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At a Crossroads: Life and Death

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

In late September, we were in Raleigh, North Carolina, for my daughter’s wedding.
The day before the wedding, my sister and brother-in-law were with us in the car, and we were leaving downtown Raleigh.
They were in the back seat and volunteered to navigate us back to where we were staying.
So they whip out their iPhones, and plug in our destination.
Directions on iPhone said, “Go northeast,” but we knew we needed to go southwest.

We knew southwest because we had been paying attention to where we were in the city. I like the apps on the phone for directions because it does help me navigate. But one part I do NOT like about the app is that I don’t have a good sense for the big picture. The app tells me to go left and then right, but after 20 minutes I can lose sense for where I am. And I am blindly following directions.

But in this case, we knew we needed to go southwest. We tried to enter in our destination again. Same answer: “Go northeast.” So I took matters into my own hands and began driving in the direction we needed to go.
Within 30 seconds, the mysterious voice on my brother-in-law’s phone got it figured out. No apologies. No saying, “Oops. Sorry.” But it got it right and began directing us to the southwest.

Life can be that way, at times. Someone is telling you to go right, but you don’t think that’s correct. You’re faced with a choice. Will you go left or right? North or south?

We are nearing the end of a sermon series going through the Book of Deuteronomy. And by and large, the Book reveals God’s heart and Moses’ heart for the people who were presented with a choice. Not north or south. Rather, blessings or curses. Good or evil.

Just a short time before his death, Moses said,

Deuteronomy 30:15 ESV “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

Israel is at a Crossroads. Two choices: life or death. It’s really quite simple.

This is the essence of the whole book. They are just a few miles from the Promised Land, promised to Abraham 700 years prior. Then promised to Moses and Israel just 40 years prior, but they failed quite often, choosing death instead of life.
• Disobedience instead of obedience.
• Unbelief instead of faith.

This morning, as we look at the choices Israel was faced with, we will also get a glimpse into our world. A world where we are faced with choices that have eternal significance.

Review

Today’s passage covers the essence of the covenant by God with a chosen people, Israel. Most of the book is comprised of three sermons. Chapters 29 and 30 are Moses’ third and final sermon in Deuteronomy.
And in this sermon, Moses is giving the Executive Summary of the Covenant.
In the past two months, I’ve been to four weddings. And each time at these weddings, the bride and the groom proclaimed promises to one another. Vows of a covenant. “I will be faithful to you. I will care for you. I will be there no matter what.”
The promises are all promises bring good to the spouse. Good, not harm.

This is a picture of God’s relationship with Israel. He called them into a personal, intimate, glorious relationship. He promised them good, not harm. He longed to be gracious and tender with them.

At the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus, the Lord says this to Israel:

Exodus 19:5-6 ESV “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

These frail creatures called humans were called into a covenant relationship with the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
If they would simply say, “I DO,” in these wedding-like vows, they would be his treasured possession. Three times in Deuteronomy, Moses repeats this.

Wouldn’t a wife LOVE to hear her husband say to her throughout their lives, “You, dear woman, are my treasured possession”?? Those are the tender words from the Living God to these people.

We’ve got to get it out of our heads that the Old Testament is a simple document with nice little history lessons and a God who is frequently angry. It is so much more. The OT is a call to a tender, loving, good covenant marriage.

At the same time, God is holy and righteous, and he is not to be trifled with. He warns them, “Be true to me, and do not turn to other lovers.” As in marriage, when a spouse turns to another lover, the marriage covenant is broken.

This is the warning to Israel.

God offers three “TENETS” to this covenant.
1. Walk with me….I will pour out blessing
2. Rebel against me…I will bring curses
3. Repent and humble yourself….I will restore you to all the blessings

If we placed these three tenets in a circle, this is the story of the OT. Repeating itself over and over and over again.
For example, in the Book of Judges which begins just a generation or so later, this cycle repeats itself at least 7 times.

But this covenant is so much richer than a bullet list can show. The covenant is wrapped up in goodness and tenderness.

That’s the ONE BIG Truth I want us to get this morning. God longs to be gracious to Israel.
We see this all over Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!

Many years ago, this verse was part of a song we sang at Stonebrook.
Can you hear God pleading with his people? “Oh, I long for them to have a heart for me. To fear me, obey me, love me, walk with me….that I might bring good to them and their children and grandchildren.”

This was fundamentally the struggle that Israel faced: To believe this or to doubt this. To receive this or to reject this.
And likewise this fundamentally is the struggle that we face today in Christ.

Let me ask us all this morning: Is your foundational view of God as a gracious God who longs to bring good to you?
Do you believe he truly loves you and cares about you?
Or do you believe he is disinterested? Weak? Powerless? Inattentive?
Do you have a humble heart that is willing to receive his graciousness?
Or are you proud, attempting to prove to God why he owes you something?

These are the kinds of questions that are at the center of life for Israel.

TURN TO DEUTERONOMY 30.
Our passage today is coming down to Moses’ last words to Israel before he dies.
They are only a few miles away from the land of Canaan, promised 700 years before to Abraham and his descendants.
The blessing of God awaits them on the other side of the Jordan River.
Let’s read.

Vs. 11
Deuteronomy 30:11–14 ESV “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.

What is this “commandment” he speaks of? I think it’s the general commandment to walk with God in this covenant relationship. Like being true to and totally committed to the marriage vows.

Vs. 12-14

12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither 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?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
Moses say, “To follow the Lord and keep his covenant and live as his chosen, beloved people—his treasured possession– is not too difficult.” Just like I can keep my marriage vow to my wife—for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health—so can Israel keep their promise to walk with this gracious, holy God.

Vs. 15
Deuteronomy 30:15 ESV “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”
This is the Crossroads I spoke of.
Really, there were only two options for Israel. Life or Death. Good or evil.
Go left or right. Choose faith, or choose unbelief. Choose blessing, or choose curses.
There is no middle ground. And these are not two equally good choices.

Moses says all this with a fatherly plea, urging his beloved people to love the Lord with all their hearts.
To walk with him. Obey him. And then to experience real life and good and blessings.

To any reasonable person looking in on this, the choice seems elementary. So obvious and easy, doesn’t it??
We say, “Well, of course, they should and will choose good. Faith. Obedience. Blessing.” That’s obviously the right decision. That’s what I would choose, right? Only a FOOL would choose otherwise.

Vs. 16
Deuteronomy 30:16 ESV “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”
Again, we have to ask, “Why wouldn’t Israel choose to walk with the Lord? It’s the only reasonable, logical, loving thing to do.”
Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses reminds them what God had done for them.
1. Rescued them out of cruel bondage in Egypt.
2. Performed miracle after miracle.
3. Destroyed the Egyptian army who was trying to kill them.
4. Watched over them for 40 years in the wilderness.
What’s not to like? No reasonable person would reject all that.

Vs. 17-18
Deuteronomy 30:17–18 ESV “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

Now Moses turns up the heat. He gives them some stern warnings. God is HOLY, and if Israel turns to other lovers like can happen in a marriage, then he says, “I will bring judgment upon you.”
Pastor Dave looked at this last week in Chapter 28. God promised he would CURSE them in judgment if they rebelled and turned to other lovers.

Again, no reasonable person….no one in their right mind would go this direction. That would be foolish. Stupid.

Yet….YET…. as we read the rest of the Old Testament, we find that in fact Israel largely DID take that course of action. They DID rebel. And God DID pour out his wrath.
If we don’t understand the depravity of mankind, we will be shocked. And we will say to ourselves, “Well, I would NEVER do what they did.”

But if we know our Bible and if we know ourselves, we have to admit… we ALL have the very same tendency.
Every person who ever lived besides one man named Jesus, lived the same way.
God is not the problem. His covenant with his people is not the problem. WE…WE…are the problem.

To peek ahead to the NEW Covenant of Jesus Christ, this very problem is what Jesus came to address.

But for the moment, let’s stay in Deuteronomy. This is the essence of Moses’ last words to Israel.
He pleads with them to believe in and love and obey the Lord, who LONGS to be gracious to his chosen, covenant people.

Vs. 19-20
Now please pay attention to vs. 19-20. This is the Final Appeal in the Final Sermon before Moses dies and Joshua takes over to lead them into this beautiful land that God promised. These two verses summarize the essence of Deuteronomy and the essence of the Old Testament…that is, the Old Covenant.

Deuteronomy 30:19–20 ESV “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
First, the Lord is saying that heaven and earth– these permanent and unchanging created objects, quite in contrast to Israel’s fickleness– are watching you.

Then he repeats vs. 15: I set before you life and death. Blessings and curses. Choose life!

There is a sense of urgency here in Moses’ words. Very personal. Intense. Pleading. Warning. Promising. Their very lives depended upon it. This should have provoked a strong sobriety in Israel’s hearts. This was a solemn occasion.

While Israel truly did have two choices laid out to them, these were not amoral choices, like choosing either the red car or the blue car, where both have advantages and disadvantages. These were choices where life itself was on the line. Glory and honor were at stake. Goodness and prosperity were laid out.
A reasonable person would undoubtedly say, “Of course, they should choose life. There is no other good option.”

But this was often not the case, was it? Israel was (as we are) forgetful people. They could lose sight of truth. Of what is good. They could easily think that bad is good and good is bad. In other words, they could become deceived.

WHY? HOW?
Well, simply stated, all of mankind is fatally flawed. We have a sinful nature. A nature that is contrary to all that is good and holy and right and pure. A nature in opposition, by and large, to God’s LORDSHIP over us. A nature that is easily DUPED. Deceived. In the NT, it is written succinctly as, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Israel routinely forgot who God was and what he did.
• Days after the miraculous Red Sea deliverance, they are grumbling about a lack of water. In essence they say, “God must hate us.”
• While Moses was gone for 40 days on the mountain receiving this covenant, they got anxious and desperate, and made an idol out of gold in the shape of a calf.
• Out of 12 men sent to spy out the promised land, 10 of them rebel and walk in unbelief, and stir up fear and doubt in the entire nation.

So in Israel’s case, it was not automatic that they would LOVE God and TRUST him.
But it was possible to love God and walk with him. Some did. Moses did. Joshua and Caleb did. Others who followed did. Not perfectly, of course. But they loved the Lord.

Remember Five Truths

In order for Israel to walk with God and receive his blessings, they were to recall who God is and what he had done for them. At least five truths in Deuteronomy.

LORD of LORDS
1. He is the God of gods, Lord of lords, Creator of all, great and marvelous.
He is without equal. No one can compare to him.
Deuteronomy 10:14,17 ESV “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it… The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
They should be in awe of him. They should live in reverence and worship.
I know I get a taste of his greatness and power when I witness the majesty of his creation. Standing at the base of a mountain in Colorado. Gazing at the vastness of the stars at night. He is great and mighty. There is no one like him.

RESCUE
2. He had rescued them from 400 years of cruel bondage by great signs and wonders, displaying his great power and his redeemer’s heart.
Deuteronomy 4:37–39 ESV “And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”
Dozens of times in the OT the Lord reminds Israel how he delivered them, bringing them to become his treasured possession. A holy nation. They needed to know and believe that God is a REDEEMER. A Savior. And what Egypt was to Israel, Christ’s death and resurrection is to us.

Third, they needed to know the Lord truly loved them.
LOVE
3. He loves these people whom he has chosen to be his treasured possession
Deuteronomy 7:7–8 ESV It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Like Israel, we need to know and believe the very same truth. If we lose sight of this, we are in trouble.

FOR THEIR GOOD
4. All that he commands them to do and be is for their good
Deuteronomy 10:13 ESV “…keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.”
This theme of Good and Blessing is constant throughout the book. The Lord wants to bless them. Bring them good. It was so tempting for Israel to lose sight of this. “Hmm, maybe he really doesn’t want good for us.”

CURSES
5. Fifth, they were warned of severe consequences–curses– if they trifled with their holy God.
Deuteronomy 11:26–28 ESV “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse… the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.”
They were warned, “Don’t trifle with God. He is holy and just, and he hates sin.”
It was crucial that Israel remember all this. They were—as we are—fatally flawed, and they were forgetful and easily deceived. So Moses told them to keep all this truth in front of them.
Deuteronomy 6:6–7 ESV “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.”
This was Israel’s single greatest challenge.
• To keep God right in front of them.
• To remember who he is.
• To not forget his great deeds. The miracles.
• To rejoice in him as their Redeemer from Egypt.
• To be sobered by judgment if they harden their hearts.

All this reminds me of parenting. You parents are not perfect. You have flaws. But by and large, you are much, much wiser than your children. And you love them and want to bring them good.
What’s not to like about that?? Yet you ask your five year old to do the simplest of things with a good heart, and they often have a meltdown. They cry, scream, argue, pout. All you want is good for them. The choice laid out is so simple. And it’s so good. So you’re surprised they’re fighting you on this. Does it remind you of Israel? It should. Does it remind you of yourself? It should.
That’s why for you parents, your instruction is so vital. Like in Deuteronomy 6 here. You are reminding them over and over and over again….
…Reminding them of your love for them.
….Telling them again what God did for them by sending Jesus to die, and so rescue us all from hell.
….Teaching them how great and majestic God is.
I remember once my family was in the car, and as we were driving, the sun was setting in the west. Beautiful. I pulled the car over so we could all look at it. “God made that.”

Lessons for Us Today

What lessons can we learn?
We are under a New and Better covenant. It is the covenant relationship with God Almighty through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the promised life in him. Yet we can learn lessons from Israel.
Well, we know that we, like Israel, are FATALLY FLAWED. We see it easily in others. We see it in our children. We don’t always see it so well in ourselves. We are Fatally Flawed.

And like Israel, our faith is tested. Our faith in a God who is the Lord of lords, creator of all things. Our confidence in his LOVE for us. Our firm conviction that he is the Great Redeemer who delivers us from hell. Our trust that God is good….all of the time. He NEVER…EVER…has evil intentions or actions.

Our faith is tested. It is tested when we are TIRED. Hungry. Lonely. It is tested when trials hit us.

Yesterday, multiple times I was tempted to be anxious about this sermon and my preparation.

Last night I slept rather poorly for some reason, and I was exhausted when I got up. My faith in the goodness of God was tested. Can I trust him for strength and encouragement and love for the day.

Friday at lunch my wife and I were talking about some of our trials. Some very heavy and grieving circumstances centered around her health. We wept together as we considered our long and heavy circumstances that, barring a miraculous healing, won’t go away until the day we die. We had to talk about God’s goodness. Is he good? Does he know what he is doing?

Then we remembered an old hymn that we had sung just two days before that. It’s called Day by Day.
One verse says this:
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
We wept together with tears of sadness and gladness.
“Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment.”
Our kind, wise heavenly Father has bestowed on us some trials. Will we trust him?

“He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best…”
He is kind beyond measure.
Will we believe that each day he gives us what he deems is best for us?
God is a good God. And his covenant to us is pure goodness. Nothing but good. His covenant through Jesus is beautiful.
Painful trials will test our faith in God’s goodness and his love.

So how do we know he is good?
We must REMEMBER.

Remember the Covenant God has made with us in his Son, Jesus. It is a covenant of good. Like a marriage covenant, except that unlike us, God can never and will never fail.
We must know and remember that because he is good and because he loves us, God sent his Son to die so that we might live.
Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Moses frequently reminded Israel of their Redemption from Egypt. God delivered them through great power and miracles because he loved them. That is essentially the message of the New Testament. We are delivered from hell, sort of a spiritual Egypt where we were in bondage with no hope of deliverance.
When all else fails in life—when we are crushed and overwhelmed—instead of giving in to the doubts, we turn to the TRUTH and REMEMBER that God is rich in mercy and great in love. His Son died to give me life forever.

REMEMBER we are God’s treasured possession.
1 Peter 2:9 ESV But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Treasured possession

REMEMBER HIS BLESSINGS… not his CURSES.
Galatians 3:13 ESV Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
Jesus took the curse for you.

When your own sin weighs you down in guilt and shame and you are tempted to question your covenant relationship with God, remember. So now, as in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for you who are in Christ. Never any condemnation. Ever.
God will never curse you, for he cursed his own Son instead.

REMEMBER HIS LOVE
1 John 3:1 ESV “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are…”
Adopted as children…of God! Remarkable. Stunning.
God’s covenant is intended to bring us good. Great good.