Starting place or destination?

Background Scripture Exodus 20. Devotional Reading: John 1:14-18.



Recently I read that someone has called The Ten Commandments: “God’s Magna Carta.” This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of both the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was a document that some of the English nobility forced the despotic King John to sign on June 15, 1215, as a limitation of royal powers, recognition that even the king was bound by laws. This charter is still on the books of English and Welsh law and is commonly regarded as one of the first important statements of human rights. The Magna Carta, however, was drawn to establish and protect rights for the nobles, not the common people. Furthermore, both King John and many of his successors violated both its letter and spirit whenever they could.

The Ten Commandments were established by God with the Israelites under Moses some 2500 years before the Magna Carta – 3000 years before the Declaration of Independence. It was based not so much upon a legal foundation, but upon the covenantal relationship between God and his people. When God delivered the Ten Commandments to them, he was specifying to them what was required if the covenant relationship was to continue and endure. A STARTING PLACE

Just as the Magna Carta is often misinterpreted as a declaration of human rights, so the Ten Commandments are frequently misrepresented as the bedrock law of Christianity. But as Christians we honor the Ten Commandments, not as the “most” of Christian morality, but the “least.” It is incredible to think that after 2000 years of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Ten Commandments are still considered by many as the norm of Christian living. As the Ten Commandments defined the nature of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, so the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commandment, and the Golden Rule, define the SPI RI T

nature of the New Covenant between Jesus and his people.

So the Ten Commandments are for Christians, not the finishing place of Christian morality, but the beginning of it. The Gospel carries us considerably beyond where the Ten Commandments leave off. Maybe that’s why so many of us settle for the Ten Commandments: they ask a lot less of us than the Gospel. Jesus did not repeal the Ten Commandments, but seeks to carry us well beyond them. In our world today, if you pretty well keep the Ten Commandments society will judge you as respectable and sufficiently moral. But keeping the Ten Commandments doesn’t make us Christian! NO IDOLS!

One of the Ten Commandments that are largely ignored as obsolete is: “You shall not make for yourself
an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven

above, or that is on earth beneath, or that is in the
water under the earth…”
(3:4). We assume this as archaic because we do not worship idols today. Still, some religious groups interpret this as a prohibition of art and even symbols in their places of worship.

So, why is this one of the commandments? One reason is that when material images or are used to represent God, they can become substitutes for God. An object – say the cross – may begin as a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on Calvary, but in time the cross may itself be regarded as a source of power or grace, thus entering into competition with God.

A material thing can also become a limitation of God. A magnificent cathedral, a powerful denomination, or a measure of political power, instead of representing the greatness of God, may simply reflect human ego and the lust for power. The heart of the Ten Commandments is the living covenant relationship between God and his people. No idols need apply! The law is greater than any idol, and the gospel is greater than any law.