Download or listen to Lenten Midweek IV: “Taking Up the Name” (Exodus 20:1-17)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Ten Commandments are not for Christians. Unless you were a slave in Egypt 3500 years ago, and God led you through the Red Sea on dry ground, then the Ten Commandments are not for you. That is clear in Exodus 20:2: “I am [Yahweh] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The God who gives these commandments to the people in Exodus 20 and reaffirmed them through Moses in Deuteronomy 5 was the God who brought the descendents of Jacob out of Egypt and promised to give them the land of Canaan, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There is, in fact, no connection between you and those people listening to God in Exodus 20—no connection, that is, unless that God is your God. Which begs the question: which God is this? That question is answered in v. 11: “For in six days [Yahweh] made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” Another reason that the Ten Commandments are not for Christians: because they are spoken by the God of all creation. And He is the only God there is. If your God did not create everything that exists, then you have something less than the God. But if this is the God of all creation, then who is exempt from His will? And that is exactly what St. Paul says in Romans 1: “[W]hat can be known about God is plain to [all people], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God”–everyone has a god!–“they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and bird and animals and creeping things….they exchanged the truth [of] God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:19-25).
This Creator is the God of all people, so even though the specific form of the Law given to Old Testament Israel is not for you, His eternal will is—and there is no better summary of that will than Exodus 20:1-17. He wants to be your God, no less than He wanted to be Israel’s God; He delivered you from slavery to yourself and your sin and the devil, no less than He delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. He made promises to Israel, and He kept them; He has made promises to you, and He will keep them. To Israel He gave the promise of a prophet like Moses, whom He would raise up from among them, in whose Mouth He would put His words. It was to that Prophet, greater than Moses, to whom all Israel must listen. That Prophet is Jesus, and He not only has the words of God, He is the Word of God. He is the hope of Israel, but He is also the light to lighten the nations. In Jesus, and in Jesus only, Israel and the Church come together. In Jesus, we see the eternal will of God, described in the Ten Commandments, walking around on the earth in flesh. In Jesus, and in Jesus only, is the Law for us. For us as the will of God for our lives, but, even more—infinitely more—for us as our eternal righteousness and salvation.
In Leonard Cohen’s well-known and often covered song, “Hallelujah,” there is a line that says, “You say I took the name in vain/I don’t even know the name.” I don’t know what Leonard Cohen was thinking when he wrote that, but it is not true of you. Just as Israel heard the Name “Yahweh,” and not a title, “LORD,” so you have heard a Name and not just a title. Not just “God,” or “Lord,” or even “Trinity,” but Jesus; and you have taken up a Name, before you knew what it meant: “Father-Son-and Holy Spirit.” You have been given a Name to bear, to mark you out as the people of this God, who first revealed Himself to Israel. You were given the Name not when you walked through the Red Sea but when you were washed in Baptism. And that Name is everything for the people of God. That is why God warns against taking it up in vain, taking it up as if it were the name of just another idol. All idols are worthless and empty. They cannot save because they did not create. “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips” (Psalm 16:4). But you have eternal Name of the Creator of all that exists. Do not wear it as if it were nothing. It is your salvation and your life. “Our help is in the Name of Yahweh, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). His Name on you means that He has bought and paid for you, made you His own, written the story of His salvation on your forehead and on your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. You know His Name, and you can take it in vain, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never put their shared Name on anyone in vain.
So you are His people, added to Israel through Christ. And that means something for how you live. Just so there’s no mistake—as long as you are sinners who live in this world, He requires you to live according to love formed by His eternal will for His creation. Now, in this creation, the Law both requires how all sinners must live and describes what God’s people are to be and do. But one day, when we have reached our eternal Sabbath rest, the Law will no longer require, but only describe. That is the day when God will gather all His people, Jews and Gentiles, into their eternal Land of Promise and make them perfect in Jesus, their perfect Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/14/12