ďThe Obedience That Comes From FaithĒ ††††††††††††Deuteronomy 1:1-46

January 10, 2010

 

SI:Weíre beginning this morning a study of the book of Deuteronomy.

You might remember that last year one of the churches in town put up some

†† billboards advertising their pastorís sermon seriesóGreat Sex Godís Way.

Well, maybe we should advertise my Deuteronomy sermon series on billboards!

†† Iím sure that will pull in the crowds.

 

Deuteronomy is an awesome book.

†† And as we dig into it in coming weeks, you are going to be blessed.

Deuteronomy has been called the Romans of the Old Testament.

†† And it is a lot like Paulís letter to the Romans in a number of ways.

 

Itís packed full of the great big themes and doctrines of the Christian faith.

†† Sovereignty of God, predestination, justification, adoption, sanctification.

Itís also a down to earth and practical book.

†† Itís full of thoughtful counsel for believers about big and small issues of life.

Big things like a biblical view of worship and civil law and government,

†† and more private matters that are closer to home like marriage and family,

†† and tithing, and faith under trial, and the inner conflicts of the believer.

 

But most of all, Deuteronomy is a book about Godís grace.

Thatís what makes it the most like Romans.

†† Itís about the grace of God being poured out on us freely and undeserved,

†† and then the life of faith and obedience we give to God in response to his grace.

 

I want to give credit where credit is due.Two sermon series.

One by Dr. Robert Rayburn, Faith Presbyterian, Tacoma, Washington.

Another by a childhood friend of mine, Dr. George Robertson,

†† First Presbyterian, Augusta, Georgia.

 

Letís read all of chapter one.Moses is speaking to the people of Israel.

†† Not the generation that left Egypt, they all died wandering in wilderness 40 years.

†† This is the next generation.Their children.Moses is reminding them of all that

†† has happened to their parents and to them during those 40 years in the desert.


 

INTRO:I need to start by taking you far away from Cullman.

†† Weíre going on a short Indiana Jones adventure.

†† So grab your whip and your hat and stay with me.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s archaeologists in the Middle East

†† began to discover the remains of a great empire.

They found the ruins of palaces and temples.

†† And they found archives filled with thousands of baked clay tablets

†† covered with strange writing.And after they found the key to translating

†† these tablets, they realized that this ancient people were the Hittites.

 

Now that alone was interesting, because even though the Old Testament talks about

†† the Hittites, secular scholars had been saying that the Hittites never existed.

They said the Hittites were a myth and this was one of the myths of the Bible.

†† And low and behold here they were.The Bible was right all along.

 

Among these clay tablets excavated from Hittite archives were a number of treaties

†† that various powerful Hittite kings had made with weaker nations in the region.

These treaties were called sovereignty or suzerainty treaties.

†† A suzerain means a superior king, sovereign king, to whom loyalty is due.

So these powerful Hittite kings would say to the weaker kings of small nations.

†† Iím going to make a treaty with you.And this treaty would be imposed

†† by the great king on the lesser king and nation.

 

All of these suzerainty treaties followed the same form.Basically four parts.

First, they started with a brief history of the relationship between these two kings.

†† And the emphasis would be upon the generosity and power of great king.

†† How he had treated the lesser nation mercifully.

 

Second, the treaty would spell out the stipulations of the great king.

†† This is what I expect you to do as a vassal nation.

†† I expect you to send me so much gold each year.

†† I expect you to send me so many young men to be soldiers in my army.

 

Third, there would be a list sanctions.

†† Blessings for keeping the treaty and curses for breaking it.

If you are loyal to me and send your tribute, support my causes,

†† then if you are attacked I will bring my great army to defend you.

But if you are not loyal, and break the treaty, then I will tear your limbs from body,

†† and take your wives and children as slaves.††

Fourth, there would be a protocol for swearing to this treaty,

†† for reading it regularly, and for passing it on to the next generation.

Historical prologue, stipulations or requirements, blessings and curses,

†† swearing to and perpetuating the treaty.

Once this pattern was discovered in the Hittite treaties,

†† it was found in other civilizations of the ancient Middle East.

 

Bible scholars saw this and said:Thatís the outline of Deuteronomy.

†† Deuteronomy has these four parts.Itís a suzerainty treaty.

The Lord is the Great King, the nation with whom he makes the treaty is Israel.

†† And the Lord, through Moses, used a form familiar to people of that day.

†† In just a moment Iíll show you why this is so wonderful.

 

But first, what is Deuteronomy?It means second law.Second giving of the law.

After the Lord delivered Israelites from slavery in Egypt, gave law at Mount Sinai.

†† Ten Commandments and the instructions of how they were to live as his people.

Then he took them to the edge of the Promised Land, and told them to go

†† in and take the land he had given them.But they refused.Thought they would

†† be slaughtered by the Canaanites.Accused God and Moses of bringing them

†† out of Egypt to kill them.

So the Lord said:This faithless generation will not inherit the Promised Land.

†† Will wander in the desert until they are all dead.But to prove that I am faithful,

†† I will give next generation promised land.

 

So thatís where Deuteronomy starts.The second generation standing on the edge

†† of Promised Land.God tells Moses to give them the law a second time.

But hereís the wonderful part.Before Moses gives the law.Before God tells

†† them rules they have to obey, the stipulations of the covenant, what comes first?

A history of the Great Kingís relationship with the lesser nation.

 

And thatís exactly what we have in the first 4 chapters.

†† A history of Godís relationship with Israel.

Itís a history of Godís free salvation poured out on undeserving people.

†† People who are incapable of ever pleasing God and gaining salvation.

†† But for no other reason than the Lordís love and grace, he calls them his own.

And then only after this relationship founded on grace is affirmed,

does the Lord move on to the next part:

Now, this is how I want you to live.

 

Grace first.Unconditional salvation first.And then obedience.

†† Thatís the order of the Christian life and faith.

Itís not an exaggeration to say that this order is what makes Christianity

absolutely unique among all religions in the world.

Talk to anybody who doesnít know the Gospel, even in Cullman,

†† and they will say that those who do good will be saved,

†† and those who are bad wonít be.

But the Gospel turns that completely upside down.

 

It says salvation must be a gift of Godís grace because sinful people canít earn it.

It says that the life of obedience is not in order to be saved,

†† but because youíve already been saved by the grace of God.

Obedience doesnít earn you anything from God,

†† itís to thank God for earning something wonderful for you.

 

Thatís the message of Deuteronomy.Both in its words and also in its form.

Before we ever come to Godís commandments,

†† there is a history of his gracious relationship with us.

And knowing that makes all the difference in the world.

 

So letís look at this first chapter and see three ways that Moses pushes

†† the Gospel home, and how that applies to us.

Iíll give you each point as we go along.


 

MP#1Your position as a child of God does not rest on your obedience,

†† but on Godís grace.

Deuteronomy begins with Israel poised on the eastern bank of Jordan River.

Just two months later they would cross the river on dry land

†† and begin to take possession of the Promised Land.

 

What brought them to that place?

How was it that a people who had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years

†† were not only delivered from slavery, but standing on the verge of prosperity?

What had they done to get such material and spiritual blessing?

 

Moses gives the answer in verse 8.

He says that their position as children of God,

†† and the privileges and blessings they were about to receive

†† had nothing to do with them or anything they had done.

They couldnít take any credit for even getting to the banks of the Jordan.

 

No, Moses says, you are standing here because of a promise the Lord made

†† generations ago to your forefather Abraham and to Isaac and Jacob.

You werenít even born when that promise was madeó

†† so you had absolutely nothing to do with these incredible blessings.

 

And it wasnít that God looked ahead in time and saw what good people these

†† Israelites would be and chose to bless them on the basis of what they would do.

Because as the chapter continues, Moses describes Israelís spiritual failures.

†† The Israelites were sinful people, not righteous people.

The parents of this generation had all died in the wilderness because of their

†† rebellion.And this generation was worldly and didnít deserve what God

†† was about to give them.

 

And later on in the opening chapters of Deuteronomy,

†† Moses spells it out even more clearly.

He says that God did not chose Israel for anything in them,

but simply because he loved them.

 

So here are these people.God called them his people.

†† He brought them to the edge of the Promised Land.

They are about to inherit the incredible blessings

†† of promises made before they were even born.

And it was all, from first to last, Godís grace.

Thatís one of the great themes of Deuteronomy.

†† All that we are and have as Christians,

†† all we are promised in this life and the next,

†† all the privileges of being a child of God and knowing Jesusó

†† all of it is Godís free gift.

We deserve to die and go to hell.Instead, we get the Promised Land.

†† And the kind of Christian you are is determined by how fully

you understand and appreciate Godís grace.

 

I recently read the autobiography of Michael English,

†† The Prodigal Comes Home:My Story of Failure and Godís Story of Redemption

He tells about his talent and great success in the Christian music world,

†† and then his immorality and drug use that destroyed his marriage and reputation,

†† and then about how the Lord rescued him, and blessed him.

One thing I found interesting was that he grew up in a church that taught that

†† you are saved by faith in Christ, but staying saved depends on your obedience.

 

Even though Michael English grew up as a Christian,

†† he believed all along that his position with God rested on his obedience.

He obeyed to stay out of hell.His success as a Christian singer

†† he attributed to Godís reward for his good behavior.

So when he failed morally, he had the overwhelming sense that God had

†† turned against him.And that plunged him deeper into sin and despair.

The Lord rescued him, gave him new start.He started to understand grace:

 

ďThe God I though I knew as a child and, really, for most of my adult life was a lot like my Daddy used to be:stern, ready to blame and punish.I didnít learn much at all about grace and mercy.I grew up thinking that if you were in a backslidden state, you were going to hell.And when I was a raging addict, short of killing somebody, I could have slid no farther back.I had no hope. But from what Iíve seen over the past few years, Iíve had to reconsider.Itís now hard for me to believe that a God who loves me so much, who has poured out His healing mercies into my life, would have rejected me at my lowest point.Iím not going to pretend to make some profound statement here on a centuries-old debate (heís talking about the debate over eternal security, whether we choose God or he chooses us).But I will say that my own experience with a patient and loving God has me thinking hard about it.

 

We donít have to wonder about it.The Lord has made his sovereign grace plain.


 

So what does the Lord require of us?What does Moses say?

MP#2Your duty as a child of God is not primarily obedience, but faith.

As Moses reviews the history of Israel up to this point,

†† he focuses on their failure 40 years earlier in Kadesh Barnea.

That was when they sent the 12 spies into the Promised Land.

†† And when the spies came out and told how strong the Canaanites were,

†† the Israelites refused to go any farther.

 

All God asked of them was that they trust his Word.

He said he would win their battles for them.

†† He said he would drive out the Canaanites no matter how strong.

In fact, Godís promise was so sure that the way Moses puts it in vs. 21,

†† the Lord had already given them the land.

All they had to do was walk in and take possession of it.

†† All he was really asking of them was that they believe him.

 

The taking of the land was ultimately a matter of faith.

Look at verse 32: ďYou did not trust the Lord your God.Ē

†† That was their problem and the reason for their disobedience.

 

The Lord has already proved his power and his commitment to their good

†† over and over again.He brought them out of Egypt with ten plagues.

†† He parted the Red Sea.He gave them water and manna in the desert.

But as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land,

†† they refused to move when they heard the spies talk about the

†† fortified cities and the warlike people.

 

And what Moses is saying is that their refusal to enter the land

†† was not so much disobedience as it was a failure of faith.

Thatís what the Bible says many times about the generation of Israelites

†† that came out of Egypt.Even though the Lord carried them on eaglesí wings,

†† they were still a people without faith.

 

So Moses is driving this home with the next generation.

Heís saying that the real issue of your life is not obedience, itís faith.

†† Do you take God at his word and trust him to be true to his promises?

Thatís what separates the saved from the lost.

†† Thatís what separates the righteous from the wicked.

†† Thatís what separates the true people of God from worldóeven in the church.

Obedience is not the issue, faith is.

God is not asking you to do anything to win his favor.

†† Heís only asking you to accept and receive the salvation heís offering for free.

People who believe the Lord receive, and those who donít believe get nothing.

†† Itís as simple as that.

†† Faith is the most important thing because God is a God of grace.

†† Doing is nothing.Believing and trusting is everything.

 

Near Covenant College on Lookout Mountain there is a launching pad

†† for hang gliders.Itís famous and people come from all over the eastern US.

When I was in college we used to go there sometimes and watch them jump off

†† and soar down into the valley and catch the thermal currents and climb.

For $50 or so you could ride tandem with an expert.

†† I never did it but I saw people do it.And, of course, the expert would sayó

Donít try to fly this thing.Donít pull on any cords.You trust me and weíll soar.

 

You know that if you want forgiveness and eternal life you have to trust Jesus.

†† You know that so well itís almost a clichť.Give your heart to the Lord.

†† Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

 

But how do you become a better Christian?

†† How do you overcome bitterness toward a person who has wronged you?

†† How do you show kindness to that person?

The answer is the same.You have to trust Jesus.You have to give your heart.

†† Because it is only by believing in him that you can take him at his word

†† when he says:Love you enemies.Pray for them.Bless and do no curse.

And that goes for every challenge in the Christian life.

 

You donít get saved by trusting Jesus and then sanctify yourself by own efforts.

God has to do it in you.And he does it in the people who trust his Word.

†† Jesus says: Without me you can do nothing.

And so, you must find promises of Godís word that fit your situation,

†† and grab them and claim them and believe them.

 

ďThe Lord your God has given you the land.ĒTrust him.

†† Thatís the big issue of life.Thatís what God requires.

 


 

So if your obedience doesnít get you in, or keep you in, or make you good,

†† then why obey at all?What purpose does it serve in this relationship of grace?

†† Moses says that . . .

MP#3Your heart as a child of God is proved by your obedience.

Obedience is an indicator of the state of your heart.

†† It reveals your deepest convictions and the loves and hatreds of your soul.

 

After the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land, the Lord told them that

†† because of their rebellion, their generation would never be allowed to enter.

When they heard that, they knew they were wrong.

†† So the very next day, they marched across the border.

But the Lord did not go with them and they were whipped by the Canaanites

†† and chased back into the wilderness.They then wept before the Lord but,

†† Moses said, ďhe paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.Ē

 

How do you explain the Lordís response?

Here are people who are sorry for what they have done and the Lord turns away.

†† Doesnít God delight in showing mercy?

†† Doesnít the Bible give us story after story of him forgiving the sins of his people

†† and not holding their sins against them?

Then why was he unwilling to forgive Israelís rebellion at Kadesh Barnea?

†† Why did he even refuse to hear them when they asked for another chance?

 

This is the reason:†† He knew that their hearts were far from him.

†† He knew they were sorry for the consequences of their sin,

†† but they didnít have true faith in the Lord or truly desire to honor him.

Their disobedience revealed that in their hearts, they were far from him.

 

Once again, their disobedience itself was not the important thing.

†† God is always forgiving the disobedience of his people.

But their disobedience was the final evidence of faithless hearts.

†† It was evidence that deep down there was a persistent unwillingness

†† to believe Godís word.These Israelites had rejected Godís salvation and

†† proved that rejection by their disobedience.

 

This generation of Israelites were not just forfeiting a chance to live in Canaan,

†† they were forfeiting salvation because they had no faith.

They didnít obey because they did not trust Godís word.

†† They didnít love him for his grace.

Itís always faith first, and then obedience.

It doesnít matter how imperfect your obedience is.

†† One of the most basic acts of obedience is repentance.

†† God promise over and over to forgive your sins and remember them no more.

 

He never demands sinless perfection.

†† But he wants you to trust him and love him.

And the most important evidence that you really have trust and love in your heart

†† is a sincere desire and effort to obey him.

Jesus said:ďIf you love me, you will do what I command.Ē

†† Thatís the only obedience that pleases God.

†† The obedience that comes from faith, as Paul puts it in Romans 1.

 

So as we begin Deuteronomy, the most important thing for you to ask yourself is:

†† Whatís the history of my relationship with the Lord?

†† The Israelites had their story.Whatís yours?

 

Maybe itís a story of knowing the Lord as a child.Growing up in a Christian home.

†† Being showered with blessings and kindnesses beyond number.

†† Saying, there never was a time I didnít know my sin and his love.

Heís stuck with me even when I took all my many blessings for granted.

†† And heís enabled me to move from strength to strength.

Maybe itís a story of growing up far from God, apart from the church and covenant.

†† A life of rebellion.And yet the Lord drew you to himself in his time.

Maybe like Michael English,

†† itís a story of growing up Christian but not knowing grace.

†† Suffering, as only a Christian can, from being caught in sin for a time.

 

Whatever it is, if you have any real history with the Lord at all,

†† and can give testimony of his grace, and really love him,

†† then youíre going to love Deuteronomy.

Because more than anything else, it will show you how to live your life

†† as one great big ďthank youĒ and ďI love youĒ to your God and Savior.

 

During the time of King Josiah a copy of Deuteronomy was rediscovered.

When the people of Judah heard it read and preached by the Levites,

†† it led to a wonderful, Spirit-filled revival.

We should hope and pray that it has a similar effect on us as we hear it

†† Lordís Day by Lordís Day through this new year.