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Sermon September 2, 2018

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1364

September 2, 2018 Deuteronomy 6:1-25

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

The Way to Life”

 

 

  • Keeping Commandments

 

Deut. 6:1-3 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

 

Why did God give commandments? The specific answer to that in this text is to lead us to fear the Lord. That means, to revere and honor and obey God. To keep commandment is to have a long life, a good life, one that reaps the benefits of God’s goodness. For Israel that meant a land flowing with milk and honey, long life, and many descendants. The commandments are given to provide for the well-being of Israel and anyone who keeps the commandments. Obedience to God’s rules give life to the individual and the community.

Moses was given the responsibility to teach the commands to the people of Israel so that they would do them – not just know them, but do them. Verse 1 says do them, verse 2 says keep them, and verse 3 says to be careful to do them. It is a triad of imperatives. The Scriptures do not repeat themselves without reason. This is vital to life itself. And the results are positive, that we may grow to fear the Lord and to prolong a good and fruitful life.

Jesus spoke of the same thing when He said that He came to give us life in abundance (John 10:10). This is why we feel the need for all people to come to God. This is where real life is known and cherished. People of the world think that life is best when they run their own lives by their own rules, but what many come to realize, sometimes when it is too late, is that life leads only to emptiness, despair, and death. It’s so sad when we see it happening to people.

 

Jesus tells us to keep commandments as well.

John 14:15-24

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

Deuteronomy is perhaps one of the most vital books to know and cherish when interpreting the New Testament.

 

 

  • Teaching Commandments

 

Deut. 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

This is the passage known as The Great Shema. Shema is the Hebrew word for hear. It is not limited to listening, but carries with it the understanding that one is to hear and obey. We show that we have really heard when we do what God tells us to do. This is the heart of the Jewish and Christian faith. Love God. Love the One Holy True God. We talk a lot about the heart of things, the core. It is said that the heart of the artichoke is the best part, the heart of the celery stalk is the sweetest, the heart the watermelon is the best. It is the heart of the matter that is most important, the essential part. In speaking of the human person, the heart is the central core of emotion and being, it is the place where our personality and character will be expressed. The Great Shema is at the heart of our life and faith. Jesus affirms this as well when He quotes this passage as the greatest commandment.

The Shema is a command to love God who is One. Moses tells us to implant these words in your heart. In graft these words at the core of our being, in the sweetest part, where the Word will best grow and flourish. As we implant them in our lives, we are now given the responsibility to teach them to our children. Moses taught Israel in the beginning of this chapter and now he passes that responsibility on to us. How do we do that? Talk about them frequently. Bind them on yourself – hand and forehead. Write them on you house and fence. I know that many of you have the Scriptures displayed in your homes. I remember visiting the mosque here in Princeton and they had large texts of the Quran painted on the walls. I assumed it was Arabic, but I don’t know. I was impressed with these huge writings on the walls to remind them of their texts. I saw the same thing in an EPC church where they had written various Scripture verses in places all around their facility.

I don’t know if we should consider that, but it is impressive to have Scripture posted like Deuteronomy commands. Post it, put it in places where you can see it. Keep the Bible constantly before you and your family and friends.

 

 

  • Remembering Commandments

 

Deuteronomy 6:10-15 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

 

One of the greatest dangers in not keeping commandment and not placing the commandments in places where we can remember them, is to forget them. This section of Deuteronomy tells us to not forget what God has done. Do not forget that it is God who has done it. Do not forget God’s deliverance. Do not forget that God is the only true God.

Forgetting leads to idolatry. Forgetting leads to destruction. The danger of the good life is amnesia, forgetting that it is God who brought you out of bondage and into new life.

 

There is an interesting word in Jeremiah 8:11-12, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.”

In essence they forgot how to be embarrassed! Does that sound like modern society? When we as a nation, as people in entertainment, people in politics, people in the news media, people in every sector forget the Words of God we also forget how to be embarrassed by our bad behavior. This is what leads a nation to idolatry and sexual impurity and greed and corruption. This is what has led people throughout the ages to rebellion, forgetting God and forgetting His commandments.

 

 

  • Doing What is Right and Good

 

Deuteronomy 6:16-19 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

 

Keeping commandments prevents us from testing God – a bad thing.

Keeping commandments enables us to do what is right and good.

Keeping commandments clears the way for blessings.

Do the right thing...even the little things. Don’t you just hate it when someone takes one item in the grocery store and places it randomly somewhere else? Do the right thing. Don’t you hate it when people don’t use their turn signals while driving? Do the right thing. Don’t you hate it when people try to scam you? Do the right thing. Don’t you hate it when people promise one thing yet do another? Do the right thing. It is in keeping the commandments that we learn to do what is right and good.

 

 

  • The Story of Commandments

 

Deuteronomy 6:20-25 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’

 

When our children ask us why we believe, be prepared to tell them. Be prepared to give the story of commandments. Be prepared to give a defense of the gospel… “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

The questions we might hear are about why we are Christian or Presbyterian or why worship? Those are easy! Children often ask us the toughest questions! This final section of Deuteronomy is basically a command to tell the story! How many of us can tell a story? I know we all can tell stories, stories of family, of school days, of football games. But here is our most treasured stories, the story of Exodus, the stories of Abraham and Moses and the prophets, the story of cross and resurrection, the many stories of faith both biblical and personal. What stories might we tell?

Rabbis are notorious story tellers. If you ask a Rabbi a question he will tell you a story. If you question that story he will tell another story. Moses’ final exhortation is to be able to tell the story and to be careful to do all God’s commandments. This is our call as the church and as Christians, to continue in God’s commands and continue to tell the story. We have the greatest story ever told! Tell it. It is the story that leads to life. It is the story that lives in our hearts and brings us comfort and peace. Our story is the way to life. This is why Moses and Jesus and all the Bible storytellers kept telling the story of faith and life and God’s great love. Amen.