One of my friends emailed me this week and said, “Would you please write to me ten things that you are glad you knew before you went into ministry? And would you also send me ten things that you have learned the hard way in ministry?” So I thought about these two groups of 10 and sent them off. And if those, the list that I have sent him, are to have any good effect on young ministers who he coaches, how much more is this word of God going to have a good effect on us if we heed it well?
Deuteronomy – the backbone of the Old Testament
I want just to tell you a little bit about this Old Testament book, Deuteronomy. It’s the fifth book in the Old Testament. And here are three quick things if you’re writing some notes down. First, it is a very great book in the Old Testament. One commentator says it is the theological basis for virtually the entire Old Testament and New Testament. One other scholar says it is the theological backbone of the Old Testament. Because here is Moses preaching, that’s what this book is, it’s a collection of Moses’s sermons, preaching to God’s people about what he has said and done for the future.
So, this book, as I say, is a series of sermons, probably three or four from Moses, and he’s preaching to them as they are on the edge of entering into the Promised Land. It’s about 1,300 B.C., are you the sort of people who are ready and willing to live by the word of God or not? It’s a great book.
Deuteronomy – a book of grace
Second, it’s a grace book. You might think that because Deuteronomy is full of laws, that it’s the sort of scary book which is going to say to you, perform or lose. But it’s not like that at all. We read in this book that God has saved his people, and he now speaks to his saved people.
So for example, you won’t be able to look up all the verses I mention, but Chapter 1:31 says, “The Lord your God carried you as a father carries his son.” Or Chapter 4, “Because he loved your forefathers or your ancestors, he brought you out of Egypt, to bring you into the land for your inheritance because he loved you.” Or again Chapter 6, “He brought us out to bring us in.” That’s the God we’re talking about.
Deuteronomy – a graspable book
God is the safety net of his people in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s a great book; it’s a grace book. And thirdly, it’s a graspable book. Although it is 34 chapters, it’s set out like a peace treaty.
So, imagine I was a conquering king and I had conquered you, and I get up to speak to you this evening, and I say, this is what’s happened, we’ve had a battle, and you lost, and I won. This is the contract that we’re entering into, I’m the king, and you’re not. This is the details of how you will live; these are the pros of going with my leadership, these are the cons of fighting it, make your decision.
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That’s how the Book of Deuteronomy is set out. Chapter cover themes such as:
- this is where we’ve come from
- the relationship between God and his people
- how this life, this relationship is going to work
- blessings and the curses and
- make a decision
In Deuteronomy Chapter 1, Moses says to God’s people, it is an 11-day journey from Mount Sinai, where you got the 10 Commandments originally, and God met with you, and you got married to him, it’s an 11-day journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. You have been travelling for 40 years. That is a great reminder to these people that they and their ancestors utterly failed to listen to the word of God, and God decided to judge or punish them by causing them to walk in the wilderness until that whole generation died out, and now this younger generation, the children with their children, or maybe their grandchildren, are waiting on the edge of the promised land to be into the land. So that’s what Moses says.
Does it mean that the ancestors who perished in the wilderness all went to hell? Not necessarily. They just missed out on the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy Chapter 2 is where Moses says it’s time to move in, let’s get ready.
And Deuteronomy 3 is where Moses says you’ve had some victories to show that God is with you, and he is with you. You can be sure that he’s with you as you enter into the Promised Land, but I’m not going in. Moses says I’m not going in with you. And the Bible gives us two reasons why Moses is not entering into the Promised Land.
In Exodus, we’re told that:
- Moses was disobedient
- and in Deuteronomy, we’re told that Israel was disobedient.
Does that mean that Moses himself went to hell because he didn’t go into the Promised Land? No, we know from the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus met with Moses and Elijah, that Moses was alive and well. But he didn’t go into the Promised Land.
So, we’re going to come now to Deuteronomy Chapter 4 to 6, which is very much to do with heeding God’s word.
During the week, I was walking along Sydney’s Military Road on my day off, on Thursday, and went into a second-hand shop run by a couple, he’s very friendly, she’s very unfriendly. I always love the days where he’s there, and I hate the days where she’s there, and she was there. I went in, and after a little chat, she said to me, you’re a teacher, aren’t you? And I said, no, I’m a pastor in North Sydney. She said, “Can you help my husband to become a Christian?” Well, knowing her as I did, I wasn’t sure that she was a Christian. So I asked her a couple of questions, it was evident that she wasn’t a Christian. And I had 30 minutes in the shop with her, with nobody else, explaining the gospel to her.
I was able to say to her, “Now when it comes to your husband, how are you gonna change an unwilling person into a willing person?” She said, “I don’t know.” I said I don’t know how to do that either. So I guess we need to pray, and we need to give him something and see whether he’s willing to look at the facts of Jesus, and so we’ve done those two things together.
I mention that to you because that’s what God is going to do with the people on the edge of the Promised Land if they’re not interested in the word of God?
This could be you this evening. You could be in one of those moods where you don’t care two hoots about the word of God. How will God get you interested? Well, it may be that He’ll unsettle your world, or it may be that He’ll bless you with fresh enthusiasm. But God, you see, who saves people, is interested in blessing people. The very God who rescues us through Jesus, He is the same God who wants to see us blessed, and that’s why He gives us His word.
Living by the Word of God
In the first couple of verses of Chapter 4, Moses says, “I want you to listen carefully to the word of God, and I want you to follow it because that’ll help you to go into the land.” In Verses 3 and 4, he says, “Your ancestors did not listen to the word of God, they were disobedient, they have not entered the land.” It’s pretty obvious.
Then in Chapter 4:5-8, he says, “You must take God’s word seriously because if you do, you will show the nations what God is like.” Get into the land, live by the word of God; he will bless you. And you know, in the Old Testament, that was outward prosperity. When you get to the New Testament, that’s all changed. The New Testament gives inward and eternal prosperity. But in the Old Testament, there was this great outward prosperity. And this was to show the nations who were watching Israel, what God was like.
In other words, says the Lord, you’ve got a mission, and the mission is beyond your enjoyment. I’m putting you in the midst of the nations, and as you live, you will be a stepping stone for them to understand and believe. It’s the same principle in 1 Peter 2, where Peter says, you’ve been set among the nations, live like the people of God because that’s how he’s honoured, people are blessed, and you’re joyful.
Then in Chapter 4:9-14, Moses says, you stood at Mount Sinai, and he obviously means you did when you were children, and some of you who are listening, he says, who are children, were not there, but you as a collective body of Israel, you stood at Mount Sinai, and as you stood at Mount Sinai, the voice of God boomed out, and you didn’t see anything. You just heard the booming voice. And twice he says, “You didn’t see any form, you just heard the voice.”
Now, friends, why do you think when God met with his people at Mount Sinai, he didn’t give them anything to look at, just a voice? Part of the answer is because it is always human nature to turn God into the form that we want. That’s the way we are. Look at the religions of the world; there are all attempts to create God in the way that they think God ought to be, or they fear God is. Think of the statues that are around today in posh shops around the Lower North Shore, they’re fat, helpless, hopeless statues. Nothing like the real God.
Sometimes this replacing of God is done, as you know, with a person or a thing. It could be that I replace God in my mind with myself. I’m the priority, I’m the ruler, I’m the important person, or it could be that we replace God with somebody else, or a group of people, or something else. But we’re the sort of people who repeatedly, easily replace God with something else. That’s why he didn’t give them a visible, but a verbal. And this replacing of God sometimes works to our terror. Because we can change God from the biblical God of grace and goodness into a terrible God of legalism and impossibility. And it’s quite possible for you to change the way God is in your mind in a way that distresses you and wrecks your life.
For example, if you say God is a God who’s given up on me. Well, you’ve invented a God who’s not the biblical God. Or if you say, God is a God who couldn’t possibly forgive me one more time, you’ve invented a God who’s not the biblical God. So, it’s very, very important to take the word of God seriously when you’re thinking about God. It’s a danger of course to idolatry, but it’s also a danger to terror and discouragement.
At the end of Chapter 4, the Lord says, you’ve been uniquely blessed, Israel, what other people in the world have had their God speak to them?
When you think about it, friends, there isn’t another religion in the world that has had their God speak to them, because there isn’t another real God out there. So, whatever books the other religions are putting together, it’s not come from the living God who’s behind the universe, it’s come from people. And the Lord says, you’re uniquely blessed because you’ve had God speak to you.
And at the end of Chapter 4 he says, you’ve been spoken to so that you might know him, and you might know his plans and take him seriously, and enjoy the privileges and the responsibilities.
God is a God who brilliantly and wonderfully speaks. He speaks to us by coming in person as the living word, you can read Jesus, or he speaks to us in the written word, black and white for all the world, so that you know exactly what he’s like. That’s Chapter 4, living by the word of God.
In Deuteronomy 5 is where Moses repeats the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments that were back in Exodus are now being repeated in Deuteronomy.
The key thing to notice;
- Chapter 5:6, I’ve rescued you
- Chapter 5:7, I’m instructing you. I’ve rescued you, I’m instructing you.
If you ask the average person in North Sydney today how does religion work, they will say something like this, you be good, and you get a reward.
That’s pretty well how religion works, except that you don’t get a reward. But the gospel, the gospel of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the exact opposite. God holds out a reward of himself. Take the reward, then begin to live. Then you’ll begin to be good. Get the life; it will turn into lifestyle. Get the relationship; it will help you to live the rules. Get saved; it will help you to serve. But you’ve got to get the sequence right, and Deuteronomy 5 makes this very clear.
So, these commandments came to people who were already set free, and the commandments were designed to keep them free because the commandments are not some North Korean totalitarian set of instructions, you will do this, you will do this, you will do this. These commandments are utterly liberating because they say you’re already free, don’t fall into this, and don’t fall into this. Enjoy yourself. That’s how the commandments work.
John Dickson has written an excellent book called The Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments it’s a very good little book, and he says that CNN, the TV network in America, ran a competition to produce ten godless commandments. In other words, we don’t need God, so let’s have ten godless commandments. And the interesting thing is that they are predictably wet. So, one of them is to be open minded, and the other one treats people well, and they end up contradicting one another, and they become quite oppressive. But the 10 Commandments that God has given to us are liberating, and he gives us the power to walk in them.
In Chapter 6:1-3, very famous verses, Moses says, “Hear,” H-E-A-R, “Hear, O, Israel, listen.” He doesn’t say think for yourself, or imagine what God is saying, or look with your eyes and try and work him out, but listen, and then he says in Chapter 6:4-9, “God is one.” There is only one God. There is only one God out there. Of course, there are lots of false gods, but there’s only one God who runs the universe and saves people. And that’s why Chapter 6:5, “Give yourself to him, heart, mind, soul, and strength. It will make you integrated, and it will honour Him, and tell your children.” Tell your children so that the next generation understands about this great and gracious God.
We have a family who comes in the morning at 10 o’clock. And you know what I notice about them, they come in with their kids, and their kids all have wet hair every Sunday morning. They’re wet, in the best sense. Why are they there with their kids with their wet hair? Well, because they’ve found a way to do the obligatory teaching the kids to swim, that fits in with the morning Sunday school. In other words, the parents have worked out, this learning fellowship for our children is the priority, everything else will feed in around it.
Another family will say, well, priority swimming, everything else drops away. But that’s not seeking first the kingdom, and it can’t be a surprise if some of those kids down the track don’t turn around and say, “I don’t think our parents thought the kingdom was that important.” But the family that have taken the kingdom priority seriously, teaching the king, will find perhaps their children turn around and say, “It was pretty clear to us.”
And Moses says, teach your children. Teach them when they’re at home, teach them when they’re on the road, teach them at breakfast, teach them at bedtime, help them to know about the king.
Then Chapter 6:10-19, there are three dangers that Israel will face, and these are our last few minutes together. It’s going to be dangerous when you get into the Promised Land, and everything is terrific. It’s going to be dangerous, says Moses, when you get in, and you find that there are cities and there are orchards, and there are wells, and everything is wonderful, and you’re going to say to yourself at this point, we don’t need the Lord. Because prosperity is a killer for some people. That’s why the Western church is so terrible because prosperity is killing, like an opiate, the faith of so many.
And Moses says when you get in, and everything is great, be very careful, don’t forget the Lord. Some people are terrible at this. As soon as things go well, I don’t need the Lord. Other people are brilliant at this. It doesn’t matter how well things go; the Lord is first. Be like the second.
Second problem when you get into the land, Chapter 6:13, idolatry. Especially taking on the produce and the values of the world around you.
God says in Chapter 6:13, 14, 15, I’m a jealous God. I didn’t get married to you for nothing; I’m going to fight for you. If you split your heart, I’m going to act to get you back the easy way or the hard way. So, don’t give your heart to an idol. And if you get your information from the world, and many of us do get our information from the world in droves, 98% of what’s coming into our brains is the world’s thinking, crooked thinking. No wonder if 2% is the Bible, the one sermon or the occasional Bible reading, no wonder we’re being overtaken by the way the world thinks. And if you don’t think that’s true, just think of the way in which you and I are forced to accept almost everything the world sees as great.
And the third problem of getting into the Promised Land, 6:16, is that there could be trouble, there could be testing. 6:16 says, “Remember that there was a time called Massah, where I took you into the desert, and there was no water, and I tested you to see whether you would trust me, and you grumbled. And you didn’t just grumble because you were thirsty, you grumbled because you thought,” says the Lord, “that my job was to just be your waiter and be there the second you called me.”
Finally, Chapter 6:20-25 says, remember that you’re a rescued people. You were slaves, but he has brought you out of slavery, and he’s going to bring you into the Promised Land. And that’s where we get our power to live the Christian life. We get our power to live the Christian life because God rescues us when we put our trust in Jesus, and his Spirit indwells us and enables us to do his word. He doesn’t just give us laws, he gives us a saviour, and then the gives us the spirit so that we’re able to do his word. And we get to live in his world as saved people in his strength.
Yesterday I was at a men’s conference in the western suburbs, and then at the end of the conference, they invited three boys in their 20s to get up, and they stood on the platform, and they interviewed the first boy and he said: “What have you been doing lately?” And he said, “I’ve been reading the Bible with one of my non-Christian friends.” And then they said to the second boy, “What have you been doing lately,” and he said, “I took over reading the Bible with that non-Christian boy when the first guy stopped.” And then they said to the third boy, “Who are you,” and he said, “I’m the guy who was a non-Christian, and they were reading the Bible with me, and I’m now a Christian.”
And I thought, how wonderful that these two boys had, at some sacrifice, made it their aim to be godly, and to be a good witness, and to read the Bible, and you and I have the huge privilege of living in the world this week as God’s saved people in His strength, for His praise, for the good of many, and for our joy.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you that you are a rescuing, relational, gracious, wise, good God. And we thank you for the huge privilege of bringing us into fellowship with You through Jesus and giving us Your Word, the promises as well as the warnings. Heavenly Father, please soften our hearts, help us to be people who heed Your Word, who trust You, who obey You, who witness for You, who bring You honour, who help others to see what You’re like, and who experience the great joy of being Your saved and strengthened people. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.