“Back to the basics: No other gods”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
It was July of 1961 and the thirty-eight members of the Green Bay Packers football team were gathered together for their first day of training camp. The previous season had ended with a heartbreaking defeat as the Packers, late in the 4th quarter, lost the NFL Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Throughout the entire off-season, the players couldn’t help but think about that brutal loss. But now, training camp had started once again and it was time to get to work. So the players were eager to pick up right where they left off and start working on the details that would help them win the next championship.
However, their coach, Vince Lombardi, had a different idea.
So standing before that group of three dozen well-trained, physically fit, professional athletes who, just a few months before had come within moments of winning the biggest prize their sport could offer, held a football in his hands and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
So why did he start from scratch? Why did he treat his players like those who knew nothing from the year before?
The answer’s simple--back to the basics.
But even though he began with something so simple as a football, six months later, the Packers came back to beat the New York Giants 37-0 and win the NFL Championship.
Sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics, to remember who we are and where we’ve come from. So for the next couple of months, or so, we’ll do just that. And we’ll start today with the Ten Commandments.
I’ll read the words of Exodus chapter 20, starting at verse 1: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me’” (Exodus 20:1-3).
It seems that no one cares about the Ten Commandments anymore. Polls suggest that while most Americans believe in the Ten Commandments, few actually know what they even are.
Think of it--if we were to ask almost anyone to name ten different cars, they’d have no trouble saying, “Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Kia and Toyota.” Ten different movie stars? Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. Ten different musicians? Elvis, the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Elton John and Eminem. But Ten Commandments? Are you kidding?
Jay Leno once asked his Tonight Show audience to name just one of the Ten Commandments. At first, no one said a thing, until one finally raised his hand and said, “God helps those who help themselves?”
And television mogul Ted Turner isn’t any better. He said, “We’re living with outdated rules. The rules we’re living under are the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to them because they’re too old.” And he said, “When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Today, the Ten Commandments wouldn’t go over. Nobody likes to be commanded!”
Or as another author wrote, “In our arrogant little tyrannies in which most of us live, we don’t like anybody telling us what to do. Anybody. We don’t want our moms and dads to do it. We don’t want our bosses to do it. We don’t want our teachers to do it. We don’t want policemen to do it. We don’t want anyone to do it. And the reason that we’re such a rebellious group of people is because we haven’t settled it at the level of commandment number one.”
So how did these Ten Commandments ever come to be?
Let me take you back in time to about fourteen hundred years before Christ. It’s when Moses and the people of Israel had just escaped from Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. And after the plagues, the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea, barely three months into their forty-year-long trek through the wilderness, they came to a mountain--Mt. Sinai--rising high up into the air.
And as they approached that mountain, the Lord said, “I will come down to you in a thick cloud. Put a fence around the mountain and be careful that no one comes up the mountain or touches its foot. Whoever touches the mountain, whether man or animal, will surely be put to death.”
Then three days later, the Bible says fire fell from the sky, smoke billowed up from the ground and the whole mountain shook. And the blast of a trumpet grew louder and louder. And taking two tablets of stone and writing with His fingers, God gave the Ten Commandments.
So why did God give them? He gave them first, the Bible says, to reveal His glory and His holiness. That’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy chapter 5: “These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed…out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness. So He has shown us His glory and His majesty, and we have heard His voice from the fire” (Deuteronomy 5:22, 24).
And He gave them to reveal our sinfulness. That’s what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Is the Law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the Law” (Romans 7:7).
And God gave the Ten Commandments to show us how to live godly lives. That’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy chapter 5: “Walk in the way God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33).
Josh McDowell tells the story of a young man named Greg who lived down the block from a family with an in-ground swimming pool And around that pool was a high wooden fence. And one night, when his neighbors were away, he snuck around behind the house, along with his girlfriend, and climbed the fence for a swim. And as he leaped off the diving board, just before he hit bottom and lost consciousness, he heard his girlfriend scream.
You see, his neighbors had emptied the pool just before they left. And in the dark, Greg couldn’t see. And because he ignored the fence that his neighbors had built, put there for his own protection, he became paralyzed, from the neck down, for the rest of his life.
Or suppose that, up in the mountains of Colorado, a terrible storm swept away a narrow bridge over a steep gorge. And when a traveler happened along in the middle of the night, he saw what happened, so he quickly put up a makeshift sign: “Bridge out! Danger!”
But an hour later, a man came along who thought he knew better. So believing that the handmade sign was just a joke, he drove around it, only to discover, too late(!), that the bridge really was out. So he plunged to his death on the rocks below.
Why did he die? Because he ignored the warning sign.
So it is with the Ten Commandments. They’re not meant to hurt us or to harm us. They’re there for our own good.
And look at the context in which they’re found. The Lord said: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4).
In other words, God said to Moses, “Before you tell the people of My commands, before you say anything else, remind them that I carried them on eagle’s wings. Remind them that I cared for them throughout their Egyptian bondage, just as a mother cares for her children. Remind them that I heard their cries and freed them from their slavery. And remind them that, when the Egyptian army had them backed up against a wall, with no way of escape, I parted the sea before them.”
Or what if, instead of commands, instead of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not,” what if we turned them upside down into Beatitudes. Then they would look something like this: “Blessed are those who put God first…Blessed are those who honor God’s name, who revere His day, and who respect their parents…Blessed are those who value life, who keep their marriage vows, who care for the property of others, who love the truth and who are content with what they have.”
Are the Commandments negative? Not really. Not if you turn them upside down.
Are the Commandments narrow? In a way. But so is every runway in the world!
No airline passenger wants his pilot to land wherever he wants. How would you feel if the captain suddenly announced over the intercom that he was tired of playing by the rules and landing, time after time, at the same, old, boring Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and instead wanted to land on Highway 94?
That narrow ribbon of pavement called a runway leads to a safe landing.
Or imagine, for a moment, what the world would be like if everyone actually obeyed the Ten Commandments. Most of our nation’s problems would be a thing of the past. Murders and crimes of all kinds would plummet and violence would cease. There would be no corruption in government, where some look out only for themselves. Teen pregnancy, divorce, racism, hate and terrorism would all come to a stop. You could walk down any street at any time without any fear, you’d never have to worry about your car, and you’d never have to lock your doors even at night. There would be no need for police, lawyers, judges or jails. All crime would be gone, a thing of the past, because everyone obeyed the Ten Commandments.
And imagine if God’s people actually obeyed the Ten Commandments. Churches would be lighthouses on the hillside as they were called to be, showing the way for all. Every Sunday, every member would be in God’s house, worshiping and studying God’s Word with God’s people. We’d probably have to build a bigger building just to house all the people. We would live differently, we would look differently and we would act differently, all because we obeyed the Ten Commandments. What powerful living testimonies we would be!
And who is the One who spoke these commandments? God is! And God is the One who not only gave us these commands, He’s the One who holds all power in His hands, who is infinite and holy, far beyond anything we could ever understand or imagine. He’s the sound of booming thunder. He’s that still, small voice that whispers to your soul. He’s shared every moment, every breath and every heartbeat, and He loves you. In fact, He loves you so much, He sent His only Son to suffer and die for you. He’s eager to hear your joys, your frustrations, your struggles and your sorrows. Even though a billion voices call out to Him every day, He knows your thoughts, He hears your prayers and He reaches out to you with all the fullness of His deity.
Why in the world would anyone choose not to obey Him?
Back in the early days of the automobile, a man’s Model T Ford suddenly stalled in the middle of the road. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t get it started again.
Until a few moments later, another car pulled up behind him, and a wiry, old, energetic man stepped out and offered to help. And after tinkering for a moment, he said, “Now give it a try!”
Immediately, the engine roared to life. And the wiry, old, energetic stranger, Henry Ford, said, “I designed and built that car, so I know what to do when something goes wrong.”
God knows too, and that’s why He’s given us the Ten Commandments. May He grant us the grace and the strength to follow Him.
Dear Father, you have given us ten words to live by, ten commands which we are to obey. Grant us the grace to obey them and to fear, love and trust in You above all things. This we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen