Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents an eight-part series of messages exploring the book of Deuteronomy. This week, Part 3: “Applying the Truth”.
Part 4: “Applying the Truth”
Well now we are going to travel for the fourth week through a part of Deuteronomy.
We are in an 8-week series on Deuteronomy, one of the Old Testament books. This is where Moses (God’s servant) is speaking to Israel, God’s people on how they are to live for him, especially as they move into the Promised Land. They are on the edge of the Promised Land and Moses is preaching to them. He is telling them how to be ready to trust and obey.
And this is a very permanently important issue that we would know how to live in the world as God’s people. And a number of people have told me over the last few weeks, even though we have just begun this little series in Deuteronomy how very pertinent and relevant this 3,000 year old book has been. How it has searched and blessed them.
I have also been reading the final book of Charles Colson, many of you know the name Charles Colson, Chuck Colson who was made famous through the Watergate Scandal and then went on to set up Prison Fellowship – looking after prisoners with the Gospel and post prison care. And they have produced a book called “My Final Word” which is a collection of Colson’s later writings and thoughts because he went to be with the Lord 3 years ago in 2015.
In this book he reflects on his home country of America. And he has some very disturbing conclusions. One is he says that America, like many Western countries, is getting more angry and more unhappy. And one of the great links or secrets of this of course is “materialism”. Materialism, he says breeds anger. The happiest people according to surveys in the world are Nigerians. And I quote:-
“The problem is that we are spoiled rotten. We have got everything that we could possibly want but we are not happy and we don’t know why and so we get angry at others”.
The other thing he reflects on is the reality, the possibility of America fragmenting because of loss of truth and loss of morality. He says that 25 years ago nobody would have conceived of the Soviet Empire falling apart and now he believes that it is a real possibility for America to fragment through loss of truth.
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The most important thing of the book, I think, has been that the focus of his prayers for the last years of his life was the church, the people of God. And especially that God would awaken the church. Re-energize the church and renew the church. And I want to ask you if you might think of putting the church (and I don’t just mean this church) – I mean the world wide church on to your prayer – regular prayers – that God would awaken and renew us because as Colson says you can’t pray for your nation unless you pray first for the church. The nation (and he is talking about America) has gone into crisis by trading a Christian world view for a secular one and the Christians don’t know what to do and cannot articulate their faith.
A Spiritual Issue, Not an Academic Issue
So his point is that God’s people need to be renewed for their role. This is in many ways a spiritual issue. It’s not an intellectual or academic issue. There is a time to read books and learn sentences but a lot of it is a spiritual issue. The person who is personally keen is the instrument God regularly uses to say something that is timely urgent and appropriate.
And this is what Deuteronomy is doing. This is what God is doing. This is what Moses is doing.
He is talking to his people about what he has been doing and is doing and will be doing and that God has the sovereignty and the power and the love and the wisdom – it’s exactly what Colson is talking about – address God’s people, teach them and pray for them.
And I mentioned in previous weeks, there are 3 speeches in the Book of Deuteronomy and we are in the middle of the biggest speech in the Book which is chapters 5 – 26.
Chapter 5 begins with
- I’ve rescued you, these are the commandments
- This is the role I have for you and
- These are the reasons why I chose you
Reasons that have got a lot to do with grace and love and not so much to do with power, cleverness or numbers.
Deueteronomy Chapters 11-12
Now today we come to chapters 11 and 12. To get your head around this (and I want to help you get your head around it because it’s terrible when you are completely confused by what the Preacher is saying) that basically the first 11 chapter of the Book are calling for decision. The Lord says “I have made a decision to make you my people and now I am asking you to make a decision to treat me like your God”. And you need to keep thinking about this – this is not a switch. You know you don’t look up at your Minister and say – you know that guy is incredible, he must have pushed a switch and now his faithfulness is just up, up and away – it’s not like that at all.
For all of us there is the tendency to doubt and disbelieve and disobey and we need to keep hearing the Word of God, aligning ourselves with the Word of God because the one who made a decision to make us his people is asking us to make a decision to respond properly to him. – That’s the first 11 chapters.
And then the next Section from chapters 12 on – is where the Lord asks for our devotion – not just a decision but devotion. And this is based on the fact that he is devoted to us – he is devoted to us to choose us, to walk with us, to provide for us and even to discipline us – he is so devoted that he may discipline us.
As one Commentator says ‘when I disobey God, I find nothing goes right’ and God is in the business, you see, of bringing us back to the path of truth and safety.
So the first 11 chapters are very much on this decision – am I going to listen to the Word of God and then the next chapters 12 and following are the question of devotion.
- He has made a decision for us – will I decide for him?
- He is devoted to us – will I be devoted to him?
All of our decisions and devotions are on the backdrop of his wonderful, wonderful grace.
As I was putting some notes together yesterday, there was a lot of noise up the road, a lot of cars in the street and I walked up and there was an auction taking place a few doors up and I stood at the back of the auction to see how things go – as you do in a greedy kind of way!
And the house sold well and it was bought by a very old man and I discovered talking to the neighbours that it has been bought by this man for his son. I thought what a very interesting thing because it’s a little bit run down this house and so this son is going to look at the house and he is going to say
‘gee I’ve got a lot of work to do – I am going to have to move – I am going to have to pack and move – I am going to have to move in – I am going to have to do some renovations’.
But all of that is on the backdrop of this incredible generosity from the father and that’s the way we are to think about our own response to God.
The Importance of Decision
So let’s turn to chapter 11 and think first of all about The importance of decision – his to us and us to him and then we will look at chapter 12 in a few minutes.
Look at chapter 11 verse 1 – the chapter begins like this:
“Love the Lord and keep his decrees” we have heard this many times and the reason that Moses keeps saying it is because a big part of love for God is action. A big part of relationships is action. I mean the emotions are very real and wonderful but a big part of our relationships is action. And the people of God on the verge of the Promised Land have received a great deal from God and they are being called to love him back. God has acted in their interested – they are to act for his praise.
And he says in verse 7 a very interesting verse, basically he says ‘when you who are now adults were children, when you were children you saw God rescue his people through the Sea and into the Wilderness – you saw it’. And then he says, looking back to verse 2 ‘but your kids didn’t see that’ and so you have to set the example. You were kids when you came out of Egypt, all the older generation have gone – you were kids but your kids who have been born in the Wilderness, your kids who have been born in the Wilderness, they didn’t see all this and so you have to live carefully, you have to set the example of gratitude and reverence.
Just as Christians today can say ‘Christ has rescued me from a complete lost-ness and he has been a good father to me in the journey – now I must practise trust and obedience and I must tell my children why this is the right thing to do – even though they don’t know everything that I know because there is no other way for us to honour Jesus than by trusting and obeying – and there is no other way to be happy in Jesus than by trusting and obeying’.
And Moses gives good reasons for doing this (verse 9). The land that you are moving into is also a good land and (verse 10) this is where God is going to be very gracious to you. He says in verse 10 “you know when you were in Egypt you slaved away and you had to work the irrigation with your foot (whatever that means). Some people think it was sort of pumping with the foot and some people think it was pushing sludge out of the way with the foot. But you had to work the irrigation – now look at the contrast (verse 11) – in Canaan the rain is going to plentiful. Irrigation is going to be the work of God.
- In the past you might think of Egypt as a place of works – In the future you are going to be in the place of grace.
It’s a very real illustration you see that God not only sends down the rescue. But he is also going to send down the daily mercies. He is not only going to bring them out of slavery. But he is also going to bring them into a real supply of what they need.
Not a Bread and Water God
So let me ask you, dear friends, do you ever think like this about God? Do you think it is possible that when you go home to lunch today and there is a really lovely variety on your table, that God might delight in the variety on your table? Of course he does. You know he is not a “bread and water” God. He delights to supply and provide variety and plenty.
Is it possible that what you have on your plate this week, in terms of difficulties and challenges and fears and anxieties – Is it possible that God would delight to order your path?That he would delight to govern your steps? That he would delight to provide little needs and great needs? Of course.
You need to put away from your mind the idea that you’ve picked up and I’ve picked up in our sin which is that He is a bit absent but thankfully we are here to solve all the problems! No, No He is very present and He is very kind and He is very powerful and it delights him to look after his people.
Then we come to a warning in verse 16 and I think again this warning is as fresh as it was when it was penned 1300 BC where Moses says ‘be very careful that you don’t get into the Land and start spreading the credit. Be very careful that you don’t get into the Land and start thinking – I am going to spread my options for God’s’. Be very careful that you don’t experience blessings and then think some of this I will attribute to Yahweh and some of this I will attribute elsewhere.
And I think behind this is no doubt the great reality of Baal. Baal was the Canaanite god – the god of fertility, not just sexual fertility but also of agricultural fertility. And what is going to be more tempting for Israel to get into the Promised Land and start hedging their bets – especially because they are in a very agricultural world and with the easier thing in the world for them to say – listen it’s bit of a tough time, why don’t we send out one prayer Yahweh and one prayer to Baal ! We can’t lose – Moses says – of course you’ll lose.
You’ve suddenly divided your heart, you are suddenly trusting God who is real and Baal who is complete myth. You might as well pray to Yahweh and then sort of talk to a brick on the ground! And you are dishonouring him – you are saying to Yahweh you know there are certain things you can’t do – we need to sort of broaden our options – that’s just insulting. It’s untrue, it’s dishonouring and it is disintegrating.
Are You Placing Anything Above God?
Well we may not be tempted to pray to other gods but if you imagine – If you imagine that there is one part of your life which is really too deep for God to handle, If you think God might be out of his depth with one part of your life, If you think that there is a part of your life which is ‘out of bounds’ for God, well you’ve moved into idolatry. You have just reduced him to something of your imagination.
No, verse 18 – we need to keep God’s Word in mind and keep it in our children’s’ minds and we need to think about God as he really is and we need to help our children (verse 19) to do the same.
I read a very interesting little paragraph this week of having the discussion with your children about marriage. And some of you may think to yourself – you know this is just too difficult – I don’t know really what to do; I just hope my kids work it out. And the writer said ‘why don’t you say to your children – you know you have a mum and a dad and you know why you have a mum and a dad because you need a mum and a dad to make you and a mum and a dad will raise you well – you know the mum and the dad have different strengths. And this is all part of God’s plan. God is so clever, so wise that he has worked out the best way to raise people.
Now some people we say the children don’t agree with this. They think a dad and a dad and a mum and a mum is fine but that’s not the plan of God. And we don’t want to be rude about those people but we disagree with those people. We are staying with the plan of God because he is wise and clever and knows what’s good for us.
And you have had your conversation! It’s not all that complicated. We need to be talking to our children about the practical real events of our theology. And we are discovering that there is nothing beyond God. That’s why God says ‘when you get into the Land I am going to be abundantly looking after you’.
During the week I was talking to somebody and they were telling me about a ministry to schools. And there are apparently people who go into schools and speak to Assemblies on how to hold your beliefs. And the organisers decided as they went in to the schools and spoke to the Assemblies – it would be nice if they could provide a free lunch. And so they went up to one of the great retail chains and they spoke to the CEO and they said – you know this is the way we are thinking and we were wondering whether you would be willing to give us 1,000 free apples. And the CEO looked a little bit shocked and said ‘you are asking a lot – but OK we will do it. You know that they come in their own cases’.
And they suddenly realised that they had asked him for green crunchy apples and he was thinking of providing Apple computers! And I thought what a lovely picture that we go and say we would just like something little and the Lord says – I’ve actually got a lot at my fingertips.
So to bring the whole decision section to a close (chapter 11 look at verse 29) – Moses says ‘when you get in to the Land you will find yourself between two mountains – one is called Gerizim, it’s a very fertile mountain and one is called Ebal, it’s a very barren mountain.
And Moses says this is what is happening when you get in and you are between the two mountains
– I want some people to get up on Mt Gerizim and proclaim the blessings and I want some people to get up on Mt Ebal and proclaim the curses and you will be in between and this will be a very concrete way of remembering what you are going to decide.
THIS DIRECTION ←
THIS DIRECTION →
Works or Grace?
Just before we leave this, I want to ask you a quick question which may be in your mind and I hope it is in your mind and that is:
Are we reading in Deuteronomy that obedience is the key to everything? Is obedience to the key to everything going well? Are we actually reading “works” here in Deuteronomy? Or is “grace” the key to everything going well?
Or to put it in another way – what happens, and what hope do God’s people have if everything hangs on obedience?
That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? If everything hangs on obedience, we will be on a terrible emotional roller-coaster.
No, the answer of Deuteronomy and the whole of Scripture is that God is a ‘parent’. Chapter 8 verse 5 “I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters”. God takes a parental role. The security that we enjoy is GRACE – the blessing that we enjoy comes from GRACE but in the frame work of GRACE, obedience and disobedience bring a parental response. Just like at home – your children live in the circle of grace and they are to be raised on the backdrop of grace but obedience and disobedience will bring a parental response which ideally is driven by grace.
How Dangerous is Disobedience?
So how dangerous is disobedience? That’s my next question.
Is it possible that disobedience could bring the discipline from God that you are removed from the Promised Land? If you are removed from the Promised Land – is that the end of your salvation?
I think my simple answer to that is that we mustn’t equate the land with salvation. Salvation is a much bigger issue than the land. The land is a symbol of God’s goodness and his purposes. But even if the people are removed from the Promised Land, it doesn’t mean that they will be removed from salvation. We know perfectly well that Moses never made it into the Promised Land. So we need to be very careful not to imagine that we are suddenly in a book of works here. Everything is coming by the GRACE of God but obedience and disobedience is going to bring a response from our heavenly father.
The Importance of Devotion
Now the second point (chapter 12) quickly, more quickly is The Importance of Devotion and this is where most people agree (chapter 12 verse 1 and following) that Moses is now unpacking the First and Second Commandments and then he will unpack the Third, Fourth, Fifth etc…
You remember the First Commandment – “I am the Lord who rescued you, therefore have no other gods and have no idols”. And if you look at chapter 12 you will see that the first part of your devotion to God, the first part of keeping God as your God is that you REMOVE – you REMOVE rivals. Chapter 12 verse 2 & 3 “Destroy completely all the places in the high mounts and the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places”
- If a man or woman is serious about marriage, they will break off all their other relationships
- If an addict is wanting to take seriously a new start, he or she will get rid of their tempting addictions as best they can
- The disciple who wants to follow Jesus is going to put every rival authority away.
And God’s people in the Promised Land are to smash the idols. This is like we are moving into Kings Cross, we want to remove every trace and vestige of what has been there so that nothing tempts us, nothing reminds us and the name of Christ is going to be established and no other name.
And the reason for this (verse 4) is because worship of God is not to be done as evil dictates but it is to be done as God dictates. In other words, we are not free to play with God. And the Bible is littered with people who have tried to play with God.
- Remember the man and the woman in the Garden and they said we would like God and fruit?
- Remember Saul saying ‘I’d like to be King and Priest’
- Remember Ananias and Sapphire saying ‘we’d like to have Christianity and dishonesty’
- Remember the Corinthians saying ‘we’d like to be spirit people and we’d like to be self-absorbed as well.
Worshipping God’s Way
You cannot worship God in your own way. It has to be God’s way and that’s why verse 5 God is going to choose the place (we might say the places). I know we immediately think when we read the Word in verse 5 that you have to go to the right place. We immediately think this would be the Temple but remember that this is well before the Kings and well before David and well before Jerusalem and so wherever God says you are to worship, whether at Shiloh or Shechem or Bethel or Jerusalem, that’s where you are to go.
And God is going to choose the method (verse 6) – keep bringing the sacrifices, you need the sacrifices, there is no forgiveness without the sacrifices.
And if you worship God (verse 7) as he dictates, you will rejoice. You see it won’t be a ton of bricks on your back – it will liberate you. Again in verse 12 ‘you will be rejoicing’.
We just turn this around, don’t we? We think if we do it God’s way it will be difficult. The Lord says if you do it my way, it will liberate you.
And notice the importance of the word “name” again in verse 3 – “Remove the names of the idols”. Verse 5 “Make sure his Name is central” because it’s the person you worship which is the key to your worship.
So when you come in today you might think to yourself –
- I hope are nice and I hope people are nice and
- I hope we get good hymns and
- I hope we do get good hymn and
- I hope the coffee is good and
- I hope the sermon is short and funny.
It’s About the Person You Engage With – Jesus
Let me tell you in the end it’s the Person you engage with which is what you are on about. It’s hearing his truth, it’s responding, it’s being real in your prayers, real in your praise, repenting, trusting and obeying, it’s JESUS, the Name above all names – the key to worship.
You may have seen on the Bulletin Letter that I have put a few quotes from the Qur’an –
- One saying that Jesus was a ‘mere mortal’
- One saying that Jesus couldn’t create a fly
- One saying that Jesus didn’t really get crucified.
What do we do with these sentences? We utterly reject them; we utterly oppose them because of the Scriptures. The truth of Christ, the truth of his Name, the truth of his death bringing access to God. These are absolutely vital to worship and vital to joy. There is no joy without them.
Or think of the pagan today who says ‘you can worship God anyway you like and just bypass Jesus if it suits you. Somebody has said there are 500 religions that have been raised up in the UK in the last 10 or 20 years – almost all of them have removed any authority – how convenient.
Well we may not get people to change their minds as we talk to them about Christ, we may. The tragedy is that if they invent another god – they have invented an idol. They are not worshipping the God of creation, salvation and revelation. The God who is very clear about how to approach him. Who tells us to come to Father through Jesus the Son?
Remember that Peter said on one occasion – “Gee we lost a lot when we decided to follow you, didn’t we Jesus?” And Jesus said “No, you’ve received a thousand times more, brothers, sisters, blessings and in the end eternal life”.
So let’s take God seriously when he tells us how to respond to him because he is good. And that’s why the middle of chapter 12 is all about food.
I won’t go into it but verses 15-28 is all about food. If you think that you are going to be deprived if you take God seriously, look at the middle of chapter 12 and you see that it’s all got to do with being in your towns or your villages and enjoying the food that is available. Just don’t, says God in verse 23, drink the blood. Don’t eat the blood – it’s a symbol of life.
Can you drink today, eat the blood today? Yes you can because all of those food laws have been put aside – so go home and have a good glass of blood if it appeals to you! All the food laws have been set aside.
But in those days, they were not to take part in the blood.
Great freedom, says God, few restrictions, do not get it around the other way and think huge restrictions, few freedoms, its –
- HUGE FREEDOMS
- FEW RESTRICTIONS
And the chapter finishes with a final appeal again – not to get down into idolatry and goes on in chapter 13 to say ‘even if your prophet tells you to go to idols, even if your relative tells you to go to idols, even if your community tells you to go to idols – do not go in that direction.
So you see decision time, responding to God, and devotion time, putting away anything that will get in the way and committing yourself to him – that’s what chapters 11 and 12 are all about.
And I am reminded as I close of Romans where Paul says in the first 11 chapters of Romans – you know we deserve nothing but Jesus Christ has come and paid the price to clothe us in righteousness, to give us a right standing with him, to put us on the Gospel Train, to take us forward with promises to delight us and rejoice in and he is going to make sure that we arrive. Therefore present yourself as a ‘living sacrifice’ – give yourself to him – say ‘you must be good, you must be great, I want to be yours’.
And we need to do that as believers again and again because we backslide so quickly, we drift, we are like sort of silly dogs that run away and need to keep coming home. And some people in this building need to do it for the very first time.
Found by Jesus
One of the people of the Christianity Explained course came in on Tuesday night and it was Week 3 and she said ‘I became a Christian during the week’. Well she is not meant to become a Christian between Week 2 and 3 – she is meant to become a Christian at the end of Week 4 so I am not sure what was going on there !
But a changed lady, she had gone home after 2 weeks learning about Christ and the cross and put herself into his hands and her son who has been wonderfully witnessing to her took the letters on her fridge and wrote across the fridge ‘FOUND” – Lovely !
Now this is very important what we are reading here to make a decision about God and be devoted to him because friends, if you know where you stand with God and you decide that you are going to take a stand for God you’ve got a massively significant role and place to play in his world for his glory. Don’t underestimate it. There is absolutely no telling how the Lord might use the individuals of this Congregation in days and weeks to come. So we make our Decision, we seek to be Devoted knowing that he has decided to make us his and he is devoted to us to bless us and to use us.
Let’s pray –
Our gracious God – thank you for these wonderful words. Thank you for reminding us of your decision to make us your people through Christ. Thank you for calling us to decide wisely for you.
We thank you too for your devotion, not only to provide and bless but also to discipline, to care for our souls and we pray that you would increase in us a desire to be devoted to you. And please take and use us this week that we might live for you and be instruments in your hand for good and lasting benefit.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.