Quick-what are the Ten Commandments? Can you name them? If you are having trouble, you might want to glance over at Exodus 20 to refresh your memory.
When I say the word “commandment”, your mind probably automatically goes to the Ten Commandments. But to understand the Ten Commandments we need to go back a little further into Israel’s history. The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. Pharoah was abusing them and forcing them to construct buildings with very few building materials. This had been going on for years when Moses comes on the scene. God, through Moses, uses the plagues to set the Hebrews free.
It is after the Hebrews are set free that they receive the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the right response for the People of God after they have been made free. It’s not that by doing these things they will be made free. It’s not that the Hebrews have to do these things first, then they will be made free. The idea is that the Hebrews have already been made free and the Ten Commandments (and by extension the rest of the Law) are the proper way to respond to the freedom they have already been given.
That is the story of the Ten Commandments in a nutshell. So along comes this teacher named Jesus in New Testament times. One of the things Jesus has been accused of is overthrowing the Scriptures, including the Law, the Ten Commandments, and overthrowing previous religious history while attempting to start a cult. The religious leaders see their power being taken away from them right before their eyes.
So the religious leaders decide to try to trap Jesus. They set him up with a question they think he cannot answer safely. They ask him “Which commandment is the greatest?” After Jesus picks one commandment, they can ask why he didn’t pick this other one–doesn’t this other one matter too? Or is he to trying to ignore some of what Moses taught?
So how does Jesus answer? He gives two more commandments–two commandments which reflect some in the Old Testament. The Greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. The Second Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, all of the Law can be summed up in these two commandments.
These two commandments should serve for us Christians as the Ten Commandments did for Jews. It is not by these two commandments that we are saved. It is not because we follow these commandments that we make it into heaven. It is not because we follow these commandments that we are saved or made free. It is only by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are made free.
But, after we have been saved, after we have been made free, our right response is to follow these commandments. If we want to have a right relationship with our Savior, the only proper response is to follow these commandments.