6th Sunday after Pentecost (A)
February 12, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy.
One of Emmanuel’s members is fond of saying that life often comes down to the choices we make, and he’s right. Some choices don’t matter a whole lot: when you go grocery shopping, wearing a blue shirt instead of black, eating at Cattlemen’s or the Dock It. Other choices have significant ramifications: enjoying television shows and webpages that corrupt your mind, using drugs leads to a downward spiral, choosing to reject God leads to eternal death. That last one is obviously a biggie, for its consequences aren’t temporary, they’re eternal. God has laid a choice in front of His people and this fallen world: life or death, blessing or curse, Heaven or Hell. Make the wrong choice and the end is horrifying, but make the right choice, and the end is eternal, glorious delight.
Our Old Testament reading is the culmination of a very lengthy sermon by Moses which started three chapters earlier. The people of Israel are preparing to enter the Promised Land of Canaan while Moses is preparing to enter the Promised Land of Heaven. Before he dies, Moses reminds the people of all that God had commanded them. This reminder is crucial, for on the opposite shore of the Jordan River stands a new land with new threats to their faith and salvation. Now is the perfect time for the Lord’s people to hear God’s Law and His Gospel.
The Law is the part of the Bible that tells us what God expects of us as it clearly states what we are to do and not do. The Law is found, among other places, in the Ten Commandments and Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. The Law also lays out the consequences of disobeying God. He says, “If your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” This isn’t an idle threat! God gives us His Law to keep us safe, to maintain peace in the world, and to help us live holy lives even as He has made us holy. But as breaking the government’s laws have consequences, so does breaking the Lord’s.
Despite the faithful leadership of Moses and Joshua, Israel chose again and again to break God’s Law and as a result they were punished. All these years later, not much has changed. Like last week, this week’s readings aren’t aimed at unbelievers. The Law still applies to them, and our prayer is that they will hear the Law, repent of their sins, and receive the blessed Gospel. Today, though, the threats and promises of Moses’ sermon are for those who bear Christ’s name.
As Christians you’d think we’d make better choices. A quick survey of our own life would reveal that being Christian doesn’t mean always making good choices. And why is that? It’s because by nature we don’t like the Law, we don’t like the Ten Commandments, we want to do our own thing, make our own choices.
God’s Law is a heavy burden for sinners because it keeps us from doing the things our flesh desires. You have a sinner inside who struggles to make good choices. The Israelites were tempted by gods of wood and stone. You’re tempted by gods of wood and stone, but which also appear in digital form. The Israelites were encouraged by the gods to sacrifice their children. Christians are encouraged to sacrifice their children to the god of the transgender movement. The Israelites enjoyed the sexual immorality of the pagans around them. You’re lured by premise that what you do with your body doesn’t really matter, and that sex outside of marriage isn’t that big of a deal. The Israelites took God’s grace and forgiveness for granted. You and I take God’s grace and forgiveness for granted.
And what happens when we make bad choices? We get hurt. And if we don’t get hurt, we still must face the reality that we’ve broken God’s Law and the consequences will be severe. God promised the Israelites that if they disobeyed: “You shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” In time, the word of the Lord came true, and the Biblical nation of Israel ceased to exist. If we repeatedly disobey God, if we violate His Law without regret, if we make a life that focuses on worthless things instead of the pure and perfect God, we too will suffer the consequences; if not in this life, certainly the next.
When the people finally crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they were overwhelmed by what they encountered: exotic fruit, trees, milk, honey, precious metals. It was a perfect blessing from God! These were temporal blessings even while Israel reached for eternal blessings too.
America is the Promised Land for those seeking refuge and citizenship, and we are, without a doubt, the most blessed nation in the world. All those who live in America are blessed by God. As Jesus says, “For [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We Christians are doubly blessed. We’re blessed to receive all the gifts of God that we use every day. But please remember that you’re not blessed because you’re more faithful than others, nor are you less blessed because you’re not as faithful. We have different levels of material blessings, but when it comes to the eternal blessings, we all share in the same forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. This is the Gospel! God’s greatest blessings come in the Gospel, where He absolutely freely, apart from your works, grants you forgiveness. The Law condemns your sins, the Gospel forgives them. The Law commands you what to do and not to do, the Gospel tells you what Jesus has done for you.
Moses’ servant Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Can you guess whose name shares the same root word as Joshua? Jesus! He is the Joshua who brings us into the heavenly Promised Land. He leads us to the Promised Land which flows with milk, honey, and blessings beyond our expectations. He brings you into this promised land by choosing death in your place. His death, as horrible as it was, was His choice for you! He chose to obey His Father and be punished for all your violations of God’s Law. He chose to obey His Father because it was through His death that the glorious Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins became a reality for you. He chose you! You are the choice He loves with an eternal love.
God didn’t want the Israelites to obey Him because they were afraid of being punished, He wanted them to obey out of thankfulness. This goes for you as well. To obey out of fear eventually leads to despair because you see how you fail to meet the demands of the Law. When you obey out of thankfulness, you understand that every blessing you have is because God is good and gracious beyond measure.
By His grace, you can make good choices which lead to more blessings. To chose to avoid adultery and lust means a healthy marriage. Choosing sexual purity before marriage means a connection with your spouse unlike any other, not to mention avoiding things like diseases and emotional distress and regret. To choose to obey the law means a peaceful life. Choosing to receive the Lord’s gifts as often as possible means strength for the spiritual battles of the day. Choosing to bring your children to Sunday school and worship means giving them the greatest gift of all, a saving relationship with God, and the knowledge their sins are forgiven and that they are always God’s children. As Moses says, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.” You have choices to make, and by the grace and power of God, you can make the right ones.
In the third Indiana Jones movie, the Nazi general picks out what he thinks is the Holy Grail and drinks from the fountain. As he finishes the drink, he suddenly quickly aged, decayed and disappeared in a cloud of dust. When the dust settled, so to speak, the elderly knight said, “He chose poorly.” To chose poorly when it comes to the spiritual things of God, including His Law, means to choose death. Life comes when we chose the things of God. The Lord has chosen you as His special possession, by His power, choose to follow Him all the days of your life and you will find that you’ve been chosen for blessings beyond your comprehension.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen