Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.
Throughout our lives, we are given opportunities to make choices. We get to choose to wake up or stay in bed a little longer. We get to choose what clothes to wear, what food to eat. We get to choose our spouse, our job, our home, etc. In school, as we take tests, we are often given multiple choices to choose from, with one choice being the right answer and the others being the wrong answer. Life is full of choices; few carry eternal consequences. But today, we see presented to Israel and to us a choice unlike any other choice: do we follow our God or do we go away to follow other gods. In other words: do we choose life or do we choose death?
Trusting the Lord and living life His way isn’t just a way of doing things; it’s the only way of doing things. Israel had a choice to make – to obey God and live or go off and do their own thing and die.
History sometimes presents whole societies with genuine turning points, times when we humans are collectively confronted with a real alternative, moments when crucial decisions can be made which will affect the future for many generations to come. The people of God in the Old Testament repeatedly came to such forks in the road of their journeyings. Our text sets us in the midst of one such critical time when it was urged that God’s faithful ones choose wisely and well, acting from a courage that would permit them to move forward with resolute hope. Here was life at the crossroads. Would they be faithful to the God of their fathers and to His commandments, statutes, and ordinances – would they walk in the ways ordained by God as good and leading to life, or would they choose the dreaded alternative to obedience and reap the curse of death and evil?
Israel was reminded that her future depended on a choice of single-minded loyalty to God, the God who in His covenant had made His offer of the blessing of life, but expected the obedient response of a people who walked in His ways. The theology of Israel was based on the conviction that faithfulness to the Lord would guarantee His protection and blessing, while unfaithfulness would result in hardship and misfortune.
This choice goes all the way back to the Garden, where Adam and Eve were presented with the choice of following God’s commandment of not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and living, or follow the prodding of the serpent to eat, and ultimately die as a result.
The choice is set before you and I today. We can choose life and live in God or choose death and live in God’s condemnation forever. Unfortunately for us, the choice has already been made. Through Adam and Eve’s sin, we sin and continue to sin, ever breaking God’s holy Word and commands, and thus are separated from Him and receive eternal condemnation for our sins. Because of the fall into sin, man has chosen death. We no longer have the opportunity to do as Moses commands: “obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules….”
It is impossible for us to do so. Try as we might, we cannot obey God and His commandments. It is impossible for us to keep the First Commandment that our Lord gives: “You shall have no other gods.” It’s because we do not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” No human, even God’s specially chosen people, could keep these commands without the power God Himself supplies in His grace. St. Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Just as Israel had many false gods they worshiped throughout their history, so we have many other gods that we like to worship, gods that we believe will give to us all that we want instead of what we need. We want the pleasures of this earth, but we need the forgiveness that only the God of the Scriptures can give to us.
Moses gives to the people a warning what will happen should they turn away from God and worship other gods and serve them rather than Yahweh: “you shall surely perish.” It was cut and dry, no other way to interpret it: worship God and follow His commandments and ways and you will live; fall away from God, worship other gods and you will die.
Thanks be to God, that is not how things are left. God in His divine forbearance saw fit to give us a way to defeat death by sending us the gift of life. He has sent to us His Son Jesus, who by His life, death, and resurrection gives to us the gift of life. While Israel was His chosen people, they could not obey God. While Adam and Eve are God’s creation, they could not obey God. Even though you and I are God’s creation, we cannot obey God and so we die as a result of our disobedience. But for you and all of God’s creation, Jesus chose suffering and death to pay the price we owed God because of our sin and disobedience. Jesus chose death to rescue us. We do not have to choose because Jesus has chosen for us. He has chosen us to be a part of Him so that we would have life and have it abundantly in His name.
For us, we have a great assurance, that while we choose death because of our sin, God has chosen life for us through Jesus. Our Lord promises never to leave or forsake us. That means in this life, because of Christ, those who believe will not be forsaken to eternal death. That means for the believer, Jesus’ death and resurrection secure for you eternal life. For us, God has chosen to give us life, though our sinful nature warrants death. We belong to God, for He has placed His name upon us.
Between the choice of life or death, it would seem as if the choice is an obvious one to make. However, because of our sinful nature, the choice is not ours to make. Adam and Eve made the choice for all of creation in the Garden, and it was the wrong choice. As God’s creation, He chose to give to us another choice. This time, the choice was made by His Son and He chose to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. There is no act necessary on our part, because the choice we would make would be death, because we cannot obey God and His commandments, not even one of them. Because of Christ, life has been chosen, and so we and our offspring may live in the bountiful love of God, our Heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.