The Lord is Your Life
This isn’t the sermon I preached this past Sunday but it is one of my favorites so I thought I’d post it instead.
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your Godb that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Moses is standing on Mt Nebo talking to the Israelites. These are some of his last words he speaks to the nation. Can you imagine what is going through his head as he speaks these words.
He stands there and remembers all that has happened since he and the thousands before him first left Egypt. And as he speaks, all Israel is forced to remember with him.
Moses remembers first hearing God’s plan for him. He remembers being up on Mt. Horeb and God telling him, “I have heard the cries of my people.” He remembers being afraid to take God’s word to the Israelites because of his poor speaking abilities. As he stood there before God he could see God’s people as slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks, often beaten by the Egyptians.
Do you remember making bricks? Do you remember stomping in the mud while someone else added straw to make the job a little easier? Making bricks wasn’t all that difficult but it was the cruel Egyptians that made it hard. Stomping in the cool mud during the heat of the day is easy except for when you accidentally fall and an Egyptian beats you. Do you remember crying out to Yahweh in Heaven for deliverance? All you wanted was a word from Heaven proclaiming an end of the oppression you face. But it all seems impossible and beyond your reach.
Do you remember standing at the edge of the red sea. The crashing waves of the sea mean death in front of us and Egypt’s army with its chariots and legions of fighting men with Pharaoh leading them mean death behind us. Do you remember the doubting? Doubting whether it makes sense to have left Egypt to die. Doubting whether the God who has been absent for hundreds of years is now going to prove faithful in fulfilling his promise. You just want to be beyond the sea. All you want to know is how Moses is going to get you there.
As Moses speaks on Nebo’s mountainside his words ring more true in Israel’s ears than anything. His words of life and prosperity, death and destruction all bring images of God’s interaction with them since they were in Egypt. The words death and destruction remind them of when they hid in their houses with lambs blood painted on their door frames as they heard the cries of neighbors who just lost their firstborns. The words death and destruction remind them of their fathers and mothers. They are reminded of the lack of faith they had at Sinai, the idolatry that followed and the forbiddance of them to enter the promised land. The death of a whole generation of people.
Moses words of death and destruction evoke memories of fighting the Amalekites and how they were defeated. They remember Moses on the hillside sitting on a rock with Aaron and Hur holding his arms up so that the Amalekites might be destroyed.
As the Israelites stand there at the edge of their promised land the words life and prosperity carry with them hope and the assurance of God’s faithfulness. Words of life force them to recall times when they were so close to death that only God’s intervening hand kept them alive. Remember waking every morning to collect the manna that formed. It was as if with each new day the promise of life in the desert was revealed through the bread that was provided. Remember at twilight the quail appearing. Out of nowhere, life showed itself in Israel’s midst.
As Moses Speaks to Israel, they realize that what he is commanding them really isn’t difficult and beyond their reach. They can look back on their lives and history and see that what God has promised is being fulfilled. Their history allows them to understand exactly what Moses has been saying to them. All we have recorded in Exodus and Leviticus; All that Israel knew about the law was no longer a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s word is near to them. As Moses says, “it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
It seems like Moses makes it an easy choice for Israel. He says in verse 16, ” For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” It seems pretty cut and dry. Love God, walk in his ways and keep his commands. Moses makes it simple. In essence he boils it down to your typical three point sermon. He says if you do all this, you will live and increase and God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. Why wouldn’t everyone follow Moses three-step guide to the blessings of God? It’s a whole lot better than the alternative.
He says in verses 17 and 18, “But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” Why wouldn’t everyone follow the three-step guide to prosperity over the three step guide to destruction? The choice doesn’t seem hard to me. You would think the three-step guide to prosperity would be just as popular as Dr. Atkins low-carb diet. All the street vendors would be marketing their latest papyri scrolls on how to make it happen. If you are extra dedicated to achieving prosperity in the promised land get your own copy of God’s top ten on two stone tablets for your mantel. You would think, that with all that Israel went though they would be able to chose life over death. You would think that, standing on Mt. Nebo, they would be able to look out into the land that was promised to them; the land they left Egypt for. The land they wandered in the desert for 40 years for and say, “I’m willing to do what it takes to take God up on his offer of blessings and prosperity, sign me up for life!!”
Do you ever read the stories in the Old Testament and wonder if the Israelites could get anymore clueless? You read about how they abandoned the way of the Lord and adopted the lifestyle of the Canaanites and it reminds you of lemmings. Do you know what a lemming is? A lemming is a small rodent that actually migrates from one place to another. At a particular time during the year the lemming will change its living location. Probably what lemmings are known for most is when they migrate, they just follow the lemming in front of them. In essence you may have thousands and thousands of lemmings that are following one other lemming. For some reason this lemming leader often doesn’t know where he is going and will lead all the follower lemmings off cliff into the sea. Now, if I were a lemming…when I saw the cliff’s edge, no matter how much I liked the lemming in front of me, when I saw the edge of the cliff, I would do all I could with my little lemming muscles to stop myself from being destroyed by falling off a cliff.
For some reason the Israelites followed the Canaanites all the way off the cliff. They had warning of the destruction that would follow but that didn’t stop them from joining in the Canaanite festivities. You would think that looking back on their history they would have remembered how God was faithful in their lives and how they knew what they were supposed to do and that they would have stopped themselves before they met the destruction they did. To make things worse, this happened over and over again.
Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “If I had been an Israelite, I wouldn’t have done that?” Do you ever find yourself thinking to yourself as you read the Old Testament, “Why don’t the Israelites remember that what they are doing is so wrong and God specifically told them not to do it. How many times are they going to have to mess up before they understand what they are doing to themselves?”
Do you ever catch yourself thinking the same thing about yourself? If you are anything like me, you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes you wonder Why can’t I just get my act together?
Is it because we don’t really know what is wrong? Are we ignorant of any sort of moral truths by which we are to live? I don’t think so. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Could we just we excuse it by saying we are generally good people and that should be good enough for God? I have known a lot of people who think that. They believe in God and they think that if they just donate enough money to the salvation army or simply obey the laws and pay taxes that they will be saved. Have you known anyone like this. These people don’t understand what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ with ever increasing glory. Or what Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.”
Do we just need to love God more? Is it this simple? Its easy for us to say it was so simple for the Israelites but when we ask ourselves how much we are loving the lord our God with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind and ALL our strength, it becomes much more difficult.
In a world where God’s word seems so far away, its easy to understand why loving God with our all could be so difficult. In a world where death seems so pervasive, any message of life is almost counter-cultural. We have sexual lifestyles that only lead to death being legalized. There’s war coverage on every news channel. Its in the movies and on the television shows. This all in addition to the mere fact that death is the end we all will eventually meet unless the Lord should come first. Is loving God more difficult in this world that seems to pride itself on issues that only lead to its destruction? I think it is. I think it is.
But there’s good news. God is more faithful than we are. God is more faithful than we are. When all of Israel has turned its back on God, He still provides the manna. God is more faithful than we are. When all of Israel has worshiped idols, He still leads them into the promised land. God is more faithful than we are. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can stand. God is more faithful than we are. He says that God will always provide us with a way out when we are tempted. God is more faithful than we are.
This leaves us with a choice. We have a choice just as the Israelites did on Mt. Nebo. It is obvious which decisions lead to life and prosperity and which lead to death and destruction. It is not too difficult for us, nor is it beyond our reach. The answers are not up in heaven that we need to ask what we ought to do. God’s word isn’t far away. It is in our mouths and in our hearts so we can obey it. We have set before us life or death. As Moses says, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.”