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“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV) With these final words the prophet Moses admonishes a new generation to love the Lord, walk in His ways and keep His commandments as they enter the Promised Land. But what does this have to do with us? Today at International Lutheran Church we explore the Ten Commandments and what they mean for our lives of faith in Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of the Reformation, Luther was struck by the lack of understanding not only among God’s people in the congregation but among the pastors and leaders in the church of his day. He noted after a visit to the congregations in Saxony that some of the pastors didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed or the Ten Commandments. In response to this, Luther set out to write a simple book of questions and answers (or catechism) to help each family know the basics of the Christian faith. Over the next several weeks we will be reading this book, Luther’s Small Catechism, as we conclude the season of Epiphany and begin the season of Lent.

Pastor Carl

The Catechism begins with the Ten Commandments. At first glance this may surprise us as we think about the emphasis of the Reformation being the Gospel and the preaching of the Good News of God’s act to save us in Jesus. But the Ten Commandments indeed sets the stage for what each of us experiences in life. They comprise in a simple form the very way God means for us to live as the people of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. We see this today in the Gospel reading from Matthew 5, where Jesus expounds not only on the letter of the law but also the Spirit of the Law – that is what it means for us to “live” in the Word of God, “walk” in His ways and “keep” His commandments as a part of our lives of faith. The Ten Commandments form the very pattern of life that God intends for us to live in. Like the curb on the street that keeps the cars in the road and not on the sidewalk, God’s Law, the Ten Commandments – love the Lord your God, honor His Name, remember His Sabbath, honor your father and mother, do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie or covet –seek to keep us all “in the road” or “on the way.” To do them is life. To ignore them is death.

This point is where the Law and commandments of God become essential for our lives of faith. They actually show us where exactly we go wrong. Like a mirror that is polished and clear, they show us exactly what lies at the heart of our actions, our words, and our thoughts. While many of us might be able to claim that we have never killed anyone, who can say that they have never hated anyone, thought ill of them, or wished them harm – either in their life or their reputation? The primary function of the Law is to show us our sin. Like a doctor who uncovers the hidden cancer beneath the symptoms, the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, show us the “illness” of sin and death that clings to our every action, our every word and thought. Both the Psalmist and Paul can say with one voice, “no one is righteous not one.” (Psalm 14:3 & Romans 3:10-11) In this way, the Law points us to our Savior, who alone fulfilled the Law perfectly, and yet died the sinner’s death as the curse of God on the cross. What Moses was not able to do – lead the children into the Promised Land – Jesus fulfills. He is the One, the only One, who loves the Lord, walks in His ways, and keeps His commandments for us and for our salvation. This is why we as Christians, born from above in Holy Baptism, need the Law, the Ten Commandments, even now: that we would keep our eyes on Jesus as we live in the new Spirit that we are given as His new creation, as His “offspring.”

Note again how Moses’ admonition to the new generation to “choose life” looked forward to a day or new generation yet to come. He saw how our faith lived out in love for God and neighbor impacts the next generation. Through Moses, God points us to the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law, the very “offspring” that brings life from death. Our actions now impact not only our lives but those who come after. Just as Paul and Apollos understood that it wasn’t their work that counted for anything, but the work that God was doing in and through them (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). The Catechism emphasizes this by pointing to what we are to do, rather than focusing only on what we are “not” supposed to do. In Jesus, the Ten Commandments serve as a rule and guide for our lives of faith in Him as we serve our neighbor. As we live by the Spirit, we see that our calling is not just to honor our parents but all in authority. Our calling is to care and support our neighbors, speak well of them, and encourage them. Our love of God and service of God is only in and through our love and service to our neighbor. With the gifts, talents and strength that God has given us, we are called to care, serve and keep our neighbor even as we live in the freedom that is ours in Jesus.

Perhaps now we can see how the Ten Commandments are the very place for us to begin to learn more about what it means to be a Christian. Their function as a curb, mirror, and guide touch each of our lives and keep us connected to our Savior Jesus. As we love the Lord, walk in His ways and keep His commandments, God brings us into all of His promises of Life through Jesus Christ and Him alone.