Opening Prayer: Our Father, so often the things that we need to learn the most are the things that we hear all the time. Those things which we think we know and understand are the ones that we are sometimes actually far from really getting. Protect us from blindness now, open our eyes and ears, empower your word now by your Holy Spirit.
Last week we closed by considering two sinful responses to the law. One was the “woe is me” syndrome which perpetually dwells on inadequacies and failures, refusing to believe the word of forgiveness. The other was the “middle school girl” syndrome which keeps all the rules to a “T” but doesn’t know what she’s doing or what’s going on. The common element between both of them is the failure to see the grace and love in the law. Remember the rebellion of Israel after the Exodus and before the giving of the law. The fact that God “goes through with it” is nothing but grace and mercy.
One thing that should be noticed is that these Ten Words are the words that God speaks directly to the people of Israel (20:1). This also explains more of the previous chapter. The word for “thunder” is actually the same word for voice (19:16, 19, 20:18). When God speaks it sounds like thunder (cf. Jn. 12:29).
The Law as the Five Books of Moses
Since we are Christians we come to the law through Christ; in other words, Christians are not in exactly the same position as the Israelites at the foot of Sinai. So before we look at the text, we need hear what Christ says about it. One of the first things we notice about the New Testament commentary on the law is that it is not just these 10 Words (Decalogue). The Law is the entire corpus of the books of Moses, the Torah (Lk. 24:44). This means the law includes things that are not directly commands (e.g. Mt. 12:5, 23:23, Jn. 1:45,). The Law can also refer to the Psalms (Jn. 10:34, 15:25). And the Law and all the Old Testament Scriptures are ultimately about Christ (Lk. 24:27). The law of God is not just rules and regulations: it is a way of life, a character, discipleship, even a cultural outline. Jesus says that the weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faith (Mt. 23:23). He also says that all of the law and the prophets are summarized by the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-40).
Law and Grace
As we come to the law, we need to remember that the New Testament also makes a big deal about the contrast between law and grace. There are at least three ways of understanding this distinction: Historically, the time of the law ended when Jesus came (and finally when Jerusalem was destroyed) (Jn. 1:17, Gal. 3:25). The Law can also be seen as covenantal badge of the Jews which separated them from Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-18). This middle wall of partition has been broken down. This means that the ceremonial laws, cleanliness laws, sacrificial system, as well as the specific civil applications of the law are no longer binding. Finally, the New Testament teaches that those who remain in their sins remain under the law, while those who cling to Jesus have entered the New Creation, the world of the resurrection, the state of grace (Rom. 3:9-26, passim). This means that we don’t apply the law as though we lived 3,000 years ago, as arrogant Jews, or simply generic unbelievers who don’t know Christ. The law is spiritual, Paul says, and therefore we must keep it as Spirit-filled sons and daughters of the King. In this sense (and others) Pentecost fulfills the giving of the law. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be enabled to will and to do according to his good pleasure, to keep the law, to walk in liberty.
Conclusions and Applications
The law is grace and life to those who see Jesus as the end of the law. Jesus says that all of the Scriptures are about him. Paul tells Timothy that all of the Scriptures are God-breathed and useful.
The preface to the Ten Words is God’s claim to be our Lord, our God, and our Redeemer. This claim has not changed, but been finally, fully revealed and fulfilled in Jesus who is our Lord, our God, and our Redeemer.
Lastly: This story of deliverance-wilderness-Jethro-mountain has occurred once before in the story of Moses. Now Israel has followed their head. The same story is retold in the life of Christ, particularly emphasized by the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is the greater Moses who leads us out of bondage, makes us his covenant people, and brings us into fellowship with him. And to be in fellowship with God demands that we live in fellowship with our neighbors.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we love your law: it is good, true, and altogether lovely. Teach us to walk in your ways in such a way that we would learn wisdom and have the mind of Christ. Give us hearts of deep thankfulness and gratitude for all of your Word.