We’ve all been there at some point. You’re a kid, and you just received a gift from someone. You rip into it, and you pull out that action figure, flashlight, or whatever it is that you wanted as a kid. Then, to your dismay, you find that the toy you received requires batteries, and the batteries are not included. What good is a gift that requires batteries but has no batteries? The toy is rendered useless until the right power source is supplied.
When God gives us the commands, he never fails to gift us with the grace we need to fulfill the commands. Without grace, the law reveals our sin and inability to follow through with God’s moral demands. However, God’s gift of grace changes everything
As we consider the Ten Commandments, it is of great importance we consider who God is and what he has done to bring us to the commandments. Leading up to the giving of the commands, God demonstrates his faithful love to the Israelites by time and time again extending grace. As one preacher puts it, “Grace precedes the law.”
Leading up to the Ten Commandments, we have nineteen chapters of God’s grace on display. God hears Israel’s cries for rescue from slavery in Egypt. He remembers His covenant with Abraham, and the Scriptures tell us, “God saw the people of Israel – and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25). In Exodus 3 and 4, God calls and sends his prophet, Moses, to lead and deliver his people. God says to Israel, “I am the LORD… I will deliver you.. and I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God,” (Exodus 6:6-7). God then demonstrates his power over Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods through the many plagues (Exodus 7-11). God graciously provides salvation through the blood of the lamb. Only by the shed blood of the lamb does death “pass over” Israel, thus establishing the celebration of the Passover feast.
Pharaoh relents and releases the Israelites. But as if release wasn’t blessing enough, the Lord gave Israel favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they left with Egyptian silver, gold jewelry, and clothing (Exodus 12:35-36). The Lord then leads his people by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day (Exodus 13:21). God turns the Red Sea into a highway in which Israel crosses over (Exodus 14). At Marah, he makes their bitter water sweet (Exodus 15:22-27). Later, Israel dines on quail and bread from heaven (Exodus 16). Water is provided once again, yet this time it comes miraculously from a rock (Exodus 17). Later on, in chapter seventeen, they’re provided with victory over their enemies in the battle against Amalek.
The story of God leading his people brings us to chapter 19, where he declares to the people of Israel:
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6
God sums up the first half of Exodus, saying, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself”. It is only after God’s demonstration of his faithful love and grace does he gives Israel the law. This display of grace is the backdrop to the commandments Israel needs. It is in the context of grace that the commandments are given, received, and obeyed.
We too need to be reminded of the story of God’s grace. Jesus connects us to this great story. The life of Christ echoes the exodus. As one author put it, “The life of Jesus is an exodus, hidden in plain sight.” What’s more is that the story of Jesus and his fulfillment of the law is done on our behalf.
Like Israel, Jesus makes his way out of Egypt, for God declares, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15).
Israel goes through the Red Sea to escape from Egypt. Likewise, Jesus goes through the waters of Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) to fulfill all righteousness so we might escape sin and death.
Like Israel, Jesus too walks through the wilderness being tempted to test God’s faithfulness (Matthew 4:1-11). Unlike Israel, Jesus walks faithfully and passes the test with flying colors. Through faith, Jesus’ passing grade is our passing grade.
Like Moses, Jesus ascends a mountain to give the law (Matthew 5:1). But before he gives the law, he has much more grace to give, a series of blessings (Matthew 5:3-12). Then Jesus reminds us he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. So if and when we fall, we are reminded that our righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness, the fulfillment of the law, the one who stood the test.
We have a front-runner in Christ who has gone before us to deliver us. Let us look to Christ, the founder, and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Christ’s blood has bought you more than enough grace to bring you through the wilderness of life and into the gates of heaven. Let God’s current, already-achieved blessings and grace be the driving force that helps you pursue holiness through the Ten Commandments. The commandments are a gift from God, and grace is included in all of God’s gifts.