Bible reading for March 9: Exodus 20; Luke 23.
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 slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:1-3)
No other gods. In the first commandment "before me" does not mean "ahead of me", as if it's okay to have other gods, as long as they are second or third in line. He is not merely a chief god (this is called henotheism), but he is the only God (monotheism). "Before me" means "before my face", that is, "in my presence." And since his presence fills his creation there are absolutely to be no other gods. "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other" (Isa 45:5-6). So, some modern versions have translated that phrase as, "no other gods besides me."
The Decalogue. As Jesus taught in Matthew 22:36-40, these ten commandments may be summarized, and stated positively, in the two great commandments: "Love the Lord your God..." (commandments #1-4) and "love your neighbor..." (commandments #5-10). Love honors God as God, and love does no wrong to a neighbor (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14). These ten commandments, also called the Decalogue ("ten words"), form the core principles behind the case laws (legal rulings for particular situations) which Moses will give Israel later in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The law was a covenant document given to the people of Israel to govern their national life. They would be a blessed society if people observed the boundaries set by God's law. All people would be seeking to know and serve God; there would be proper rest; people would show respect to one another; no one would steal from you, lie to you, or break promises; people would be content with what they had. Proper authority, dignity, truthfulness, and contentment would be promoted. It would be a happy world indeed!
"Oh how I love your law!" The first purpose of God's moral law was to regulate national life, and so even today, nations are better off when they observe these laws and punish sin (aka crime). This is called the civil use of the law. The second purpose is to convict us as individuals of our need for forgiveness and salvation, and to lead us to put our trust in Christ (Rom 7:9-14; Gal 3:2-25). The law was never given as a way for us to earn or merit our salvation. (Used in that way we end up either in despair or in self-righteousness.) But there is also a third use of the law, that of guiding the believer. We are not under the condemnation of the law, but now that we are under grace we can say with the psalmist, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Ps 119:97). This is a big change which I saw in my own conversion many years ago. I hated and avoided God's laws. Sometimes I would feel guilty about it and try harder to "live right". But there was no delight in the ways and will of God. But when I came to Christ, I began to see -- and this is a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts -- I began to see its goodness and beauty. And that it was good for me. The ten commandments help me to see how to love God and neighbor in very particular ways. And even though I fail often, I am happy to pursue his will.
Author Jerram Barr puts it this way... "God’s law is beautiful because it reveals God’s character. This is the most basic reason why we should love the law... The purpose of obeying the law is not to achieve salvation, nor to inherit eternal life, but to express one’s love and gratitude to the Lord because of the salvation he has already given to his people... As persons made in the image of God, we were designed to walk in his ways, for this is precisely the life he created us for: to be like him." (Jerram Barrs, Delighting in the Law of the Lord)
And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)
Jesus and a thief (Luke 23). While on the cross Jesus prays for those who are crucifying him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (23:34). From other accounts we know that he spoke to John regarding the care of Jesus' mother. Given the excruciating nature of crucifixion it is amazing that anyone could have thoughts towards others at such a time. One amazing interaction is between Jesus and one of the other men who was being executed. He confesses God's justice along with his own unworthiness, but then says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (23:42). There is a boldness, a childlikeness, a confidence that is shown in his dying request. For one thing, it does not appear that Jesus is on his way to inherit any kind of kingdom except a criminal's grave. And another thing, the thief himself, dying as a criminal, had nothing to offer Jesus. He is absolutely bankrupt in every possible way. This picture would be sad, or even comical... were it not for the next words coming from Jesus' parched lips: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." What an astounding statement to hear from one man on a cross to another. But then again, "it's Friday, but Sunday is coming!" You and I will meet this man one day.
Three uses of the law. In line with the post above about the uses of God's law, we see all three at work in this thief upon the cross. He is convicted by the civil law as a thief. He is convicted of his own failure to live up to God's moral standard and is deserving of judgment. Thirdly, and this is what makes this story so beautiful, the thief sees the beauty of this crucified King and the kingdom he will inherit, and so he wants to be a part of that kingdom! And so in faith he simply asks...
And so the question for you today is, have you trusted Christ in such a simple, straightforward way as did this thief upon the cross? Do it now, for you do not know when you will draw your last breath!
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.