Pentecost 13

Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

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.

There’s one word in Scripture that makes it appearance over and over again: if, and that word appears front and center in our text today. Today, Israel is faced with a test, to either obey or not: “If you 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, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” This sounds promising, good even. If Israel will only do what God commands, there will be rich blessings for the people. 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: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

But there is also another choice that Israel can choose to make, one with dire consequences: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” But God adds an even more final statement, one that makes this point even more, well, pointed: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.”

That is the choice to make: obey or disobey God. But the greatest problem we face is that we cannot obey God. Not only can we not obey God, neither could Israel. It is impossible for us to obey because of our sinful nature which is constantly at odds with God and His perfection. 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. Choose the choice that reflects God’s choice of choosing you because humbly and repentantly obeying God results in life and blessing but arrogantly and unrepentantly disobeying God results in death and curse.

Humbly and repentantly obeying God results in life and blessing. It’s ultimately about obedience. In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the word “obey” appears 113 times, 85 in the Old Testament and 28 in the New Testament. St. Peter and the other apostles boldly preached in Jerusalem that “We must obey God rather than men.” The key to God-ordained obedience is to love God. We do that best when we Keep His commandments, statutes, and rules. But the question is, can we? I mean not most of the time or some of the time, but 100% of the time.

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. Israel had a problem: they couldn’t follow God’s commandments perfectly and neither can we. We are left with the fact that we have failed to do as God commands and we are left with the dire result that we shall surely perish.

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.