Ten Minute Sermons
3rd Sunday in Lent
Yesterday, here in the church, a ceremony was held. It was a Boy Scout court of honor for a young man who was rising to the rank of Eagle Scout. In that ceremony all the scouts and former scouts raised their right hand and recited the Boy Scout Law:
A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
Think about these traits…these characteristics. This is the essence of what it means to be a Boy Scout. It is not so much that a boy promises to do these things in order to join a troop. It is more like the true Boy Scout reflects all these virtues.
The same can be said for God's Law. In Exodus chapter 20, God gives His law to Moses and the people of Israel, not just as a rule to govern their social comportment, but as a revelation of His holy nature.
You see, we know from Chapter 19 of the Book of Exodus the people of Israel have been chosen by God to be "a nations of priests" … "a holy nation". Holy…separate from the world…set aside from this world for God. In the Law the Lord gives to Moses, the Almighty reveals what it means to be holy. Just as the true Boy Scout reflects all the virtues of the Scout Law, a true Israelite, reflects that portion of God's nature which is revealed in the Ten Commandments.
It is clear from the law given to Moses that God values human life and wholesome human interactions. We are to deal with one another honestly and fairly as these are inherent characteristics of our Father in Heaven. The Lord established the mystical joining of a husband and a wife, so we should honor that union, and if we know that it is from our Creator that we receive all good and perfect gifts, so how can we possibly be jealous of any gifts given to another individual.
The horizontal components…the human being to human being components of Law clearly reflect God's nature: loving, fair, and providing. To be holy, to truly be set aside for the Lord, we too need to be loving, fair and providing. It is almost as if Israel is being re-created anew in the image of God. In the Law, God is restoring some of what was lost in the garden.
Re-created in the image of God…but not as gods, because it is in the vertical components of the law that we can see the awesome relationship between the Creator and His created.
You see, these are not the Ten Commandments: rules for us to follow. These are much more than that.
Verse one, "God spake the words, saying…" It does not say, "God gave these rules"…he spake words. The Hebrew that we translate as "words" has a very rich meaning. It does not mean a unit of language, verbal utterances that convey meaning. It is best translated as "covenant stipulations". When a man gives you his word, he is giving you his bond, his promise to uphold a contract. God's words here are a binding covenant: A solemn agreement between a people and their sovereign Lord.
Ancient peoples who accepted the Lordship of a King did so in a greatly formalized contract. The giving of the Law to the Israelites follows this ancient contractual form.
The ancient contracts begin with a preamble where the King identified himself: verse 2, "I am the Lord thy God", and then the contract would continue with a historical prologue where the King outlined previous gracious acts by the sovereign to the people: continuing w/ verse 2 "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The contract would then continue with the Lord outlining the stipulations of the contract which we find in verses 3-17.
When the people of Israel accept the Law, they subjugate themselves to their Sovereign. They submit complete submission, allegiance and obedience God. No other gods but He, no graven images, no profane use of His holy name. There are not just rules to follow; these are the very essence of our relationship with our Creator. In giving the people the Law, God showed them what it was like to comport themselves in a holy fashion. The Holy One rested on the Sabbath day, so should Israel.
Thus, the Law given to Moses was not just a set of rules to be followed; it was a revelation of who God was and how he wished to have a blessed relationship with His people.
This had the potential of being a new creation. To quote the OT scholar Peter Enns, "The law is God's cosmic order which will now be reflected in Israel's daily life…The giving of the law, in other words, is itself an act of re-creation". Following the Law fulfills the promise of humankind that was manifest when we were first created in God's image.
But…Abraham's children did not follow the law. The Lord's promise in Genesis that Abraham's seed would be a blessing to the nations, stagnated. Humankind was not restored into right relationship with their Creator. The Law, for many people, was and remains a sad testament to how distant we are from holy God. It seems, for some, that we are condemned by the Law, not saved by it.
But remember, the Law given in Exodus is a contract. A contract initiated by our sovereign God. And the Lord keeps His promises, even if we do not.
Remember, the true Boy Scout that embodies the virtues of the Scout Law. There is a true Israelite that perfectly embodies the Law given to Moses. There is one seed of Abraham that is a blessing to all the nations: reconciling the world with its Creator. Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."
Professor Enns is right; the giving of the law is an act of re-creation, but that new creation needed its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus fulfilled the Law; only Jesus personifies what it is to be holy. Yet, if we have faith in Him, we can assume the mantle of holiness. Thus we can be, as St. Paul observes, we can be "in Christ". The Father can see us as He sees His Son and then, and only then, can we approach the throne of grace and there be truly experience the re-creation that the Law promises.
You know, it seems as if, from the foundations of the world, our Heavenly Father has been working, steadily, to accept us, lovingly, into his warm embrace. He loves you. He wants to be with you. It is the holiness of Jesus that allows that.