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 7: “Signs of Life and Death”.
Part 7: “Signs of Life and Death”
[Prayer] Our Father we are so thankful there is a voice that pierces through death and deafness and we pray that in your kindness and power you would be pleased with that same voice from your Word this morning to speak to us in a fresh and helpful way. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Well friends this morning we are in our 7th morning in the Book of Deuteronomy. This is God’s people standing on the edge of going into the Promised Land and Moses is preaching a series of sermons which are recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy – in fact there are 3 of them.
There is a sermon in chapters 1-4 that is quite quick – there is a long sermon in chapters 5-26 and then there is this quick sermon which we come to today of Deuteronomy chapters 29 and 30. And in some ways it is the climax of the book. It’s an evangelistic sermon. He is actually asking the people of Israel to make a decision.
And I think I’d like to say the same to you today on the basis of this chapter or two that this is a time where again and again we need to re-state what we believe or begin a relationship with Christ. And if you say – I need months and miles to get this right, Moses says – ‘No, the Word is right next to you ready for you to receive’.
We live as you know in a world which is rebellious to God. The Bible tells us and I notice an advertisement on the television for a particular car. The advertisement begins by saying “some people say you should walk the straight and narrow” and then comes the question “where’s the fun in that?” – that’s the way our world thinks, isn’t it? – where’s the fun in that?
And then comes this great line – “go your own way – go your own way”. What a subtle thing to say – go your own way.
Now God in his wisdom that if you go your own way it’s just going to get darker and it will end in destruction but if using the words of chapter 30 “you chose life which today means chose Jesus Christ” then it will be light and life in the present and forever.
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You might ask the question why Moses would be evangelising the people of Israel. I mean this is God’s people – they have come out of Egypt, they have crossed the Red Sea, they have travelled through the Wilderness, He has looked after them – why would Moses be evangelising them? And the answer if you look at chapter 29 verse 12 is that he is asking them to enter into the Covenant or as we would say – commit yourself or recommit yourself. The word literally is ‘I am asking you to pass over the Covenant’ or we might say ‘to cross over the line’ or we might say ‘to underline your Covenant decision’ – it would be as if a prime minister said to our people today – “I want you to make a decision in the voting world” or a Preacher said in the church “I want you to make a decision in the eternal world” – here is Moses calling on people to make a decision.
And if I was to preach the Gospel to you today – the simple message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and then I was to ask everybody in the building to stand if you profess Jesus as Lord, some of you would do it for the first time, God Willing, and some of you would be standing to say ‘this is something I decided a long time ago but I am echoing or underlining or inking in my decision’ – and that’s what Moses is doing here in these two chapters. Will you state your position? It’s a Covenant renewal.
Now the text is so great I thought we would just jump in to it straight away. You probably know that as a person gets ready to preach to a congregation he is conscious of lots of opposition to Christianity. The world, the flesh, the devil and lots of opposition. And you can think to yourself as you are preparing – what can I do to help the people to believe and to rejoice and to grow?
And as I prepare I also think about lots of needs in the congregation – needs of sadness and sickness and foolishness and all sorts of needs and I think – how am I going to engage everybody? And then I turn to the text and week after week after week I say – there’s the answer – it’s in the text. I don’t have to come up with anything clever – just look at the text.
So we are going to look at chapters 29 and 30 quite quickly this morning.
Unpacking Moses’ Sermon
Chapter 29 is really the serious chapter. It’s the chapter that says – you may be in the wrong position, you need to take this seriously.
Chapter 30 is the most joyful chapter. This is how God will bless you – this is how God has spoken.
So let’s look at chapter 29 of Deuteronomy and let’s look especially at verse 2 – Moses begins by saying to the whole crowd of God’s people –
- “You have all seen everything that the Lord did.
- You saw the escape from Egypt
- You saw the crossing at the Red Sea
- You saw the time at Mt Sinai
- You have seen the Wilderness experience
- You saw it all”
How can he say this? How can Moses say this? Most of them were not alive for that. Most of them have been born and grown up since. And the answer is because he is addressing them as a nation. He is saying to them – you know as a nation that this is something you experienced. Again it would be like a prime minister saying, – “you saw that we went into World War I. You saw that we went into World War II.” He doesn’t mean you literally saw it but you know it.
Or a Preacher might say “you know that the Protestant Church made a break from the Roman Church – you saw that we made a break” and it doesn’t mean literally that you were there for 1517 when Luther nailed up his thesis but you understand it.
And here is Moses saying “you saw this, you understood this” and then he turns around in verse 4 and says actually you don’t see it, you don’t get it, you don’t really understand, you actually don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear. Even though (verses 5 & 6) I provided for you through the Wilderness, amazingly your sandals did not wear out – look at the sovereignty of God! And all the food you needed and all the drink you needed – I provided for you and then (verses 7 & 8) I protected you – I actually enabled you – just a motley crew to win some great victories. I provided for you and I protect you but you don’t get it – you don’t really get it.
The People Have Ignored God’s Power
And I think Moses is saying that if the miracles of what God has done – Egypt to the present day on the verge of the Promised Land – really penetrated and illumined, they would be saying from the heart “we must be devoted to God, no rivals and no alternatives – he’s the one, he’s got the provision, he’s got the power, we must be addicted to him, fixated on him” – but it’s not happening!
So God expected, you see, that there would be a heart devotion but it has not come. And that’s why Moses is preaching, or God is preaching through Moses.
And I think it is a very striking thing to begin a sermon by saying “you’ve got eyes but you don’t see and you have ears but you don’t hear.”
When I was a new believer and our church used to do evangelism on Sunday afternoons – we would arrive, we would pray and we would go off into different parts of Sydney and we would do evangelism in little teams together. I remember once going down to Bondi Beach and I was standing there and another church had got there before. They were there on the grass and they were having a kind of a rally. And I stood at the back and I listened and the guy said –
“God has done a new thing
He has revealed new information
The Christians have not realised this
They are still blind
But we have eyes to see and ears to hear
And we have been able to respond”
It was the Unification Church – what used to be called “The Moonies”. But I don’t mind telling you that I stood at the back of the crowd quite frightened at the prospect that I was in the dark, that I was actually blind, that I was deaf and that I had missed everything. It really worried me and I was pretty new and I went back and I asked other people and checked my Bible and I discovered of course they were contradicting the Scriptures completely – it was a lie.
A Little Healthy Fear Can Lead Us to Truth
But it’s not a bad thing, is it to have a little bit of healthy fear that you may have missed out. It’s not a bad thing to fear that you may have missed something really significant. And although I am not the judge and you must be thankful for that, I can discern often when people are spiritually blind. And if I said publicly today that some in this building are almost certainly observing the building and seeing the people and hearing the music and hearing the preacher like Muzak but nothing has really been seen, nothing has really been heard and nothing has really transformed you – I hope that some of you sitting in the pews would say – “I really hope that’s not me”. I hope some of you would say “that worries me” and that it might lead you in healthy fear to go to Jesus and to ask for mercy and forgiveness.
Faith Will Be Seen In Prayer
Let me suggest another application to this morning congregation because as you know I have been saying for 25 years that we get our salvation in Jesus and we also get our progress and our strength in Jesus and we express our faith most clearly in prayer.
Jesus said ‘faith will be seen in prayer’ – Luke chapter 18. And so when we stop as a church every two months to pray, that’s the reason we do it because we recognise that:-
- somebody has got to fuel the bus
- somebody has got to feed the troops
- somebody has got to go to the source and ask for God’s help.
Now if this morning congregation sends about 1 in 10 to the prayer meeting, allowing for those who cannot make it which is entirely understandable but if on a regular basis, 1 out of 10 come to the Prayer Meeting, you would have to say that we are not really getting it and that it is perfectly possible you see that in a congregation like this people who are giants in business or giants even in fitness could be pigmies in the faith because unless we are really putting into practice understanding what we say that we need Jesus and what we hear that we need Jesus, it’s not really taking place at all.
One of the things I want to work on is the prayer meetings –
- that they will be refreshed
- that they will be special
- that they will be joyful
- that they will be helpful and
- especially that we as a group will get underneath and express our dependence on the Lord.
So Moses is appealing to these people, people who have sort of got eyes but they don’t see, people who have sort of got ears but they don’t hear – he is asking them to come to their senses and he says in chapter 29 verse 10 “you are in God’s presence now” so (verse 12) “get into the covenant – align yourself – join Him – marry Him – or if you have married him, restate your vows”. And he says in verse 15 “you must do this for future generations because your children are going to need godly parents and godly grandparents”.
An Appeal to Choose Well
We know that this appeal to choose is a theme that runs through the Bible – “Make your decision, make your decision”. In the next Book of the Bible Joshua says at the end of Book of Joshua – ‘who are you going to serve, Israel who are you going to serve? If you are going to serve idols – go and serve idols.’ And then he says that wonderful sentence,
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.
“CHOOSE” says Joshua – idols or the Lord – make your decision.
And this runs all the way through the Bible until you come to Jesus saying:
“You know, there is a broad road and it leads to destruction and there is a narrow road that leads to life. There is a foundation of sand which will not stand in the judgement and there is a foundation of rock…” – This very wonderful call to CHOOSE.
And then you see Moses adds a warning which is very appropriate (verse 16). He says you have seen the idols – be careful that you don’t give your heart to the idol because you may think in the short term – this has been wonderful – but it will destroy you. And he is talking now about people who are addicted to idols – people who give themselves to an idol.
Last night I was speaking at a dinner at Toongabbie and two of the men of the fellowship got up and one spoke a fair amount of time on being rescued by Jesus from pornography. It was a very, very searching talk and the statistics are huge.
And then the next guy got up and spoke for a good length of time on being delivered by Jesus from greed and accumulation and that was also very searching because these two men were putting their finger on two of the great great idols – basically sex and money = which have got a grip for many, which is depressing in the short term and destructive in the long term.
A Warning Against Choosing Our Own Path
And this amazing warning comes in verse 19 – just look at chapter 29 verse 19. I’d never even noticed this verse in the Bible before and I didn’t even realise the Bible was so clever as to say what I sometimes think! Which is verse 19 – I will be safe even if I go my own way! I read that this week and I thought that verse is saying exactly what I say in my worst moments. I can do what I like – nothing will happen – I am safe – I can do anything I want.
And you know that that message comes directly from the snake who said to the couple in the garden – “do whatever you like and nothing will happen”. And terrible terrible consequences followed.
Something is wrong with me when I say “I’d like to turn my back on God” – somebody who provides so wonderfully, protects so wonderfully – I’d like to walk away from him. I know that I am sick at that point and we are sick at that point when we talk like that. We need to ask God to give us a healthy fear and a healthy inclination and a healthy appreciation for Him so that we see that he outweighs everything this world can offer.
Now obviously in the next bit of chapter 29 Moses runs with this rebellion and he talks about the person who turns away and never turns back. Don’t be frightened if you are a believer by these verse that talk about how you might be destroyed. What Moses is talking about here is the person who makes a decision – I am going down the broad road and I am staying on the broad road. And Moses says if that’s the decision that you make, there’s going to be terrible, terrible disaster. Everything will eventually unravel and the people around the nation of Israel will look and they will say “what’s gone wrong with the people of Israel, what has their God done to them?” And the answer will come back “the people abandoned him” and so God brought his judgement to bear.
And at the end of chapter 29 comes verse 29 which is one of my favourites and one of the most important verses in the whole of the Bible which says:-
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children”.
And I have often taken this verse into a very difficult context of suffering and said to people – you know this is obviously a ‘secret thing’ and I do not know why this has happened. I am as grieved by this as you but it doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything. There are revealed things. We are agnostic about the sadness but we are dogmatic about the truth. It’s a very precious verse.
But look at the verse in context. Moses is saying – look there are secret things and they belong to the Lord our God – don’t worry about those things but there are things revealed there for you and your children – what are you doing with what’s revealed? That’s what Moses is saying. You better take them in and you better help your dependents to take them in as well.
Some of this is very repetitive – warning, blessing, warning, blessing, warning, blessing. One commentator says ‘we too often forget what we should remember and we remember what we should forget’. So 7 times Moses says ‘this is Covenant, Covenant, Covenant and five times he says ‘work out where you stand today, today, today’.
Taking Jesus Seriously
I went this week to visit a man who is dying. He thinks he has may be a couple of months to live. I don’t know him very well – he doesn’t come to this church. He asked if I would come and speak to him. He was sitting in the chair breathing with difficulty. We talked for a little while about his illness and then he said to me a very interesting thing. He said – “I am not worried about the future, you know, because there are two possibilities – there is either nothing to come in which case why bother – or there is a judge and I think I have lived a good life”.
I said to him – “so you are not a Christian?”
He said “Oh, I am a Christian”.
I said “you are not talking like a Christian.” A Christian says – ‘I am a terrible sinner but I have an even greater Saviour’.
And he said something very interesting – he said “I feel as though you are acting like Satan and you are prompting me with a pitch fork”.
And thank the Lord occasionally I have a thought that comes logically to bear – and I said ‘I wonder if I am actually prodding you with the Sword of the Spirit – God’s Word and that you have to make a decision to take Jesus seriously?’
He said “I am perfectly safe”.
So I said to him eventually as I was leaving I said “are you born again”?
And he said “No I am not born again”.
And I said “Well Jesus says you must be born again if you are to see the Kingdom of God. You have had a birth – you have a life and it’s running out and you need a new birth in order to have eternal life which will never run out”.
And in God’s kindness – he kept quiet and I trust and have prayed a number of times since that will cause him to see the Lord’s mercy.
That’s what we do when we talk to people, isn’t it? We want them to choose life; we want them to choose Jesus – that’s what Moses is preaching here in chapter 29.
The Mercy and Truth Chapter
Now the second chapter, briefly and more briefly is chapter 30 which we might call Mercy and Truth and if chapter 29 is full of warnings, chapter 30 begins with absolutely beautiful promises. Verse 2 says “When you return to the Lord”
Verse 3 says “He will restore your fortunes”
If you turn away he will welcome you back says Moses and in verses 3, 4 and 5 he says it will be abundant, the blessing. He will give you prosperity, he will give you crops, he will give you babies, he will give you everything and he will wonderfully, wonderfully bless you.
Now why would God’s people return when they turn away? We are not really capable of turning back ourselves are we? We are responsible but we are really good at it.
Well look at verse 6 – God is going to incline their hearts. He is going to circumcise their hearts. In other words he is going to change them inwardly so they want to come back. And we must thank God many of us in the building today that there came a time where we wanted to go in the direction of Jesus Christ because God was behind that. We were doing what we should do but God was behind it. And every time we turned back to him and repent again, God is behind it.
We mustn’t presume on this but God graciously inclines us and there is a little preview here in Deuteronomy 30 of what Jeremiah talked about and Ezekiel talked about that there will come a time when God would turn the heart of stone into a heart of flesh and he would put a new spirit and incline us to walk in his ways and Moses is even predicting this here in Deuteronomy chapter 30. And he says everything when you return will be affected for good.
Prosperity… children… animals… crops.
Because God is sovereign over everything. You don’t have to worry about the other gods in the land – He runs everything. As one writer says – the land will be restored, the hearts will be renewed, the nations will be recruited and prosperity will be realised.
What Does God Mean By Prosperity?
Now what do we do with this prosperity language today in the 21st Century – does it apply to us? Because Jesus didn’t go around saying to people “Follow me and I will make you rich”.
And the Apostle Paul never said “I am so glad I am a Christian because it’s made me really rich”. No, we must recognise that this is God’s Word in time to Israel in the Land. How is God going to make sure that the people in the Land (the people of Israel) how is he going to make sure that those nations watching see that God is blessing them? And the answer is that it’s going to be because he is going to give them visible and outward and obvious blessings.
But when we come to the New Testament, the blessing God and the prosperity of God is not so much outward and visible and perishable, it’s much more wonderful. It’s inward and spiritual and eternal. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians “he has given us EVERY spiritual blessing”. If you are a believer, no believer has a blessing that you don’t have. I don’t mean they might not have a gift you don’t have or a grace but in terms of spiritual blessings and in terms of forgiveness and adoption and on to glory, you have been given in Christ all the blessing, all the spiritual blessings. And that why Peter says “our inheritance is in heaven where it cannot defile, perish or rust”. Great, great and great lasting – not outward, not perishing but inward and eternal blessings – that’s how God blesses us because he is a God of great generosity.
I heard this week of a man who was shopping for his wife for Christmas and he went in and said to the lady –
“I’d like some perfume” She brought out a $100 bottle. He said “It’s too expensive”
She brought out a $50 bottle. He said “It’s too expensive too”
She brought out a $20 bottle. He said “That’s still pretty expensive – show me something cheap”.
She held up a mirror!
Clever! We are capable of that aren’t we? Stingy! I was going to say we might limit to $80 per person but we are capable, aren’t we? God is not like that. God is a God of abundant, abundant kindness and power. The problem is that we are disinclined for that close fellowship.
God Has Come Down For Us- But We Must Choose
So such mercy from God (chapter 30), such truth from God and this in verse 11 is the passage we had read for us where Moses says as he comes to the end of his sermon – and this is a brilliant ending to the sermon,
“I am not asking you Israel to climb up to heaven to get this, I am not asking you to cross the seas to get this – NO it’s in your mouth and in your heart – this is the Word of God”.
I think this is such an interesting critique of religion because the religions of the world all virtually say – you must climb up – you must do great things in order to arrive. And the Bible says the exact opposite – he has come down for you.
And then there are those religions that say if you really want to secure your salvation – if you really want to seal the deal, you have to go on a pilgrimage and Moses says – you don’t need to do that because God himself has crossed over to you. And we are going to remember this soon aren’t we that Jesus Christ has come down to us and has crossed the gulf to us and has brought the Word to us and holds out 2 hands to us so that we might just take and receive, none of this heroism, none of this magnificent game playing. The God of the Bible says “no climbing, no sailing” – he’s crossed the gulf.
And if you are a long way away, he has come right to your door. You may be a long way away but he has come right to your door with a message that says “choose life, choose Christ”. But you must turn to him because otherwise nothing will change, you must bring your heart to his feet, a heart which up until now may have been saying – No, not yet, not ready, no, not yet, not ready – that heart has to say ‘READY – Yes I put myself at the feet of Christ’s cross and say forgive me, change me, have me – I belong’.
Interestingly Paul quotes this Deuteronomy 30 in Romans 10 when he is explaining faith and he says exactly the same thing:
“You don’t need to ascend into heaven, you don’t need to cross the seas, Jesus is Lord and when you believe that, and you call to Him, you have eternal life”.
Now that’s Moses evangelising the people – many of them will have hearts that belong to the Lord and many of them will have hearts not yet belonging to the Lord and we are listening today to his sermon. And I want to say to all of us this morning, we need to make a decision again and again and again to either underline the decision we have made for Jesus or especially and urgently to make that decision.
I don’t think I have told you before, as I close, the story in history in 320AD when the Roman Emperor was very hostile to Christians and he ordered that everybody was to give sacrifices to him. And in the 12th Legion of the Roman Empire there were 40 Christian soldiers and they resolved together that they would not produce these sacrifices to the Emperor. They said they would not do it because ‘you shall serve no other gods but Jesus’.
And they begged these soldiers to change their minds and to compromise – just to offer a quick sacrifice and all would be well – but they refused. And it was the middle of Winter and they took these 40 soldiers of Sebaste as they are known and they took off their coats and they marched them out to the middle of the frozen lake and they made them stand on the frozen lake while the guards stood around on the shore with the fires and the heating berating and belittling them.
And the 40 soldiers of Sebaste sang with the 40 friends of Jesus and they prayed to the Lord that he would keep them strong to the end, that there may be 40 who stayed to the end.
In the middle of the night one of them gave up and crawled back and recanted and renounced his faith in Christ. One of the Roman Guards who had been watching the 39 on the ice quietly took off his coat and walked out onto the middle of the ice and stood with the 39. And they began their song again – 40 Friends of Jesus – asking that he would keep them faithful to the end. And they died the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. That’s a decision, isn’t it?
Were they choosing life or death? They were choosing life – Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – I give eternal life” – everybody needs to make that wise decision.
Let’s pray – Gracious God, thank you that you not only invite us into fellowship with you, but you have made the Way through the Lord Jesus.
We pray that you would so work in each one here today that we might not only have outward ears but inward ears and not just outward eyes but inward eyes and a heart that is genuinely impacted by your gracious invitation – a heart that responds and a heart that is made new.
We ask this in the name of our Saviour and our King, Jesus Christ – Amen.