My original plan was for this sermon to be a prologue to the Ten Commandments; however, after discovering that I had left a Sunday off my spreadsheet, I decided to make it instead an epilogue to the series after the added standalone Christmas-themed sermon. Since there are no accidents but only providence, I fully believe that this study will benefit greatly from following the Ten Commandments rather than preceding them. My primary aim with this sermon is to discuss our relationship to God’s laws and commandments in Christ. Exodus 20:18-21, Psalm 119:97-104, and Hebrews 12:18-29 will be the three texts before our eyes, but Hebrews 12 will constitute the bulk of our time.
FEAR OR LOVE? // EXODUS 20:18-21 & PSALM 119:97-104
Now that we have studied each of the Ten Commandments, my prayer is that we have come to see both the depths of our sin and the goodness of God’s law. After all, as we have noted, community thrives where these commandments are obeyed. Through these laws, the LORD has given us a mirror to behold our sin and to be warned of the inevitable death that follows disobedience. Through our obedience to His commands, God receives the glory, but it also results in our good. God’s law, therefore, should be received with joy, even (or especially) when it painfully bares its teeth against our most cherished sins.
The psalmist who composed Psalm 119 was similarly captivated by God’s law. Consider verses 97-104:
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
The psalmist reflected David’s declaration that God’s words were sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10). He delighted in them, desiring them above all else. He deeply and passionately loved God’s law! Indeed, true love is a requirement for daylong meditation of anything!
But why did the psalmist love God’s law? While verse 97 declares his love for the law, verse 98 introduces his reasoning: God’s law makes him wiser than his enemies. The remainder of this section poetically emphasizes these two points.
Verses 99-100 then expound further by stating that they give him more understanding than even his teachers and the aged. In other words, they make him wise beyond his years. Verses 101-102 reveal that the practical benefit of this wisdom and understanding is that it guards him against evil and keeps him in God’s path of life. Finally, verses 103-104 parallel verses 97-98 by first declaring his love for the law followed by a summary of verses 99-102.
Thus, this passage of Psalm 119 fittingly reflects our view of the law as we’ve studied the Ten Commandments. It is worthy of our love and our desire because it reveals to us the wisdom of God and guards us against our sin. The law is a rule of love given for our good and flourishing as we submit ourselves to God’s will and design.
However, when the Israelites originally received the Ten Commandments, their experience was not quite as positive. Exodus 20:18-21 gives us the account:
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
God had come before the Israelites, shrouding His glory in smoke, thunder, lightning, and flames, and He spoke audibly to them. This same God who rescued them from Egypt was speaking directly to them, but this receiving of God’s law was far from a blissful meeting with God. Like Isaiah whenever he was brought into God’s heavenly throne room, fear seized all of Israel. Their sin-stained souls were thrust into the presence of the Holy One, and they were undone. Their creatureliness was unraveling upon being near the Creator. The giving of the law, therefore, was not a scene of serenity in the presence of God; rather, it was moment of terror before the almighty Maker of all things.
How then do we reconcile these two texts? Is God’s law a delight or a burden? Is His giving of the law a terror or a grace?
SINAI OR ZION? // HEBREWS 12:18-24
Hebrews 12:18-24 is a wonderful text for us to consider as we answer those questions. The book of Hebrews is an invaluable exploration of how Jesus and His New Covenant fulfills the promises of the Old Testament and relates to the Mosaic Law. One of the author’s primary points is that the sacrifices, offices, and structures of the old covenant served as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5). They were incomplete portraits of the fullness that would be found in Christ. Thus, many have noted that Hebrews could be summarized in three words: Jesus is better. He is better than angels, than Moses, than the other prophets, than the temple and tabernacle, than the priests and high priest, and even than the sacrifices themselves. They were all the shadow, but He is the substance, the reality.
With that understanding in mind, let us hear how Hebrews compares Jesus and the New Covenant to the giving of the law at Sinai:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.12:18-24
The author first describes for us what we just read from Exodus 20, while also referencing a few other passages from the Torah. He notes that the cloaked glory of God was too terrifying for Israel to endure, and even Moses himself was trembling with fear. For the author of Hebrews, this scene exemplifies the Mosaic Covenant, full of the majestic glory of God but a holy terror to all who sin against Him.
He then gives us a description of the New Covenant in Christ that we have enter by faith in His meritorious work on our behalf. Ours is no longer the terror of Sinai but rather the splendor of Mount Zion, “the city of the living God,” the New Jerusalem. Ours is an unnumbered gathering of feasting angels and the congregation God’s children who have been perfected by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Ours is the presence of “God, the judge of all” and yet His judgment has been fulfilled by “the sprinkled blood” of Jesus “that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,” the blood that cries out for our deliverance.
Notice that the description of the New Covenant is no less glorious than the Mosaic. In fact, the glories described are even greater, yet the tone is one of celebration rather than terror. This is because the curse of the law given at Sinai has been erased by the sacrifice of Christ. Consider Paul’s words to the Galatians:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.3:10-14
Through His undeserved death, Christ became accursed under the law, which He obeyed without exception, in order to rescue us from the curse incurred through our disobedience. Our breaking of God’s law warranted our eternal death, yet Jesus offered His own life in our place. He has atoned, redeemed, rescued, and ransomed us from the consequences of our own sin.
We now enter into the eternal life purchased for us by Christ through faith in His work. Although justification through obedience to the law was impossible, we are able to be “justified by faith” so that we become “sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:24-25). This faith means resting in the completed work of Christ on our behalf. It means believing that salvation “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In Christ, therefore, we have been set free from the “yoke of slavery,” from our fruitless toil of attempting to earn our justification through obedience to the law. Instead, we rest in the finished work of Christ, who has loved us and gave Himself up for us.
Jesus has removed the curse and burden of the law from us. We rest in His obedience rather than our own. Furthermore, He has given to us the Spirit of life that produces His fruit within us, fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, which are characteristics that naturally fulfill the law. Thus, as Jesus said, the law has not been abolished; it has been fulfilled. Christ has met its demands on our behalf and has given us the Spirit who causes us to long for a life of imaging God, which entails walking according to His commands. Obedience, therefore, is no longer a burden; it is a delight. Through the Spirit’s power, we rejoice in being faithful rather than adulterous because our Father is faithful to the uttermost. We rejoice to be generous rather than thieves because our Father is truly generous. In Christ, we who have been liberated from the curse of the law should look to it and cry out with the psalmist, “O how I love your law!”
A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN // HEBREWS 12:25-29
Now that we have concluded the Ten Commandments and seen how Christ has freed us to love God’s law as being sweeter than honey and more valuable than much fine gold, how should we respond to these things?
Again, the author of Hebrews has a message for us:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.12:25-29
This passage is the final of a series of warnings that occur throughout the letter. Like this one, they each warn us of the danger of neglecting “such a great salvation” (2:3). If the penalty for disobeying the law given by Moses was death, how much worse for those who reject not a prophet but God’s very own Son. We must “not refuse him who is speaking.”
When God’s voice spoken through the smoke and fire on Sinai, the earth quaked before the words of the LORD, but through the prophet Haggai, God has promised to shake both the earth and the heavens “yet once more.” As the author of Hebrews clarifies, that phrase “indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” Throughout the prophets, this great shaking of what is shakeable was called the Day of the LORD, and in the New Testament, it is often called the Day of Christ. This Day is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This Day is when we will see Christ returning “in his glory, and all angels with him” (Matthew 25:31). This Day is when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as the burn” (2 Peter 3:12). It is the Day when the old shall pass away, and the new will come, new heavens, a new earth, and new bodies for the redeemed church of God.
But to us belongs a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom that will not pass away but will be visibly and fully established upon that very day. This is the kingdom that Christ has brought to us, the eternal kingdom of the Son of David, the Offspring of Abraham, the Serpent-Crusher.
And this kingdom is not obtained through the works of the law; instead, we enter by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This kingdom is not received through our own obedience to the law of God but by repentance of sin and the grace and mercy of God. The King of the this kingdom is also our Savior, and we are His people, citizens under His loving and eternal rule. Under the banner of His royal and divine blood, we are eternally secure to worship our almighty Father with “reverence and awe.”
Brothers and sisters, the same God who spoke from Sinai has now spoken to us by His Son; therefore, do not refuse Him.
Let us place our faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive us.
Let us repent of our sins for the entrance to the heavenly kingdom remains open for a little while longer, for the Lord is still “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Let us walk in Spirit-enabled obedience to God’s law and commandments, not in attempt to earn our justification before God, but out of love for the Lawgiver who has first loved us.