We’re currently getting to grips with the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses preaches to God’s people on the edge of the Promised Land. They’re just about to enter. And we’ve only got four sermons for 34 chapters, so it’s quite a challenge to get a handle on the book.
But I do want to stress to you, especially if you’re a relatively new person around the church, that what Moses is doing here is he’s speaking to God’s family. He says to them, “I’ve saved you, 40 years ago I saved you, I brought you out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. Your parents didn’t listen to me, that’s why you’ve walked in the desert for 40 years. Now I’m speaking to you on the edge of the Promised Land and what you do with my word is going to make things go well for you or badly for you.”
One of the great atheists of the 20th century was a man called Bertrand Russell, and he was a very brilliant man, but he had a disastrous life. In other words, he was brilliant but foolish. He won the Nobel Prize, but he had very, very little morals and his family disintegrated terribly. His daughter became a Christian. His daughter Kate who I think must now be about 94.
She says in her autobiography, “My father taught human reason and self-interest which only made life worse.” But she said, “When I realised my sin, I was liberated because I understood myself. And when I learned God’s forgiveness it brought security.” And she said this, “My earthly father loved me only when I was good, my heavenly father loves me consistently.” And that is the message that God speaks to His people even in the book of Deuteronomy. He’s talking to His family, we saw in Chapter 1, He’s like a father to a son. We’ll see again in Chapter 8; He’s like a father to a son. So the Israelites would fail to keep the word. Let’s be clear, the Israelites were going to fail to keep God’s word, but their security lay in God’s faithfulness to them. And ultimately, eternally, their security would lie with God’s son, and His faithfulness even to death, for them.
We read these chapters and most of us here belong to the Lord Jesus, which is wonderful. And we read these chapters as adopted children, and we read these chapters as forgiven children. And our hearts have been changed so that they have become new, not perfect, and God is working in us to make us seek again and again, by His Grace, to put His Word into practice. But our security is Jesus, that’s why we sing. We don’t sing because of our performance, we sing because of Jesus.
Last week the first of the four evenings, we saw the stories so far Deuteronomy 1-4, we saw that they have travelled through the desert, and they have come as it were to meet at Mount Sinai the one and only God who is Yahweh, Jehovah.
We’re looking at what a relationship with God looks like according to Deuteronomy, and we’re going to attempt to look quite quickly just by stepping into them at Chapter 7-11. This particular section this evening is what it means to have a relationship with God, and I’ll tell you what it means to have a relationship with God: blessings and dangers. A great relationship has blessings and dangers. And I don’t know if there’s anything more important to know as a Christian than that your relationship with God through Jesus is beyond value, and yet there are very great difficulties and dangers in being a Christian.
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Is there anything worse than becoming a Christian and thinking that it is all miserable? And is there anything worse than that, but becoming a Christian and thinking it’s going to be a breeze? We need to know that it’s a great privilege, but it’s also a great challenge.
We’re going to look at blessings and dangers, and I want to mention to you in each of these chapters, a blessing and a danger. What is the blessing in Deuteronomy 7?
Look at Chapter 7 Verse 7-8, and I’ll tell you what the blessing is. “The Lord didn’t set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand.”
That’s one of the most wonderful verses in the Bible. The Lord says I didn’t choose you because you were the biggest, I didn’t choose you because you were the best. I fixed my love on you because I decided to fix my love on you. It was a decision. So they didn’t magnetise God’s love down to them, you know how some people think, the only way I can get someone to love me is that I’ve got a look like something, or I’ve got to perform like something, but nobody magnetised God’s love down to them. He decided to love the unlovely. Just like the sunshine comes down on the unlovely the grace of God came down on His people.
And the Lord, we’re also told, loves to bless His people. Look at Verses 13-16 of Chapter 7, all these outward Old Testament blessings;
- you’re going to have crops when you get into the land
- you’re going to have children
- you’re going to have health, all these outward blessings which belong to the old covenant
- And you’re going to have my power to look after you
Verse 17-24, I’m going to protect you. How is little Israel going to survive walking into a land that’s already occupied by seven other nations? I’m going to make sure it happens, says the Lord. If God is for us, who can be against us? The message of the Bible tells us that numbers are fairly irrelevant to God. We keep thinking numbers are essential, but they’re fairly irrelevant to God. And where a believer walks with the Lord, numbers don’t matter that much:
- think of David and Goliath
- think of Gideon and the Midianites
- think of Jesus on trial
- think of Paul and his Gentile world that he had to reach
And that’s why we read in Chapter 7 Verse 18, “‘If you’re worried about Canaan’ says the Lord, ‘What did I do about Egypt? I got you out.”
So when friends you wake up to the call of Jesus and you say to yourself, “I’ve heard the call of Jesus Christ in the Bible, to follow Him, and I’m following Him.” That’s because God woke you up, opened your ears, and called you. Why did He call you? Well, it’s because He decided to. Ephesians Chapter 2, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves,”
When you trace your Christian life backwards, and you say, “Oh, it’s because of my parents.” No, it’s not because of your parents. Your parents contributed, but God did the saving. It’s not because of your personal qualities; it’s because of grace, it’s not because of your potential, it’s because of grace. We’re gonna spend eternity increasingly saying to the Lord, “This is wonderful what you did.” It just doesn’t make sense; it’s got to do with your grace.
Still, in Chapter 7, the danger is to undervalue Him, to see your relationship with God as cheap. That’s why the Lord says in chapter 7:1-6 when you get into the land, and you’re in a land that is at the moment occupied by seven other nations, I want you to make sure that you do not compromise with the people or the idolatry. ‘When you move into the Promised Land,'” says the Lord, and we’ll see this next week, “remember that you are moving into my land. And idolatry is to be replaced with loyalty. That’s why you are to smash to pieces the idols of the land.”
And the people of God would move into the land, and we’ll see this more next week why would God’s people move into somebody else’s land? But it was God’s land, and this was God’s timing to bring God’s judgment using God’s people to God’s enemies. So this is in chapter 7, a war that’s being predicted which one commentator has called, “A never to be repeated war, never to be repeated.”
The New Testament teaches us that our battle is not physical but spiritual. Our weapons are spiritual; we pray, we use the word, we love. But we need the same courage, and we need the same confidence that God gives to His people here. And the same battle of being a Christian means that at the one moment you seek first the kingdom, the things above, and you put to death the things that wreck your soul.
I don’t know if you’ve worked this out yet as a Christian, but the greatest peace comes in your heart when you fight the spiritual battle. When you relax the spiritual battle, the peace leaves you, but when you fight the spiritual battle, there is paradoxically great peace. I remember being hugely helped as a younger man to realise in Colossians 3, seek the things above, put to death, seek the things above, turn the switch, seek the things above, turn away, seek the things above, get rid of. That’s the way the battle gets fought peacefully and profitably.
C. S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity “Give me everything, I don’t want some of your time, I don’t want some of your money, I don’t want some of your work, I want you.” This is the Lord speaking, “I’ve not come to torment your natural self but to kill it. No half-measures, I don’t want a branch here or a branch there, I want the whole tree down, hand over your whole self and I will give you a new self, I will give you myself, you will not be hard done by.” That’s the way the Lord speaks. And maybe, part of the unhappiness of the Christian life for you at the moment is trying to walk two roads. Seek the things above, put to death. That’s the blessing of Chapter 7, and that’s the danger of Chapter 7. The blessing is to be chosen. The danger is to see God as cheap.
Now, Chapter 8, this is where we come to a blessing which is, God provides for you, and the danger is to be proud. When I was a teacher many years ago, it was a tough time. It was a different time being a teacher, perhaps not a tougher time, but it was a time where you had chalk, and you wrote on blackboards, they were green. And it was an unusual time.When I was a teacher, there was a legend, you’ll forgive me if you’ve heard me tell this story before, but there was a legend of a young teacher who was teaching in a classroom, and the class was really beyond him. He was new; the class was big, they were getting noisy, he didn’t know what to do. And he decided the best thing to do as he was writing on the board was to spin around and throw the piece of chalk at the boy who he thought was making the most noise. So when the noise got really bad, he spun round, and he threw the piece of chalk at the boy who was making the most noise, and he missed by about a meter. But on the window nearby was a large blowfly buzzing, and the piece of chalk hit the blowfly right in the back and spattered it symmetrically across the window. And in a moment of genius, as all the boys were looking at the window, he said, “And next time son, it’ll be you.” And they were hugely respectful.
I tell you that story because, in Deuteronomy Chapter 8, Moses says to the people, “Do you realise when you were in the wilderness, you were in a classroom when you were in the wilderness, God taught you things. He taught you; you cannot solve all your problems. You must look to me, the Lord.” That’s why we read in Chapter 8, He says in Verse 3, “You had no food, you had no water,” this was to make you say, what will we do? We have no answers we better look to the one who’s made promises to look after us.And you see in Verse 4, God’s provision was miraculous. He led them through the wilderness, “Your clothes,” He said, “didn’t wear out, your sandals didn’t wear out, how do you organise the sufficiency, and the lastingness of 700,000 pairs of sandals so that they don’t wear out in 40 years?” The sovereignty of God. The genius of God. And you see in Verses 6 to 9, “‘The Promised Land’ says the Lord, is going to be great. I taught you in the desert to trust me. The Promised Land is going to be very great. I’m gonna provide when you get there: streams, and pools, and springs, and you’ll have food of every kind, and there will be minerals, and you’ll have everything.”
Now does God continue to test us today? Of course, He does. Do you think He wants us to be immature? No, He tests us to stretch us. That’s why things go wrong, not because He doesn’t love us but because He does love us. He wants, occasionally, to put us in deep water so that we learn to swim.
- Romans 5 says, “Trials come to build up our perseverance.”
- Hebrews 12, “The father will discipline the child.”
- 1 Peter, Chapter 1, “You might be in the fire; it’s to produce better gold.”
So these trials that God brings are to exercise your spiritual muscles, and by definition, when you’re in a trial, you’ll be out of your depth. And you’ll get to the point where you’ll say, “I cannot solve this myself, I need to ask the Lord for help.” Does He continue to provide for us? Of course: daily bread, daily breath, all our needs. Now that’s the blessing He provides, but what’s the danger? The danger is pride. Chapter 8 Verse 10, especially pride in achievements, that we’ll turn around and we’ll say, “Haven’t we done well? Didn’t we do things well?” And we’ll turn in our heart away from the Lord. That’s the danger, everything has come to us, you see, we’re on the Lower North Shore, and we say, “We can strategize, we can organise, we are brilliant.” And the Lord says, “I’ll make sure you learn to trust me because that’s where your safety is and that’s where my honour is.”
God, we’re told gives us everything. Doesn’t He? He gives us our abilities; He gives us our I.Q. He gives us our strength, our talents, our breath.Why am I making it, minute-by-minute through this? Why are you making it, minute-by-minute? Because the Lord enables us.
That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?” And the godly person in the church says, “It doesn’t matter what I do or what I have, it came ultimately from the Lord. If He takes it away, it’s all over.” Pride is a killer. It dishonours God. It divides fellowship. It destroys self. And Moses says, here in Deuteronomy Chapter 8, “You’re going to be wonderfully provided for, make sure you are very thankful and devoted, and not proud.”
Why am I making it, minute-by-minute through this? Why are you making it, minute-by-minute? Because the Lord enables us. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “What do you have that you didn’t receive?” And the godly person in the church says, “It doesn’t matter what I do or what I have, it came ultimately from the Lord. If He takes it away, it’s all over.” Pride is a killer. It dishonours God. It divides fellowship. It destroys self. And Moses says, here in Deuteronomy Chapter 8, “You’re going to be wonderfully provided for, make sure you are very thankful and devoted, and not proud.”
Deuteronomy 9, introduces another kind of pride. And this is where the Lord says in Deuteronomy 9, “I’m gonna protect you, and the danger is that you’ll be proud about your character.” See the blessing in Chapter 9 Verses 1 and 2, “Hear, oh, Israel, you’re now about to cross the Jordan to go in and to possess or dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky, the people are strong and tall, Anakites, you know about them and have heard it said, ‘Who can stand against the Anakites?'” So, “You’re about to move into the Promised Land, says the Lord, it’s too big for you, but the Lord is going to fight for you.” Verse 3, the Lord is going to fight for you. The Bible teaches that God is a fighter, He’s a Shepherd, He’s loving, He’s patient, He’s merciful, but He also fights. And I love that section in Isaiah 59, which describes God as looking out on the world and seeing that everybody is in darkness and trouble, and seeing that there’s nobody who can do anything. And so it says, “The Lord put His armour on, and got His arm out and went out and worked salvation.”
That, of course, is ultimately fulfilled as the Lord Jesus looks down on the world and says, “These people are in darkness and death, and they’ve got no way of stopping. I must go in, and I must live, and die, and rise to work salvation.” And when Jesus dies on the cross, what happens? He disarms the principalities and the powers. He takes away the sting of death, and He brings in all the blessings of fellowship and eternal life. Jesus at Calvary is where this great fight takes place, ultimately. But the danger Verse 4, in Deuteronomy of Chapter 9 is that people are going to say to themselves, “You know why we got the land? Because we were just a little notch above the other people, we were just a little better than those pagans.” And look at what the Lord says in Chapter 9 Verse 4, “Know, the nations are wicked,” and Verse 5 and 6, “and you are not righteous.” So please don’t think when you get saved, it’s because of some performance or some superiority. ‘No, no,’ says the Lord, ‘everybody is in need and wicked.’ And it’s not our righteousness that brings salvation.
I wonder whether there’s anyone here this evening and you’re tempted just to feel a little bit superior. Imagine they’ll be some you who will be tempted to feel desperate and hopeless. That’s why you need the Gospel. But there may be just one or two people who are a little bit superior; maybe you feel as though you are living a certain superior life, spiritually. Maybe you feel as though your achievements will cover for you on the last day. Maybe you feel as though your character is what keeps God happy.
No, the Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and we need to be very careful of pride. Moses says to the Israelites in Chapter 9 of Deuteronomy, “Let me tell you what you are like,” and he starts to tell the account of the golden calf. And those of you who know the account of the golden calf will remember that God’s people, back at Mount Sinai, had just heard all the law. And then Moses up on the mountain, being gone quite a long time, the people turned around and said, “We need a visible god.” And somebody foolishly made a golden calf, and they started to revere and honour the golden calf. They turned to idolatry on the very honeymoon where God had taken them as a covenant people. What a dreadful thing to do. And then Moses says, “I want you to know people, Israelites, you are not gold medal people. You are gold calf people.”
Let me ask you this, this evening, how fast do you think you could turn from singing the last song to sin? I reckon I could do it in about three seconds, and I think you are the same. Our hearts are not great, our saviour is great, and He forgives us, and He makes us new, but we need to be very careful of pride. One of the great men of the twentieth century, one of the great man was Charles Colson, and Colson was the right-hand man of the American President. And he was a very tough and proud man, and he had a friend called Tom Phillips, who was a very impressive Christian. And he said, “You know, Tom Phillips, in the middle of all the nastiness, of politics, was always gracious, always peaceful, always kind.” And eventually, Tom Phillips, a Christian, sat Charles Colson down who regarded Christianity as complete hogwash. Tom Phillips read to him from C. S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity And he read this to him, he said, this is Tom Phillips reading, he said there is one vice of which no one is free. We loathe that in others, never imagine that we are guilty ourselves. It is the vice of pride. Other sins flow from this one because it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
A proud person is always looking down on others. And if you’re always looking down on others, you cannot see someone great above you. Well, Colson said those words from, “Mere Christianity”, went to him like a torpedo. He went to his car, and he wept, and he wept at the wheel of his car, and he sensed a great liberty and an illumination. He went to jail for his crimes, he came out and began Prison Fellowship. And it was a mighty, mighty ministry looking after people in and after prison. But pride, you see, pride in achievements, pride in character, the Lord says, “Be very careful. I’m gonna bless you greatly.” That’s why we stop to pray as often as we can.
Now, quickly, Chapter 10, the blessing is mercy, the danger is shallowness. I’m coming to the end quite quickly, so don’t despair. Chapter 10 Verse 1, “I’m gonna give you a new set of commandments,” says the Lord, “because I’m merciful. I’m gonna give you a new start because I’m merciful.” Chapter 10, “You’re gonna enter the Promised Land, that’s gonna be a great blessing to your mercy. I’m going to be merciful to you, yes, there may be many sins, but I’m going to be merciful.”
A preacher was once down on the dock in Tasmania, and he was talking to a guy on the dock. And he said to him, “Have you brought your sins to Christ yet?” And the guy on the dock said, “You know, see those boats out there, if you stacked all those boats with my sins, there would not be enough room on all those boats for my sins.” And the preacher said, “You see that water out there, If you sank all those boats, there would be no trace of your sins.” And the mercy of God is like the ocean. The mercy of God is a very, very great blessing, but the danger is that you’ll then have a shallow view of God. Chapter 10 Verse 12 and following, you’ll forget that He runs the universe and He’s big. You’ll forget that He is intimate and provides for the poor, He’s transcendent, and He’s imminent, He’s the father, and He’s in heaven.
Look at Chapter 10 Verse 21; He’s your praise. “You were 70 people,” Chapter 10 verse 22, “70 when you came into Egypt, now you are 700,000.” So get rid of small thinking of God. If your god is too small, go back to the Bible. If your god is too ruthless, go back to the Bible. The Bible is your telescope, it tells you how big He is, and it’s your microscope, it tells you how intimate He is, and we need them both.
And the last thing this evening is the blessing in Chapter 11, of grace, and the danger is drifting. Look at Chapter 11 Verses 10-11, the Lord says, “When you were in Egypt you had to work your foot to get your water.” I don’t exactly know what this means. Somebody said, “I think that it means you had to walk on foot to the well to get your water,” that’s possible. Others think that the river irrigation system of the Nile meant that you worked with your feet, little boards that would steer the water towards your place. But whatever the point, Moses says, “When you were in Egypt you, had to work for your water. When you get to the Promised Land, it’s gonna come down from the sky. God is gonna bring it down in buckets and look after you because He’s gracious.” Now the danger is that you’ll drift, Chapter 11 Verse 16, “You’ll be tricked to walk away because everything will be so easy.”
When are we at our most vulnerable? When things are going great. That’s why God has to wake us again and again, doesn’t He? Drifting away is a big danger, that’s why Paul writes some of his letters because the Galatians were drifting, and the Colossians were drifting, and the Philippians were tempted to drift. So he says here, “God is going to be gracious,” be aware of the drift.
So let me summarise. What is the relationship with God like? It’s a relationship of immeasurable blessings, and there are some dangers. And a huge amount of how you go is going to be wrapped up with what you do with God’s word. What you do with God’s word. Your security is Jesus Christ. He kept the Word of God. He has paid for your sins. But now the question, friends, and listen very carefully to this as I close, the question is this, if you want to be faithful to the Lord if you want to be useful to people if you want to be joyful yourself. You’re secure. But if you want to be faithful, useful, and joyful, a huge amount of that is going to depend on what you do with God’s word.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for giving to us immeasurable blessings in the Lord Jesus. Thank you for forgiveness, fellowship, and a future. And we ask that you would steer us to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly. May the blessings cause us to be full of thanks. May the dangers cause us to be full of wisdom. We ask it in Jesus name, amen.