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 5: “Joy and Fear”.
Part 5: “Joy and Fear”
I would ask you to open your Bibles to Deuteronomy chapter 14 on page 185.
What we are doing these Sunday mornings as most of you know for eight Sunday mornings – this is the fifth, is where we are actually listening to a sermon of Moses and this is recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy – in fact there are three sermons recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.
- One is the first 4 chapters which is a little re-cap of history
- The second is a major sermon from chapter 5 to chapter 26 and that’s really about faithfulness – God’s faithfulness to his people and their faithfulness back to him.
- The third sermon is the end of the Book which we will come to eventually and that’s a short sermon on ‘decision’.
So we are in the middle of the long middle sermon and Moses is unpacking the 10 Commandments because he is unpacking the covenant. And he is unpacking the covenant because he wants to remind the people that they are different – they have been chosen – they are to remember that they are a chosen people.
In the Commentary on Deuteronomy by a man called Ajith Fernando who works in Sri Lanka – he tells of a day when at the airport there was absolute chaos at the airport. And planes were not moving anywhere, passengers were angry and staff were getting angry. But he said one particular lady working for one of the Airlines was unfailing gracious and patient – never stopped being gracious and patient. And after a few hours, he went up to the lady and he said:-
“I’d like to know your name so that I can write to the Airline and thank them for you and for the way you have behaved today”.
She said ‘you can do that if you like but I actually, ultimately don’t work for the Airline and I ultimately work for Jesus Christ’.
And there was the key and the secret and the consistency and the difference. And that is really what lies behind Deuteronomy. Moses is speaking to God’s people who are a Nation and they have been given a new life because they have been drawn out of Egypt, about to enter the Promised Land and they are being called on to live like his people.
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I also want to remind you that Deuteronomy is teaching a lot of Law but that the law which we are reading about does not rule us. That is we are not the nation of Israel – we are the people of Jesus Christ.
But the Law of the Old Testament-
- teaches us
- it informs us
- it illumes us
We are not under Law – we under our Master and Saviour but the Law definitely teaches us that every single phrase in the Old Testament is instructive and not to be thrown out.
A Tour Through Deuteronomy
And I want to now (like a Coach Driver) take you on a rapid tour of a section of Deuteronomy which is going to be a lot for you, especially if you got up early this morning! And if you did – that was a big mistake! But I am going to take you on really a tour of a chunk of Deuteronomy to show you some of the tourist places along the road.
I remember when we were picked up and had landed at Heathrow Airport to work in the UK for 3 years from 1982-84 and we were picked up at the airport and we just went on a ride as you do from the airport – and we went to the east end of London where we were living and we just passed everything that we had ever seen on the Monopoly Board in 45 minutes! It was just a rapid tour.
And what does it say? It says we need to go back and look at this more carefully. Well we don’t get the option of looking at all too carefully – we are just going to look at some of the highlights along the way and if you want one theme, the theme of the whole section is that “God’s People are Distinct”. He sees us distinctly and we are to respond as his distinct people.
So the first section looking at Deuteronomy chapter 14 is what I have called New People and if you look at chapter 14 verse 1 you will see this. “You are the children of the Lord your God”- it could not be clear, could it? “You are the children of the Lord your God” – he is the Father of the Nation. There would come a day where Jesus would call God “his personal Father” and that would be a shock and then teach his disciples to call God “personal Father” but here God is the Father of the Nation. Therefore you are not like other people.
And if you remember that the 3rd Commandment said that you are not to take his name in vain – we are now looking at the unpacking of the 3rd Commandment. What does it mean to ‘not take his name in vain’?
Last week we looked at the unpacking of the 1st and 2nd Commandments – what does it mean to have him as your God and not an idol – for him to be devoted to you and you to be devoted to him? And now the question is – what does it mean for you to have his name written across your head and heart?
And one of the first things it means (verses 1 & 2 of chapter 14) is that you don’t think as the pagans do about death. When they face death (we read in verses 1 & 2) they cut themselves, they shave their heads – well the first thing the Lord says is ‘you are to see life and death completely differently’. This is a message of course that rings and runs right through the Old Testament and the New Testament that the people of God do not see life and death the same as the unbeliever.
The Food Laws
The second thing we come to in verses 3-21 is the ‘food laws’ – these food laws which we know and look so weird, so wild, and so wacky.
You know ‘eat this animal, not this animal –
‘eat this fish, not this fish’
‘eat this bird, not this bird’
‘eat this insect, not this insect’.
And this is the sort of verse that angry letters to the Newspaper grab and say ‘why isn’t the church keeping this……? ’ ‘Why don’t you get excited about this….? ’
Well people have tried to explain these food laws a number of ways. Some have said it’s a hygiene list – you know God has carefully removed all the scavengers, but that’s not quite true.
Some have said this is a ‘don’t copy the pagan’s list’ as though God has selected all the animals that will mean a lot to the pagan nations – that’s not quite true.
Basically this is a sovereign God-list. He has chosen what to eat and what not to eat. He has drawn up a list for Israel and this list is going to teach them every time they sit down for a meal two things.
- it’s going to teach them that God has clean and unclean people and they have been made a clean people by grace and there are unclean, un-yet saved people to be brought in
- it’s going to teach them that they must live differently because if God says this is “in” it’s in. And it he says it’s “out” it’s out. And they have to live distinctly. So it’s an election issue. Every time they sit down to eat their meal they are saying – chosen – lost, clean – unclean, privileged – needy
- it’s also an obedience issue. Every time they sit down they are saying to themselves, God runs our lives.
So you see it is a sort of life and death really – you are to see life and death differently (chapter 14, verses 1 & 2) and you are to see where people stand with God differently. And that’s incidentally why I think verse 21 which is one of the most perplexing verses in the Bible “that you are not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”. This is a verse which has really baffled the commentators but this morning yours truly has worked it out for the first time in church history! – Remember this day – people will be talking about this for years to come – not really.
I wonder whether it means that you are not meant to take a life issue which is the mother’s milk and use it for a death issue which is the broth in which it is being cooked. I wonder whether this food section just finishes by saying ‘don’t confuse and mess up what is a life issue with a death issue’. Well I’ll leave it for you to think about.
Now these food laws are abolished in the New Testament because Christ has come and has liberated us. As you read, if you read Mark chapter 7, he declared all foods to be ‘clean’. And if we belong to him, you see, we are not trying to live a holy life by a set of rules – we are trying to live a holy life by the new life that he has given us by his spirit which is shaped by the Word of God but not dominated by these Old Testament rules.
And bursting out of the believer (end of chapter 14) is gratitude and generosity and that’s why the chapter ends with a section on tithing. The Old Testament view was that you would take a 10th of what you received by way of income or produce and you would set that aside. You would set it aside for the Lord (verse 25). And you would also keep in mind the Levities, the Priests who made no income.
So here are God’s people seeing life and death differently, remembering that they are a chosen people and they live among a needy people and they are also rising up in gratitude to God and that is spilling over in the way they use their property and their income.
And therefore Commandment No. 3 that his Name is on us is being unpacked in a very practical way. We see death differently, we see people differently and we see our property differently.
The New Testament doesn’t legislate on this. It doesn’t give us a rule; it doesn’t give us a law. You won’t find the tithe in the New Testament. The closest you get is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 where Paul says ‘give a proportion – in proportion to what you receive’.
But what the New Testament calls on us to do is to live the new life we have been given through Jesus Christ so wisely and so generously and so effectively that as we read in 1 Peter – that pagans may glorify God. Peter says ‘you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ live so the pagans may glorify God.
And when Christian people (this is the sadness) when we compromise and drift and droop and blend in and become exactly like the world, it is a tragedy, it’s an absolute tragedy when Christian people have the same values as non-Christian people and when they do the surveys you know of behaviour in the world and behaviour in the church, there is this alarming consistency that shouldn’t be there.
When we get excited about non-Christian pursuits, more than Christian things – when we get soft on distinctives like abortion, and marriage and divorce and same-sex marriage – when we get soft on those things, we are basically just failing to honour God we are failing to be the people that he has asked us to be and there is something is wrong when we get soft on these things – something has gone wrong.
This is the new people. The new people in the Old Testament were externally new – out of Egypt going into a Land. The New Testament people like us – we are internally new – indwelt by God’s spirit so we are new people – that’s the first point.
The second point New Perspectives. If Commandment No. 3 means that we are to be new people, Commandment No. 4 (do you remember what that Commandment is? ) – the Sabbath Commandment means that we are to have new perspectives. So my second point this morning is New Perspectives. And if you look at chapter 15 verse 1 Moses says “At the end of every seven years (notice that 7 days, 7 years) you must cancel debts”. Literally the phrase is ‘you must make a release’ and so the translators assume this means cancel debts.
God built into the calendar of Israel the 7 year cancelling of debts and this was especially appropriate because among the people of Israel was so many poor people who would often give their property as a way of coping with the debts and sometimes give themselves as a slave because of their debts. And here is this lovely, lovely principle in the people of God – that on the 7th year they would cancel debts.
What does it mean to cancel debts? It sounds very impractical doesn’t it? Some people think that it means that you postpone the repayments for another year. So you say ‘you have got another year’. Some people say it means the cancelling of what’s owed in that 7th year so whatever you owe in the Sabbath year – forget it.
But I think it’s more likely and most Commentaries agree with this that what is being asked is the cancelling of debts (full stop). That the people of God knowing that God will look after them within the Fellowship will be prepared to cancel debts. Now how this plays into the life of the church today and the people who borrow tens or hundreds of thousands at a needy time – again the New Testament doesn’t legislate. But you can see the spirit of the fellowship of God’s people which is that maybe where there is something that is small and simple and manageable – it’s to be cancelled.
And it’s a fellowship issue (verse 3) it’s the brothers – it’s not the foreigners. It’s to be done in the fellowship – and the aim (verse 4) is that there no poor in the fellowship. Sadly (verse 11) the reality is that there will always be poor because the Israelites did not keep this law.
Now friends, what’s going on with this? What are we talking about? The Sabbath as you know was called to have fellowship with God and fellowship with God is infinitely more valuable than the whole world. I mean if you get the whole world and you get fellowship with God and put them in to a set of scales – the fellowship with God will outweigh the whole world. That’s what Jesus said. And so the Sabbath is reminding us of the privilege of fellowship with God and that we can trust him and we must obey him and we are to look beyond the world to one in the end is going to be more precious and more worthwhile than the whole world put together.
And therefore, says the Sabbath, you can rest, you know you don’t have to work 7 days a week and 7 nights a week because he will look after you. And you must rest because only he can really look after you. That’s why verse 4 says ‘the Lord will provide’ and verse 6 ‘the Lord will provide’.
I know this makes no sense to the unbeliever. I know this makes no sense to the really worldly man. The really worldly man says ‘no this is not going to happen, it’s all up to me and it’s all for me’. And Israel failed this word from God and that’s why prophets like Jeremiah and Amos and Micah had to come along and rebuke the people and say to them ‘you’ve got so many poor among you and you have forgotten to care for your brethren. The reason you have forgotten to care for your brethren is because you have lost your fellowship with your God.
And here is Moses, you see, appealing to them to trust God and to obey him. And he says in verse 7 ‘don’t be too clever, don’t say – Oh Year 7 has come and this is a bad time to lend to Uncle Fred. If I lend it to him you know it will be gone in a few months’. Moses says – don’t think like that (verse 10) God will provide for you.
And then he says in verse 12 ‘free your servants if the servant wants to be free’. Verse 16 ‘keep your servant if the servant wants to be kept’. And if you do free your servant (verse 13) provide well for your servants so that as they leave and you wave them ‘goodbye’ they go off with plenty because (verse 14) God has blessed you and (verse 18) God will bless you.
The same with your flocks (verse 19) ‘set aside the first-born of your flocks, the male, the healthy first-born’ because who do you think is providing for you? You can trust him.
Copying God’s Generosity
I was reading a story of a lady who came to her Pastor when there was a big appeal being made in the church and the lady said ‘here is $50 for the appeal’. And the Pastor said “if that is a reflection of how the Lord has blessed you, we accept it” and she withdrew it. And she came back the next week and she said ‘here is $5,000 for the appeal’. And he said “if that is a reflection of how the Lord has blessed you, we accept” and she withdrew it. And she came back the next week and gave him a cheque for $50,000 and said ‘this is a reflection of how the Lord has blessed me”.
And that’s how we are to think. We have a great heavenly Father who looks after us and therefore we can do what looks what a risk to the world in copying some of his generosity.
Now this ‘releasing’ is unnatural to us. We are naturally more protective of ourselves – even tight fisted. But you remember in Luke chapter 4 Jesus came into the world to release the prisoners, people like us who are chained to the world and chained to sin and chained to the devil and he released us. And when he releases us we get a new ability to ‘release’ in his Service.
Still on the Sabbath theme if you look at chapter 16, these are verses that were read for us. We begin to look at the Jewish feasts and of course these are related to the Sabbath. Chapter 16 verse 1 The Passover was to take place on the Sabbath and the Passover was the time where the Jews would remember their rescue from Egypt and they would sacrifice a lamb as they had done on the night of their rescue. And they would have unleavened bread you see for 7 days to remind them that they were in haste.
And then 50 days later (chapter 16 verse 9) there is the Feast of Weeks or the Feast that is sometimes called First fruits or Pentecost and this was to celebrate the start of the harvest, the beginning of the crops. This Pentecost was taken up in the New Testament where 50 days after Good Friday, 50 days after Calvary, Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost and begins to preach and God causes a great harvest of people to come in and believe.
Thirdly, in the Feasts in verse 13 there is the Feasts of Tabernacles or shelters or tents or booths to remind the people that they travel through the wilderness in these little tents and that God wonderfully provides for them and this is to celebrate the full harvest – the great provision of God. And notice that they are told twice to “rejoice” when they have their feasts. Very interesting isn’t it? Imagine me saying to you at the beginning of the Service – “we are going to give some time to music this morning, we are going to give some time to prayer, we are going to give some time to fellowship and I command you to rejoice” ! It’s a very interesting idea isn’t it?
You know, don’t we normally have to wait for a feeling to come but no, no we can be commanded to rejoice because to rejoice means that you put your minds on the rescue work of God in your life despite all the other things. So that as I have often said “Noah in the middle of the Ark with darkness and smell everywhere can still rejoice that he is in the Ark because he is travelling from one shore to the next” And not every problem has been removed but he is able to specifically and deliberately rejoice and that’s what we have been told here.
Well all these feasts were signposts to Jesus:
- he’s the true Passover Lamb
- he’s the real First Fruit of the Resurrection, the first one out of the grave and
- he is also the Preserver of us as we travel through the Wilderness
- He’s the Rock
- he’s the Bread
- he’s the Light
- he’s the Water as he said in John 7 at the Feast of Tabernacles at the Feast of Tents “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, streams of living water will flow from within him”.
Now friends do we miss the Jewish Feasts – Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles, do we miss them and do we need them? No we don’t. We profit from reading about them but all the things that help us to remember our Saviour and our rescue and all the things that help us to remember the Resurrection and the future and all the things that help us to remember his preservation in the present – everything that helps us appreciate him, past, future and present – is to be valued.
And I don’t know what does help you remember, but I guess the Word of God helps us to remember and the people of God help us to remember. I honestly come here some Sundays – I feel like my heart is in reverse spiritually and I am surrounded by people who are going forward and I am so thankful that the example and the stimulus and the blessing that this is – we need each other to help us to keep trusting Him, and the Holy Spirit works supremely to remind us of what Christ has done and the Resurrection and his preservation. So that’s New People and New Perspectives and finally and briefly New Priorities.
This is where we come to the end of chapter 16 verse 18 and we are introduced to judges and new priorities. And I wonder if this is the unpacking of the authority figure as in Commandment No.5? Those people who are over us – how does this play out in the life of Israel?
Interesting isn’t it that the judges are put at the end of chapter 16 which has been all about religious feasts – you would expect the judges to go into chapter 17 but here it is in chapter 16 because God doesn’t not separate the sacred and the secular like we do. And the judges (chapter 16 verse 18) were to be set up in every town. And they were to be impartial and they were to be honest and verse 2 of chapter 17 – they were to deal with idolatry.
So verse 3 “If anybody worships other gods” and to worship other gods in Israel was the supreme crime. Those who worship other gods were bringing into the nation a spiritual cancer which would kill the people. And therefore it had to be dealt with like a surgeon with a death penalty. And in verse 4 there was a careful investigation to be made and then in verse 6, two or three witnesses were to speak so that it wasn’t just one person bringing one person down and verse 7, those witnesses were to lead the execution.
So this is to purge the evil, to purge the evil from among you. When Jesus was faced in John 8 in that passage which may or may not be in the New Testament but it’s most of our New Testaments in brackets and was faced with that situation with the woman caught in adultery and the willingness or the readiness of the people to stone, you remember he applied much more the principle of mercy. But there was a place for justice because the issue was so serious.
And if the cases in Israel were too difficult (chapter 17 verse 8) they were to go to the High Court and the High Court was a place where the Priests and the Judges would work together examining God’s Law and try to work out what to do. And again this was to purge the evil. Small cases – big cases. Serious cases – personally difficult cases – God set up his judges.
Now remember this was instruction to the Nation, Israel was a Nation. They were also of course a church; they were a Nation and a church. We are not a nation in the same sense. But God is looking for his people like us to weed out evil and error. I need to do it from my life and you need to do it from your life. And if there are sins which are finding their roots in your heart and you are beginning to live with them and you are becoming careless about them and you have even lost your conscious over them, we need to weed out those things with the help of God. We need to weed out the evil and the error. We should be doing it personally and corporately. Just as Paul instructs the Corinthians to weed out evil and error, and he rejoices in the Philippines and the Thessalonians that they are doing it.
The Prediction of Kings
And then at the end of the chapter is the prediction of kings. There is going to come a time, says Moses where you are going to ask for a king. And of course they did. And the king, you see, comes after the judges because the king is meant to be under the Word of God. The judges were dealing with the Word of God; the kings were not dealing with the Word of God.
And these kings were to be marked by being an Israelite and they were to turn their back on power, women and money because a king who became too proud of his power or gave himself to too many wives or collected too much silver and gold and therefore assumed that he was unbeatable – he’s a very dangerous man. If only Solomon had these lessons. This is the way pagan kings would think – power – women – money.
Chris Wright says ‘weapons, women and wealth’ why else be a king? That’s the way pagans would think but it’s a very different thing isn’t it for the people of God.
The king who is elected had to be one of their own and he had to turn his back on power, wives and money and (verse 18) he had to take the Word of God, write it out for himself (verse 19) read it every day for himself (verse 19) do it and not place himself above the Word or above the people because friends, kings were very, very influential people.
If you got a bad king, you pretty well got bad leadership of a nation.
If you got a good king, you got good leadership of a nation
And that’s why when kings went astray like Saul went astray and David went astray and Ahab went astray and Heron went astray, God would have to bring over the top of the king a very brave prophet.
So Samuel stands over Saul
Nathan stands over David
Elijah stands over Ahab
John the Baptist stands over Herod
And they say “The Lord is the Lord – do his Word – he is above you”.
So God is planning, you see, a special people who will live in the world, tragically Israel failed.
We need to feel the force of these verses, not just quickly dismiss them and say ‘they belong to another time’ because all of these verses are teaching us that we are to be distinctive. We need God’s help to be distinctive, don’t we? We need his help to be trusting. We need his help to be obedient. Not because our salvation comes by obedience. Our salvation comes through Jesus but if salvation comes, we ought to be different.
Charles Finney in an article which I was reading not long ago says this – it’s quite quaint language but I will close as I read these words to you – I keep reading this because it keeps disturbing me and if you get this, I think it will disturb you.
He says – “Christians should give the world no cause to scoff especially by seeming to want exactly what worldlings want. Some have said that we must conform TO the world to show that our religion is attractive” – but this is what Finney says –
“Our new life is better than the world and the real Christian has joys beyond this world so we will mislead and misrepresent God if we have no better joy than the world.
An unconverted man will see through us. The unconverted man will see what we are excited about. He may flatter us and say – ‘well you are not a fanatic and you are not a bigot’ but he has no real reason to flatter you and this is the deadly sentence – there is actually no sincerity in the praise of the impenitent for the hypocrite’ – actually there is no sincerity and there is no praise of the impenitent for the hypocrite. (that’s the unbeliever) for the fake.
We need his help, don’t we if we are to be distinctive people. Otherwise I and you are just going to blend right in – we will not honour God and we will not help the people around us.
Now Jesus has come to give us life and life to the full. He’s the one that we look to for the life to begin and he’s the one that we look to for the help as we keep going. I think we must feel the force of these verses and say ‘not only have we received great things but we are called to great things’ and we must ask him daily if not hourly for the grace from on high to be the people that he has called us to be because he has even more wonderfully privileged us to be.
Let’s pray – Loving Father we pray for your mercy as we think about how unlike the people you’ve called us to be – we are. And we ask for your grace in order to amend and change. Please work in us by your Spirit and by your Word a new conviction, a new appreciation, a new delight and a new gratitude so that we might see what you have done for us and given to us and that by your mighty power we might be the people in your world you have called us to be.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.