Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17 (Lent 3: Series B))

Reading Time: 4 mins

The Law does its work of killing so we are drawn to Christ who makes us alive by His death and resurrection.

What a magnificent text to preach on in Lent! During this penitential season, we can explore the depths of the Ten Commandments and search the meaning of them to root out our hidden sin on the way to the cross with Jesus. The key to our preaching of this text, though, is that all this law is in service of the Gospel proclamation which will be central to our task. The Law does its work of killing so we are drawn to Christ who makes us alive by His death and resurrection. The Gospel is doing what we could never accomplish by the Law. This is why it is a brilliant text for this season in the Church Year.

However, we may only have time to dive into one commandment. For this, we would do well to unpack the First Commandment (verse 3). Luther’s Large Catechism reminds us how every violation of any commandment is principally an infringement of the First Commandment (see the “Book of Concord; Luther’s Large Catechism: The Conclusion of the Ten Commandments” for more). So, if you had to pick one commandment, the First is really the best one.

For this sermon, we will use the Question Answered Structure:

“This structure identifies a significant question for the hearers (one that cannot be easily answered, and addresses matters which are significant to the hearers) and then theologically considers one or more feasible answers before arriving at a satisfactory resolution. The question is simple, memorable, and remains the same throughout the entire sermon. It cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no,” but invites the hearers into processing various answers. The movement toward a faithful response provides the dynamic progression of the sermon. This progression could be a movement from false answers to a true answer or from partial answers to a full answer. The preacher avoids trite false answers that will insult the hearers and the preacher seeks to have a final resolution which proceeds from the Gospel.


The sermon usually opens by depicting the human or textual dilemma that raises the focusing question. The answers are then arranged in a climactic scheme, offering more development to the later answers. In dismissing the false or partial answers, the preacher is clear about the theological reasoning which guides the discussion and, thereby, teaches the hearers how to think through matters theologically. Along the way, the preacher is careful not to raise distracting issues or to change the question. Finally, the sermon concludes by proclaiming the satisfactory Gospel-based answer.”[1]

To help you process this, the following is a possible Sermon Outline on this text:

  • Introduction: The Statement of the Question.
    • Question: What is your God?
    • Answer: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.”[2]

  • Statement of the First False Answer:
    • Ask your hearers to think about this only in their minds, without saying anything out loud.
      • What is that thing you care about the most in this world? What do you constantly think about? Obsess over? What causes you the most anxiety or fear? What do you desire the most? What is that thing, that if you were half awake and yet still asleep, which if you began to think about it would cause you to jump out of bed?
      • Here you could also include a serial depiction (this is usually done in three’s based on the principles of rhetoric) of some of the gods your people have or tend to have based on your knowledge of them (or you can contain these in the opportunity in section “C.a.i” below).
    • Whatever that thing was, there is your god.
      • Even the best of us would have to admit that somewhere along this line of thinking there was something other than God in Christ as our main thought.
      • That being said, we all have a First Commandment issue today.
  • Statement of the Second False Answer:
    • Whatever it was you might have been thinking about to yourself. The thought likely occurs to you that this thing, no matter what it is, is not actually all that bad.
      • Maybe it is parenting or our careers, technology, food, politics, or even the people we love or possibly even money. Here you can use the opportunity to name a few more “general “gods,” if you also named some above.
      • How can these things be idols? But in that wondering, maybe you realized somewhere along the way that, maybe, they are idols.
      • What is worse is it can often be humiliating to realize we have taken our idols, and actually presented them to God in prayer. We have essentially asked God to take care of our idols for us! How humiliating to realize we have strayed so far from all ten of the Ten Commandments.
    • Today, we are commanded to cast down and sacrifice our idols.
  • Statement of the Correct Question and Answer:
    • Let us take that question and change it just a little bit. Instead of asking, “What is your God?” let us ask: Who is your God? This question reveals a better insight.
      • Your God is the God who knows you.
        • He knows your faithless heart.
        • He knows your brokenness and fears.
      • Your God knows that even if you were to smash your idols, you would quickly rush back to pick up the broken pieces, to try and have them again, and you would even ask God for help in putting them back together.
        • But the help that God gives is not the help you would expect.
        • You would be right to expect judgment, rejection, and hatred from God.
        • Instead, God has given you something unexpected by grace through His Son.
    • God has given His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for your sin. He takes all the brokenness and faithlessness, and faithfully frees you from a life defined by rejection of God through His unconditional acceptance towards you by grace.
      • The resurrection is the end of all idol worship because Christ’s resurrection hope is real life.
      • Your idols, whatever they were, may have seemed to control your life but they are not what living is all about.
      • Only Christ’s resurrected life contains real living.
    • Were you looking for your idols to provide you with something for life?
      • Here your true God has provided all you will ever need in His Word and Sacraments.
      • He has provided you with your identity in the waters of Baptism.
      • He has provided you with security in the Lord’s Supper.
      • He gives you meaning in His holy Word, which gives you the truth about Jesus.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Exodus 20:1-17.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Exodus 20:1-17.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Exodus 20:1-17.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/question-answered/

[2] McCain, Paul Timothy, ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. 359.