6th Sunday after Epiphany “Too many Choices?”
February 12, 2023 Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
On any given Sunday, our OT reading is chosen to relate to the Gospel reading.
Today both lessons focus on obedience to God’s Law. If we could be saved by obeying God’s Commands, we would not need a Savior. God sent a Savior, so that by trusting in Him, we are redeemed from sin & death by God’s forgiveness. And now under God’s grace, as His redeemed people, how ought we to live? As we live by God’s teaching, it shows our faith in our Savior. ‘Talk is cheap’; but our actions show what we truly believe. Our actions take learning & effort to make those choices to live in God’s ways & not in the world’s sinful ways.
Being a Christian does not just mean you SAY you believe in Jesus; believing in Him means also obeying Him. As 1 John says, ‘for this is love for God, that we keep His commandments.’ ‘everyone who practices righteousness is born of God.’ And James says, ‘I’ll show you my faith by what I do; faith without works is dead.’ Jesus said (Matt.7), “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
So, our saving Christian faith is not just a ‘heart’ thing, but also a ‘life’ thing. We show that we are God’s people by behaving according to His holy ways. If we do not, we are either disobedient children, or we are not His children at all. This is the way it has always been for God’s people; whether in the OT or the NT times. What God told Moses back then are the same truths that Jesus spoke when He walked the earth. By God’s grace, He has called & chosen you & me to be His people; and He brought us into this saving faith. With this faith, the Holy Spirit now helps us to learn what are God’s holy ways, and to live in them.
Our OT lesson from Deut. 30 is part of the ‘farewell speech of Moses.’ He reminds them of God’s undeserved grace & mercy, displayed for them by God’s power & might, as he brought them out of Egypt, / saved them from their enemies, / & showed His steadfast love as he sustained them in the wilderness. In view of all this mercy & grace for them, *will they continue under His covenant of love, and walk with God, Or *will they turn away from him & his ways, and go back to being part of the fallen & condemned world? * What will they choose?
Life has choices. We see this on display in the grocery store. What kind of soup do you want = there’s a whole aisle of choices. What kind of dry cereal is there = you have 40 kinds to choose from. Life is that way in general; a multitude of choices. When I was growing up, you could live your life in the regular way, or you could be a ‘hippie’; that was the ‘alternate’ lifestyle. How many alternate lifestyles are there today? It seems like you can piece together a unique life by choosing from a variety of personal morals & truths & values that are all said to be ‘acceptable’ now. At last count, you can declare yourself to be one of 94 different gender identities & are not limited to God’s creation of just male or female. That’s life in a wicked & perverted world.
It’s true that God has even given us many choices in some things = such as: /what kind of house to you want to live in, /what kind of work do you want to do in your life, /what kinds of hobbies will occupy your time. There are many acceptable choices for these. But in other things, God offers only 2 choices: either A or B; either with Him or against Him. And if we want to remain with Him we will learn to choose what HE says is good.
So, God has Moses say, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” The choice of life & good is shown by obedience to God’s Commandments = His Bible defines what’s good. And as God places these commandments before us, He also creates in us the new life that enables us to acknowledge & obey His ways. So as it turns out, we really don’t have too many choices. God’s chosen people choose to do God’s set of good things.
Here in the last part of Deuteronomy, Moses’ time is done, and he gives a farewell sermon. He reminds the people of Israel of the ingredients of their relationship with the Lord their God. Moses states clearly what will bring blessings, and what will bring curses to their lives. Their choice is simple: Obey God’s commandments and be blessed; disobey and perish. There’s no middle ground. IF the Lord IS God, then you WILL obey His Word for life. But, IF you want to do your OWN thing, (like the rest of the world is doing), then you are NOT His blessed people. Basically there is one real choice: live a true life by aiming to obey God’s commands.
Earlier Moses said; “…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments…, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth… the Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself,… (when you)… WALK in his ways. … all the people of the earth shall SEE that you are called by the name of the Lord.” (ch.28)
This is not just the history of God’s people back then; this is OUR history because WE are God’s people right now. God chose & called Israel, and set them apart in fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12, when He said; ‘thru you all the nations of the world shall be blessed.’ As God wove his will throughout history, he gathered a people which he equipped & placed in a strategic location so that they would be a light to the nations; so that thru them all the nations of the world could know their Creator & have a Savior. The commands God gave to Israel were the means thru which they were able to be God’s light to the world; their lives would shine and draw other nations to know God & live rightly.
God’s commands are still the means thru which His people reflect the identity & priority of the true God of the universe, and shows how God expects all people to live rightly. For example, because of God’s 3rd Command, when we place a priority on our Sunday morning worship time, we show our family & friends that God is Lord of our life; He is not an optional part of our weekly life. God comes first; and His things are what give meaning & purpose to all the other things in our life.
When -before each meal- whether we’re at home or in a restaurant, we honor God by bowing our heads with a prayer of thanks; that choice says something about our lives with God. When our language & jokes are noticeable clean; when we aim to encourage others rather than tearing them down. When we express our repentance, and offer true forgiveness, then people will know we are living by God’s different rules instead of handling things the way the world does.
When you speak well about your spouse & children, instead of complaining & stereotyping what’s wrong with men,/ women, /or children nowadays, then people will see that God’s Bible ways are defining what it means to have a loving marriage and godly family. Just as with Israel, God still requires obedience to His Commands, so that we would continue to be a ‘light to the nations.’ And not just a ‘nice’ or religious light; but God’s own light, in God’s very particular & holy ways.
One of the complaints of God’s people is that His ways are just too hard to do. But God said thru Moses, “for this commandment that I command you today is NOT too hard for you.”
Our sinful nature does struggle with God’s holy commands. The Law calls on us to deny our natural urges & selfish desires; and the Law condemns those sinful things which the world presents as pleasures & rights for us to enjoy. We have an inner struggle of our faith against our sinful nature. Likewise, the rules-for-living God gave to Israel back then were much more than just those ’10.’ God had good rules for all areas of life. He gave directives for property rights, /for land & animals, /for employment, /for who & who not to marry, /for inheritance rights, /for handling rebellious children; He gave orders on /sexual morality, /ceremonial cleanness, /on offerings & foods, /and just about every other aspect of daily living. Living by God’s ways was very hard for them.
Living differently than the world around us IS hard for our old nature. But when God makes our old nature NEW, now His ways become ‘doable.’ Moses said it this way: “and the Lord your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and will all your soul, that you may live.”
This promise is fulfilled as Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to live & work in us, as thru Paul God says: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The Lord himself makes this change in his people, so that those commands will not be a burden. God’s people find relief in his guidance; there is real blessing to live in God’s right ways.
So, HOW does God do ‘surgery’ to cut out the hardness of a human heart toward him? By being merciful & gracious toward us; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God causes a change in the unbelieving heart by forgiving our sin. So God’s plan to change the rebellious heart of man was this: by continually and repeatedly loving the sinner & the rebel, even tho they didn’t deserved it.
That mercy has shown US that we could come to God without being condemned; and we could trust in God, who doesn’t want a sinner to die in sin, but to repent and live. This is why God has preserved for us the OT; so that ~thru history~ we can see & know the love & trustworthiness of our gracious Creator toward a rebellious creation. If God was merciful toward people back then, He is surely merciful toward US now; because that is the kind of gracious God He IS.
Now ultimately, there is a very specific reason why God is merciful toward His fallen world; it’s because His plan was to send His only Son to die on the cross to redeem mankind. THAT one event stands above all other events in history as what has turned the heart of God from condemning the world. Jesus is the reason God could love the world. Jesus’ atonement for the sins of all people is how we are delivered from God’s just punishment.
And as the work of Jesus has made the change in the heart of God toward us, so likewise the love shown to us thru the cross is what changes US to love God in return. Christ’s forgiving love in the cross changes our hearts; how can we rebel & disobey the God who paid the blood-price of our sin? When the Holy Spirit softens our hearts by faith in Christ, this changes our minds to be willing to walk with the Savior who loved us, according to His good teachings.
This is how God says it in 2Cor.5: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, … that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but FOR HIM, who for their sake died, and was raised. …Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
This is where the power of God comes from for God’s people to choose life, and to obey His good commands, & remain in this new life He has given us by living in His right ways.
This power of God is at work thru Holy Baptism, which the Bible says is a new kind of circumcision. God’s promise is applied with water, and washes away the hardness of the heart of original sin, and it gives a new birth in the likeness of Christ Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the power to rise each day, with our new heart & mind, ready to live before God in right & godly words & actions.
It is with this Baptismal faith that God instructs us to see the right choices we have when the world presents us with many wrong choices. God’s Spirit instructs us by His Word so that we will hear His voice, and follow in His good ways – more & more.
To His people, God said: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for he is your life and length of days,…”
We acknowledge that the world’s many bad choices have crept into our lives, and even into the churches, to make many people think there are many choices of how to live as God’s people. Yet Scripture declares that there is only one real choice: the choice of life & good, as found in keeping God’s commandments and rules, as He has written them down.
Obeying is what God’s loved & saved people DO. In light of Jesus & His cross, we will daily make our choices in the Bible’s good ways, so that we & our children may live, holding fast to God, for He is our life and our length of days.
THIS is the faith in which we live each day. And that’s how we are being a light to the world; so that others, too, may come to believe in the one God & Savior, to walk with Him, & to be blessed in His kingdom now, and in the one to come.