To Love God - Decalogue 3
A Homily for Advent IV
December 13, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Exodus 20:1-11
Glorify God and enjoy Him forever
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What is the chief end of man?
What is the purpose of a human being?
Why are we here?
What is the purpose of human life?
Human beings have seemed to ask some variation of this question for centuries – the search for meaning seems to be an ache for all of us.
Perhaps you have an answer – perhaps it has to do with serving Jesus or being a kind person or something all together different.
If you’re bored, or just preparing a sermon, and you google to the question “what is the purpose of life?” You come up with a number of different articles with titles such as: “Seven strange questions that help you find your life’s purpose.” There are a plethora of articles out there designed to help a person find the meaning of life.
The Westminster Divines, desiring to ensure the Christians they would catechize had a Biblically sound answer to this question started the Westminster Shorter Catechism with the first question I asked:
“What is the chief end of man?”
The answer was: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
St. Augustine – who was a seeker before he came to know Christ penned a something similar in his confessions – the story of his conversion as he looked back on his life before Christ. He wrote “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord.”
Our meaning – our hope – our peace comes from knowing God. Our hope, our peace, our purpose comes from seeking first to glorify God.
This morning we read from the first half of the Decalogue. In it, God spells out what it is like to love God – in it he shows us His nature and his goodness, and how we relate to Him.
But – I want you to note how this passage starts – “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.”
God had redeemed Israel, God had led them out of the state of bondage, God had rescued them, revealing to the Israelites his power and his love for them. No longer did the mighty nation of Egypt own them, and rule over them.
Christians, as early as St. Paul saw this rescue as a foreshadowing of the deliverance and baptism that we find in Christ – As God introduces himself – we are reminded that it is God who redeems – it is God who rescues.
Israel, if she had been left to her own device would have stay in Egypt grumbling, and groaning – but God – brought them out of Egypt.
Like wise God has provided for us a way to redemption. God has redeemed us from the slavery and bondage of sin, God has redeemed us from the grave of sin just as the Lord God redeemed Israel from the grave of Egypt.
As we read these words, we hear God saying “remember my faithfulness, remember my mercy, remember my goodness. I am the Lord your God who has redeemed you, who has made you a citizen in the kingdom of heaven.”
I will redeem you.
And then God provides the framework for our relationship with Him.
But – I think before we dive into this – we need to understand why the reminder at the beginning of this passage is so important – the reminder of God’s faithfulness and mercy.
I was talking to friends earlier this week and one of them made the note that where we need to be provoked to mercy. Our default is rarely mercy – our default is to want Justice – to want vengeance – to want our rights to be upheld and for the one who has hurt us to feel the brunt of our wrath. But so often God calls us to mercy – provokes us, pushes us towards mercy.
God is the opposite – God is provoked to wrath, he is quick to mercy and slow to anger – he is quick to forgive and castes our sins as far as the east is from the west.
When we see God’s wrath poured out – it is after warning, upon warning, upon warning to repent – and then finally he is provoked – finally he pours it out.
But God is above all else – merciful and compassionate towards humanity. God is above all else merciful and compassionate towards us.
So, as we read these we must remember the first purpose of the law is to show us our incredible, desperate need for the merciful God who brings us out of bondage, out our grave and brings us to new life. It is then by the Holy Spirit that we are transformed into people who have fewer and fewer idols, who are transformed into people who see God as how he is revealed in scripture, not creating him, but being recreated by Him, in to people who honor God’s name, and into people who find our rest and redemption in God alone.
But first – we are a people who find our salvation in Christ alone, who find our righteousness not in our works, but in him working in us, in his righteousness being put upon us.
We realize this incredible and good news when we read the law and when it convicts out hearts.
And when we come to realize this, when we come to live and dwell in this – God is glorified – and we find that we have all that we need, we find our truest and deepest enjoyment in Him.
The first commandment God spells out seems simple “you shall have no other gods before me.”
On the surface this seems relatively simply, “okay,” we think, “I’ll just not worship any other gods, done.”
And most of us probably don’t have personal altars to Baal or Vishnu or Zeus, but as we learn from Christ – these commandments are meant to convert the heart, these commandments are meant to not be legalistic rituals but to change the inner man into reflecting the glory of God.
And to quote to great reformation theologian John Calvin – “our hearts are idol factories.”
Certainly, we don’t bow before Vishnu or Zeus – and we think our allegiance is to Christ alone – but we have a way of lifting up things before God, we have a way of thinking “I need this in order to be truly happy,” or “surely this is my identity, you shall never strip it from me!”
It is amazing how quickly we build these idols, how quickly we come to raise our position, our reputation, our job, our relationships – raising high the endless list of things that can distract us from serving our God.
Think for a moment about what was going on below Mount Sinai while Moses received the law – the people seeing that he was delayed and asked Aaron to make them a god to worship. They said to Aaron “as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Not only do they get the identity of their savior wrong – they turn their backs on Moses and on God.
They long for something tangible, they long to worship whatever is convenient.
And we do the same.
We long for something to fill our hearts, we long for our identities to be complete, we long for fullness from anything in this world, fullness that only God can bring.
For our hearts are restless.
But they will only rest in God.
And when they find rest and renewal in Christ – there in that God is glorified. When God is our only God – there he receives the glory that only He deserves.
What are your idols? Where do you find your identity? What consumes your mind? Christ? Or the world?
Then God proclaims: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Most of you have by now read JI Packer’s excellent book “Knowing God.” Every time that I have the opportunity to make a plug for it – I do – it is excellent, and you should read it. However, his fourth chapter comes across as a bit crotchety. It comes across as a bit fundamentalist.
On the surface, at least I understand where he is coming from. We have a way of making God to look how we’d like for him to look – not how scripture reveals him to be.
Packer’s ultimate argument is that we must allow scripture to form our view of who God is, and not images – whether they be ones that we conjure up in our minds, or those that we see painted in sacred images.
However, I think what is more dangerous than sacred art – are the images that we conjure up of God that are unbiblical.
There’s a great scene in a comedy movie about NASCAR – I know I’ve shared that scene, but it is both amusing and sad and therefore a great illustration.
The main character spends several minutes praying to “baby Jesus,” because he likes the image of baby Jesus. After his wife gets frustrated with him, his best friend comes to his defense and says:
“I like to picture Jesus in a Tuxedo T-shirt, 'cause it says, like, 'I wanna be formal, but I'm here to party, too.' I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.... I like to think of Jesus like, with giant eagles' wings and singin' lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an Angel Band,”
As ridiculous as this image is – we all have a tendency to dismiss the parts of God we don’t like, or imagine him as it pleases us.
But it is by residing in Christ – it is by reading His word that we come to know him, and not the other way around.
We do this by dismissing parts of scripture that we do not like, by skimming over things we find distasteful.
I have thought recently – it might be good to preach on Psalm 137 – I have never heard anyone preach on that Psalm and it ends with a particularly tricky – and frankly gruesome prayer.
But even here – it reveals something about the nature of God – that the God of the Bible is big enough, and merciful enough that he can take our darkest prayers – he can take our most sinful thoughts we can come up with and still care for us deeply.
But if we skim over parts like the last verse of Psalm 137 – if we skim over his wrath – if we skim over his judgment on unrepentant and vicious people.
We end up with a God who is neither merciful enough towards sinners such as you and I or just enough to care for the meek and the hurting and the oppressed.
No – we need the God of the Bible in His fullness – we need to take care to not try and recreate God in some more palatable form – but to delight in how incredibly good he is revealed to be in scripture.
And when we do this – when we know Him in his wholeness – He is glorified.
And then God says: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
A name is an interesting thing. I am one, who when I learn a new name it comes in one ear and goes out the other, but if you’d met me a couple of times and after the third or fourth time of introducing yourself I had a blank stare as I looked at you, you would be rightfully offended. Your name is a part of your identity.
There are three layers to this command, on the very surface of this – is the obvious reading.
Do not use God’s name as a swear word, do not use it in a silly or empty way. Rather – seek to honor his name, seek to use His name in a way that glorifies him.
But then there’s the heart of it – that when we say we will do something, when we say we will pray for someone – when we say we will go to the Lord on someone’s behalf we actually do this.
Here is an area that I’ve been growing – instead of simply saying “yes, I’d love to pray for you.” I’ve been in the process of learning to stop and pray for the person right here. That they would know that they have been prayed for and so that God has been glorified.
Finally, in honoring God’s name, in keeping it Holy – we recognize his holiness – his uniqueness in standing outside of creation – we are called to be in awe of his holiness, in awe of his Holy name.
Finally the Lord says: 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
We tend to be a forgetful people – one of the beauties of the liturgy is that there are all kind of things in it to remind us “remember to flee from your sin, and flee unto God,” “remember God’s goodness and mercy.”
A part of this commandment to keep Holy the Sabbath day is that if we do not set aside time to be renewed in Christ, if we are not intentional about this – we will eventually forget. We will eventually lose sight of His goodness and mercy.
But we keep Holy the sabbath, so that we would remember his goodness.
In doing this, in resting in Him we also find our renewal, our rejuvenation.
A survey came out earlier this week and none of it was all that surprising to us. 2020 has been brutal for mental health.
There was an 8% decline in mental health for men.
There was a 10% decline for women.
Married and unmarried people both saw a decline of 8-10%
Republicans, independent, and democrats all saw a decline in mental health as well.
The only group that saw an improvement in mental health was those who attend church weekly.
Even those who attend sometimes saw a decline. It was the act of weekly church attendance that made the difference.
Attending church, finding our refreshment and renewal in Christ is necessary for the wellbeing of our personhood.
This commandment benefits us – but because we find our glory not in our selves – but because amidst our busy-ness – amidst this hectic world God has called us to find our rest in Him. God has drawn us out of our bondage and into the good green pastures of His glory. God has called us to rest in Him and be renewed in Him – God has called us called us to keep Holy the sabbath – because he alone is Holy.
This past week I was reading a devotional and the author made the statement: we are in a glory war – we want the glory for ourselves – but God has redeemed us from the grave us sin, God has made himself our King and our Father. God has done this and as such – we are called to glorify Him. We are called to live whole heartedly for Him.
The author challenged the readers to this little test: over the next week or two – pay attention to what upsets you: is jealousy for God’s glory? Or is it because your glory is being offended?
If it is your glory that you feel is being tarnished – maybe you need to refocus on glorify God, maybe it is time to examine the first half of the Decalogue yet again and then flee unto Jesus, flee to the one who redeems us to God’s glory.
At the begin we thought about the question: what is the chief end of man?
Let us be a people who says with assurance, with firmness of conviction, that Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.