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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:Listen to the statutes and judgments of the LORD!
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,6                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – Deuteronomy 4:1-14

Ps 119:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34, part 1 (Q&A 92,93)

Hy 11:1,2,9

Hy 16:1,2,3

* 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, we recently had a special privilege. Did you notice? We listened to God’s law. Words from God’s own mouth to direct us in the ways of life! That’s a great gift. But we’re pretty used to hearing the law. Isn’t it true we hardly notice? When the minister turns again to Exodus 20, aren’t we all inclined to switch off? For those few minutes, there’s a battle against following our thoughts wherever they go.

But reflect on how knowing God’s law is a great blessing. In it, we are given a dependable knowledge of his will, and we’re taught the right way of living. Listen to how in Psalm 147 we praise God for this gift: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation” (vv. 19-20). Or as Romans says: “The law is holy and just and good” (7:12). And think of how Jesus loved the law of God.

The law is a gift, yet it is considered outdated and irrelevant. Reformed churches are among the few that still include the Ten Commandments in worship. Yet by us too, the law is shrugged off. We still read it, but do we listen? We still hear it, but do we put it into practice? Today we turn to the Catechism, where we learn about the purpose and blessing of the law. I preach to you on this theme from the first part of Lord’s Day 34:

Listen to the statutes and judgments of the LORD!

  1. God’s gift of the law
  2. our life in the law

 

1) God’s gift of the law: A moment ago, we read from Deuteronomy 4. In this chapter, as he is throughout the book, Moses is preparing the people to enter the land of promise. Compare him to a coach in the dressing room before the big game. He’s drawing out on the whiteboard the game plan for his team, and he’s giving a pep talk at the same time: “Before you head out there, this is what you’ve got to do. This is the only way to success. So go and do it!”

Chapter 4 puts all these marching orders in the right key. For in the very next chapter, Moses will give the Ten Commandments. Later on, he’ll give many other laws: laws regarding worship and food, kingship and prophecy, plus a lot more. But before he does any of that, Moses says something about the reason for these laws.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe” (v. 1). Pause at those first few words: “O Israel, listen!” That is more than just saying, “Pay attention for a second, everyone.” No, this is the announcement of God himself. He wants those with eyes to see, those with ears to hear. This is something not to be missed! For God has entrusted to us his statutes and judgments.

To us, that is not something new: “The law was given by God—tell us something we don’t know.” We can all picture Moses departing from God’s presence, coming down from Mount Sinai, those two stone tablets in hand.

But consider this truth. God’s law—whether it’s carved on those tablets, or written on these pages, or glowing on the screen in front of you—his law is wisdom. It is none other than insight into the mind of the sovereign and holy LORD. This is his perfect will, revealed to sinners. This is how He wants us to think, to talk, and act. As the Catechism explains (LD 32), this is how we know what works are truly good and right: we know from the law of God.

And without the law, we’d have no idea about the shape of a God-pleasing life. Now, it is true that the law is written on every human heart. At a basic level, everyone in this world knows right from wrong, that you shouldn’t whack your neighbour over the head, and that you shouldn’t abandon your parents in their old age. We all know that.

But Scripture also says that everyone is afflicted with heart disease. Your conscience is a lousy tour guide for navigating this life. So without the benefit of Scripture’s clear and constant guidance—without it open before us—what will happen? If we don’t carefully listen to what the Bible says, we’ll end up captive to our sinful desires and lost in confusion. That’s why having the law is such a gift.

Moses puts this in front of the people, by asking the question: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (v. 7). Before we say that God’s rules are burdensome, or that living according to the Bible is lame, answer this question! The LORD God is always near us—when we worship, when we pray, when we cry, when we struggle—always! Who else has this? What other people knows this privilege?

“Look around, Israel, see just how blessed you are,” Moses says. None of the other nations had a god like this: a god who is real, who is powerful, a god of justice and mercy. And we ought to do the same, pondering: What other people has their God so near, so near that He would enter into covenant with them from infancy, declare his promises, and even give baptism as a sign? Think of how many people today don’t know the LORD, how many of our fellow citizens live and die without a relationship with God and his Son.

Sometimes we feel like gloating about this. We even look down on those today who are staggering around in their ignorance. But God wants you to realize how privileged you are. He wants you to embrace this privilege in humble gratitude. What other people is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is near us in grace?

You see, God doesn’t call his people to a blind obedience. Sometimes parents will resort to that when we’re getting frustrated. They’ll say to the kids: “Obey me, because I said so!” Just do it. But God calls us to a life of service that is informed, that is well-grounded. This is why we obey him and want to walk in his ways: Because this God is near us, and He has done great things for us in Christ!

Remember, this is what the Catechism is explaining in this third section. Because we are deeply grateful to God for delivering us from all our sin and misery, because we love God for his multitude of mercies in Christ, we are eager to obey him and do his will.

In this spirit of gratitude, Moses asks another question: “And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments…?” (v 8). In other words, if knowing God is such a blessing, then knowing his law is much the same: it is a rich blessing and profound advantage. We’re allowed to know something great.

For whenever the righteous God tells us to do something, we know it’s going to be right. Whenever He commands us, we know it’s going to be good. That is so necessary to remember, because sometimes God calls us to do hard things. The Lord’s commandments often conflict sharply with our desires. And so we might prefer to take a pass on what He has said. Is this really the best way? Will my efforts serve a good purpose? You second-guess it.

But God’s laws, says Deuteronomy, are righteous. His words are just and wise. So we know that obeying him, going in his way, is going to be for our good. Even if it’s hard, even if it cuts against the grain of our hearts, or it conflicts with our character, his law is right. You could call his commandments the very first “life hacks,” rules for doing life simply and doing life better.

So it is good and wise to pay attention to the requirements of this law for our lives. The law relates to our life in both key dimensions: “how to live in relation to God,” and “what duties we owe our neighbour” (Q&A 93). Because God’s Word is living and active, it speaks into the real situations that you and I face every day, every week. Let me give you a few examples.

What does God say about the way you worship when you come here on Sunday?

What is God’s will for your relationship with your children?

How does God want you to treat your husband or your wife?

What is wisdom for how you do business tomorrow? Or for how you spend your holidays?

What is the right priority for your monthly budget, your saving and spending?

What does God say to you about the need for sexual purity?

What is the right tone for the words you speak to your parents?

How do you handle the gossip and bad words you hear?

What does the LORD say about your need to reconcile and forgive your enemy?

What is God’s wisdom about the movies you watch, or the music you listen to?

On all these important issues—and many more—God does not leave us to grope our way through. Scripture is not silent on our modern problems and decisions and conundrums. Not if we take the time to go back to the Word.

So God wants us to know his will, to dig into his will. Just because you’ve always sat in church when the law was being read doesn’t mean you know what pleases him. The question is: Have you really wrestled with God’s commands? Have you considered carefully how to apply them in your life? Have you prayed for the strength to apply his Word to your relationships, and your temptations, and your daily calling? You must do these things. Having the Word is a privilege—a great privilege with a great responsibility.

To underline his point, Moses reminds the people about the day their fathers stood before the LORD God at Sinai. What happened there was a breathtaking revelation of the God of glory! And the glorious God who showed himself there in smoke and fire and darkness is the same awesome God we worship today.

He’s the same—only we’re allowed to know him even better than Israel did! For as believers in the Lord Jesus, we have been allowed to come very close to God. We have come to Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant, and to his blood of sprinkling. Through the sacrifice of his Son, God has torn down the deadly barrier of our sin. By faith in him, He has brought us into fellowship. The LORD God is your God!

And so we may draw near. We may pray. We may worship. Every day of our lives, we may look up above us, and look behind us, beside us, and within us, and know that God’s holy presence goes with us. Because for Christ’s sake, God promised that it would.

Through Jesus Christ, God’s voice rings out. It’s a voice that declares the day of salvation, saying your sins are forgiven through his blood. And it’s also a voice commands you to trust and obey. Don’t refuse him. Don’t turn down this gift. Listen to the God who speaks in his Word, that you may live!

 

2) our life in the law: In any relationship between two people, it has to be mutual. There needs to be give and take. That’s common sense for marriages and friendships, and it’s true also for God’s covenant with us. The gracious God has spoken in his Word, so now what will be the response? Will we be not only hearers but doers also?

That’s a real struggle. From day to day, we know the good we ought to do, but we’re always being pulled to do the evil instead. Other times we’re just lazy, and we struggle with a lack of desire to keep God’s law. Why should I even pray? Why give? Why should I be a leader for my family? Why do I have to be the one to reach out and forgive? Is this very difficult obedience, this self-denial, really going to be worth it?

So Moses reminds his people of the objective, the prize that awaits. It is God’s covenant blessing: “[Follow these laws]…that you may live, and go in and possess the land” (v. 1). You can count on the LORD’s word, that honouring him is the way to life! God says, “This is what I require of you, as long as you have two feet on this earth. Love me, love your neighbor. Do these things, that you may live.”

Now, let’s rule out very quickly that our obedience can ever merit anything with God, that it can gain us even one dollar in the credit column. It doesn’t matter that you work hard every day, pray every night, and put on your best for Sunday worship. You’re not OK because you’re a devoted parent or an all-round nice person. Our relationship with God is built on only one foundation: his sovereign grace. This is love: not that we loved him, but He loved us!

Keeping the Ten Commandments doesn’t earn anything with God. It wouldn’t for Israel, and it won’t for us! For God has delivered us already. Hear again those familiar words as preface to the law: “I am LORD your God who brought you out of the land Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Deut 5:6). Every time the Israelites heard the law—and every time we hear the law—there is a reminder—underlined and in bold and ALL CAPS—about Who is the source of salvation. God delivered you. God is giving you this land. God sent his Son as your Saviour. So what then can we do but every day be grateful?

He loved us, and lets us live in his love. For He also says there’s a blessing in going God’s way. If we are going to enjoy life as He intended, a few rules are good and necessary. It’s like how we still rely on rules today to keep us safe. Rules are the boundaries of a secure life.

For example, the rules of the road say, “You have to bring your car to a stop at a red light.” So we do that, and we also rely on everyone else doing that, because “stopping on red” lends safety to the activity of driving. If we could never be sure that other people would honour that rule, it’d be rather terrifying to be on the road. But the law gives safety to us, and to them.

Now extend that principle to all of life. The law protects us from ourselves and our sinful tendencies. On the other hand, think what it’d be like without the direction of God’s law.

Without the fourth commandment and the Sabbath law, we’d probably become slaves to our work and commitments; we’d never have the chance for relaxation.

Without the fifth commandment about authority, our families would crumble, because no one would agree on who was in charge.

Without the seventh commandment about adultery, our marriages would always be on the brink of disintegrating into unfaithfulness, and our lustful desires would run rampant. But the law puts on the brakes.

Living without God’s rules sounds attractive at first, but it only ends in misery! Think of how so much goodness is wrenched apart by sin. Addiction to alcohol or drugs or porn will destroy our health, our mind, our relationships. We lose good opportunities because of deceit, or a lack of self-control. Apart from the restraint of the law, there’d also be rampant idolatry, and blasphemy, and false worship—all things that invite God’s wrath. Truly, there is a curse on sin. Sometimes God is gracious enough to let us experience some of that curse and hardship in this life, so that we repent from our sins.

We know that the wages of sin is death. That’s all we gain by sin—that’s the only thing Satan is able to pay us: death. Yet we still sign up for his workforce. We imagine that in the end, we’ll be happier if we go our own way. But does sin ever lead to blessing? It cannot, and it will not. Yet the other side is also true. Going in God’s ways, living by his law, is the way to life! Obedience to his words is the only path of freedom.

So our grip on his words must be strong. When temptation comes, or fatigue, or suffering, our grasp of God’s Word must be firm, or we’ll easily give way. It’s training that we need to do ahead of time. So it’s an important question: Are you holding fast? Today, how is your grip on the Word? And tomorrow, will you keep holding onto it?

Holding to the Word of God is the only way to blessing. For listen to what Deuteronomy 4:6 says: “This is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” If Israel would be great—and if we want to be great as church of Christ—we have to find greatness God’s way. It only comes through the fear of the LORD.

Such holiness stands out, for Moses says that the Gentile nations will hear and conclude, “This great nation is wise and understanding.” We forget that sometimes, but even Israel had a witnessing task. They weren’t called to send out missionaries and speak of the gospel with their nonbelieving neighbors, like we are. But all the same, they were called to be a light, to show what it meant to be the nation of the true God.

And the thing that attracted people back then is the same thing that interests them today: a sincere living-out of the Word. Remember LD 32: we do good works so that by our godly walk of life, we may win our neighbours for Christ. That’s our high calling: to adorn the gospel, so that people notice there’s something different about us: “What do they have? What do they know? Who do they know?”

I wonder if this would be said by our neighbours, by those who know us from work or school or the community: “Surely this is a wise and understanding people! These are loving people! Surely these are men and women and children who love the Word of their God, who also live by it.” Would anyone say that about us? Surely the only way is when we live by the Word of the God who saved us in his grace!

Beloved in Christ, whenever we read this Word, and whenever we hear his law, God calls us to receive it with open ears and open hearts. We are his people, redeemed in the blood of Christ. So listen to LORD’s decrees and laws. Follow them, so that you may live!  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 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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