Sermon Notes
Deuteronomy 30:11-20 April 8, 2001
The Right Choice

One afternoon at a prestigious university the faculty gathered for their weekly meeting. A professor of archeology brought with him a lamp recently unearthed in the Middle East. It was reported to contain a genie, who, when the lamp was rubbed would appear and grant one wish. The dean, not wanting to miss a chance on advancement, grabbed the lamp and stroked it. Suddenly the genie appeared. The phantom made him an offer, a choice of three rewards: wealth, wisdom, or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean selects wisdom. "Done!" says the jinn and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. All heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues, wanting to hear a jewel of sagacity, whispers, "Say something. What wise insight do you now have?" The dean sighs and says, "I should have taken the money."

Making the right choice is not always as easy as we think it is. When faced with options we can scratch our head, wondering which preference is best. The famed master of misstatements, Yogi Berra, once quipped: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." That is how we often feel when faced with alternatives. We are frozen, fearful we will make the wrong choice only to regret it later.

We are faced with choices daily. Some may seem trifling: what to wear, how will we use our time, what to eat. Other choices are significant, having ramifications for the future: schooling and career choices, where we will live, whom we will marry. The existentialist of a generation ago, Jean-Paul Sartre, knew of the importance of decisions made on a daily basis when he said; "We are our choices."

Yet of all the choices with which we are faced, of all the barrage of options set before us, there is none so important as to how we, as created in the image of God, will respond to our Creator. When we sort through the implications of our choices, be they major or minor, how does a relationship with Jesus Christ figure into the equation? There is perhaps no greater choice facing us each and every day of our life than this choice.

However, unlike the more mundane or momentous decisions with which we are faced, this choice is not as difficult as we might think. Our passage this morning sets before us a choice, just as it was placed before the Israelites 3,800 years ago. On the Plains of Moab, on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, the Israelites await the entry into the Promised Land. But before they could take possession of that which God had promised them, the Lord reviewed and renewed the covenant with them.

Once again they were reminded of the work the Lord had done for them, bringing their parents from slavery in Egypt, of caring for them through the 40 years in the wilderness and now presenting them with the promise that made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Having reviewed God’s mercy shown to them, they are told of the blessings which will come if they respond to God’s grace with obedience to God’s commands. They are also told of the curses if they disobey, if they reject the gift God has for them.

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"

13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"

14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.

16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,

18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live

20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
 
This passage places this choice before us. It calls for a decision. Let’s see what this choice looks like.

We are faced with a clear choice - verses 11-14

The choice is clear because it is not hard to know what God wants

When we are faced with the major choices in life we often wonder whether we have all the facts to make the choice and whether we have what it takes to accomplish what we set out to do. If we make a choice to pursue a career, we best be certain we can get the degree, certification, have the physical stamina to do what it takes.

When God places before us the choice of whether we should obey or disobey, the choice is fairly clear; it is simple. What is commanded is not outside the ordinary.

Verse 11 – it is not too difficult for you

The Hebrew reads: it is not too wonderful. This term is used of God’s cosmic wonders or miracles. In other words, there is nothing mystical about God’s Word. What God commands is not so shrouded in mystery nor cloaked in an enigma, so that you’ll never discern what God demands.

In many ancient religions as well as their new age counterparts there is the idea that one can achieve divine enlightenment only by means of special knowledge, of gnosis, ascending the ladder toward the divine. There is belief that God plays cosmic hide and seek with His creation and that unless we can unveil the esoteric puzzle, we will be consigned to a lesser life. But not so with what God desires of us.

What is more – it is not beyond your reach

God does not make attainment of special knowledge a prerequisite for the blessings He has to offer. Nor does He make His commands like a carrot on a stick, always a few inches outside of our grasp. It is not that hard, not that much of a reach to understand His commands.

In High School, algebra was beyond my reach; it was always too difficult. Try as I might, I could gain only occasional glimpses behind the veil of mystery of axioms and theorems; my stretch was only so far. God is far kinder than trig or calculus. God makes His commands accessible.

You don’t need an advanced degree in theology to understand what God says. It is not necessary to spend years of spiritual meditation to break into some celestial plain. The clarity of God’s commands, the clear meaning of the text is what theologians call the perspicuity of Scripture.

What this unclear word means is that God’s Word is clear enough for anyone, using the ordinary means of reason and language, to understand the intention of the text. This is not to say that you can open to any passage and immediately understand and follow the passage, but when it comes to knowing who God is, who we are before Him and what is necessary to be accepted by God, that is clear.

Where we need not look - verses 12-13

When people seek the sublime mysteries of the universe, there are often two options which are here, quickly dismissed: in the heavens and beyond the sea.

Since time immemorial, the epic quest for the secrets of the universe has been fodder for story tellers. Perhaps you struggled through the ancient Gilgamesh epic is school, the tale of the tragic hero Gilgamesh, who, following the death of his friend Enkidu, sought the answers for the meaning of life. In his quest, he crossed the sea, searching for the survivor of the flood whom Gilgamesh hoped might provide him with an answer to his quest. The idea of seeking the truth through a trek is as common as Homer’s Illiad and as contemporary as the recently released movie, "O, Brother Where Art Thou?"

God’s will is not hidden

Certainly there is much we do not know, we can not know. But if you glance over to Deuteronomy 29:29, we see that which is part of the secret will of God remains in the domain of that which is not for us to know. But what we need to know for all life and godliness is clearly laid out for us.

God’s design for our life is revealed in God’s Word. If anything is hidden from us it is not necessary to know; if revealed, then we have a duty to know and teach it.

The choice is clear because the choice is close

Verse 14: it is near, it is internalized. This is the promise of the New Covenant which we’ve referred to as we’ve made our way through this portion of Deuteronomy. In Jeremiah 31:33-34 it is promised that God will work His Law within us, propelling us by grace to obey.

There is no conflict between Moses and Jesus, between the Law and the Gospel here. What is spoken of by Moses before entering the Promised Land was that God will not hide His commands from His people. Nor is that done today.

Yet, if the choice is clear for Jews in the Old Testament, if they knew about the Messiah only through veiled types and shadows, if they had to rely on sacrifices and the Temple to know God ... and we who have Christ made more clear, then we are without excuse. If God’s commands were clear for them, how much more for us?

We are faced with a critical choice - verses 15-18

The choice is critical because of its eternal consequences

This is a choice involving life and death. What is more important than this? All choices fade away; they’re frivolous when eternity is before us. What we do, where we work, whom we marry palls in comparison to this, the choice is between lifeand death, between prosperity and destruction.

These choices in verse 15 put both quantity as well as quality at stake. It is not just whether we live or die, but whether there is ultimate success in life. The terms for prosperity and destruction are the basic Hebrew words for good and evil. To choose life is to choose the summum bonum, the greatest good. To make a mistake here is not just unfortunate, it is devastating.

The choice is critical, for to make the wrong choice carries with it disastrous consequences.

This is not the choice between ice cream or cake for dessert, nor even whether to marry or not. This choice deals with the universal desire, the common thread of human existence. Yet so many seem to embrace death and destruction.

In our country, anxiety, stress and depression are on the rise. Depression in industrialized countries doubles every 10 years and suicide in North America is the 3rd cause of death for youth, behind car accidents and homicide. The choice of death seems to be preferred.

I read of a young kid who spoke of the uselessness of life. While at camp, he went on and on about wanting to die until one day his counselor said, "Come on, let's go. If you want to die I'll help you die." The counselor took the kid up on the side of the mountain where there was a visitors' cabin with a balcony hanging out over the edge of the mountain. The counselor said, "If you want to die then I'll help you kill yourself. I'll hold you by your ankles out over the balcony and drop you on your head so that it will kill you." The kid reluctantly said, "OK," even though the counselor could see that he was quickly changing his mind. The counselor took the boy by the ankles and held him out over the edge of the balcony when all of a sudden the kid yelled, "Stop! I don't want to die!" The counselor pulled him back in and sat him down. The kid's heart was racing and the counselor said, "Listen, I know you don't want to die. That's not the problem. The problem is that you don't know how to live."

Moses said, "I set before you life and death." If we don't know how to choose life, then we choose death by matter of default. We choose death when we dismiss God's Word as normative for our life. We choose death when we desire nothing more than getting what we want when we want it, regardless of what God wants for our life. We choose death when we say that God's will takes precedence over all else, but then live like God doesn't even exist.

But if the choice is so easy, if God’s Word is so close, why then is there disobedience? Why do people make the wrong choice? If it is important and easy, why would anyone make the wrong choice?

This is a question not only for those who do not know Christ, but for us who claim to have accepted the Covenant choice but still fail to obey. Remember, because it is a clear choice, that does not mean we’ll easily obey. Because we may agree to the right choice, that does not mean we have either the ability to obey nor even the will to try.

I know the basics of how to run a marathon, I may even choose to run, but I’ll never cross the finish line. What is more, I will never earn first place. Yet God demands perfection.

The choice is critical because of its demands

The choice between life and death is a choice of obedience. While we may be able to affirm what is right and wrong,  we often fail to obey. The demands are more than we can handle because the demands are perfection. Notice the commands in verse 16.

First we may think this is simple: Love

I’ve heard people comment on this command: "I may not do everything right, but God looks at my heart and sees that I love him!"

But remember what this command means. In Deuteronomy 6:4, to love God takes all of our being, every ounce, all the time. Perfect love is defined by the next two phrases.

Now it gets hard: we must walk in His ways, we must keep His commands.

This is what John 14:15 tells us: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Obedience is not external, but must flow from the heart.

This next week our taxes are due. Many of you will owe the government money. Yet when you pay Uncle Sam, all he asks for is external obedience. You don’t have to love it. In fact, you can take your tax form, stomp on it, yell at it, grumble the whole way to the mail box, but as long as the check is included, the IRS is happy. Yet with God, it is not just the check, but the perfect attitude as well.

If God gives us a clear and critical choice to make, then what happens? Is there something defective in the commands we are to follow or is the problem in us?

7. What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."

8. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.

9. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.

10. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

11. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

12. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

13. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Romans 7:7-13

Steak tastes great to a healthy person, but to someone with the flu, the results are horrible. But the steak does not cause the illness, only points it out.

We are faced with an empowered choice - verses 19-20

Our choice must be empowered by another because it is clear and critical

God calls all creation to witness. This is frightening: all the universe vs. us, no where to hide

When a covenant was made between a king and his people, the various gods would be called to witness. With the Lord of the universe, there is no greater power which can be an enforcer.

God calls us to make a choice. There is no middle ground. Not choosing is just as wrong as choosing wrongly. To stand in the middle is to choose death. William James once said: "When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice."

Yet how can we choose life if we don’t already possess life. The assumption here is that while what God demands is simple and very important, but that it lies outside of our ability to perfectly, constantly make the right choice.

Our choice is empowered by one from heaven who went to the depths for us

The answer is found in verse 20b: "For the Lord is your life."

Here we see how we are to choose. The answer lies outside of ourselves. It is not found in what we think we can do, not in our trying repeatedly and failing constantly. The answer to the choice of life is found only in the God who is our life.

It is for this reason Paul quotes from this passage in Romans 10.

In Romans, Paul explains the necessity for an imputed righteousness, that the only way to be accepted by God is to be declared righteous because of the work of Christ. Why then do so few of the Jews accept this Gospel; why do they look to their own obedience instead of Christ?

Romans 10:2: They have a zeal without knowledge. They desire to do what is right, but lack the means of obedience. In verse 3 we see the reason: "righteousness is by faith alone." Sincerity is not enough. They had the Law, but they rejected Christ.

Choosing life is not about your own morality. It is a mistake to reduce Christianity to a choice between being good vs. bad. Rather the choice is between our sin, which only and always brings death, and Christ’s righteousness, which is the only way to life.

Too often people imagine the choice in Deuteronomy as well in all the Bible as a choice between committing sins and living properly. But death in the Bible is not running headlong into sin, but trying to be good without Christ.

Paul makes this clear in verse 5ff. If you want to do it yourself, you must obey perfectly, continually. We need another option. That choice, the only path to life, is in verse 6: righteousness that is by faith.

Notice how Paul uses the passage from Deuteronomy 30?

We need not try to climb our way to heaven. Why? Because God sent His Son to us. The Incarnation is about God taking on human flesh, living among us.

Paul, quoting from the LXX, translates the seas as depth – which points to the next aspect of the work of Christ – Christ went to the depths and rose again. The work is done for us.

What then is necessary? What is our choice to be? What is Covenant obedience?

Confess and believe. Then, now justified, we are declared righteous. As those righteous in Christ, God grants the power to obey, a power which is foreign to us.

During WW II, Winston Churchill was forced to make a painful choice. The British secret service had broken the Nazi code and informed Churchill the Germans were going to bomb Coventry. He had two alternatives: (1) evacuate the citizens and save hundreds of lives at the expense of indicating to the Germans that the code was broken; or (2) take no action, which would kill hundreds but keep the information flowing and possibly save many more lives. Churchill had to choose and followed the second course.

The choice of sacrifice was deemed necessary. Some may die, so that others can live. That is the very point of our passage here in Deuteronomy as well in Romans. God chose the death of His one and only Son so that we would be declared perfect, based not on our own record, but on having our sins atoned for by Christ’s death on the Cross so that we might also be credited as righteous due to Christ’s perfect obedience for us.

Now the choice is before you. Because of Christ’s death, God who is your life will empower you to choose life. God chose the death of His Son so that He might enable you to choose life. How will you respond?

Sermon Notes