Pastor Mark Driscoll

Exodus 20:1-3

September 15, 2013

 

About three weeks ago, I got sick of shaving. I have been shaving since, like, my sixth birthday, and I finally got weary from it. My mom is a Chia Pet; my dad is a Wookie. And that means I can grow a beard in about the same amount of time it takes to make popcorn in a microwave. Here’s a fact: It used to be that we’d record the morning services and the evening services, and I’d ask the guys, “Well, could you edit those together?” They’d be like, “No, we can’t because you were clean-shaven in the morning and had a beard in the evening.”

 

I spend a lot of time shaving, and I thought, “How much time could I get back for the Lord if I stopped shaving?” So, I was on break and thought, “Well, I’ll take a few weeks and not shave.” And I noticed that my beard is grayer than I was hoping. It started out with the kind of Mr. Fantastic sideburns, and then after a while, it was like, “Wow, if Kenny Rogers and Santa married in Seattle and had a child, he might look like me.”

 

Then I thought, “You know, I should shave this off to make myself look younger.” And then one of my kids said, “Hey Dad, aren’t you starting the Ten Commandments?” I was like, “Yes, I am.” They said, “You should grow a big white beard.” So, welcome to my beard and the Ten Commandments. We’ll see how long it goes and how much my wife can endure over the next ten weeks.

 

A BOOK IN FIVE PARTS

That being said, if you’ve got your Bible, go to Exodus 20. We’re gonna spend ten weeks together in the Ten Commandments, and since we’re starting in the middle of the book, let me catch you up to speed. Exodus is actually part of something called the Pentateuch, which means “book in five parts.” So, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—all written by Moses. One book in five parts. And the Ten Commandments are right in the middle, tucked away there in Exodus 20.

 

ABRAHAM, ISAAC, JACOB, AND JOSEPH

And so, really, the story begins in Genesis after sin enters the world. God picks a person named Abraham to be saved and to be used by God to bring forth the nation of Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ. And he promises to bring a family and a blessing through Abraham and Sarah.

 

Abraham and Sarah have Isaac; Isaac has Jacob. This is working through the story line of Genesis. And as we near the end of Genesis, we see that this man, Jacob, has a family and has a lot of sons. And one of these sons, the younger son named Joseph, is, well, sort of his dad’s favorite. Bad things happen when dads play favorite. And he’s also a bit of an arrogant kid who likes to talk about himself, and his brothers get a little sick of it. So, they decide to get rid of him, sell him into slavery, and tell their dad, Jacob, that he’s dead. So, he is sold into slavery, and off he goes to Egypt as a slave. Though he is far away from God’s people, he is not far away from God because God draws near to him.

 

JOSEPH, EGYPT’S RESCUER

And God comes, loves him, and blesses him. Even though he is enslaved and, at various points, imprisoned, he is used by God to rise up as a very powerful, prominent, preeminent political leader.

 

He’s working for the godless king of Egypt. It’s the most powerful, influential nation in the history of the world to that time. It was Egypt in that day; in the days of the New Testament, it’s the Roman Empire; some would argue today it’s the United States of America. But you’re looking at this international powerhouse of a nation.

 

What happens is that he gets this opportunity to serve the Pharaoh and the nation, and God gives him great wisdom. Well, they’re living in the midst of this season of plenty: multiple years of just record-breaking harvests, food for everybody, home prices are on the rise, no end in sight, and everybody’s investment portfolio is just coming up roses. And no one knows that there is a fiscal cliff in their immediate future.

 

And so, what happens is God reveals to Joseph that lean years of famine are coming: “Store up in the years of plenty in preparation for the years of lack, want, and need.” This happens and, as a result, while other nations are starving, the nation of Egypt is flourishing because of the wise presence of a great leader and manager named Joseph.

 

Back to his family and his father, who thinks he’s dead. His brothers come to Egypt seeking, really, survival. Their land is in famine, and they are starving to death. There’s this amazing reunion between Joseph and his brothers, and he forgives them. It’s a picture of Jesus, who, though we’ve sinned against him and threw him down in a pit, came out to forgive, embrace, love, and reconcile with us. And then Jacob finds out he’s alive, reconciles with his son—it’s this amazing reconciliation story. And Joseph invites his father and his brothers to move to Egypt so that they can live under his blessing and provision.

 

Four hundred and forty years pass between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. (And yes, I think you should read it.) And what happens there is, it’s a new Pharaoh, and this family of Jacob’s that entered into Egypt of about seventy people, 440 years later, because their kids had kids, who had kids, who had kids, become a nation of a few million people, the great nation of Israel. And the Pharaoh is a different leader who now hates, despises, enslaves, and abuses God’s people. They are in misery. If you can think of it, your children, your children’s children will all be slaves for hundreds of years, nothing but slaves—no hope, no prosperity, no future, no love, no grace, no betterment.

 

MOSES, ISRAEL’S DELIVERER

God’s people reach a point where they cry out to him, begging for deliverance, and God hears and answers prayer. We need to know that particularly when we’re suffering and in need. God determines that he will set his people free, and he will do so through a mediator, a man named Moses, who’s a prophet. And he is representing and foreshadowing the coming of Jesus, who will stand between us and God, and speak God’s truth to us.

 

Moses is a man who lost his temper and murdered somebody. Moses is a man who has a speech impediment. Moses is a man who is a bit of a coward. And God chooses him because God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people. And because it’s for his glory, when he uses someone like Moses, or me or you, everyone knows that it was the grace of God, not the gifts of the servant.

 

Moses is then told, “Go to the Pharaoh and tell him what to do.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing. But no one tells the Pharaoh what to do, because he thinks he’s God. No one comes into his presence and says, “I demand this,” but God commands Moses, as his messenger, to do precisely that. “Go tell the Pharaoh that he’s not God, that there’s a real God. The real God’s not happy with the way he’s treating his children.” Go tell the false god that the real God says, “Let my people go, that they might be free to worship me.”

 

That’s freedom. Freedom is not the ability to do what you want; freedom is the ability to do what you were made for by God. “I want them free to worship me, and if he will not let them go, then I will bring punishment and plagues upon him.”

 

HARDENED HEARTS

And I want you to see that God is very loving, very compassionate, very patient, very kind with the Pharaoh, because he keeps sending Moses. And Moses keeps inviting him to submit to the real God and to walk away from his own sin. Yet what the Bible says is that Pharaoh continually hardened his heart.

 

Let me ask you a question: do you have a hard heart? Some of us stand back in judgment of Pharaoh, but we overlook the fact that we’re much like him. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, and he didn’t want the real God telling him what to do. That’s a hard heart.

 

You and I, if we’re honest, would admit that we at least have seasons of hardness of heart, where God says no and we say yes, where we disagree with God, where we defy God, where we disobey God. That’s what Pharaoh did.

 

The Bible says that, in addition to Pharaoh hardening his heart, God hardened his heart. This is the first nineteen chapters of Exodus. You can read it for yourself. And the way that God hardened his heart was through love, grace, patience, and kindness.

 

The Puritans were fond of saying that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. Some of us, when we hear from God, melt: “Oh, you’re right; I’m wrong. I need to change. Thank you for telling me the truth.” Others of us harden: “No, I will not change. I will not agree. I will not relent. I will not repent. I will edit God’s word. I will ignore God’s word. I will find another god. I will be my own god, but I will not submit to that God.” That’s hardness of heart. Some of you say, “I don’t have a hard heart.” Every time we sin, it’s ultimately the result of hardness of heart.

 

And so, the plagues become increasingly more costly. All of a sudden, it’s ruining their environmental well-being, it’s harming their economy, it’s destroying their spirituality. The nation is really suffering, and it culminates with the killing of the first-born.

 

The first-born son, particularly in that culture, was the hope of the family. That’s the legacy of the family. That’s the future of the family. That’s the one who will take care of you in your old age and make sure that your name goes into the future. God says, “If you will not let my people go, I will take some of your people.” Pharaoh hardened his heart, and the Bible says, “In a night, death came and the first-born male child, the son, in every household died.”

 

OK, how many of you are first-born sons? How many first-born sons? OK, look around the room, all dead. OK, how many of you have a first-born son? My first-born son’s name is Zac. Dead in a night. See, the wage for sin is what? Death. And see, death comes one at a time, so we don’t pay a lot of attention. When death comes all at once, we’re overwhelmed by the fact that sin leads to death. And in Egypt, sin led to death, and death came at once for all.

 

The Bible says that there was weeping in Egypt. I mean, just think of an entire nation where all the first-born sons are dead and all the mothers are weeping. Some lost a son, some also lost a husband. You men who raised your hand, dead; all your first-born sons, dead. We’d have a massive funeral. I couldn’t preach it because I’d be dead, too.

 

There was only one exception, and that was those who, in faith, participated in something called the Passover. God pours out his wrath, and he provides provision for his wrath to pass over us. And that was that God’s people would gather as a family, that they would take a lamb without spot or blemish, symbolizing sinlessness and perfection, that they would acknowledge their sins before God, and those sins would be imputed to the lamb, that the lamb would be the substitute, that the lamb would then be slaughtered, because the wages of sin is death.

 

And then to show publicly that they belonged to the Lord, they would take the blood of the lamb, and they would paint the exterior door posts of their home, so that when death came to every home, it would literally pass over those homes who had their repentance of sin demonstrated in the shed blood of the lamb.

 

This is all pointing to Jesus. Tell your Jewish friends it’s all pointing to Jesus. There is no Passover without Jesus. He is the one who is alone the sacrifice for our sins, the substitute, the Lamb who was slain, and the one alone who alleviates the wrath of God from coming upon us. God then delivers his people. God liberates his people. He sets them free. He parts the Red Sea.

 

SET FREE BUT NOT LIVING FREE

And now a nation of a few million former slaves are set free, but they’re not living free. They’re committing adultery. They’re stealing from one another. They’re coveting. They’re lying. They’re not raising their children in the Lord. They’re worshiping false gods in addition to the real God. Though they are set free, they have chosen to not live free, so God’s going to speak to them. God’s going to be loving, gracious, patient, merciful, and just as he was with the Pharaoh, as he was with them, as he is with us. And that brings us to the Ten Commandments.

 

And I tell you all of this because if we only start in chapter 20, we read the Bible like those who are Jewish or Muslim, moralistic or political, Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon. Do this, don’t do that. If you do this, God will punish you; if you don’t do that, God will bless you. That’s not it. It’s in the context of God has already loved, God has already served, God has already set free, God has already adopted these kids into his family. This is not about obeying him so that he will love you; it’s about him loving you and helping you to obey. The context is very important. We can’t ignore the first nineteen chapters and launch into morality in the twentieth chapter.

 

And so, then God speaks to his people, and here’s what he has to say: First, he tells them that he is the God who loves to set free. Exodus 20:1–2, “And God spoke all these words, saying.” OK, first thing, who speaks? God. This is what God says. This is what we believe, that what God says, the Bible says, what the Bible says, God says. Some of you come to the Ten Commandments and say, “I disagree.” Then you disagree with God. You say, “Well, that’s his opinion,” and I would say, “So, go with it.” All right?

 

See, here, the Pentateuch is written by Moses. It says it in the first five books. It says it in Paul’s letters. It says it in the teachings of Jesus. It’s college time, you’re back to school, a lot of you are going to take some Bible class at some loony college. The first thing they’re going to tell you is, “Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch.” Yes, he did. He says he does, Paul says he does, Jesus says he does. It doesn’t matter what the guy at community college says, Moses wrote the first five books. And though Moses, here, is writing, it’s ultimately God who is speaking. It’s God who’s speaking.

 

I need you to know this. When we open the Bible, God is speaking to you. You’re hearing from him, OK? So, we don’t believe that this is alongside a philosophy, religion, spirituality, or ideology. We don’t believe that this is speculation about God. We believe this is revelation from God. That is bedrock for us. So, God’s going to say something. Anybody want to hear from God? God’s going to say something. “I am the Lord your God. I’m Yahweh; it’s me. It’s me.”

 

This is a God who’s speaking to everybody at once. Some would say that this is the only time in the Bible that God assembled all of his people to speak directly to him. This is unprecedented. This is very important. This is historically in a category unto itself. He’s going to start by telling us who he is. Here’s the truth: apart from Revelation, we would not know who God is; if God didn’t tell us who he is, we would not know who he is. And here’s the good news: our God tells us who he is. He says, “I’m the Lord your God.” It’s very personal.

 

“I’m Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of”—what? “Slavery.” The problem is slavery, the solution is God. The problem is always slavery, and the solution is always God. This is not just a story about what happened, but about what always happened. This is not an old book, it’s a timeless book so it’s always timely.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LAW

And what God is doing here is giving us laws. We’re going to jump in a moment into the Ten Commandments, but the Bible gives us laws. Those first five books of the Old Testament called the “Books of the Law.” Not surprising, they’re filled with law. Some would say 68.5 percent of the first five books of the Old Testament have laws. They counted them: there’s 613 laws. The Ten Commandments are the summary and center of the law. God’s going to give us laws.

 

How many of you are not particularly excited about law? OK, law, how many of you are like, “I don’t like law”? How many of you, right now, if I said, “Hey, the IRS came out with new tax code. Every Sunday for ten weeks, we’re going to go through the fine print. We’re going to look at all the details,” how many of you would not be here? OK, I wouldn’t be here either.

 

How many of you, if your boss were to say, “Hey, come on into the break room. You know, Corporate just sent out a whole bunch more policies and we’re going to go over them,” how many of you don’t run into the break room, quoting the Psalms in your heart? “I delight in the law in my innermost being. Give me more rules about the coffee machine.” Right? It’s just that when we think of law, we tend to think of law that is unhelpful.

 

Is God’s law like that? Many people think it is. The two most influential people, in my estimation, outside of the Bible, for our understanding of the law, are two guys named John Calvin and Martin Luther. I like them. I have a son named Calvin Martin, so I get a pass. I like them both, OK, but they were both trained as attorneys. Great Bible teachers—amazing—and I love what they have to say about law and gospel, and it’s super insightful. But in reading the Bible as an attorney, you could miss something that I think is very important for you. Commandments, laws, or rules are different when they come from a father, most assuredly different than when they come from a dictator. Pharaoh had laws, but they were not loving, life-giving laws for the children of God.

 

How many of you have rebellious kids? OK, keep your hands up. How many of you have kids? OK, you have rebellious kids, too. How many of you have babysat kids—that’s why you don’t have any kids, OK? I love my kids, you love your kids, we love our kids. True or false, kids sometimes rebel and do foolish things? They do, and so what a good father should do is call what we title a family meeting. You always know that something’s gone wrong when Dad says, “Family meeting, everybody on the couch.” It’s like, “Oh, somebody did something and we’re going to talk about this,” all right? And some of you have those family meetings. You’re like, “OK, sweetheart. You need to find clothes and wear them to elementary school. And you need to, son, stop smoking and finish third grade.” Like, we got some things to work on here at the family meeting, OK?

 

When God gathers his children at the base of Mount Sinai and comes down to talk to them and give them his laws, it is not him saying, “Do these things and I will adopt you.” It’s him saying, “I’ve adopted you, and I need you to do these things because I love you, and they’re good for you, and they’re good for others.”

 

And part of the struggle with law is this, if law is disconnected from lawgiver, we could misunderstand the heart of the law. This is why the Pharisees, many years later, loved the law but not the Lord, because for them, they focused on the law more than the lawgiver.

 

The Hebrew word here for “law” is “torah.” We’re in the Old Testament, and it’s originally written in Hebrew. We have a hard time translating that word into the English language, so we use the word “law.” It’s not necessarily a bad word, but it can cause some problems because we think IRS tax code, speed limits, you know, cumbersome governmental bureaucracy, and middle management at our company. It’s also a word that’s used in Proverbs when the father, who loves his kids, is teaching them how to live wisely so that they might flourish and have life. And the father says it this way: “My son, open your ear and listen to my torah.” That’s different, right? It’s different.

 

So, for parents in general, but fathers in particular, we don’t just drop law on our kids. Sit down with them, look them in the eye, kiss them on the forehead, tell them we love them, pray over them. Tell them that we can’t love them any less or more because we’re wholeheartedly devoted to them no matter what. And then tell them that we want their life to flourish, and we want them to be blessed, and so we’re going to talk about some things and lay down some rules because we want them not to suffer and we want others not to suffer. That’s the father heart of God, and if you separate the law from the father heart of the lawgiver, you end up questioning, “Is God good? Does God love me? Does God care? Is God interested, or is God just, you know, a far away dictator who sends laws, and if I obey them, I get to be a citizen, and if I disobey them, I get to burn forever?”

 

A FENCE FOR PROTECTION

I’ll give you an example, an illustration that perhaps will help. So, I’ve got five kids. I love them will all my heart. We moved into a house some years ago and I’m in the house studying. I’ve got the window cracked for fresh air and I hear the weirdest sound. It was like this clunk, clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk. I’m like, “What?” I go outside, and I hear the noise up the street.

 

Now, one of my sons had one of those little Jeeps, one of those plug-in, power-them-up kid Jeeps with the hard tires on it. And he’s far away from our house, leaving, OK? And the clunk, clunk, clunk is him driving on the gravel. And he’s about four, so I run after him, stand in front of him, “Whoa, buddy, where you going?” He’s like, “I’m going to get doughnuts.” I said, “Hey, buddy, you can’t go get doughnuts,” and he’s like, “I’ll be back later.”

 

Now, in his mind, this is great freedom. Finally, a vehicle, right? But that much freedom will lead to his suffering. I mean, he was literally ready to merge onto a street that has, like, a forty-mile-an-hour speed limit. As his father, I realized that freedom will harm him.

 

So it wasn’t very long thereafter, what do you think I built? A fence, OK? Now, you know, if my kid had gone to college and, you know, studied Kant, he could have stood in the yard, looked at the fence, “Look at this oppression that limits my freedom of choice and my ability to express myself. Look at the limitations that my unkind father has burdened me with.” As a father, I would say, “Actually, this is an act of love. If you hop the fence, you’re going to get hurt. If you wander off property, you’re going to get hurt. I want you to enjoy the whole yard, but don’t leave your father’s household because it will be to your ruin.”

 

We don’t know this because we’re rebels. We don’t remember this because we are fatherless. We didn’t have a dad or we didn’t have a dad like God. And when God gives us laws, if we don’t see him as a Father, kissing us on the forehead, sitting with us on the couch, telling us how much he loves us, and telling us that every law is a board in the fence to preserve our life so that we can run freely without being harmed, then we will altogether reject a loving Father who wants life for his kids.

 

Every one of God’s laws is just a plank in the fence, and when you see it, remember that your Father loves you. And freedom is not freedom to jump the fence, but freedom to play in the yard, amen? That’s exactly what God is here doing with his children, and he’s going to give them the law, the Ten Commandments.

 

THE LAW IS ALL ABOUT JESUS

So, the next question is, how should we interpret and study the law? Before we get into the Ten Commandments, how should we view these things called laws? Jesus, rabbi, teacher, says this. In Luke 24:44, he says, “Everything written about me in the Law of”—oh, who wrote the law?—“Moses”—“must be fulfilled.” Jesus says, “The law is about me.”

 

We believe that the Old Testament is about Jesus, the New Testament is about Jesus. We believe that the whole Bible is about Jesus. We believe that everything is foreshadowing his coming, explaining his victory, or preparing us for his coming again. The whole Bible’s about Jesus. The whole Bible’s about Jesus. That’s what Jesus says.

 

And the law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. As we read the law, we realize God is holy, perfect, and good, and he has demands for me, and I have fallen short of them, and I have failed him, and sin is transgression of the law.

 

And then Jesus comes as my Savior and he fulfills it all. He lives with complete obedience to all of the law, and he dies in my place, and he causes the wrath of God to pass over me, and he blesses me and sets me free as a child of God to live a new life, a life that is free.

 

This is what the Bible calls what kind of news? Good news. The people in Exodus, did they save themselves? No. Could they save themselves? No. Did they participate in their salvation? No, they were set free. This all shows us how Jesus saves.

 

So, Jesus is the greater Moses and the one who alone fulfills the law. Jesus is the greater leader who did not kill his enemies like Moses, but let us kill him. Jesus is the greater Passover Lamb who is slain to remove God’s wrath from us. Jesus is the greater firstborn Son who died for our sin and none of his own. Jesus is the greater pillar and cloud who walks with us day and night. Jesus is the greater victor who defeated the greatest Pharaoh ever, Satan. Jesus is the great Savior who redeems not millions from one nation but billions from every nation. Jesus is the greater Redeemer, taking us to a greater promised land, the eternal kingdom of God. And Jesus is the greater lawgiver, not only writing his law on stone but also on the new hearts that he gives us, hearts that want to obey his law. That’s our Jesus.

 

So, I need you to see this. When you go to the law, see what you have failed to do, what Jesus has done, what Jesus wants to do for you, what Jesus can do in you, and what Jesus can do through you. And you’ll still be tempted to sin. And when tempted to sin, I need you to understand the Father’s heart, that God is a father. Some of you never had a dad. He’s a father to the fatherless. That’s what the Psalms say. When your Father says, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that,” remember the heart of your Father. Don’t just look at the law, but look in the face of the Lawgiver.

 

CHOOSE TO SIN, CHOOSE TO SUFFER

Here’s what Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, his lead disciple, says. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” As we’re reading this story, some of you would say, “This is an interesting historical survey of slavery. Thankfully, I am free and it does not apply to me.” Yes, it does. The United States of America is supposed to be the land of the free. Are we? It is the land of the slaves. It’s the land of the slaves, because Peter says, “Anything that overcomes you, anything that overtakes you, anything that rules over you, anything that reigns above you, it’s like your Pharaoh. It’s your master, and it enslaves you.”

 

We don’t use this language in our culture because we’re no longer a very biblically literate culture. Instead, we use therapeutic and psychological language, like “addiction.” “Addiction” is secular for the biblical concept of slavery. So, the person says, “I’m addicted to alcohol.” You’re a slave to the bottle. “I’m addicted to drugs.” You’re a slave to the substances. “I’m addicted to gambling.” You’re enslaved to the high and the potential windfall you pursue. “I’m addicted to my own reputation.” No, actually, you are one who is enslaved and you’re worshiping the God you see in the mirror every morning. “Well, I have to maintain my beauty,” or, “My spouse has to maintain their beauty. We are addicted to body image.” No, you’re enslaved to your appearance. “I am driven by my GPA.” “I am driven by my income.” “I’m driven by my position in the org chart at work.” No, you’re enslaved to your performance.

 

Some of you say, “But I’m free to choose”—your master—which is no freedom at all. It’s no freedom at all. So, when you’re tempted to sin and you hear the Holy Spirit convicting your conscience of the laws that the Father gives you, know that breaking God’s law is also breaking God’s heart.

 

Any fathers or mothers find this resonating in their soul right now? When you love your child and you give life-giving, life-protecting laws to your child, and your child breaks those laws, and they cause themselves to suffer, and they cause others to suffer, they have not just broken your laws, they’ve broken your heart. It says, I believe, in Genesis 6, that God was grieved in his heart that he made man because the continual thoughts of his mind and lusts of his heart were only evil all the time.

 

There’s nothing like a child with a loving father who looks them in the eye, and they see the father broken, weeping, devastated because they’ve sinned. Because then, they not only know the father’s laws, they know the father’s heart.

 

So, dear friend, when you’re tempted to sin, remember this: to choose to sin is to choose to suffer. The Father does not want you to suffer or to cause others to suffer, and when you choose sin, you also cause him to suffer. God sets us free, but some of us choose not to live free. How many of you know Christians like that? They’re stuck. They’re not progressing. They’re not learning. They’re not growing. Their life is a series of laps around a cul-de-sac of folly. They’re not getting anywhere.

 

The children of God were like that. They were literally walking around in a circle in the wilderness for forty years, and God comes to speak to them to help them to obey him and to walk with him, so that they might walk from their folly into his faithfulness.

 

How many of you, that’s your story? You’re ashamed, you’re embarrassed, you’re horrified, you’re mortified. Maybe there are secrets in your life that you hope nobody finds out about. And you would say that you are a Christian, that you worship the God of the Bible, but there are parts of your life where you are in slavery.

 

Every one of us has different shackles, and the Holy Spirit can highlight that for you. It’s drugs. It’s alcohol. It’s sex. It’s power—whatever the case might be. That’s exactly the condition that the children of God here, at the base of Mount Sinai, sitting on the proverbial couch for a meeting with their dad, are in the condition of. What will he say? What does he say to them? What does he say to us?

 

LIVE FREE

That is the first commandment. He tells us he’s the God who’s set free so that we can live free. He says it this way: Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.” First commandment, right? God’s got to teach his kids first things first, the most important thing. “Kids, don’t forget this: one God.” That’s where he starts.

 

The commandments are in order of importance, one through ten, and they’re in a progression where this enables this, contributes to that, results in this. The first four are a relationship with God, because the relationship with God is most important. And then, the last six are our relationship to neighbor, how we treat others in light of how God treats us. It’s why when they come to the Lord Jesus, he says, “Here it is. Here’s the summary. The 613 laws, the 10 that I had written down on tablets of stone, really it’s two big ideas: love”—who? “God.” And love “neighbor.” It’s the whole Ten Commandments summarized, right? It’s Jesus’ tweet for 613 commandments. It’s the summary big idea.

 

Now, the issue is, “OK, we’ve been set free. We’re not living free. We’re in slavery. We left Egypt, but we’re committing adultery, and we’re stealing, and we’re lying, and we’ve thrown in a little weird spirituality and false gods, and somebody’s got schematics for a golden calf.” Like, this is really not going well.

 

OK, Dad’s here, going to sit all the kids on the couch. “Kids, listen to me. First things first: there’s one God. I’m God. You’re not God. They’re not God. Nobody else is God. Nothing else is God. I’m God.”

 

You can’t live free until you realize there’s only one God, and you’re not God. This is going to blow your mind: You’re not the center of the universe. You’re not the most important person. The reason you’re miserable is because you’re worshiping yourself and you were not made for that. You were made to worship him. You were made to enjoy him. You were made to glorify him. And when you make yourself the center of your life, you make yourself miserable.

 

God doesn’t look at them and say, “Most important thing: you. You. Draw a circle. OK, now write your name. All right, everything else is going to orbit around that. I’ll be out here just blessing you. Oh, you want sex, money, fame, and power? That’s great. You sit on the throne; I’ll be the butler. You hand me the request, and I’ll answer it. We’ll call it prayer.”

 

No! “Draw a circle, write my name in it.” What this means is God is not just at the top of our priority list but demands to be at the center of our life. There’s a big difference. “Oh yeah, I love God, and I go to work, and—” It’s not like we check the first off the list and move on to the rest. God’s the center of our life, and then he’s going to say, “OK, since I’m the center of your life, let’s talk about your worship, let’s talk about your money, let’s talk about your marriage, let’s talk about your possessions, let’s talk about your real estate, let’s talk about your sexuality.”

 

Everything has to be connected to him, and if you choose to sin, you choose to suffer. So, there’s one God. How many gods? One. What’s it mean in Hebrew? One! Does it say it anywhere else in the Bible? Everywhere! That’s very offensive. Other people say, “Well, there are lots of gods.” God says there’s one God. Other people say, “There’s no God.” God says he’s God. The agnostics say, “We can’t know.” God says, “I’ll tell you. You can know for sure. I even wrote a book.” Some come along and say, “Oh, well, no, everything in the world is all part of God.” No, God says, “I made the world.” This answers all the philosophical, theological, spiritual questions: one God.

 

And in that day, they had tons of gods. It was very common to have tons of gods. You can read the Bible. There’s all kids of false gods and goddesses. They’re really demons who bless people. But there’s Ashterah, there’s Baal, there’s Molech, there’s Chemosh—there’s a whole list of them.

 

And some of us will practice what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. We’ll go to the Bible and say, “Oh yeah, back in the day, they were very primitive people, and they worshiped these gods with weird names. And thankfully, we’re not like that.” Here’s how it works: the reason they had multiple gods is because the gods promised to give you different things, this god or goddess sex, fame, money, pleasure, comfort, fertility, children, power, promotion.

 

Do we worship those things? Anybody here—sexual problems, financial problems, relational problems, employment problems? Anyone? OK, anyone made a real shipwreck of their life chasing after those things? You’re worshiping false gods. Now, we may call it success, and they called it Molech. Same thing. All Satan has done is just rebranded old demons. God says there’s one God—him alone, him at the center.

 

‘WE’RE MARRIED’

And there’s a debate here. Let’s do a full circle. “No other gods before me.” The theologians all debate, “What does that mean?” And there are four basic perspectives. I’ll share them with you. In front of me, or alongside of me, or instead of me, or in conflict with me? My answer is, “Yes.”

 

OK, if Grace—she never did this, she never will, glory be to God, but hypothetically, if my wife came to me and said, “I love having a relationship with you. I don’t think it should be exclusive. There is a man, or other men, I would like to see. Where would you like those men? Ahead of you, to your right, to your left, or behind you?”

 

The answer is, “At the end of my fist and under my boot—that’s where I would like them,” OK? Right? I don’t want any other men orbiting anywhere around us, why? I’m a jealous husband, not like your stalker high school boyfriend who keeps friending you, but I’m jealous in that I love my wife, and I’m in a covenant with her, and our love is exclusive, and it doesn’t include anyone else. And if it were to include anyone else, it would be ruined. God loves his children like a father loves his children. God loves his people like a husband loves his wife.

 

So, God is looking at you and us in the eye and he’s saying, “We’re married. You don’t get to run around with anybody else. You don’t get to sleep with anybody else. You don’t get to have anybody but me. We’re married, and I love you, and I’m not going to share this relationship with anybody else.” Some would say it’s very unloving of God. No, it’s very loving of God.

 

So, who’s your God? The second most important decision you will ever make is whom you marry. The most important decision you’ll ever make is whom you worship. Who’s your God? Some of you say, “It’s Jesus.” They would have said, “It’s Yahweh.” Same guy. There could be a difference between your functional god and your actual God. You could say that you have an actual God while you’re following a functional god. They would have said, “We worship Yahweh,” while they’re committing adultery, stealing, and lying.

 

You and I are prone to have functional gods that are different from our actual God. And the way it works is this: we have some concept of a hell, we have some concept of a heaven, and then we run to some god to save us from our hell and put us in heaven.

 

To quote the great theologian, Beyoncé, “All the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies,” raise your hand. OK, OK, OK, single men, make note, OK? Single ladies, you can put your hand down now. OK, now, I’m going to use some of you ladies as an illustration. So, maybe you’re a single lady and your view of hell: single lady. No boyfriend, no potential husband, no children, just cats. OK? So, your view of heaven: boyfriend, going to be fiancé, fertile, hates cats, OK? So, your thought is, “I’ve got to get out of hell, and I’ve got to get into heaven.” So, you run to a functional god called “Boyfriend.” You throw your arms around him, “Save me! “Never leave me! Never forsake me! “Bless me! Be the center of my life! Make my life worth living!”

 

How many of you guys met that gal? It seems like a lot. “You want me to be God?” I’m going to fail you. This relationship is doomed. You’ve thrown your arms around the wrong man. Only Jesus, only Jesus has that résumé. So, a woman can say, “Jesus is my God,” but her functional god can be somebody else. A man can do the same thing with a girlfriend, with a wife, with kids, with a job, with his health. We run to functional gods and false saviors, gods that are not God and saviors that don’t save.

 

So, don’t read this, and say, “You know what? Yeah, it’s a long time ago. Foolish people picked false gods and went into slavery.” God never changes, people never change, the problems are always the same, the solutions are always the same.

 

FINDING YOUR FUNCTIONAL GOD

So, I want to help you find your functional god. I do love you. I have a father’s heart. I do want to help.

 

Finding your functional god. You ready?

 

Who or what do you live for? Marriage, children, promotion, house, beauty, sex, pleasure, comfort, leisure, sport, peace. “Pastor Mark, those are not bad things!” No, but when good things become God things, they’re bad things.

 

Who or what can you not live without? “I have to have them. I have to have it. Do not take them. Do not take it!”

 

Who or what do you run to in times of need? “It’s been a horrible day. I just need to get to my chair, pour a drink, turn on the TV, and be in heaven for a while.”

 

What causes your highest joy and your lowest grief? Our emotions betray us. “Yes, I got it! No, I lost it!” Was it God? Was it the functional god and not the actual God? Who or what is at the center of your life? What does your schedule orbit around? What does your budget orbit around? What does your emotional life orbit around? It’s a functional god.

 

God loves to set free, and then we have to live free. We see this in Exodus. He set them free, but they’ve got to walk with him. That’s the living free. God does all the setting free. God leads and helps us in the living free. But we have to walk with him in the freedom that he’s set before us.

 

And what destroys this father’s heart and what certainly destroys the Father’s heart is when the children of God who have been set free do not live free. I don’t want any of my children to live as slaves. I don’t want any of God’s children to live as slaves. But my observation over the years is that some do and some do for a season.

 

And so, the last question I want to delve into is, why do people who are set free not live free? And don’t think about your friend, think about yourself—something in your life—where you say, “No, that would fit in the category of slavery, not freedom to worship God.”

 

Paul, looking back at the law, says this in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore”—you don’t need to go back—“and do not submit again to a yoke of”—what? “Slavery.” Don’t stick your head through the yoke and carry that burden that Jesus already carried.

 

WHY DO PEOPLE WHO ARE SET FREE NOT LIVE FREE?

Here are five things that I have heard from people I love who are stuck in slavery. Though they have been set free, they have chosen not to live free.

 

Number one, I believe the lie that I cannot change over the truth that I am already changed. This comes from a woman who came to me and said, “Pastor Mark, I can’t change.” I said, “That’s a lie. Do you know Jesus?” She says, “I know Jesus.” I said, “Then you’re already changed.” You need to know that Jesus changes you, and then you and Jesus can change your life. You don’t need to change yourself; Jesus changes you, amen?

 

I fear change more than slavery. I know what slavery is; I don’t know what freedom is. I know what it’s like in my past; I don’t know what it’s like in my future. I would rather go with what I know than trust the Lord who knows the future.

 

I am shackled by loyalty to my personal and family history. I have an identity. My friends see me this way. My family sees me this way. My coworkers see me this way. If I start worshiping God and I change, I’m going to get criticized and they’re going to belittle me. Maybe they’ll even disown me. I need to be true to my family. I need to be true to my history. I need to be true to my race. I need to be true to my culture. I need to be true to my cause. I need to be true to my tribe. And the answer is no, there’s one God, and we live coram Deo in the face of God. And when we do, nothing else matters.

 

I return to enslaving habits. I get stressed out, I download porn. I succeed and I allow myself a little sin as a bonus. Something bad happens, I pour a stiff drink. Something good happens, I have Community with Ben & Jerry. You know, it’s bad habits.

 

And number five, I practice self-deception about my past slavery. This is what they’re going to do. Read the rest of Exodus, read all of Exodus. So, here they are in slavery. “God, get us out! It’s horrible, it’s terrible, right now’s a good time!” He does it, parts the Red Sea, “Yay!” They’re out in the wilderness, having a little meeting, right? “Remember the good old days when we were slaves? Yeah, remember that? That was—I miss those days.” That’s the conversation they’re having in the book of Exodus, looking back on their slavery as if it were freedom.

 

Any of you ever do that? God gets you out of a situation, you get away from the situation, look back, and you’re like, “Oh, those were good times.” No, they weren’t. They were not good times, and they won’t be good times if you revisit them, right? You get out of some crazy relationship, somebody’s nuttier than a Snicker’s bar. You should have never even gone out for coffee. You finally get the knot out of your life, you run away, and then you look, and you’re like, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.” Yes, it was. They’re crazy, they’re insane, they’re horrible! They’re—run! You know, run!

 

But what happens is we get a little far away, we’re like, “Well, it’s not—well, he was a nice guy. Yeah, he hit me, but he was a nice guy.” A nice guy who hits you? Hey, hey, hey, replay the tape. Those were bad days, bad days. Any of you non-Christian become a Christian, honestly look back and say, “Those were good old days. I miss those days. Boy, I wish nothing changed. It was all great until Jesus showed up.”

 

I would never say that, but sometimes we do that. We exchange reality for fantasy. How many of you, you have old friends like this? You get together and you’re like, “Remember when we were in high school?” No, I don’t, because we were alcoholics. I blacked out from my sophomore year to graduation. No, I don’t remember high school. “It was awesome. Remember that time you threw up?” Yeah, it wasn’t that awesome, right? Some of you have friends like that, and they only want to talk about the old days and romanticize and fantasize about the old days.

 

The Holy Spirit just brought to mind a verse from Ecclesiastes. “Do not ask, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ Because it’s foolish to ask such questions.” See, that’s a slave mentality. “Before I had God, I had good.” That’s a slave mentality.

 

SELF-EXAMINATION

Have you been set free? Here are my last two points. Do you know Jesus? Have you given him your sin? Is he your Passover Lamb? Is he your Exodus? Is he your God? If not, you give yourself to Jesus now. And you walked in here apart from him, but you walk out of here with him. He goes before you like the pillar in the cloud. He walks with you, never to leave you nor forsake you. Let him set you free and let him lead you to live free. If you’re not a Christian, your biggest problem is not your behavior, not your conduct. It’s your God. It’s your God! That issue has to get settled. Give yourself to Jesus and be set free, and then commit to a life walking with him, living free.

 

Number two, for those of you who are Christians, you have been set free, and today, by the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can live free. You can leave your sin here. You can leave your folly here. You can leave your rebellion here. You can leave your death here, and you can walk with Jesus, and you can walk together. And the way that we grow in freedom, the way that we walk in freedom is understanding that we’re free to—what? Freedom is for what? It’s for the worship of God. It’s for the worship of God.

 

Guess what you’re going to do? Worship God. We’re going to do that by giving our tithes and offerings, because a lot of times we vote for our God with our debit card. We give to the Lord who has given all to us. It’s our Father’s way of inviting us to grow in generosity to be more like him.

 

As we collect our tithes and offerings, I want you to know we’re also going to take Communion, remembering Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, our Passover Lamb who was slain. God’s wrath is removed if we’re covered by his blood, shown in the drink and in the bread, his broken body and shed blood. And we’re going to sing. You ever seen a nation that was oppressed and then they were liberated? The people run into the streets and they cheer and sing.

 

We are those people. Jesus has conquered our pharaoh, Satan. We have been set free. We can live free. We have a Father King who loves us and adores us. And we get to take to the streets, and we get to sing and shout his praises. We get to worship and enjoy him, and when we get together in song, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Free people have someone to celebrate.

 

PRAYER

So, Father God, as we come to worship, we’re coming to do that which you created us to do. Help us to realize that freedom is not to do what we want, but to do what we were made for. Jesus, thank you for being the perfect worshiper. Thank you for humbling yourself. Thank you for being God, come down to live a life in perfect obedience to the law. Thank you for dying in our place for our sins, satisfying the requirements of the law. Thank you for rising to conquer our great pharaoh of Satan. Thank you for giving us freedom and walking with us in that freedom. Thank you for calling us to sit on the couch, kissing us on the forehead, talking to us about how much you love us, and putting a fence around us, because we don’t want to sin, because we don’t want to suffer, because you’ve written your law on our hearts, and deep in our hearts we want to obey the Father who adores us.

 

Lord God, help us to get this message in our lives, in our relationships, in our sexuality, in our finances, in our families. Help us to understand what it means to be set free, and by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, help us to live free. In Jesus’ good name. Amen.

In Jesus, God has fulfilled the law and set us free. Still, many of us prefer being enslaved to rebellion and sin. Like the children of Israel, we keep circling the desert, stuck. The truth is, we can’t begin to live free until we realize there’s only one God—and we’re not him. God is our Father, and he desires for us to experience the freedom that comes with living according to his loving will.

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