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Simon Manchester presents an eight-part series of messages exploring the book of Deuteronomy. This week, Part 8: “Everlasting Arms”.
Part 8: “Everlasting Arms”
Loving Father, we thank you that you are full of patience with us and kindness towards us. We pray that your Holy Spirit who inspired the words that we are going to think about for a few minutes would carry these words to our minds and our hearts and that we would trust you and live to the praise of Jesus Christ. We ask it in His Name – Amen.
Now you might like to open your Bibles again everybody to Deuteronomy chapter 33 and we are going to focus on 5 words from the Old Testament which I think have brought comfort to God’s people for about 3,000 years. I wonder how many homes around the world for the last 100’s of years have had stuck up somewhere above a mantelpiece or on a wall – I wonder how many cards, Christmas cards, Christian cards, Calendars, fridge magnets – I wonder how many of them have had these 5 words from Deuteronomy 33 verse 27
UNDERNEATH ARE THE EVERLASTING ARMS
And this is a text that comes at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy and we have come to the end today of a series of sermons in the Book of Deuteronomy – this is the 8th of 8. We have taken occasionally some chapters at once but we are today just taking 5 words.
Now the background to this book and this text is that Moses has been preparing God’s people for entry into the Promised Land. He himself is about to die and he is not going to enter into the Promised Land but he gathers the Tribes together just as Jacob in the Old Testament (Genesis) gathered his 12 sons together and blessed them one by one – Moses now in a fatherly way blesses the 12 Tribes of Israel. And when he’s finished blessing the 12 Tribes he comes to this climatic section in 33:1-26. He said something to each of the Tribes – now he is something to all of the Tribes and it’s like he bursts out – this old man and bursts out with this enthusiasm as he talks about the God that they belong to. And this is basically what he says in 33:26 and following – he says –
There is no one like God
He rides on the heavens to help you
He is your refuge,
Underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemy before you,
How blest you are. He is your shield and helper and your sword
You will trample your rivals.”
Now of course Moses is not saying good-bye to God, Moses himself is secure but he is not going to enter into the Promised Land – is that a big loss? Not a great loss really,
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But why would Moses say this to such people – I mean these Israelites, the people of God have been hopeless. They have failed to believe the Word of God which is why they had to wander in the Wilderness for 40 years. They have been tempted by every distracting idol that has come along. They have winged about their difficulties, they have drifted all over the place – how can Moses say to these people “you are safe – you are secure”? And the answer is because God has initiated a relationship with them which is not based on their worthiness but is based on his loving kindness towards them – that’s grace. He has made a Covenant with them, he with them.
During the week I was shopping around the Manly area and there was a lovely mother there pushing her teenage daughter in a wheelchair. And this teenage daughter really had every difficulty that you could image. She had physical difficulties, mental difficulties, social difficulties and the mother was so sweet and so loving towards her and I thought as I looked at these two – what a long road for this mother.
And I wondered (this strange thought occurred to me) would it be possible that a man would come along who would see this girl, this lovely girl and commit himself to her in marriage and see her through the rest of her life? What an extraordinary thing that somebody would come along with all the challenges and so few returns and commit himself – well maybe there would be very special returns!
Now God has committed himself to a bride and the bride is us – it’s his people – Old Testament and New Testament and we are difficult and we are more difficult than just having physical or emotional difficulties – we have spiritual difficulties. We are unfaithful, we are devoted in fit-full ways, we are wayward, the Bible says we adulterous and he stays with us.
No wonder Moses bursts out at the end of Deuteronomy 33 to say to God’s people – ‘do you realise how blessed you are? Do you realise who has entered into Covenant with you? And he is going to sustain you and carry you and protect you and provide for you and love you – underneath you are his everlasting arms.
So Moses is going to leave them. He can’t support them anymore. The idols that are in the Land are not going to be any help to them – they will be the opposite. You know, they might as well trust a STICK or a STONE as trust an idol! But God is going to be their keeper – everlastingly faithful.
And therefore this promise – ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’ points beyond the Old Testament – everlasting – beyond the New Testament – everlasting – all the way into Eternity. And is fulfilled of course in the Person of Jesus who when you belong to Him you are supported by him as a Shepherd sustains his people.
Now I wonder whether you think this is a small issue? I wonder whether I could ever do justice to this issue? It’s one of the limitations of a preacher, isn’t it that I cannot easily persuade. But you think about the people who you know and love and who have no relationship with God. I am not talking about people who believe in him – I am talking about people who don’t have a relationship with him.
These people who are ultimately alone in the world. They are walking through the world alone. They know about God but they don’t know God. They have no one to carry them. They have no Shepherd. They have no Protector. They have no Provider. They don’t want a Shepherd.
And when they get to the valley (because things are OK in the short term, aren’t they?) but when they get to the valley and they go down the valley, down one side and up the other side, they don’t have anyone to go into that valley with them. And when they come up the other side, it’s going to be worse for them than it’s ever been.
Now these people don’t feel the need for his support. They feel as though they can rise to anything. But we don’t rise very far do we? I think of the little girl in the evening service who comes up to me repeatedly and says “Simon look at me, look at me, look at me” and then jumps 6 inches off the ground. And I do my best, you know, to be impressed but it’s not very great! – Sorry, it’s very great! Very great! – 6 inches is incredible!
But God looks at this human race, you know, as we do our “little jump” – look at me, look at me! It’s not all that great – we are not natural risers, are we? This is fallen world and it is our nature to sink and we will sink sooner or later – we will get to the stage where we can’t stand and then we will get to the stage where we sink into death and into judgement unless Jesus returns first.
But God – it is God’s nature – to rise and to lift – that’s what Jesus did at the Resurrection – UP from the grave. And the person who puts their trust in Jesus will be lifted up to a brand new spiritual life today and a brand new creation in the future.
So I want to think about this 5 word text with you quickly under two headings.
- I want to think about the Everlasting Arms with you – what does that mean?
- And what does Underneath mean?
And friends I want to say this to you – I don’t think I have the capacity to drive this home to you. It could be that there is somebody who is in very great need at the moment and you will find this a precious text. But there will be others for whom everything is pretty OK and the sermon today will be just HO HO.
But you have got to and I have got to keep preaching these words to ourselves until we “get it” – that underneath are the everlasting arms.
So let’s think about the everlasting arms first of all. You will notice that God completely surrounds his people according to verses 26-29 as you would expect. God is not in a corner. So Moses says (verse 26):
- he is above you
- he rides the heavens
- he is around you
- he is your refuge
- he is your shelter
- he is your stronghold and he is around you
- He goes before you
- he will drive out your enemies
- he is beneath you, and he is underneath you so God surrounds his people
- He encompasses, he envelopes, he enfolds and he embraces his people.
And if you belong to Jesus you are not just in the Creator’s hands, you are in the Father’s hands and no one can pluck you (said Jesus) out of the Father’s hands.
Now when the Bible speaks about ”God’s arms” it’s using language to help us because we are finite. God, we are told, is spirit, he is not confined to a body, he was confined in the Son to a body but the Bible speaks about his eyes, and his ears and his hands and his arms to accommodate our weakness. And also this prepares the way for the incarnation where Jesus would come and take on eyes and ears and hands and arms.
The Bible speaks of God’s arms in the Old Testament many many times – may be 40 times and they are usually an example of great power. So we are told in Jeremiah 27 that he has arms to create the world. We are told in Deuteronomy 4 that he has arms which can choose a people. We are told in Isaiah 59 that he has arms to save. I love Isaiah 59 where the Lord says – ‘do you think my arms are too short?’ and then he rolls up his sleeves and he saves his people.
And there are also arms to succeed especially in a challenge or a battle – he has got power to succeed so Psalm 44 says ‘it wasn’t their sword, it wasn’t Israel’s sword and it wasn’t their arm that won the battle, it was God your arm that won the battle and the light of your face for you love them’.
So the arms of God are an expression that he is unbeatable and once you belong to him he is committed to your welfare, to your protection to your provision – he will sustain you, he will carry you, he will discipline you, he will bring you back, he will uphold you, he will deliver you – and they are really unfailing arms. They don’t get tired. Remember Moses’ arms got tired when he was seeking to call on God at a time of battle and he held his arms up in the air and his arms got tired.
But these arms of God they never get tired, they never fail, they never change and they never fade. Our arms do. I wonder whether God could teach us in the world more clearly, could he possibly teach us more clearly that we are on a journey from personal strength to personal weakness?
I know some people are getting stronger physically; I know some people may be getting stronger mentally; I know some people may be getting stronger spiritually.
But in the end our muscles will get softer and our bodies will get weaker and our minds will get slower and our talents will shakier. Is that really such a difficult lesson to learn that we are moving from strength to weakness? And therefore is there a smarter decision that you can possibly make than to take your weakening self to the one who has no weakness and that is Jesus Christ and place yourself on his arms because unless you take yourself to him and place yourself on his arms you are not on his arms. These arms that Moses is speaking of are the arms of the Covenant God, the God who belongs to his people who has welcomed his people. These are not arms that are yours because you have been born – they are arms because you have taken yourself to Christ – the one who said “Come to me and I will give you rest, or support or strength”.
And therefore this is the great sadness – even for this building here this morning. There may be some people who can hear the text “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms” and you may say – O I love those words! And the arms are not underneath you because you have never taken yourself and placed yourself on Christ. But for those who have taken themselves and placed themselves on Christ, the arms are there. That’s just a fact.
So let’s think about what it means to have these arms underneath us – this is my second point.
- First point – Everlasting Arms
- Second point – Underneath
And I am speaking now to the believer in Jesus. To have support is a very wonderful thing, isn’t it? When I was 18 years old I was working as a builder’s labourer in the country of NSW and I remember that it was time to come home and a pilot flew his little 2-seater plane into the field where we were working and the pilot stepped out – he weighed about 30 stone and he said – ‘O there’s two of you, this is just a 2-seater. ‘O well’ he said to me, ‘you can sit in the back with the bags’. So I sat in the back and we went home to Sydney through an electrical storm and we dropped hundreds of metres every now and again and I was absolutely terrified and to this day – (44 years ago) I still find it very difficult to trust a plane that has less the 1000 seats!
So this is the ‘nothing underneath’ frightening experience. Think of the tight rope walker – think of the acrobat – think of the person whose parachute fails – nothing underneath. And if it is frightening to have nothing underneath, it’s also strange to think what might be underneath.
- What is underneath your house right now?
- What’s under the ground?
- What’s under the sea?
We have the ability, don’t we to create in our mind terrors and horrors of what might be. Now God promises to uphold his people with everlasting arms. These arms cannot be stopped, they cannot be beaten, they cannot be chained, and they are underneath.
And they are not just a pillow – these arms are not just for us to sleep on – these arms are for us to live on because you will see that they come in the context of the people of Israel moving into the Promised Land to do the will of God. So God sustains us in his service just as Jesus said “I am with you always as you go making disciples or that famous hymn says
“We Rest on Thee Our Shield and our Defender
We go not forth alone against the foe” (it’s a battle context).
So therefore friends – what is fretting you at the moment? What is causing you to worry? What crosses your mind that may mean you are too low for him to do anything? Or you will be one day too low for him to help you?
This text teaches us that the child of God cannot go lower than the arms of God. They are always underneath – by definition they are underneath. They secure you, and they lift you. So you may go very low in sin –
It’s possible isn’t it to walk into church from great sin. It’s possible that you have fallen into some disobedience or a pattern – some action – some behaviour which makes you feel you are beyond recovery, beyond hope and beyond mercy – the fact of the matter is that God’s mercy goes lower than your sin. You cannot fall so far into sin that he cannot forgive you and restore you. The only thing that might keep you from being forgiven and restored is PRIDE or UNBELIEF that keeps you from asking. And so the absolutely essential thing is for God’s people to keep on asking for that forgiveness and that restoration.
“How deep the Father’s love for us
Vast beyond all measure”
You may go very low in humiliation
You may lose your reputation and your good standing in the community
You may fail in a big way and think ‘I can never really face the world’
You may feel that your name has been ruined and in human terms a name can be ruined.
But if you think for a minute that God doesn’t have the name ‘son and daughter’ for his people, you’ve made a big mistake. You may call yourself a failure, you may call yourself a victim, you may call yourself a slave or a servant – he calls you his son and his daughter.
And when you have run out of ways to restore yourself, he has plenty of ways to achieve this because his arms are underneath and his action, his nature is to restore.
You may go very low in trouble or trial.
It may be that you have multiple troubles or burdens at the moment:
- some of them are relational
- some of them are physical
- something is worrying you
- it may be financial
- it may be emotional
People all around you are just too much to carry. You may feel yourself sliding down – underneath are the arms.
God will either give you new strength which will fit you for the situation or it may be that he will gently lower you into his arms if the time has come. But you cannot go lower than his arms – you cannot go lower than his love and his power – it’s impossible and he will support you – he will support you. He will not leave you – he will not leave you to fall away.
You may go very low in death. You may get to the point where you are on the verge of death and nobody can do anything for you except sit beside you and hold your hand and at that point, the Bible tells us God utterly surrounds you and has you safely in his hands as safe as ever as the day you gave yourself to him.
The unbeliever goes in to the room of the dying patient and says ‘I am so sorry this has happened, remember the good times, we all love you’ and the believer goes in to the room of the dying believer and says ‘you are as safe as you have ever been’. ‘You are secure in Christ’s hands – the everlasting arms are underneath you – he will look after every single step of the way’.
One of the lovely members of our church in the past who with her husband left Sydney and went to Adelaide – wrote to me this week and she said ‘you know my father who is a faithful man was listening to the radio last Sunday and he was listening to the sermon which apparently was on Psalm 40 – that God lifted me up from the miry pit and he put my feet on a rock and he gave a new song in my mouth.
She said to me – my father listened to that talk, he put his bookmark in the Bible, he had a massive stroke the next day and died. That’s the last thing he heard.
And I wrote back to express sympathy with her but I also said to her – ‘how wonderful that he has been lifted up to immeasurable, indescribable splendour because God is a saviour who keeps his promises.
Now this Book of Deuteronomy that we have been looking at for these 8 Sundays has been teaching how God carries his people and he carries his people from slavery in Egypt to the new world of the Promised Land in Canaan but that local journey from Egypt to Canaan is just a mini preview model of an infinite journey which is to be taken from darkness to light and from slavery to sonship and from a fallen world to a new creation.
The journey which God takes his people on makes that journey in Exodus and Deuteronomy look like walking 2cm and we who belong to Jesus – not because we are special, not because we are clever, not because we are good, but because we know our sin and we’ve asked the saviour to save us. We have been rescued from something much more sinister and dangerous than slavery in Egypt. We’ve delivered from the slavery of sin, death and judgement. And there will come a day when that will be seen to be very very wonderful – even as we grasp it a little bit today.
And we haven’t just been saved by the blood of the lamb – we have been saved by the blood of the Son of God which is very previous and very powerful and very effective. We haven’t just been brought in to a Promised Land of Canaan in the Middle East, we have been brought in to the very family of God and one day to be brought in to the very presence of God.
Now how can God who rides the heavens, who is so great and so holy, how could he go underneath us? We know the answer to this, don’t we? It’s because his Son came into the world and took the form of a servant – that was a big step. And then as a servant took the form of a sacrifice on the cross and went completely underneath our guilt and our sin and our degradation and he is able to lift us to forgiveness and fellowship and one day glory.
The only hope in this world for people – all of whom are sinking – all of whom are falling – the only hope is that the everlasting arms will be underneath them because they take themselves to Jesus who has the arms and I hope this particular message this morning might be heard by somebody who has the grace to know Jesus, I hope that you might know the arms are underneath you – it’s a fact – I hope you might experience them as he lifts you and helps you. I hope that you might be used to publish the new of these arms to people who need them and I know that one day you will find when every prop has gone (and every prop will go) that he will keep his promise and sustain you and carry you because the Bible tells us “underneath are the everlasting arms”.
Let’s thank him.
We thank you our gracious God that it was in your nature to not only make the world but save a people. We thank you for sending your Son who was able to save and keep and carry. There are so many of us here this morning who are thankful that we are in the hands and the arms of Christ.
We pray that you would give your gracious, merciful help to all who are here this morning to belong to Christ and we pray that you would help us as we seek to live as your people to represent you well and to communicate in our life and also in our words the great privilege, the great joy of belonging to you. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.