for God to reign over all that is were He not a spirit. “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Ps 139:7). How could God win the ultimate victory over Satan, a spiritual being, where He not also a spiritual Being?
Because God reigns, God is a Subduing God.
If God’s people made idols and worshiped them, God would visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (v 5).
Last I knew sons did not bear the iniquity of the father and fathers did not bear the iniquity of the son (Ez 18). What’s up with this statement? In my opinion, God visited the iniquity of the fathers on the sons because the fathers taught the sons to be disobedient. The son would watch his daddy build an altar to Baal, for instance, and that son would follow in his dad’s footsteps. That ought to be a solemn warning to us fathers!
You know that when the Lord returns God will exact vengeance on His enemies. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
God reigns. God reigns through Jesus, our King. “The King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'” (Matt 25:34). Jesus claims to be a king when asked by Pilate (Jn 18:37).
Since Jesus is our King, how should we live? It’s really simple, for Jesus Himself taught us how to respond to His kingship. We follow the first and second great commandments, for “on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40).
One: We put God first.
The first four of what we call the Ten Commandments have to do with putting God first. Man was created in order to put God first (Eccl 12:13). Jesus taught us to put God first. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt 10:37). When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37).
In a practical way, how do we put God first in our lives? I want to suggest three steps:
- We give generously to the Lord’s work. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Look at your budget. Does your contribution show where your heart is?
- We bring every thought in subjection to Jesus. Paul said that he sought to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Think back to the last major decision you made. Where did the will of God factor in that decision? Did you really stop to think about whether or not God would be pleased? How might you involve God in the next major decision you make?
- Three: We spend time serving God. How can we claim to love the Lord and to honor Him above everything else if we are not active in His vineyard? Let me offer a suggestion to help you make sure God is first. Keep a diary for a few days and look at where you spend your time. Do you come home from work and catch up on the latest plot twist for NCIS but have no time for the Lord? Are you able to keep up with your favorite team’s progress in the basketball tournament but have no time to read Scripture and pray? What do you need to remove from your life in order that God might really be first?
Two: We put others before self.
The second half of the Ten Commandments refer to the way we treat our fellow man. Jesus taught us the second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
Why do we need to love our neighbor? Our neighbor also bears the image of God: “In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Gen 5:1). Men have intrinsic worth because all of us bear God’s image.
As we put others before self, we serve our fellow man. “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11). “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
What can you do this week to look out for the interest of others?
- Find a Christian who needs to be served. Perhaps someone who is a shut-in, perhaps someone who is facing great trials of faith, perhaps someone who is being tempted to return to the world. What can you do? A visit, a phone call, an invite to lunch, repair work at the house? Do something this week for a child of God.
- Find a non-Christian whom you can serve. Jesus talks about letting our lights shine. Shine your light in a big way. Where is there a need? Where can you serve? Where can you show Jesus living in you?
- How can you serve?
As we look at the giving of the Law, we find that God reigns. We have talked about what the Law reveals about God.
God reveals another truth about Himself in Exodus 20 that we haven’t mentioned. Because God reigns, God is a Sympathetic God. God says that He shows “mercy to thousands, to those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments” (v 6). God is merciful and stands ready to forgive.
You find God’s great mercy often in the Old Testament. Psalm 103:8-14. Micah 7:18-20.
Do you need to know God’s mercy?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.