You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people belonging to God so that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into light.
Look around the room, you are who I’m describing. Because this is true, live good lives among the pagans so that even though they accuse you of doing wrong (they will), they will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. What are those deeds?
You shall have no other Gods before me.
You shall not bow down to any graven image.
You shall not take my name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
Live such good lives among the pagans that even though they accuse you of doing wrong they will see you doing these things and glorify God. What a word for us today in this society.
James Robertson is age 56 and lives in Detroit. He walks 21 miles to and from work every single day and makes $10.50 per hour. Because Detroit went through bankruptcy, they shrunk the city limits. That mean that nine years ago James’ bus route dried up. He still had his job, so he walked to work every single day for nine consecutive years.
It was reported in the Free Press. A crowd-funding page started up to help the man and they gave him a Ford Taurus. So for $351,000 was raised for James. That’s when his friends started to find out about him. Ex-girlfriend, a landlord who lied, and friends who claimed James owed them money.
A few weeks ago, police showed up at his house to say they were going to relocate him to keep him away from all these people. So they took him away from the neighborhood he grew up in and moved him to Troy, MI. He keeps the space spotless and has donated a week’s salary to The Salvation Army. This guy is doing all the right things.
When they interviewed him, he said, “Even though I was born there, God knows I don’t belong there.”
Do you hear what he was saying? This was where he was born, but he didn’t belong there and he was being moved. That’s an exodus and this is what God does to everyone. We were born in a predicament and it’s all we’ve ever known. And even though we were born there, God goes to work to bring us to where we belong.
God does the work of separating us from the things that are attached to us and have seeped into us. God, in a marvelous act, separates us from the life we used to have and does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Through this, it’s easier to do what is right than to do what is wrong. Some of you haven’t hit this tipping point yet, but there is a tipping point. When God does this, you will find it’s easier to make the right choice than to sin.
God will actually transform you so your desires are different from what they used to be. This is really good news! Then God brings us to this place called the wilderness. It’s a dry season where nothing is happening. Some of you feel like this is where you’re at. I hope you’re learning that this isn’t a random thing. I hope you are seeing that this is part of God’s design! It’s the way everybody gets saved. So don’t be hard on yourself or thing you’re doing something wrong.
If you’re in that season, God is re-wiring the way you think and live. He’s giving you a whole new economy. What you used to value isn’t as valuable as you thought. And the way you get things done and survive was all wrong. You’re learning that God can be trusted and this is a time of deliverance.
There’s something else that happens in the wilderness and we don’t talk much about it: It’s a call.
The wilderness is a place where God finds people and he calls them into something that is extraordinary. Something that you could never do without him but something that will put you in between him and the rest of the world. But some people never follow. When will you ever learn that God is smarter than you?
God’s will is what you would do if you knew everything God knew.
So once that dawns on you, he begins to use you. This is where the Ten Commandments come in. Here are some verses.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Those two verses are 1300 years apart but they have a lot in common. One tells us who he is and one tells us who you are. The first one was spoken to the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea. It spoke to the kind of community they were to have. God tells the people who he is and what he’s done and then he tells them who they should be.
The other verse was spoken by Jesus as a part of the Sermon on the Mount, but served the same purpose. Jesus told them the kind of people they were to be. Then he went to the “blessed” statements. Do you see what he’s doing?
Then he says when those things are true you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
I caught this while reading in Deuteronomy. The writer says that on the day Moses gave the Ten Commandments, Moses put it this way:
The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.
In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) in that verse it says that it was proclaimed by the “ecclesia” which means church. These Commandments were given to a church.
Stephen catches this:
He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.
That’s incredible language! It suggests that what God is doing in the wilderness, he has another intention. There’s a bigger thing in mind. Out of the millions, he’s pulling together a small cluster of people who will live lives according to the Ten Commandants. And that will be the calling to the first church in the wilderness.
Let me show you how they got there, because this is a day where the Ten Commandments are controversial. People are saying they are there to make us feel guilty. And they question God for giving these commandments. But this is what God said.
and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God.
The Ten Commandments are there as a sign that we are God’s treasured possession! Which is weird because most of us don’t feel that way when we look at them. But God is telling us he’s giving us these commandments because he love us.
The Ten Commandments are a moral boundary between the life God is giving us and the life we had. We were slaves to our impulses and now God is giving us freedom. Freedom is not doing anything you want, that’s America. Freedom is doing what is naturally good for you because you want to do it. Freedom is falling out of bed and wanting to do what’s right. Freedom is sitting idly and having a mid that wanders into good places!
The problem is we’ve become cynical about this. And to the degree we are cynical about this the Ten Commandments seem like this impossible code of rules. But what God is actually doing is separating us from the rotten life we used to have. In Egypt there were many gods, but God said there would be none before him.
In Egypt, you worked 18 hours a day and hated it, not so with me the Lord says. Egypt was full of violence but God says you do not kill. You were hungry in Egypt but where I’m taking you, do not steal or covet. It’s a boundary.
When people talk about how hard it is to keep the Ten Commandments, what they are saying is there is a little bit of Egypt in them. Because anyone who, on the inside, keeps these Commandments loves their life. Anyone doing this stuff from the inside loves it and would never go back! It’s the people who are halfway that always struggle with laws like this, you tracking?
When God gives us the Ten Commandments, he’s telling us something about himself. No other Gods before me because, of course, there are no other Gods before me. Don’t bow to graven images because God doesn’t dwell in images made by hands. Do not lie for God is the truth. Do not steal or covet because God always provides.
To the degree we struggle with the Ten Commandments it’s to that degree we have not left Egypt. God is an entirely different life and culture opened up to you.
There is one other reason that God calls us to the desert.
you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
If I have this right, verses 4-5 tell us what we are to God. Verse 6 tells us what we are for God to others: priests. What do priests do? They get in between God and the world and they go to work. They speak to the world for God and then they turn around and speak to God on behalf of the world.
We think of priests today as preachers. That’s part of what they do, but they are also intercessors. They speak to God on the world’s behalf and they pray for another way. Good priests live out the difference between the culture of God and the culture of the world. The life of a priest seems boring, well, it’s supposed to be. If you’re used to Egypt then, yes, a priest seems boring. But you know you could use some of that.
Peter picks up on this notion:
1 Peter 2:9-12
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God;once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
This comes from Exodus 19, remember?
One day Jesus comes up to a slope alongside the Sea of Galilee. A whole bunch of people gathered around and he begins to teach. You know what he teaches? The Beatitudes. You know what they are? They are what the Ten Commandments look like when you swallow. They are what you look like when you act by nature the Ten Commandments. Jesus pulls them out of the world of action and into the world of heart.
Jesus is saying now that you don’t do the things of the Ten Commandments to remember your place in the order of things. Do you see what he’s saying? There’s no one who is totally right. We all still have work to do. Be merciful, generous, pure in heart. Jesus has raised the ante about ten levels here. And he does this not to shame you or frustrate you.
If you will only just acknowledge right now that it is hard for you because you still have some of Egypt in you, and not arguing with it, just say, “We are leaving Egypt but not yet out.”
This message is from Rev. Steve DeNeff,
Teaching Series Lent 2015
Title: “God Calls”