The Ten Commandments summarize the good and gracious will of God for His children, and so also for you in particular. They reveal and describe, in short, how He would have you live.
In relation to the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, you are to live by His grace alone, by faith in His Word. That is, you are to look to Him for all that you need, to expect good things from Him, and to receive whatever He gives you with thanksgiving. By the same token, it also means that you fear Him alone, as the only true God, and that you love Him as your highest good, in comparison to which everything else in all of creation is nothing.
And in relation to your neighbors, including everyone the Lord has set before you and beside you in this world, you are to live in love — to do no harm, but to serve and support them in every need.
This good and gracious will of God, this way of life in faith and love, is here conveyed to you in the form of His commands and prohibitions. He tells you what to do, and what you must not do.
This summary of His Law has also been written on man’s heart, and for this reason it is also found to a large extent in the civil laws and regulations of the nations of the world, albeit imperfectly, at least with respect to your neighbor. Murder, theft, and false witness are all crimes. Disobeying your parents and other authorities and cheating on your spouse are recognized as wrongdoing.
By these ways and means, both by the special revelation of the Law and by the natural revelation of the created conscience, the Lord curbs outward evil and protects both you and your neighbor from anarchy and blatant outright wickedness. To say it bluntly, He protects your neighbor from you, and He protects you from your neighbor, especially by threats of punishment, consequences for sins, and the promise of rewards to those who do what is right in this temporal life on earth.
But the actual demands of God’s holy and righteous Law go far deeper than outward behavior and civil righteousness. Indeed, His discipline and right ordering of this body and life are aimed at a higher purpose, namely, that there should be sufficient freedom and opportunity for the preaching of His Word, so that you and your neighbor might be called and brought to repentance and faith.
The Lord wills that you are to fear, love, and trust in Him, not only from the heart, but with all of your heart, and with all of your mind, soul, and strength, indeed, with all that you are and have.
So must you also love and serve your neighbor from the heart, for God’s sake, in faith toward Him. Thus, again, you are not simply to refrain from hurting your neighbor, whether by word or deed, whether in his body, his family, his possessions or reputation; but you are to help him in every way that you can, gladly doing good, however you are able, even to those who sin against you.
That is what the Lord your God commands. That is how you are to live. But you do not do it.
You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You do not hear and heed His Word, and you do not call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. You do not live by faith. You do not trust that God loves you and that He is and will be doing you good. And so you do not love your neighbors, either. You envy and resent them. You curse and criticize in your heart and mind if not with your lips or on the internet. You do not gladly help and support your neighbors, but you do hurt them at times, in big and little ways, when you think you are getting away with it, as though there were no harm in such evil.
Consequently, as you consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments — which summarize the good and gracious will of God and His way of life for you — you are accused and condemned and sentenced to nothing but punishment, to temporal death and eternal damnation.
From this condemnation of the Law you cannot save yourself. You cannot make up for the wrong you have already done, nor are you capable of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps to fear, love, and trust in God as you must. You cannot do it.
If you imagine or suppose that you have been doing pretty well, and if you think for one minute that you have even come close to living in accordance with God’s holy Law, then you are lying to yourself, and you add sin upon sin with your prideful and presumptuous self-righteousness.
But He will not leave you in your pretense for too long. His Law will have its way with you and do its work in you, whether by convicting your conscience and calling you to repentance in this life, or by condemning your body and soul to death for your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love.
The problem is not with God’s Law, which is in fact holy, wise, and good, whether you agree with it and understand it or not. Actually, you cannot comprehend His wisdom, His holiness, or His goodness, nor can you consent to His will, until you have been broken of your own conceit and self-righteousness and brought to fear, love, and trust in Him. The problem is with you, because you are a sinner through and through, from the inside out, in your heart and mind, body and soul.
What you need, therefore, if you are to live, is a Savior from your sin, from your false belief and hardness of heart, and from your death and damnation. You need the Lord your God to save you.
Thanks be to God that, while His Law condemns you, it has also been fulfilled for you by Christ Jesus, who has indeed become your Savior from sin and death. God’s good and gracious will for your salvation and your life has not been thwarted by your unbelief and your unrighteousness. For this dear Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and fulfilled the entire Law on your behalf, in love for you, His neighbor (which is, of course, precisely to the point). When that same Law now puts you to death because of your sin, it is so that you should then be raised up to a new life in Christ.
Your true and lasting life is in Him alone, because the faith and love that the Ten Commandments require of you, Christ Jesus has lived for you and established for you and for all in His own Body of flesh and blood. He has thereby obtained the righteousness that is yours by grace through faith in Him; and He has opened the way of life to you, which is likewise by grace through faith in Him.
Really, this is what the Ten Commandments and the entire Word of God have always been about, that Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the fulfillment of the Law unto the righteousness of faith and life with God. It has always been the point that God Himself would thus give life to His own.
Therefore, Christ in His own flesh has lived in the fear, love, and trust of His God and Father, and by the faith and confession of His Word and promises, as we heard for example this past Sunday in our Lord’s rejection of the devil’s temptations. He has sanctified the Name of the Lord in all of His words and actions, and has perfectly fulfilled the Word and Will of God for your salvation.
So, too, all that the Law requires in love for the neighbor, Christ Jesus has done in love for you. That is to say, not only has He kept the Law on your behalf, completing what you have not and could not do, but He has also loved you, and He does love you, in all the ways the Law requires.
He does not murder you, nor harm you in any way, but He gives you life in body and soul, both here in time and in the Resurrection. As your heavenly Bridegroom, He is faithful to you in all things; yet He also calls you back and reconciles you to Himself when you have gone astray and cheated on Him. He does not steal from you, but He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for now and forever. Instead of testifying against you, He pleads for you with His own blood and defends you with His very life as your great Advocate, as your merciful and great High Priest.
He does not covet what you have, but though He was rich beyond measure, for your sake He made Himself poor, so that you should thus receive the riches of God and participate in His divine life.
Everything that God says about all of these Commandments finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus. He has lived the good and gracious Will of God in His own Body and Life, even unto death upon the Cross, and He has done so for you and your salvation. In His rising from the dead, therefore, you also rise and live with Him by faith in His Gospel. Your sins are all forgiven by His atoning blood, and you are reconciled to the Lord your God in His faithfulness and righteousness.
All the love and mercy and forgiveness that His Law requires of you for your neighbor are granted to you by the Lord Jesus Christ. Not because you are so good (you’re not), but because He is good. He is love. He is mercy. And, for His own sake, He forgives you all of your sins.
His perfect righteousness is credited to you; His perfect holiness is bestowed upon you as your beautiful and glorious dress; and His own life is given to you, so that you now live in Him, and He in you, in faith toward your true God and Father in Christ, and in His own love toward others.
It is in Christ Jesus, therefore, that the first three Commandments direct you to live by faith, to find your life, your peace and health and rest, in the Word and promise of His Holy Gospel.
The God whom you are commanded to fear, love, and trust above all things is the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has loved you from the very depths of His Being to the Cross and Passion of the incarnate Son. The Name you are commanded to hallow is the very Name that you have received from the mouth of the Lord in the waters of your Holy Baptism. And as the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ is now your God and Father in Him, so does He hear and answer your prayers, and He gladly accepts your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving with great pleasure.
When you thus sanctify the Holy Day by the Word and Spirit of God, as He has commanded you to do, you find that He has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified you as a beloved member of His Body and Bride, the Holy Church; and that He gathers you here to Himself within that holy fellowship, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in order to serve you, to love you, to feed you at His Table with the Body of Christ and His Cup of Salvation, and to give you His own Life in body and soul, now and forever.
So does He strengthen your faith with His forgiveness of your sins; and He keeps you steadfast in His Word by His preaching, day by day, week after week, from one year to the next, until He shall call you at last from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.
And so it is, beloved of the Lord, that by His Ministry of the Gospel, by His gracious Word and divine work of forgiveness, of mercy, and of steadfast loving-kindness, He gives to you the true Sabbath Rest from all your labors and the perfect Peace that surpasses all human understanding.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.