Sermons

When God Speaks

Expository Sermon on Exodus 20
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/18/2024
©2024 by Maylan Schurch

(To view this entire worship service, click this link:
BSDA Worship Service | May 18, 2024 (youtube.com)

Please open your Bibles to Exodus chapter 20.

Exodus 20, of course, is where you can find the 10 Commandments. Shelley, incidentally, loves commandments. And I’m glad she does. What am I talking about? At home, she has well over 100 books, maybe twice that many, with commandments in them. Let me give me an example of some of these commandments.

“Grind one and ½ cups of the walnuts in a blender or food processor, leaving some coarsely ground. Pour into a mixing bowl. Blend remaining 1 cup of walnuts with the maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract and salt in a blender. Mixtures should be smooth and creamy.”

I don’t know about you, but I love that kind of commandment! And they are commandments. A commandment is often written in “command form,” as a terse imperative statement.

In the commandments I just read, the reader is not timidly offered a choice. The commandment doesn’t say, “You know, if you’re willing, I kind of think it might be a good idea if you were to maybe grind one and a half cup of walnuts in a blender, more or less.” No, the writer of the commandment gets right to the point. “Do this.” “Do that.” And “Do it the way I say to do it.”

These commandments, of course, are parts of recipes. This recipe shows up in Barbara Watson’s Total Vegetarian Cookbook, and it’s the first part of the recipe for “Happy Cookies.”

[PLEASE don’t get me wrong here. I’m sure that when someone came up with this name for them, there was no such thing as introducing recreational drugs into baked goods!]

No, the reason they’re called “happy cookies” is given in the introduction to the recipe: “Chock-full of omega-3 essential fatty acid, these cookies may aid in lifting depression!” Even though this makes them sound medicinal, these cookies are actually really good. Because they not only have the walnuts, but they also have maple syrup, vanilla extract, flax meal, whole-wheat flour, and carob chips. Think chocolate chip cookies with a philosophy degree.

Anyway, what’s my point? Here in this cookbook are some commandments. But they’re not scary commandments. They are, however, legalistic, because you have to follow the right steps, and include the proper quantities of ingredients, to make them turn out well. But right here on the page, they have a photo of these completed happy cookies, and they are very good.

Most Sabbaths over the past several weeks, I’ve been working my way through a sermon series called “When God Speaks.” What I’ve done is to take a look at the Bible stories where God actually speaks out loud with His real voice, into the real ears of real people. In other words, this isn’t only divine inspiration – it is audible commentary by God. And since in Matthew 4:4 Jesus told us to live not by bread alone but by every word which comes from God’s mouth, I think it’s a good plan to listen.

And of course it is Exodus 20 which contains the major out-loud speech God made in the Bible. It’s right around 300 words, and we call them the 10 Commandments.

The problem with the 10 Commandments, of course, is that if you don’t look at them the right way, they can seem scary. But if you look at them God’s way, they’re more like a recipe. In fact, in Deuteronomy 5:29, just after Moses has repeated these 10 Commandments to the people, he gives a direct quote from God Himself.

Deuteronomy 5:29 [NKJV]: [God says] “Oh, that they [the people] had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”

In fact, if we could get in touch with Moses and tell him about the “happy cookie” recipe, he might nod his head and say, “Yes, that’s just what God was talking about. The 10 Commandments are something like God’s happy cookies. Eat them – take them into your hearts – and you’ll feel better. Or at least you will fend off a lot of the tragedy which inevitably happens when you break these commandments.”

The thing to keep in mind about God’s 10 Commandments is that He thought they were so important that He knew He needed to say them out loud to an entire nation, all at once. He did not want them to be delivered piece by piece, filtered through the paraphrases of one person to another person to another. He wanted everybody to hear these exact words, all at once, unfiltered.

And since the Bible makes it very clear that these commandments are still in force, God wants us to hear them unfiltered as well. But He also wants to make sure we know that they are not simply the type of commandments you see posted sometimes in a strip mall – no skateboarding, no loitering, no loud music, and so on.

From my study this week, I found proof that God wants us to think of the commandments in a more positive way. Where do I find this proof? It’s right here at the start of the 10 Commandments – spoken by the very voice of God.

However, most of the time you don’t hear about these first few 10-Commandment words. I did an online image search on “10 Commandments” and I found that the words we’re about to look at aren’t there. Probably 90% of the pictures of the 10 Commandments start out with “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or some more recent translation of that. That’s like this cookbook giving us no clue about why we should try the happy cookie recipe.

So this morning, let’s listen to the part of God’s voiced statements that we mostly never hear.

Exodus 20:1 – 2: 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 bondage.

As I was studying Exodus 20, and these very words, this week, I discovered that what I just read is so powerful that it could actually change the way we look at the 10 Commandments. Let me show you what I mean.

Let’s take the first part.

Verses 1 – 2: And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God . . .

If you’re taking down sermon points, here is what I call Sermon Point One:

When God speaks here in Exodus 20, He says:

“I have repatriated you.”

Somebody says, “Wait a minute. How do you get that from this verse?” After all, to repatriate someone or something means to bring them back to their home country. But all God says in the verse so far is, “I am the Lord your God.”

Glance back at chapter 19, and let’s look at something God told Moses to tell the people:

Exodus 19:3 – 4: And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.

Notice how God says, “I have brought you to Myself”?

When we get to the fourth commandment, God is going to remind us that it was He who created everything – heaven, earth, waters, and everything else. So here the Lord is saying, “Look. I am your God. You are with Me. I have brought you to be with Me. Therefore, you are home. I made this home, and now I have repatriated you to it.”

I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was probably in the fourth grade in a little one room Seventh-day Adventist grade school in South Dakota, a family arrived who was new to me. This family had been missionaries in South America, and they had a girl who was a couple of years younger than I was.

The first thing I noticed about this girl – I’ll call her Mary – was that she seemed sad. Her face was always serious. I believe she had been born in Europe, but then her parents had taken the family to South America.

But now, here they were out on the flat Great Plains prairie, numbingly cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer. And Mary just was not happy. The more we tried to get acquainted with her, the more she would give us mournful, discontented looks. She spoke English perfectly, because it was her native language, but I think she’d spent so much time speaking Spanish that she was probably lonely for it, and lonely for her dear friends one continent to the south.

As it turns out, Mary was my fellow-student for just one year. Evidently the whole family must have consulted with each other and made a decision: “South Dakota? That’s no way to live!”  So the next year they found opportunities somewhere else.

Mary, you could say, had been un-patriated. To me, South Dakota was fine—I had known nothing else. But Mary longed to be somewhere else more like home.

And God knew very well that many generations of Israelites had become accustomed to living in Egypt.  Their children probably all had friends among the Egyptian kids, and were already starting to miss them.

So right there on top of that quaking mountain, smothered in dense black clouds, God’s first words reassure His hearers that no matter what they might be missing in Egypt, they are now home.

And it kind of makes my heart ache to think about the steps God took to make sure the people understood just how deeply “home” they were. There on Mount Sinai, He would give Moses directions for the construction of a house God could live in.

And that house–that tabernacle–would be located not an aloof three miles away, but right in the middle of those tent dwellings. God even decided which tribes would pitch their tents to the east of the tabernacle, which to the west, which to the north and which to the south. God was literally “making Himself at home,” which means that these children of His, after many years away from Him, were finally repatriated. And that made Him happy.

Okay, but what does this have to do with us?

Well, Jesus made it very clear that the kingdom of God wasn’t tied to any specific location, at least here on earth, right now. For example, in Luke 17:20 and 21, He made this clear to several Pharisees.

Luke 17:20 – 21: Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

In other words, for those who want this to happen, God repatriates them, admitting them to His kingdom.

Now, it’s very clear that there are rules and guidelines to being a part of this kingdom – otherwise God would’ve simply spoken from the mountain, “I am the Lord your God,” and rolled the clouds back up, and that would be that. Nothing further need be said. But instead, He kept speaking. There’s more to the story.

But first, how should you and I respond to knowing that God has repatriated us, if we’re willing to have that happen?

Well, for one thing, we should live as though we are repatriated. No matter where we live, whether it’s Bellevue, Snohomish County, Issaquah, or any other place over the earth where you might be watching this on YouTube, if you have opened your heart to the Holy Spirit, you are a citizen of God’s country. We need to accept that, live like that, and rejoice in it.

And what’s more, a special bonus happens every single week. The Sabbath is a way for you and me to physically travel to God’s country in a real way. Did you know that the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment, has more words and more detail than any of the other commandments? That’s because Commandment Four is not a “footnote commandment” or an add-on. The Sabbath commandment is positioned right in the center of all the others. The Sabbath gives us a weekly chance to act out our repatriation. Want to make God happy? Then travel to this building every week and pitch your tent as close as possible to your Heavenly Father.

 

In fact, that leads right into our next sermon point.

Exodus 20:1 – 2: And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt . . . .

Here comes Sermon Point Two. When God speaks from Mount Sinai, what else does He say? He says:

“I have repatriated you, and I have relocated you.”

When God first announced Himself through Moses to the people weeks and weeks before, He made it clear to not only the Israelites but to the king of Egypt that His people were going to be relocated. This didn’t sit well with Pharaoh, and Pharaoh did his very best to keep this from happening. But God’s plan for His people was that they travel out of Egypt, and then go north to take possession of the land which God had promised to Abraham.

Now, God has different plans for each of us, and relocation might be a part of these plans, or it might not. The important thing is to constantly and humbly keep your mind open to what the will of God might be.

Shelley and I have the orientation of NOT being relocaters! May is always a special month to us, because not only is May 14 our anniversary, but it was in May of 1991 that we arrived here at the Bellevue church. The Lord had relocated us away from Lincoln Nebraska, where I was an English teacher, but neither Shelley nor I have become infected with the Gypsy bug. We love it here – and we love that the Lord’s will has allowed us to stay right where we are.

So what should you and I do with this relocation idea? Whether or not the Lord wants us to physically move away, we need to ask ourselves, “Is there anything in my life that the Lord wants me to relocate toward?” Is there a way I’m using my time, for example, that I need to rethink? Do I need to adopt better health habits? Do I need to find refreshing ways to study the Bible?

One of the exhilarating things about Ritchie Hammen’s Strength For The Week programs, no matter who presents them, is this constant focus on relocating.

If you’re used to staying indoors, get outside, for your physical and mental health. Relocate.

A couple of Sabbath afternoons a month, after church, some of our members relocate a few blocks south to the Jubilee Reach church, where they join the 24-Seven Seventh-day Adventist church in distributing food to those in the community who have needs.

So every once in a while, you might ask the Lord about this. “Lord, is there anything in my life I need to relocate toward?” Keep asking Him about this. Ask Him enough times that He will decide that you really believe it when you pray it.

 

There’s one more sermon point coming up– one more thing the Lord says before He launches into the 10 Commandments themselves.

Exodus 20:1 – 2: 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 bondage.

When God speaks to us from Sinai, He says,

“I have repatriated you, and I have relocated you. And I have liberated you.”

“Bondage” is an old-fashioned word for “slavery.” Most modern versions use the word “slavery.” Slavery, of course, is involuntary. Back when Joseph invited the other tribes down to Egypt because of the famine in Palestine, nobody planned to become slaves. But once the kings of Egypt decided that Israel might become an insurrectionist force, they enslaved them. They forced them to work in ways they normally wouldn’t have chosen to do.

So how would this work for us? Now that we’ve looked at God’s important “preamble” to His Ten Commandments, let’s quickly see how different they might sound now. See what you think:

Verses 2 – 3: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me.

Do you know one thing God was doing for His children right here? He’s not being selfish when He claims to be the only God worth worshiping. No, instead, God is liberating His people from polytheism! For hundreds of years, the Israelites were accustomed to walking past giant carved statues of many Egyptian deities. And back in those days, if your country got into a war with another country, and you happened to win, that other country’s gods would be often added to your group of gods. The idea was to keep the defeated country’s gods as happy as possible so they (or their worshippers) wouldn’t cause trouble. But now, you all had to balance the wishes and needs of a whole lot of deities.

But here, God says, “Forget that. Don’t worry about having to appease the rain god so you can have good crops next year. Don’t worry about keeping on the good side of the god of the Nile – just leave it up to Me how far it floods next year. I have liberated you from polytheism.”

And look at Commandment Two.

Verses 4 – 6: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them . . . .”

Do you see what God is doing here? He’s liberating us from God-limitation. What do I mean by that? God said, “Don’t carve anything and worship it. That gives a human sculptor power over what expression he puts on my carved face. If he puts a smile there, you’ll feel more comfortable about Me. A frown gives you uneasy feelings.”

Commandment Three, the one about not taking God’s name in vain, liberates me from the God whose reputation is stained and demeaned by how people ridicule Him. There is some truly ugly profanity and obscenity which has been connected with God’s name, and it’s getting worse. God says, “Don’t do that. Keep My name clean. Don’t play around with it, even for the sake of humor.”

And then of course Commandment Four, the Sabbath commandment, liberates me from playing the survival-of-the-fittest game by keeping my work laptop on all through Sabbath. The Sabbath frees me to imitate a God who knows how to rest.

And we can keep going, all through the remaining Commandments. Commandment Five, about honoring your parents, frees you to remember that your genealogy goes back not to a swamp hit by a lightning bolt but to Adam and Eve, and from there to God.

“Thou shalt not kill” frees you to honor God’s image which is in every human being. (And remember, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that mental murder is a sin too.)

The don’t-commit-adultery commandment reminds me of God’s utter faithfulness to me.

The don’t-steal commandment frees me to allow God to give me what I need, which He has promised to do.

The don’t-bear-false-witness commandment frees me to let God be the one to create and curate my truth.

And “thou shalt not covet” frees me to let God be all I need.

Do you see how breathtaking it is to read the commandments this way? They are still important to keep, but not as a threatening penal code but as a delicious recipe which—if followed carefully—will bring nourishment and joy.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive;
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your savior come,
and leap, ye lame, for joy.

That’s our closing song. Let’s stand and sing it together.

 

 

 

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