The Second Sunday After Pentecost May 25, 2008
30, 428, 245, 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the love shown to you in Christ Jesus our Lord fill you with hope and confidence day by day until that same Lord Jesus returns in power and glory on the Last Day. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
You’ve heard the joke about the old guy trying to give directions to the out-of-town traveler? He says, “…Turn left where the old school house used to be…no, no, you cain’t go thataway…go on down to that field that Tony Watkins just bought…no, no, that won’t work” and so on until the inevitable, “Ya can’t git there from here.”
We live in an age where more and more we come to expect that we can get there from here. No matter what and no matter where we have come to expect that we are entitled to go, entitled to attend, entitled to enjoy, entitled to have. People in foreign countries tell us that Americans routinely consider themselves to be exceptions to every rule. The signs say, “No Trespassing” and “Do Not Touch” and “Please Don’t…” and yet Americans assume that the signs are meant for someone else. The rationalization of this might be, “It wouldn’t do to have everybody touching, but it won’t matter if I do. They can’t have everybody going into this special area, but it won’t hurt if just I go.” It’s all about accessibility. Jet travel and computers and a surplus of money have all created the impression that nothing is beyond us. Nothing—or at least almost nothing—is inaccessible for us.
In the field of religion our belief in accessibility is sometimes good and it is sometimes bad. It is bad when we imagine that we naturally deserve accessibility to God, or that we can earn that privilege. It is bad when we take our Christian son-ship lightly. In other words, it is bad when it comes to mean very little to us that through Christ we can daily come into the presence of our Heavenly Father and speak to Him about whatever weighs upon our hearts or minds. It is bad when we take for granted, or take lightly, the terrible price that had to be paid to win the accessibility we now enjoy with God the Father. It is good, on the other hand, to know that the teachings of God’s Word—the basic doctrines of Christianity—are not above and beyond us, they are accessible. We can know them. God does not present His salvation plan to us in such a way that only a rare and chosen few could ever understand let alone benefit from it.
This is the message of our text for today, the message that while God’s Law makes demands that we could not hope to fulfill, in connection with Jesus Christ He has not demanded of us that which is unattainable for human beings. He has, on the contrary, offered the gifts of salvation equally to each one of us. Our text is found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 30:
[Moses said], “The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”
Remember that what you have just read is not the words of men but the Word of God. Since God is their author these words are therefore most worthy of careful study and meditation. God’s Word itself assures you that you are blessed each time you hear the Word of God and treasure it. For such gifts we pray, “Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
Doctors have long liked to tell us that the only thing that we should put into our ears is our elbow. They are telling us, in other words, that since we cannot put our elbow into our ears, we ought to put nothing into our ears. While this is just a cute way to make a point, what if God had said that each of us had to do something similarly difficult before we could go to heaven? He did… and He didn’t.
Our text is a reference to the covenant God made with the Children of Israel—the 2-sided agreement between God and His people. Understand that what God was saying here to these folks was not that they could earn Heaven by their works. He was telling them how they could survive and prosper as a nation. So also God carefully outlined exactly what He expected of the Jews and what He would do if they obeyed. His point was that what He expected of them was neither hidden nor impossible. They were to keep Him as their one true God, and God would in turn bless them as a nation forever.
Earning Heaven was something different altogether. What God expected of man was not unclear, just impossible. He demanded absolute perfection from conception until He takes us to Heaven. He had every right to expect man to keep His laws, we just didn’t do it; and since we were born in sin, we couldn’t do it.
Obviously the words of our text would hold nothing but gloom and terror for Christians today if we did not apply them to the New Covenant that God has made with us in Christ Jesus. In this, as with the Jewish Covenant, God did not formulate an impossible scenario for mankind to be saved. He made it easy: Jesus does all the work, we get all the benefit. Perfection is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
Would God have been justified in demanding more from us than simple faith in what Jesus has done? Would He have been just in demanding some excruciatingly painful exercise or some near physical impossibility? Did He have the right to demand human sacrifice or self-mutilation or some such thing? Of course He did! He had every right to demand whatever He wanted of us. God is God. He can do just as He pleases. We are the ones who rebelled. We are the ones who turned our backs on Him and by human standards should at the very least have been made to perform some difficult and painful acts of penance if we were to be saved at all.
Yet what could we have offered? What could we present to a holy and just God to pay for even one of our sins against Him? God is perfect. God is holy. Imperfect and unholy man could do or say or think nothing that could erase our own unrighteousness. Our sinful minds cannot even comprehend perfection, much less know how to satisfy a perfect God. So then God could have demanded anything, but nothing we could give or do would have amounted to anything in the eyes of Almighty God.
Therefore God established a covenant with sinful mankind that “is not too difficult for (us) or beyond (our) reach.” [v.11 NIV] God has made Himself accessible to sinful mankind. Erase from your mind the arrogant American thoughts that tell you that you deserve and are entitled to whatever this world has to offer, or for that matter what the world to come has to offer. Instead, see yourself as you truly are: completely unworthy, a castoff without any rights or privileges. The rebellious created ones could never hope to please the Creator; and since the sinful mortal could never comprehend the perfect immortal God, we too had to cry out in the words of the Psalmist: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 121:2). Man could not rise to God’s level, so only God could save man. This God did in the simplest, most beautiful fashion. To bridge the gap between God and man, God became man.
God in His Word tells us in Galatians 4:4-5: “…when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under Law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (NIV). We were sinful and had no hope, no chance of pulling off the spiritual equivalent of putting our elbows into our ears. This is exactly what Paul said in Romans 8:3: “For what the Law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man” (NIV). Paul is here telling us that the demands of God’s Law carried no ability to provide the perfection that was demanded. We needed a Savior. Thanks be to God who has provided us just that—a simple and sure path back to Him through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ. The torment of eternal Hell that certainly awaited each of us no longer holds any terror for us. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 NIV).
Yet how terribly sinful mankind really is. How thoroughly ungodly and unholy. The very simplicity of God’s New Covenant, the very accessibility of God Himself and the lack of any sacrifice necessary on the part of man are the very things that make God’s plan unbelievable and unacceptable to sinful mankind. Like Naaman who did not believe the simple plan laid out by Elisha for the cure of his leprosy (cf. 2 Kings 5), so sinful mankind today imagines that there must be more. Natural man imagines that salvation could not just be given to us, it must be earned.
Have you ever gone out to eat with a group of people and in a weak but magnanimous moment offered to pick up the tab only to glance at the size of the bill and then wish that you had kept your mouth shut? So it will one day be with unbelieving mankind. In the clearest of terms, Jesus (the only one who could afford to do so) has picked up the tab for our sins. He didn’t even ask, He just did it. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). By His perfect life and innocent death He paid all that was owed to God the Father for every sin ever committed. Suffice it to say, it was big bill.
Mankind, thinking himself grand and benevolent, magnanimously offered to pay his fair share. God told him that, on the contrary, if he really wanted to pay part, he must pay all. Arrogant man agreed. “How much can it cost? he asked himself. Unfortunately man only gets his first glimpse of the bill once it is too late. The cost for each individual sin is eternal death in Hell and the list of his sins is endless.
Why does mankind refuse what is so good and simple? Why do we human beings despise God for His accessibility and seem to yearn for a more demanding and spiteful deity? The answers lie at the core of our sinful hearts. Our rebellion is Satan himself working in and through our own sinful natures. Satan dearly wants us to rebel against God and to reject His plan for our salvation because he knows that the moment we do we become his.
God’s covenant with the Jews was a simple message, a simple choice, and a guaranteed life of blessing and prosperity. They chose to reject God’s plan. For you and me today, God has explained His plan with perfect clarity on the pages of Holy Scripture. The way to heaven is not complicated—“Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31)—and yet that does not mean that there will never be times along the path to heaven when we are confused and uncertain. Those are the times when our frail human minds have butted up against the infinite wisdom of God. This makes it all the more amazing that He made quite plain and simple all that we need to know. The Children of Israel despised the simplicity and rejected their accessibility to God. They obviously chose poorly and in so doing turned against the God of their salvation.
Learn from this. Learn to trust not in your own good sense or your own sound judgment, for they will inevitably lead you to make the same foolish choices the Children of Israel made. Learn instead to trust in God and upon His wisdom. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and rely on Him to be your truth and your light. Do not reject the simplicity of God’s plan for salvation, and do not scorn your present ability and privilege to talk to God at any moment of any day. We have a loving and highly accessible God—yet a God who is infinitely wise and immeasurably merciful and loving. This same God has revealed the one path to Heaven in the simplest of terms. Rejoice in this His grace—His undeserved love. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.