February 16, 2014 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Deuteronomy 30:15–30:20
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
There they are, so close to their destination. Moses has led the people of Israel for the past forty years. They have lived as nomads, traveling from one land to the next, but that won’t be the case for much longer. They’re just about to cross the finish line for their journey and enter into the Promised Land. Hundreds of years earlier, before the Hebrew people were slaves or had even relocated to Egypt, before God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, before Jacob’s father Isaac was even born, the Lord made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would live in this land. This is the land where God would provide for His people’s needs and raise them up to be a great nation. But God had told Moses that he would not cross over the Jordan River with the rest of the people: he would get to see the Promised Land but never enter it. Here in Deuteronomy 30, then, Moses has one more chance to address the people. It’s kind of like a commencement address, where he takes the opportunity to lift up that which is most important for these people getting ready to cross the finish line and enter the land. But here’s the odd thing, though: to the way Moses lays it out, this isn’t a finish line. It’s a crossroads.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” That’s kind of a weird way to encourage the people. Instead of telling them that everything’s going to be great, that all their problems are over, it sounds a lot like Moses is saying that the people will need to make a life-or-death choice. After everything they’ve been through, why this? Why would God leave death on the table as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land? Take a look at what Moses is saying, though, and this starts to make sense. It’s not that God is looking for the people to make a choice. He wants them to enjoy the good He’s giving them in this new homeland. Apart from God, there is nothing but evil and death. At the crossroads, you can only take one road or the other.
So if Moses was talking to you today instead of the Israelites, what would you choose? It seems like no choice at all: Life and good, of course! Why would you pick anything else? Well, despite Moses’ encouragement, the people of Israel will eventually and repeatedly choose to turn away from the Lord once they’ve entered into their new home. And even though you and I know better, we still do the same. Even today, we choose death.
Now wait a minute – death?! That seems kind of harsh, doesn’t it? Sure you might not always make the right choices. From time to time, you might pick your own interests at someone else’s expense. But is that really evil? Does that add up to death? Remember the crossroads: you can only take one road or the other. If you’re not following the road of life and good, there’s only one other road. Moses is putting this truth out there in front of the Israelites and in front of us: apart from God, there is no good. There is no life, because God is the source of life. Life away from God is really just death. If you rebel against God in your heart or in your actions, you’re choosing death and evil. And that’s the nature of sin: it is continually rebelling against God, telling you that you can make good choices apart from Him. The nature of sin is death.
So at the crossroads, how can you choose life and good? Even though you might promise to do your best to do your duty to God and people in your life, you won’t get it right all the time. You’ll chose death and evil. If you and I are always inclined to follow our own desires instead of following God, it’s like no choice at all. But just as Moses reminded the Israelites, he reminds us: God chose you.
If you take a look at the rest of Deuteronomy 30 at the chapters around it, you’ll see that Moses is p the people that the Lord is the source of blessing. God chose the people, not because of how good they were or because of what they had done; God chose them out of His love. God is the One who brought the people out from captivity and slavery in Egypt. God is the One who provided for them as they traveled through the wilderness for forty years. God is the One who gave them victory over all the forces that would have destroyed them. And now God is the One who is bringing them into that land He promised to Abraham centuries before. God has been faithful to His promise, even when His people have been unfaithful towards Him.
God forgives. He forgives you, even when you have chosen death and evil in your heart and in your actions, because He loves you and wants you to walk with Him. Life and good come from God, because they’re part of His nature. You can see that most fully on the cross: Jesus took on all your sin, all your bad choices at the crossroads of life, and carried them on the road to the cross so that you could have life and good. And the cross wasn’t the finish line for Jesus. He rose from death to show that the power of death and evil had been broken. God has set you free to live as His people.
God justifies you and He sanctifies you. While these aren’t words that Moses used in addressing the people of Israel, they point to what God has done in choosing you to know good and life as His people. You’ve heard what Jesus has done, perfectly fulfilling his Father’s commandments. In his life and self-giving death, Jesus has justified you and me so that so that we would be right with God. It was his choice that makes life and good possible for us. That’s justification. Sanctification comes out from that: it’s who God has made you to be as His people. It’s reflected in the life of obedience that Moses put before the people. They – and we – are given a new identity by our Lord’s grace. As God’s people, that identity is reflected by a life of obedience to God’s instruction: not in grudging obligation to a list of commands, but in walking with God in through all the crossroads as we journey through life.
God’s promise to the people of Israel and His promise to you are personal. He knows you. He cares for you. He wants you to experience the fullness of life and good that He has set before you. Through Jesus, you have a restored relationship with the Creator of the universe, and that makes all the difference.
You will continue to face crossroads in life, facing the choice between life and good, death and evil. You and I have not been promised a land like the people of Israel. As you follow Jesus, there is no finish line – at least, not this side of heaven until he comes back and drives away death and evil forever. In this time in between and by God’s grace, you can choose to live for the benefit of the people around you. Giving yourself in service to others as God has given Himself to you is the road of the cross, the road you and I are called to follow. That’s the life which Psalm 119 lifts up, living in obedience to God’s loving instruction. That’s the road of life and good. You can’t walk it on your own, but God doesn’t expect you to. When He brought the people of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land, He went with them. And He goes with you.
For God’s people, life isn’t about reaching a finish line, but living from crossroad to crossroad as the people that He has called us to be. Following Jesus, learn from him and live the life that he gives. You have been made right with God through Jesus’ cross; He has chosen you to be His own.