Wow, it’s 2021.  I don’t know that there has ever been a new year as anticipated as this one. 

Considering the year we just came through not sure that that says a lot about 2021, or 2020.  Kind of like the guy who was banging his head against a wall and someone asked him why he was doing it, and his reply was, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

The other day I took the time to read through the message I preached on the first Sunday of 2020. 

It was called My 2020 vision.  And it had nothing in it about a pandemic or having to shut the doors of the church for weeks and months at a time.  Nothing there at all about having to cancel Trunk or Treat and Bethlehem Live, or doing our Easter and Christmas Eve Services completely online.  Nothing, I double checked.

But there was a section about how after twenty-five years Cornerstone remained committed to providing a home for the spiritually homeless.  I talked about how we would launch a new campus in Sackville Beaver Bank and what that would look like. 

I spoke about the difference Cornerstone was making and would continue to make with our village partnership in Kenenday in Sierra Leone.   And I talked about how we wanted to make more of our Life Groups available online. 

This year, as we move ahead into 2021, I’d like to challenge you for your spiritual vision for the new year.  What is it that will be most important thing for you as a Christ Follower over the next twelve months?

In the scripture that was read earlier, we heard the story of a teacher of the law who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was.

That might not seem like a difficult question to us, because if you grew up in the church you know the answer already. 

But for the man asking the question, maybe he was thinking of the 613 different commandments that are contained in the Old Testament, but of those 613 commandments he was probably more than likely thinking of one of the Ten Commandments. 

Do you remember the Ten Commandments? 

I was probably 7 when I first heard about them, the next time they came to my attention, I was 15.  The first time was in a religious ed class in grade 2, it was at the Canadian Armed Forces School in Soest, Germany.  The next time was in grade 10 history.  I’m not sure that either encounter had much of an impact on my life.  I would be willing to venture out on a limb here and say that most everyone knows something about them, even if they are irrelevant to their everyday life.  

They used to be posted in classrooms and courtrooms. They used to be required reading growing up. They even provided the basis for one of the most remembered films of all time. 

But that’s the used to bes.  What about today, January 3, 2021.  What relevance do the Ten Commandments have for today?

And if people stop to consider the Ten Commandments at all they certainly don’t consider following them.  Why? 

For a couple of reasons.  Some people consider them as simply “old”. 

They might have some sentimental value but just aren’t relevant for today.

Other people think that the Ten Commandments aren’t all that useful for Christians because we aren’t under the law but under grace. 

And some others don’t particularly like the Ten Commandments for a very obvious reason, they enjoy breaking them. 

And breaking them doesn’t take any special talent; you don’t have to be a dirty rotten sinner.  Consider the words of Isadora Duncan  whom some people called the founder of modern dance: “We may not all break the Ten Commandments, but we are certainly all capable of it. Within us lurks the breaker of all laws, ready to spring out at the first real opportunity.” 

Our son used to live in the city, and he said one of his pastimes was to sit out on the balcony of his apartment and check off the Ten Commandments as he saw them being broken.

And so today, most people are operating on an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments, a version that says, “Don’t Kill”.

The man asking Jesus the question didn’t seem to question why they had 613 commandments, he just wanted to know what was the most important one.  That if he had to make sure there was one that got obeyed, which one was it?

Because there were a lot of commandments in his life.

The Old Testament contained rules about what you could wear and what you couldn’t wear, what you could eat and what you couldn’t eat, and who you could sleep with and who you couldn’t sleep with. 

And sometimes, because of the multitude of commandments, we view God as a bit of killjoy who doesn’t want anyone to enjoy themselves. 

But the reality is that those laws were put into place to protect people.  To protect them physically, spiritually and emotionally.

And so, God needed a way that would stop the downward pull of sin’s whirlpool a way to reverse the downward slide of self-respect. He had to have a way of not only forgiving the sin that had been committed but also a way of protecting his children from the consequences of these sins.  And so, in the Old Testament he instituted a set of laws to live by. 

Listen to the words of Deuteronomy 28:1–2 “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.  You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

But It doesn’t take long in reading the Old Testament to realize that there are laws that don’t seem to apply to us today.  There are also laws that seem a little unreasonable, as well as some very pertinent laws.  What’s up with that?

Well first of all they had Changeable Laws.  Until Jesus came God relied on a system of laws to maintain civil order, ensure proper ceremonial procedures, promote good health practices, and foster good morality.  The laws governing the first three categories would be applied to meet a temporary need that existed at the time.

For example, today in Nova Scotia we have a law that permits you to turn right on a red light, after you stop.  That law wouldn’t have been necessary 100 years ago before there were red lights and may be not be necessary in a hundred years if there are no longer any red lights.   Maybe by then we will finally have flying cars.

And so we look at Old Testament laws like Deuteronomy 14:6–8 “You may eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud,  but if the animal doesn’t have both, it may not be eaten. So you may not eat the camel, the hare, or the hyrax. They chew the cud but do not have split hooves, so they are ceremonially unclean for you.  And you may not eat the pig. It has split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses.

Why would God establish a law concerning something like that? 

For the protection of his people is why. 

In an era without refrigeration, when it was very difficult cooking over open fires to make sure that meat was well done, the possibility of contracting  trichinosis (trick-o-no-sis) from eating undercooked pork was very much a reality. 

I don’t know about camels but it was only in 1911 that George McCoy and Charles Chapin first described the infectious disease tularemia, (tool-a-ree-mia) a disease that humans can contract from mammals such as rabbits and I presume Hyraxes.  A hyrax is like a gopher, but are more closely related to elephants and manatees.  Here’s a picture, kind of cute, until they aren’t. 

Those laws then were laid down for a specific time and aren’t necessarily relevant in this era of modern cooking and refrigeration.

Or when we read in Deuteronomy 22:8 “When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.

Now through the years we’ve built two new homes and having a barrier around the roof wasn’t a priority.  Why was it 3000 years ago?

Because, people back then had small homes with little rooms, a typical room might be 6 foot by 10 foot, and so they used the flat roofs of their homes as an extended living area, a rec room so to speak.  The law concerning the railing was there so that homeowners would take responsibility for the safety of the guests who used their roof.  It was a temporary or changeable law.  Today it only applies to decks and patios.

But there were other laws in the Old Testament that Unchangeable, they are as essential to our contentment and fulfillment today as they were then.

These are the moral laws, and these unchangeable laws should be looked at the same way that we look at the laws of nature. 

For example, the law of gravity. You don’t say “The law of gravity was fine when Newton first wrote about it in 1687 but this is the 21st century so it just doesn’t apply anymore.” 

Doesn’t matter what you think.  If you jump off a building not only are you breaking the law of gravity, but there is also a pretty good chance that you’ll break yourself as well. 

In the same way, when we break the moral law, we also break ourselves.

These moral laws as summed up in the Ten Commandments cannot be open to individual interpretations and application. 

You can’t stand back and say, “Well I’ll accept this one and that one, but these three, nah they are irrelevant to my life.”  I mean the Ten Commandments are not multiple choice.  You can’t say “I’ll pick the one on stealing and the one on murder, but I think I’ll skip the adultery one.” That seems to get skipped a lot these days. 

The Ten Commandments were and are to be regarded until the last day this earth is here as the unchangeable moral law of God and we disregard them at our own peril.

And so, we begin with God laying down why these laws should be important to the Israelites and ultimately to us.  You are probably familiar with the story:  Moses has led the Israelites out of the Slavery of Egypt, and after 60 days of wandering in the desert they come upon Mt. Sinai and it was there that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. 

The first thing that I want you to note this morning is the rational that God gave for why the Ten Commandments would be so valuable.    

Deuteronomy 5:6 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

1) I am the Lord   the very first reason is that there weren’t given by Moses, they weren’t man made or man written, they were God given. 

2) Your God Not only were they given by a God, they were given by your God, a personal God who is interested in your best interest which is displayed by the next thought

3) Who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.    This is not a God who is some aloof impersonal deity but instead is a god who is there for his people.  Whether that entails delivering them from the slavery of Egypt or delivering them from the slavery of sin.

And then God goes on to say in Deuteronomy 5:7 “You must not have any other god but me.

When Jesus answered the ruler, this was the commandment that he was referencing.  He’s actually quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4–8 Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.

And so here we have the Most Important Commandment

Do not have any other god but me.   Those who are familiar with the Commandments as they were taught to us as children will recognize this as Thou shalt have no other gods before me

Wilbur Williams was a professor of Biblical Literature and Archaeology at Indiana Wesleyan University for fifty years. Yes, he taught at the same university for fifty years.  And during that time he said he asked literally thousands of students to rearrange the Ten Commandments, putting what to them seemed to be the most important laws first. 

Williams said that 90% of the time the commandments were placed in a particular order

Here they are as we know them.

1) Do not worship any god except me.

2) Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth

3) Do not misuse my name

4) Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me

5) Respect your father and your mother

6) Do not murder.

7) Be faithful in marriage.

8) Do not steal.

9) Do not tell lies about others.

10) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.

Now here is the order that 90 % of the respondents put them in

1)  Do not murder.—6

2)  Do not steal.—8

3)  Do not tell lies about others.—9

4)  Be faithful in marriage.—7

5)  Respect your father and your mother—5

6)  Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.—10

7)  Do not make idols—2

8)  Do not worship any god except me.—1

9)  Do not misuse my name—4

10)  Remember the Sabbath Day—3

In almost every case Williams noted that Murder was considered the number one sin to avoid. 

It’s interesting to note that time and time again that people feel that the most important commandments are those which involve our relationship with other people and the least important involve our relationship with God.

Christ took a little bit of a different view then Dr. Williams students.  If we go back to where we started, when Christ was asked what the most important commandment was, do you remember his reply?  Mark 12:29–30 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’”

What God is saying in this first commandment is basically this, “If you want to be the happiest, the best adjusted, the most successful person that you can possibly be, you must keep me alone at the top of your affection.” 

You see in a lot of cases it’s not that we have problem keeping God #1, it’s the things that we allow to occupy the #2 spot and how easily they can move into that number one spot. 

It’s not that God is afraid of the competition; it’s that he knows that nothing else can be trusted with that spot. 

How many people have you known who have allowed family to occupy that top spot, only to have their spouse divorce them or their kids rebel against them? 

Or the person whose number one spot is occupied by their career and their job.  Everything is sacrificed for that god, only to arrive at work one day and find that they had been downsized or right sized or whatever they call it these days.

Or there are others who would point to their health, and if you look at the calendar and their finances, you will see that it holds the number one spot in their life.  It is their god.  And then they wake up one morning to find themselves dead.  Or sick or injured.    

This commandment is first in order to establish the foundation that devotion to God is the heart out of which all the other laws grow; and if this principle (that God is supreme in our life) is mastered first then any struggle you might have obeying the other nine is already half won.

Life is not worth living when you don’t have a god worth serving.

The truth of the matter is this, everyone one of you along with every person in Bedford, the HRM and the world worships a god of some kind.   

You might not call it a god, but when something occupies the highest place in your life, it is in effect your god.

The ancient people all had their gods.  They recognized them as gods. They called them by their names. They worshipped them and made them to represent a function that was important to a happy life. 

Some of those gods were, Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Bacchus, the god of wine.

Baal, the god of nature and procreation.

Serapis the bull, the god of productivity.

Mammon, the god of money.

Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana, the goddesses of sex.

 Aton the sun, the god of life.  As well as a plethora of other gods.

Today we use different names for these “powers.” 

We don’t venerate Athena we simply worship knowledge.  

We don’t name Bacchus; we just worship alcohol.

Nobody Worship Baal anymore, but how about procreation and family

We don’t talk about Serapis, it’s just our career

Mammon’s name doesn’t come up, we simply worship money. 

Aton isn’t mentioned instead we worship the sun on the beach. 

Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana aren’t very common names, we just refer to them collectively as sex. 

The name of the god is not important to God, what we are worshipping is.

You see we worship what we are inferior to.  You ever think about that?  Worshippers must always worship something above them.  For me to worship is to admit my inferiority to that which I worship, and to the superiority of that which I worship.  We don’t worship down.  We must worship up.  And there is only one up. 

Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm 8:3–5 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place—  what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?  Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.

Above us is only god.  Beneath us is everything else.  For us then, worship is due none other than God-not an angel, not a government, not a heavenly body, not the rain, not fire, not another person, certainly not an animal, or money, or sex, or fame, or popularity.  Only God alone.  So where are you at?

So, in 2021, what will be the most important commandment in your life?

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