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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Glimpse of Our Beautiful Future
Text:Deuteronomy 34:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-07-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 16:1,3                                                                                            

Ps 79:3,5

Reading – Numbers 20:1-13; Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34:1-12

Ps 106:1,3,10,15,22

Sermon – Deuteronomy 34:1-5

Hy 73:1,2,3

Hy 71:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, is there anything you’re looking forward to? Something you’re excited about? Perhaps high school graduation, or getting married, or buying a house, or traveling! We anticipate the days of growing up, or of moving out, getting a job, or maybe retiring. Yet the future is more than our plans for next year. As we go through this life, we need a regular reminder of what it’s all really for. What’s our big purpose and the real goal?

Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is forward-looking. You might know that for this entire book, more than thirty chapters, the Israelites have been standing in the same place: they’re on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. Here Moses is addressing them about what they need to know about their life as God’s people.

As you can imagine, Moses has been talking a lot about the future. He’s told the Israelites about what they must do in their new home in the land, how to live and love and worship there. He has forecasted good things if they serve God with their whole heart and soul.

This future-focus doesn’t change in this last chapter. Only now it takes on a different tone. For we look away from Israel’s future as a nation, to the future of just one man, Moses. Where’s he going? What does he have to look forward to? And as the people of Christ, what do we have to look forward to? This is our theme from Deuteronomy 34:1-5,

Moses, the leader of God’s people, passes on to glory:

  1. the faithful service he gave
  2. the serious mistake he made
  3. the amazing view he saw

 

1) the faithful service Moses gave: By this last chapter, Moses has been talking for a good while: thirty chapters of instruction, history, exhortation, and even a new song. But now he’s done. After blessing the tribes in chapter 33, he turns and climbs Mount Nebo, “to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho” (Deut 34:1). He’s going to die, so this is a fitting moment for some words on his life—it’s time for a eulogy to be spoken. What could we say about this man?

In general it seems that the words spoken at funerals aren’t always honest. No one wants to be disrespectful to the dead, or insensitive to the grieving. Sometimes bad traits get swept under the rug, and minor accomplishments are over-inflated. But for Moses, it’s different. For who writes the last word on him? The LORD himself! At the end of Deuteronomy, God gives an honest appraisal on Moses’ life.

Which actually raises a sticky question about chapter 34. Just who’s writing this? We say that Moses wrote all the previous chapters of Deuteronomy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But what about this final chapter? Could he have recorded his own death? Could he have written his obituary ahead of time, like some people do?

It’s possible that a later writer added this last chapter. For if you read carefully the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and this one), there are other “editorial comments” scattered here and there—so another one wouldn’t be out of place here. And if not an editor, it could be that the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write these words about himself, shortly before his death. It’s definitely within the Spirit’s power to write something prophetic!

At any rate, what we have in this last chapter are honest words—and divine words—about one of God’s servants. This is in fact one of the most revealing things you could say about the man Moses: he was “the servant of the LORD” (34:5).

When we look at Moses’ life in full, we see extraordinary service for God. For example, consider 34:11, “[Moses did] all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land.” This was probably the greatest event in his life: he had led God’s people out of Egypt, led them into salvation.

And even that was just one part of an entire life of being a servant. For it says “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died” (34:7). He had spent forty years in Pharaoh’s household, being prepared. Forty years in the wilderness of Midian, being prepared some more. And then forty years of shepherding Israel through the desert. 120 years—an entire life-time of doing God’s will!

That’s really the heart of being a servant of God. In the Bible, a servant is someone who has renounced all his rights. A servant (or a slave) has given up his pleasures and pursuits, all for another person’s cause. And so a servant of God is someone fully committed to the LORD—he’s committed, even at great cost to himself. This is the highest compliment and greatest honour, that at the end of Moses’ life, God calls him a “servant of the LORD.” It’s a special title that actually isn’t applied to many people: it’s said of Abraham, Joshua, David, some of the prophets and apostles—and about Moses.

Today we use the phrase more loosely: we say that an office bearer is God’s servant; a missionary is God’s servant; or we say that we’re all “servants of the LORD.” Not that we shouldn’t use the term. But let’s realize what it signifies, the weight that it carries. If you’re a servant of God, it really means that you have to be totally occupied with doing God’s will. It means that day by day, we’re focused on God’s plan and his honour, not our own position.

Being the LORD’s servant wherever He has put you means making sacrifice and enduring hardship. For every person who will be called God’s servant, there is the need for daily and selfless service, the need for resolute commitment to God. Now, that can almost sound do-able in a Sunday sermon, but let’s make it more real.

For example, if you’re servant of the Lord, and you love the Lord, and want to grow that love, it takes sacrifice—you’ll have to give up any of the sinful habits that you’ve come to cherish, and we’ll need to put to death our selfish ways.

Or if you want to serve God by being more active in your church, in this congregation of believers, that takes sacrifice too. You might have to give up some of your quiet Sunday in order to be hospitable to someone lonely, or give up some of our hard-earned money to support the ministry of the gospel.

Raising children takes sacrifice too—we’ll have to sacrifice time and energy to really be with our kids, and to teach them in the right way. In short, if we’ll be committed to Christ as his servants, there will be forms of trial and hardship. But this is what servants do. Not because we love pain, but because we love God!

No, no human is ever going to be like Moses in service. It says, “Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut 34:10). In some ways, he’s in a category all on his own. Yet Moses gives us something vital to learn from. For without this one thing, Moses would’ve accomplished nothing: it was his own relationship with God. See that the LORD knew him “face to face.” God and Moses were deeply familiar with each other. Not just in the sense that God sees and knows everyone. No, between the LORD and Moses there was open communication, trust and obedience, there was a oneness in purpose. This servant knew his Master’s will!

For years, Moses had a daily meeting with God at the tabernacle, the house of worship. In Exodus 33:11 we read, “[There] the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” Here is the essential requirement to being a servant of the LORD. This is the only atmosphere in which true service of God can take place: through a living and lively connection to the LORD.

And it must be the same for every servant of God! Perhaps we want to achieve great things for Christ and his church. Maybe this is our desire: we want to do something meaningful with our life for God, something that will endure to a coming generation. Or perhaps it’s more ordinary, and we simply want to be faithful in the place God put us: diligent in our home, engaged in our congregation, industrious at school and work, and active in the community. That’s not a small thing either.

To somehow serve God with your whole life is a good ambition, a worthy desire. But here is where it has to start: your relationship with the LORD. For God can use us to do good and worthwhile things for his glory—He will use us. But not if we don’t know him, not if we don’t listen to him. Being busy with many things isn’t the same as being busy with God. A true servant will always return to the tent of meeting!

So we need the time to pray. Take the time to listen to God’s Word, in your home, in the church, with our fellow saints. Cultivate a deep commitment to the Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord, and a commitment to his people. If you want to be a faithful servant, then you first need to know the Master, and you need to know his will from the Word. Then you will do worthwhile things, lasting things, things praiseworthy in God’s eyes.

Beloved, think about this: at our life’s end, God will write also our epitaph, a summing up of our life. The LORD alone will give the last word on what we’ve done. And the God who knows you will be completely honest. Looking ahead if you can, what would God say about you? Would He say that you tried to do his will, for as long as He gave you life? That you repented every day, sought his forgiveness in Christ, and resolved every new day again to do his Word? Would God call you his servant?

 

2) the serious mistake Moses made: One of the Bible’s many qualities is that it’s realistic. In it we meet people just like us. Even the “great” figures—Moses, together with Abraham and David and Paul—all of them were sinners who needed abundant grace, just like us.

For on the same day that Moses finished his speech, God told him to climb Mount Nebo. Take note that this mountain is outside the Promised Land, and this is where Moses will die. Now, he was a really old man, yet “his eyes were not dim nor his natural vigour diminished” (Deut 34:7). In other words, he was fully able to complete the journey he’d started. Another ten kilometres was nothing for Moses. But Moses would not cross!

And he knew exactly why. Says the LORD, “You trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow me in the midst of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:51). God recalls an event which happened in the very last year of desert wandering.

Once again, the Israelites ran short of water. Once again, they complained. And once again, God said He would provide water. The LORD gives Moses instructions: take your staff, gather the people, and speak to the rock, and water will come. But Moses has other ideas. He takes his staff and strikes the rock, even twice. And the punishment is swift and direct. God rebukes Moses (and Aaron as well), and says: “You will not bring this community into the land that I give them” (Num 20:12).

We could make excuses for Moses. In this failure, he shows some of the signs of burn out—after all, he’d been leading this people almost forty years. And they weren’t an easy flock to shepherd. What’s more, Numbers 20 tells us, his dear sister Miriam had just died and been buried. At this moment at the rock, Moses is a tired, grieving, frustrated man. No wonder he snapped.

But every excuse aside, remember who he was. He was a servant of God. His mission was to do God’s will! We don’t know what moved him to strike the rock. But God boils it down to its heart: “You did not hallow me in the midst of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:51). Moses had another opportunity to show what’s most important for a servant: that God always comes first, even when we don’t feel like putting him first. Yet Moses failed.

Moses hitting the rock is a realistic picture, isn’t it? For we get impatient with God. Or we grumble against what He’s doing: this is not the way that we preferred to have things go, or the way we expected. Or how often our regular and characteristic sins return—sins like our temper, or lustful thoughts, or greed—how often these sins crop up again in moments of weakness! And even when we do the right thing, how often don’t we do it with the wrong motives? The bottom line: we fail to uphold God’s holiness and honour.

For Moses, the punishment was heavy: “You shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel” (Deut 32:52). The thing that he’d looked forward to for so many years was being taken away. Going through all those things he did, those 120 years—after all that, to come this far, but he’s not allowed to enter Canaan. “Just” because of that one mistake!

Beloved, what do you think of this: Is God too harsh with Moses? Honestly, isn’t this punishment a little severe? But really, to put this in proper perspective, we could ask the same about our own sins. Is God too harsh? If we believe what Scripture says, then you and I need to tremble before God’s holiness. All we have is guilt and shame. All that we deserve is death, to be shut out of heaven. But God’s mercy alone preserves us!

Moses pleaded for God to change his mind. But then he accepted this judgment, convinced that God doesn’t make mistakes. God was holding him to a high standard, as the leader of the people; Moses was expected to set a holy example, and he had not.

Justice, but also mercy—Moses knew that with God, there’s always grace. And grace is shown here too. Moses had sinned, but he wasn’t destroyed. He sinned, but God still gave water at the rock. He wasn’t allowed to enter the land, but he was allowed to see it.

Doesn’t that give great hope to all God’s servants? At the end of his life, Moses had his regrets. I think that we’d all acknowledge regrets too. Any of us, if we’re at all humble, will see that there have been many missteps and mistakes. Regrets: because for us, this life has so often not been about God’s holiness—hallowing his name—but it’s been about us, attaining our own goals, fulfilling our own desires. We’ve been disobedient to God, and forgetful of Christ. We’ve sometimes treated our relationship with God like it’s the least important thing.

We’ve also failed those people who needed our love, like our neighbors or the people in our church family. Even those closest to us, like our parents, or our spouse, or our children, we’ve dishonoured. There are hurtful things we’ve said and done that can’t be taken back. There are things that we should’ve said, and we should’ve done, but we never did—and now it’s too late. Some of the results we live with still. That can be a very painful thing. Like Moses on Mount Nebo, looking back, we have our sorrows and regrets. If only we could go back and change what has been done.

Maybe it can’t be changed anymore. But it can be forgiven. We don’t serve a God who is harsh and unforgiving; He’s not a God who gives up on us, the moment we stray. His grace is enough to cover all our regrets. He forgives every sin and shortcoming and He helps make sense out of every disappointment and loss.

God shows grace, because there was someone greater than Moses. He was the greatest prophet of all; He was the greatest mediator between God and his people: our Lord Jesus Christ. And think of how Christ failed not once in his duties. He never wavered from his task. He was perfectly holy, and He endured the wrath of God for all our sin. And by faith we can share in what He did! By Christ’s work He has made possible for us a new life, and a glorious future.

 

3) the amazing view Moses saw: Have you ever stood on a viewing platform? Maybe in the mountains somewhere you came across a nice spot for overlooking a wide terrain. That’s what Moses did too. He went up Mount Nebo, northeast of the Dead Sea: “The LORD showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar” (Deut 34:1-3).

We don’t know exactly what happened on the mountain. Does it mean Moses could physically see all those places—that he was given telescopic vision? Or did he simply look into the different directions that Israel was going to extend? The point is, Moses was allowed to see the land God that had promised. Why? Wasn’t this just a tormenting glimpse—a bit of salt in the wound? “You can see, Moses, but because you sinned, you cannot touch!”

It’s much more than this. To understand it, we can think about “real estate law” in the ancient world. Back then, if there was going to be a transfer of land, the transfer was made official when the buyer made his last inspection. This was “signing on the dotted line,” when someone went to physically look at what he’d purchased.

For instance, God told Abram to do this, back in Genesis 13. “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” This meant that the land was his: Abram had seen it, so he’d have it. In the same way, God gave Moses the privilege of seeing Canaan. He got to claim the land by faith. By faith Moses saw the future, and it was bright.

This is such abundant grace! There was a consequence for Moses’ sin, but God was so good toward him, as He is good to all his servants. For Christ’s sake, God shows grace every day of our life, and then at the end of our life, He even gives us a rich share in glory.

Beloved, think of what we’re promised: a place where all things are made new, and where lives are free of failure and brokenness and regret. Perfected bodies and perfected minds, free of cancer and depression and addiction, and free of any fear of death. A place without the anger and bitterness and strife that we know here below. We’re promised no tears, or pain, or sorrow anymore. We’re promised a joy in Christ without end, a blessedness beyond measure.

Sometimes we want it all, this side of eternity—we want a life of prosperity and peace, a life of good health and perfect happiness. But God tells us for the greatest things, for the lasting things, we’ll have to be patient.

And then as we wait, God brings us to the mountain! God lets us have a look, a glimpse of that glory in store. We get these glimpses when God’s peace fills us in the midst of trouble. We get a glimpse of glory when we experience the Spirit’s joy in worship, or when doing good for Christ brings us a true delight. We get a glimpse of coming glory when we commune with God in prayer, and we know him to be very near. At Holy Supper, we receive a foretaste of the abundant joy which He has promised.

Whenever we stand on the viewing platform of God’s Word, we can see all the wonderful things He’s promised! We see our inheritance, and it fills us with excitement. And God does this to affirm that it is all ours. When we see it, we get to claim it by faith. All the goodness of God and the gospel that we enjoy today is a guarantee, a promise that the best is yet to come!

Today is important, and while we’re here, we’ve got work to do for the LORD. But remember we’re getting ready for the future. Compared to eternity, this life is only the blinking of an eye—quickly done. So while you have life, strengthen your bond with the Lord. Put every priority on being his faithful servant. Seek God earnestly, until that day you get to see him. That’s where it’s all going, the presence of God himself. So make sure you’re ready: ready to meet him, even face to face!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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