14th Sunday after Pentecost August 26, 2018
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
243:1, 243:2-5, 47:1,2,4, 644
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth…Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
This morning we consider an inheritance, the BLESSED LEGACY OF GOD’S WORD. That legacy has been left us by Moses and the prophets, by the Apostles, by our parents, pastors and teachers, by all believers who have gone before us. That legacy, that inheritance, is faith in our Savior from sin, Jesus Christ. This faith carries with it the blessing that never passes away, the blessing of everlasting life. Receiving this blessing through the Word, we will desire to lay up a store of this Word in our hearts.
Essentially, the book of Deuteronomy is the address Moses delivered to the children of Israel prior to his death and their entry into the Promised Land. God had promised to bring them safely into that land and give it to them for their possession. If the people expected the LORD to keep that land in their possession, however, they were expected to follow the LORD and not turn from Him.
To keep the people from turning away, the LORD gave Israel a promise through Moses. We read in our text, “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign between your eyes.”
Moses spoke to the people the words of the LORD God. They were to keep his words always in their minds, before their eyes. Some of the more zealous Jews have, throughout history, taken these words of Moses literally, fashioning small leather boxes, in which they placed small scrolls with the law written upon them. They would then tie these small boxes containing the law around their heads or on their wrists. Therefore, they always had God’s law bound upon their hands or before their eyes.
They understood that God’s Word was to be kept in the fore-front of the mind at all times. It was not only to be paid lip-service, that is, the people were not merely to read the Word or hear it, and then continue in their sinful ways. Rather, they were to take God’s Word to heart, observing the law of Moses and holding it dear to their hearts, making God’s promises a part of their lives, a part of their consciousness.
If they believed God’s promises they would be blessed, as we read in our text, “Behold, I set before you a blessing and a curse: The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.”
The curse upon the children of Israel was a temporal curse. If they turned from the LORD God, He would cut short their time in the Promised Land. As long as they followed the LORD they would continue to dwell in that land and be blessed by God. In fact, the LORD promised that their days and the days of their children in the land would be “multiplied in the land…like the days of the heavens above the earth.”
Members of the spiritual nation of Israel (that is, all believers), have received a similar promise from God. However, this promise is not merely an earthly or temporal promise. It is an eternal promise.
For example, we read in John 3:16, “whosoever believes in [God’s Son] shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” In Mark 16:16 we read, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” If we believe in the true God, trusting in Jesus Christ, true God and true man for our salvation, believing that on His account we have the forgiveness of sins, then that forgiveness which Jesus won for all people is applied by God to us and our sins.
However, before we talk more of the eternal blessings of faith, we must first speak of the curse that is connected with unbelief. The second half of Mark 16:16 reads, “…he who does not believe shall be condemned.” Physically, on this earth, believers and unbelievers are the same. As Jesus said, “your Father in heaven…makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Spiritually, however, there is a vast difference. While Scripture speaks of believers being spiritually alive, it often refers to unbelievers as being spiritually dead.
All people are born spiritually dead, as we read, “You were dead in trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-4). Until a person is brought to faith in the true God that person is, and remains spiritually dead. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
If a person dies in unbelief, nothing has changed. That person was born dead, remained dead throughout his life on this earth, and when he died, the spiritual death continued. That is the curse of unbelief—to never be spiritually alive before God. Because unbelievers have made themselves nobodies before God by their unbelief, there will be no place for them in heaven on the Last Day.
That this is the case is shown us in Matthew 25. Of the fate of unbelievers Jesus said, “[The King] will say to those on the left hand [unbelievers], ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment.”
As we have heard, all people were born spiritually dead. All people are born deserving the same punishment deserved by every other sinner. While all people are sinners, and Christ did indeed die to pay for the sins of all people, only believers receive the blessings of His sacrifice.
This is not because believers are more deserving than any other sinner. It is not that God saw some spark of good within them and decided to save them. The LORD offers the Gospel to the world and invites all people to come and receive forgiveness at the cross of Jesus Christ, for “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3f). Those who hear the Gospel and don’t believe it, have no one to blame but themselves.
When someone hears the Gospel and believes in His Savior, it is to the credit of God alone that faith was worked in that person’s heart, as we read in Ephesians 2:8 and following, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And in Romans 9:16, “So then, it is not him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."
This is how God applies the blessing of the forgiveness of sins to sinners, through faith in Jesus Christ, faith worked by God and sustained by God. Having been brought to faith, we look ahead in hope to God’s promise of everlasting life in the promised land of heaven, believing that our Lord Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us there, and that He will return again and receive us unto Himself (John 14:2f).
This is Scripture’s promise, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Therefore, the opposite is true, as the verse continues, “But he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Scripture does not teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” It is possible for believers to fall away from the faith. Therefore, Scripture is full of encouragement to remain faithful to the Lord unto death. Jesus prayed that the faith of His disciples “should not fail” (Luke 22:32). The Apostle Peter urges us to “Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).
Even with all of this encouragement, we could not remain in the faith if our Lord were not on our side, for the Scriptures tell us that we “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready, ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). The Holy Spirit works within believers to sanctify us and to keep us in the true faith. The manner in which He does so is through the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, as Paul writes to the Romans (1:16), “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”
The Gospel is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” How can we be certain that we will not fall away from our faith in the true God? Do as Moses told the children of Israel, “Therefore, you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Keep God’s Word close by at all times. Read your Bible. Believe the promises that you read there —promises of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son our Savior! Believe that in your baptism your sins have been washed away from God’s sight, as the Scriptures say, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Believe that in the Lord’s Supper, you receive Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine for the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins. Believe in Jesus Christ your Savior, that believing, you may have life in His name.
Moses command the Israelites was to “teach them [namely, God’s commands] to your children.” The purpose of this command was to ensure the children of Israel that the Promised Land would always be in their possession. Remember, this was a temporal blessing. The LORD promised that if the Israelites continued to follow the Lord, their days and the days of their children in the land would be multiplied “like the days of the heavens above the earth.”
Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Paul tells us what this training will involve in Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This principle was carried out in the life of Timothy, the young pastor to whom Paul wrote, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
The Lord wants us to bring up our children to believe in Him. The manner in which this is accomplished, is, again, through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Moses gives all of us parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, an important step in accomplishing this. He said, “You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Talk to your children or grandchildren about Jesus. Teach them the Word. Make it a topic of regular conversation in your house. This will ensure your children have the proper background necessary to sit in Sunday School, Church, and Confirmation class and retain what they are taught, for what they will be taught there will be the same as what they hear at home.
Christian education is so important. If it weren’t, our Lord would not bring it up frequently in His Word. A solid Christian education in the home and at church encourages that child to continue to attend church and Bible Class after he’s confirmed and on his own. Not only that, but that child will have the background to someday bring his own children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Why is Christian education important? It is important for it involves the education of the soul. The goal of Christian education is that our children might be made “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” We wish to teach our children of their Savior that they may join us when we take possession of the eternal Promised Land of heaven. Public schools can educate our children, but they cannot give them what God gives our children through the Holy Scriptures, namely, faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. Through faith in Him our children have everlasting life.
The children of Israel turned from the LORD and His Word, and their children suffered for it, for they were carried out of the Promised Land by conquerors. If we do not teach our children the Word, they may well suffer eternally for it, for “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
Our text speaks of a blessing for the faithful Israelites, a curse for the unfaithful. We know the blessings promised to us in connection with faith in Christ Jesus. We know the curse of everlasting punishment connected with unbelief. We ARE believers. Our merciful God who has forgiven our sins, does not desire that we live in fear of punishment. Rather, He desires that we live lives of faith and joy—faith that God has promised to keep us in the faith unto everlasting life. Joy that at our death, or on the Last Day, whichever comes first, we SHALL BE received into everlasting life.
May our LORD God strengthen and preserve us and our children unto life everlasting through His Almighty Word. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.