Here at Trinity we find ourselves quickly approaching the turning point of the Ten Commandments. They have been called the two tablets of God’s law. The first tablet focused on explaining the command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. The second tablet focused on explaining the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. But I want to take a moment and consider the brilliance of how the Ten Commandments work by looking at the sort of life the first three commands prescribe. It describes a tightening circle that understands the particular nuances of human temptation and rebellion.
First: Worship God alone. Don’t worship anything else besides the God who created everything and redeemed us from slavery. The human heart runs to all manner of different gods. We’ll make gods out of ourselves, our race, our wealth, our comforts, our petty achievements - almost anything. And so God commands us to come and find life and meaning and morality and goodness and beauty in Him above all else. He alone is worthy of our worship.
But what happens when we are confronted with a God who is other and who doesn’t easily conform to our ideas of what a God should be? What do we do with a God who has such rough edges? What do we do with a God who doesn’t fit with the cultural norms that surrounds us - who isn’t very cool? We make images. Oh, we say we worship God. We sing songs about Jesus. We even open our bibles. But we subtly and sometimes not so subtly start to shave off the edges, give God a set of skinny jeans and hipster social ethics. We start remaining silent about all the ways the God of the Bible makes us or our neighbors uncomfortable. We change God’s image. We make a version of God who fits our own sensibilities. And so God next confronts us with the second commandment: Don’t make an image of God that conforms to what you want or can see surrounding you.
Israel is confronted with a God who is terrifying in His power and glory. They are afraid. So they pool their theological resources. They raise some money. They make a golden calf - a far more manageable and less frightening vision of God. Romans and Jews see a God who dies on a cross, a God who deals with sin in the most scandalous way imaginable, and they find new images of God that are more palatable. We do the same. We detest holiness or exclusivity or patriarchy or authority or such a narrow understanding of sexuality and so we form new images, cutting out the parts of Him we find embarrassing. We make an image. God says not to do that.
The church’s history is riddled with theologians going to great intellectual lengths to change God’s image, to spin God’s words, to avoid saying what God has said.
And then when confronted with a vision of God that is glorious and gracious and offensive and holy- that you can’t alter- what temptation comes next? We empty what it means to be the people of God of all real content - to take the name of God in vain. We become a people who have some sort of superficial association with Jesus, but it is empty. We confess Jesus is Lord, but do not do what He says. We talk about the grace and mercy of God, and do not repent of sin. Where the second commandment confronts the temptation to redefine what “God” means, the third commandment confronts the temptation to retain our desire to live however we want by simply ignoring God. We don’t pray. We don’t take what He says and commands seriously. Our identity as God’s people becomes a kind of empty label, retained to appease parents or a girlfriend or, even better, a girlfriend’s parents. But we’ve never taken seriously the call of Jesus and the real cost of discipleship.
The Ten Commandments offer us a marvelous view of God’s remarkable understanding of the human heart. He knows us. He knows our particular temptations. He knows the subtle ways we chase after our own autonomy from His reign. He calls us to Himself, as He is and His law is given to lead us there. It is powerless to actually bring us home, but it is a nice map to understand why the way seems so hard. This week we turn our attention to the 4th commandment wherein God commands us to rest, to celebrate, and where He claims ownership over time. This worship and obedience of the one true God must move into the corners of our lives. Join us Sunday as we consider the God who is a fountain, who will not be reduced, who calls us out of vanity and makes uncomfortable claims on every moment of our lives.