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the Rev. Dr. Suse McBay at smcbay@stmartinsepiscopal.org.
Week 1: Introduction

The Ten Commandments have a unique place in the biblical story. They are the ‘ten words’ God gave to Moses and the people, showing them how to live faithful lives in response to God. Before they were given, there was no law! Yet why were they given? Some Christians have fallen into the trap of believing the Ten Commandments–and the rest of the law–don’t matter because they were only given to reveal how sinful we are and not to show us God’s will and how we might live in light of it. Yet that misses the point of the Ten Commandments, and law more generally, throughout the Bible. They were given as a response to God’s grace and deliverance of His people in slavery in Egypt, part of the covenant God made with them in the wilderness. The covenant, in some ways, reflected ancient political treaties where a greater political power would offer protection and provision to a lesser power, in exchange for their loyalty and allegiance. Throughout Scripture, the Ten Commandments are continually reflected on and thought given to what following their principles looks like, whether it was in the context of the 40 years through the wilderness (Exodus 20-23), the challenges of settling in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 12-26) or as a follower of Jesus (Matt 5-7 and Romans 13:9-10).

As Christians, we have been rescued–not from slavery in Egypt–but from slavery to sin. The work of Jesus’ death and resurrection liberates us from the finality of evil, sin and death. As a result, we able to have a personal relationship with God Himself. And the fitting response to a loving, redeeming God who is Lord of All is one of faithful obedience, both inside and out. That’s what love of God looks like. In John 15:33 Jesus said it plainly, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

This can be a surprise for Christians! We can focus so much on Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor (in which Jesus is actually quoting the law itself–see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), we can easily forget that love is not just a nice feeling that gets us out of any moral obligations to God. No! The New Testament teaches us that Jesus had no intentions to cancel the law or its obligations, but rather to interpret it and show us how He fulfills it, so that we might know its true scope.

It’s a strange thought to think of Jesus as the true interpreter of the law, but it makes sense if you think about it. If the Old Testament law was given by God, then to truly understand it, we need God Himself, in human form, to explain it to us. There’s no better interpreter than the author Himself. The following quote comes a great book, The Jesus You Really Didn’t Know, and looks at what Jesus actually taught and how He handled the law in Matthew’s Gospel:

“The fact that Jesus was an interpreter of the Torah, or law, may still strike some people as odd. One of the strange myths that permeates some church communities is that Jesus came to do away with the Torah and replace it with something entirely different. Most versions of this strange myth suggest that Jesus came to replace the law with love. This is untrue. Jesus drew both of his great love commands (love God and your neighbour) from the Torah, and it makes little sense to say that Jesus replaced the commands of the law with commands from the law. Jesus was an interpreter of God’s commandments in the law, teaching people how to follow them so that they could live the kind of lives of obedience and love to which God calls all those who repent of their sins. The way the gospels tell the story of Jesus underlines this point.”
(Andy Angel, The Jesus You Really Didn’t Know, p.27)

So if Jesus is the perfect interpreter of God’s law–and He fulfilled and was the very embodiment of God’s law itself–when it comes to the Ten Commandments, we need to ask what Jesus did with them: how He understood them. Why? So we know how to live it. God is looking for us to worship Him with the whole of our lives. As Romans 12:1-3 (NLT) puts it:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Questions for Reflection
  • What messages have you heard in the past about the law? How does that line up (or not) with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:1-13 or, say, John 8:11?
  • We often associate law with “legalism.” How might our idea of it change if we thought about it instead as a “revelation of God’s will”?
  • What examples can you think of where Christians (perhaps even you) have laid “heavy burdens” of human expectations on themselves or others?
  • What examples can you give where Christians have excused themselves or others of any responsibility to align their lives with God’s will?
  • Which of the Ten Commandments do you find the most difficult to follow?
  • What difference does it make knowing that the work of obedience is a work of faith: that we’re never alone, but look to Jesus who will partner with us and show us the way?

A Prayer for This Week
Heavenly Father, thank You for rescuing us from sin and death. Thank You for sending Your Spirit so that we might be empowered to know You personally, love You faithfully and follow Your will courageously. Help us to listen again to Jesus’ teaching, to hear it anew and respond in faith to the One who is our Savior, Teacher and Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.