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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Two Steps to Victory
Text:Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Added:2022-05-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Proverbs 8:32-9:18

Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-14

 

THE TWO STEPS TO VICTORY

  1. Listen to the Word of God

  2. Do it

 

1. Psalm 81: 1, 2, 4, 7

2. Psalm 1: 1-3

3. Psalm 90:1, 6, 8

4. Hymn 50: 1-4

5. Psalm 145: 1, 2, 5

 

Words to Listen For: synonyms, rebels, movie, flawed, 30 seconds

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does loving God look like?

  2. What is the genre of the book of Deuteronomy?  Why?

  3. How were the Israelites supposed to prepare for battle?

  4. What was Balaam’s scheme?

  5. How do obedience and salvation fit together? (What’s the wrong math equation, and what’s the right one?)

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


People of God,

It has become fashionable, in recent years, for certain people to add some things to their public profession of faith.  Not the ceremony we do in our churches in the springtime, but their profession of faith to the world.  And what is added is not new elements of theology.  What is added is not new revelations from God...but rather, what is added is qualifications.

Let me give you an example that blew up on twitter a few months ago.

  • I am a Christian BUT I believe proselytizing is violence against another.

  • I am a Christian BUT I believe LGBTQ+ people are divine and should lead us.

  • I am a Christian BUT I don’t go to church.

  • I am a Christian BUT I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God.

  • I am a Christian BUT I embrace sex-positivity, which includes but isn’t limited to, sex outside of marriage.

  • I am a Christian BUT I know Christianity has been used as a weapon of white supremacy for so long that any Christian who isn’t actively dismantling white supremacy, is harming people with their theology.

  • I am a Christian BUT I believe people know what’s best for them, sometimes that means running away from Christianity. I applaud them.

  • I am a Christian and I do as I please.

And, really, that last one, “I’m a Christian, and I do as I please” is a good summary statement for everything else that came before it.

You truly have to wonder what is left of the Christian identity after this - in reality, probably only the name.  In essence, this young woman made up her own religion from what she gathered in from the world, and simply called it “Christianity.”

And this was far from the first time anyone has done this.  4 or 5 years ago, one of the most popular websites on the internet at the time, Buzzfeed, wrote articles and made videos called “I’m a Christian, BUT.”

And before this…

  • In 1st John, the apostle warns the church that there may be those among them who deny the Father and the Son.  They are not Christians, but indeed antichrists!

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul warns Christians not to even associate with those who celebrate their sin and yet call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • In Hosea, a common refrain to the Israelites is: “You are not my people!”

  • In Genesis, right at the beginning...Adam and Eve could be said to have thought, “I love God, but I’m still going to eat that fruit.”

Right from the BEGINNING, we have put qualifications on our belief in God.  Right from the beginning, obedience and submission have been difficult for us as believers.

But obedience is God’s love language.  You cannot love God and refuse to obey His commandments.  You cannot love God and refuse to believe what He says.  You can’t love God with a closed Bible and a closed heart.

And our God wants you to love Him - because He is deserving of your love, and because, ultimately, loving God and obeying His Word (these are synonyms here)...loving God and obeying His Word leads you on the path of blessing and joy, in this life and the next.

We can read of this promise in our text.  It’s simple.  There are just 

[THE] TWO STEPS TO VICTORY

  1. Listen to the Word of God

  2. Do it

 

Listen to the Word of God

As we continue to go through the Book of Deuteronomy, it would be useful for us to understand the genre of this book.  And that genre is rather complicated.  Some might say that Deuteronomy is history.  Deuteronomy is recording a historical event: Moses saying a speech to the people of Israel.  And in the speech, there is a lot of history too.

Others might say that Deuteronomy is in the genre of law.  After all, it literally means “second law” and the speech recaps a lot of what is said in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

But I would say that Deuteronomy, like the book of Proverbs, is a book of wisdom.

For us to understand this, we must understand what wisdom is.

First of all, wisdom is practical.

True Biblical wisdom is related to how we are to live our lives.  Wisdom is not to be confused with philosophy, which spends endless hours with theories about what various things MEAN, or what exactly various things ARE in their essence.  True wisdom is practical - it is DISCERNMENT rather than PHILOSOPHY.

Secondly, true wisdom comes from God.

We can see in Proverbs 8 that wisdom was the first creation of God.  Our God is truly wise, He created wisdom, He knows what it is, and in Him, it is expressed perfectly.  Wisdom comes from God, not from humanity.

And finally, true wisdom is actually very simple.

In our reading, we heard the well-known phrase: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If you desire to have wisdom, do not, first of all, look within, and see what wisdom you have inside of yourself.  Do not look to the worldly philosophers, but look to God.  Look to His Word.  For in it is the beginning of wisdom.

Fearing the Lord (showing reverence and respect, obeying His commandments) is the beginning of wisdom, and it is the end of wisdom too.  Ecclesiastes 12:13 says: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning and the end of wisdom.

And what our text is saying to us this morning, what the author of Deuteronomy is telling his original audience is this: I want you to be wise.  I want you to have victory - victory in the land, and victory in the lives.

And we should remember who this author was.  Moses.  Moses, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was teaching these things.

Although it is not part of our text this morning, look with me at Deuteronomy 4:21 - Furthermore, the LORD was angry with me because of you, and He swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Moses is leading the people of Israel to a reward that he himself cannot possess.  But Moses learned from his failures.

Don’t do what I did!

Don’t do what your parents did!

For both Moses and the first generation of Israelites in the wilderness did not obey God, but instead, they followed their own wisdom.  They were led to and fro by their emotions.

The Israelites grumbled and complained against God.  They were frustrated with Him, and so they rebelled.

And Moses, frustrated at the Israelites, sought to take matters into his own hands.  When commanded by God to speak to the rock, instead, he struck the rock twice and said: “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”  In doing so, he was not honoring God as holy, and was attributing the ultimate care and leadership of the people to himself, rather than God.

And so here, Moses is begging the people of Israel:

Don’t do what I did!  Don’t rebel against the Lord your God.  His way is the perfect way.  His way is the best way.  His way is the way of wisdom.

This is how the chapter starts

And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers is giving you.

You are standing on the edge of the land.  Prepare for a battle!  Because, remember, this land isn’t empty.  This land is a land of warring peoples.  Strong warriors, fortified cities.

But how were God’s people supposed to prepare for battle?  Not by sharpening their swords, but instead, by sharpening their minds and their hearts.

With our God, it’s not about physical strength, but obedience.  If Israel was going to win their battles, they wouldn’t do it by physical strength.  They wouldn’t do it by having the best weaponry or by having the high ground.  Israel would be victorious if they listened to their God.

Listen!  You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.

You are not to add to the commandments of the LORD your God

Adding rules and regulations to God’s commandments is something that the Jewish people did over the years, coming to a head in Jesus’ day with the Pharisees.  The Pharisees loved to prove that they were holy by following all these laws.

But which laws did they follow most faithfully?  The man-made laws, not God’s laws!  Not the heart of the law!  In fact, in Mark 7, Jesus makes this accusation: You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

This very thing that Moses warned them against doing was the very thing that served to condemn them thousands of years later.  Because they didn’t remember the law of God.  For all their knowledge of the law, for all their commentaries on it, for all their time sitting in the synagogue reading from it, they didn’t know it.  Not really.  It hadn’t made its way to their heart.  They heard it, but they didn’t listen to it.

Do not add to the commandments of the LORD, and do not take away from these commandments.

The Pharisees could never be accused of taking away commandments...but what about the modern Christian?  What about the modern Christians who add qualifiers to their profession of faith?

  • I am a Christian BUT I believe proselytizing is violence against another.

    • But Jesus said: Make disciples of all nations

  • I am a Christian BUT I believe LGBTQ+ people are divine and should lead us.

    • But the Bible explains that sexuality is meant for a man and a woman, and that only God is divine

  • I am a Christian BUT I don’t go to church.

    • But the Bible says that we should not give up meeting together with fellow believers

  • I am a Christian BUT I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God.

    • But the Bible says that it is God-breathed.

And I could go on.

But this is a challenge to us as well.  Some of us may prefer to add more laws to the Law of God

- Thou shalt not enter a movie theatre

- Thou shalt not talk in church

And others of us may prefer to take laws away

  • I’m a Christian, BUT the warnings God gives against drunkenness?  Those don’t apply to me

  • I’m a Christian BUT sleeping with my boyfriend or girlfriend is okay because we’re going to get married eventually anyways.

It is a challenge for us to simply take God’s Word as what it is: THE WORD OF GOD.  The authoritative and wise rule for our lives.  To actually listen to it humbly and submit to it...that is the ongoing challenge for the Christian.  To serve God as He is, and not as we would like Him to be - remade in our own image.

But the solution for our challenge, the same as the plan for victory for the ancient Israelites is to not only hear the Word but listen to it.  Really listen.  Know God’s commandments in our head, let them penetrate our heart and then do them.  Our second point.

It’s not enough to JUST listen.  It’s not enough for you here today to just listen to the sermon and then go about your daily lives as though you never heard anything at all.

It wasn’t enough for the Israelites to just hear the Word of God either.  Even hearing the very voice of God.

In Deuteronomy 5, what we read this morning for the law, what happened?

5:23ff - As soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.  And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live.  Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die.

The people of Israel heard the very voice of God.  They heard it, and their reaction was fear.  But this fear did not stop them from disobeying Him, did it?

At the foot of that very same mountain, burning with fire, having seen God’s glory and greatness...the people fashioned for themselves an idol.

And this is just one of many stories of the disobedience of the Israelites.  The example that Moses brings up in our text, in verse 3, is the debacle at Baal Peor.

This story is partially told in Numbers 25, but you have to search around for more details on what exactly happened.

Basically, Balak, the King of Moab was frightened that the Israelites would do to him and his people what they did to Pharaoh and the land of Egypt, and so he hired Balaam to curse them.  But God intervened, and each time Balaam tried to curse Israel, he ended up blessing them.

So Balaam had a wicked scheme.  He knew that Balak couldn’t defeat God’s people.  He learned that he couldn’t curse them.  So instead, he would try to get God to destroy his own people.  Manipulate God.

If we could cause them to sin a great sin, maybe God will destroy them!

 And so they sent Moabite women down into the camp to seduce Israel.  To seduce them into sexual immorality and into idol worship.

And it worked!  It worked because Israel did not hold fast to the Word of God!

They didn’t hold fast to the laws of sexual purity.  They didn’t hold fast to the laws against idolatry.  At least, not all of them.

Those who did hear, and listen, and remember to obey...they were spared.  Nevertheless, 24 000 died because of this rejection of God’s law.

Moses reminded them of their failure.  He reminded them that this was the consequence of disobeying the LORD.

Failure is sometimes the best teacher, and we would do well to remember our failures, and learn from them.

But failure isn’t the only option.  Obeying the law of God was in their reach.  This was a legitimate option.

And, with our Reformed sensibilities, we might react to this critically.  We are all sinful!  We can’t possibly obey God’s law!

And you’re right...we cannot perfectly obey His purity laws.  We cannot perfectly obey His moral law.  But when we see the grace that is built right into the law, when we see laws about sacrifices for when they disobeyed the other laws...the law system as a whole was not FLAWED.  The law system as a whole was not USELESS.  But rather, we should understand that the law system was always to be TEMPORARY.  The law system, with the morality, with the purity, with the sacrifices, all pointed towards Jesus Christ.

For He was the only one who could perfectly obey God’s law.

He was the only sacrifice that could actually take away sins.

It all pointed to Him.

But for the Israelites, standing on the border, there was the possibility of living at peace with God by way of the law.

Listen to the wonderful promises that God makes to His people.

Verse 6 - Keep them [these commandments] and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

When God’s people listen to God’s Word and obey it...they are a shining light.  A shining beacon.  A light on a hill.

When God’s people call evil evil, and call good good...and when their actions match their words, then the world sits up and takes notice.

The world sat back and watched, first in horror, and then in admiration in 2006 when a man shot and killed 10 young girls in an Amish schoolhouse, before turning the gun on himself.  The world was horrified, but then, the unthinkable.  The Amish community showed with their actions that their faith has power in how they reacted.

The community not only publicly forgave the shooter and his family, but they even raised money to help support the shooter’s widow and his three children.

This is how the life of the Christian is supposed to look.  When there is tragedy, and our true colours start to show, we need to show the world that what we have inside of us is something that they should marvel at.  It is something that they should long for, and ask us for the reason for the hope that we have.

This is what Israel was supposed to be.  In the Promised Land, they were supposed to be a shining light.  Not only because of THEIR ACTIONS...because it’s not ultimately about THEM...but the nearness, the love, and the life-changing power of their God.  The reality of who Yahweh is!

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Yahweh was near to Israel.  He came to them in smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai.  He gave them laws inscribed with His own handwriting.  He dwelt in the tabernacle, in the middle of the camp.

This was completely different than the behaviour of the other “gods” of the nations around Israel.  For those “gods” who were not really gods at all...for those gods, their worshippers had to really work hard to get their attention.

You can think of the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal who cried out from morning until noon, just to get his attention.  Then, when that didn’t work, they slashed themselves with swords.  Maybe he will notice our suffering and answer our prayer!

But Elijah just prayed a simple prayer.  He prayed for less than 30 seconds, and God answered him powerfully.

This is the promise that God is making to His people.  If you are faithful.  If you actually call out to me, I WILL answer.  I WILL answer you, and I will make you the greatest nation on the face of the earth.  Kings and Queens will come to marvel at you.

And all of this is true.  That’s what it says in your Bible, in black and white.  But we know that it’s not the full story.  Because the gospel message isn’t: “Earn your salvation through obedience.  Earn the favor of God through your good works.”

That’s not it at all.

So what are we to make of this then?

When we read passages like this, we have to realize that we have come into the middle of the story.  There is a long history of God working with His people, and it ALWAYS starts with God.  ALWAYS.

God was the one to create Adam and Eve.

God was the one to call Noah to build an ark.

God was the one who called Abraham out of pagan-ness in the land of Ur.

God was the one who called Moses in the desert.

God was the one who brought His people out of Egypt with miracles.

And this is Israel’s response.  God has already claimed them as His people, long before they were half-heartedly obeying His law.

Good works, the works of the law, have their place in the Christian life.  Don’t get it confused.  Obedience IS part of your salvation.  But where we get it confused, is in which part.  Where does obedience and good works fit in?

It’s not GRACE+GOOD WORKS = Salvation.

Instead, it is GRACE = SALVATION+GOOD WORKS.

It is all out of grace.  It is all out of grace.  And that grace gives us salvation, and produces good works in us.

And our God promises to be near to us.  He hears us when we call.

When the nations marvelled that Yahweh was so near to Israel...it was right of them to marvel.  For it was new.  It was unheard of.  It was glorious.

But OUR experience, as the church, OUR experience is even greater than that of Israel.

For we do not have a tabernacle in the middle of our neighbourhood.  But in fact, we have the ULTIMATE God-with-us.

We received Emmanuel, walking on earth, all those years ago.  Emmanuel.  God-with-us.  Jesus Christ.  Born into this world.

And when His mighty work of salvation was done, He sent us His Holy Spirit, so that we would never be alone.  So that we would never have our God far away from us.

Jesus Christ came to this earth to speak the very words of God and perfectly obey them for us.

And the Holy Spirit came, as promised, in order to transform us into temples of the Lord, doing His good work, bringing all sin to light and crushing it beneath His feet so that we would not only HEAR God’s Word, but would would live out God’s will.

AMEN.




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

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