Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6–9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Okay, this text says "O Israel, listen to the statutes and rules that I'm teaching you." So what in the world does this have to do with us? In fact, why should we spend any time at all listening to the moldy rules that God set up for the people of Israel? Hey, if you spend very much time arguing about the question of homosexuality you get this very question. They always want to compare the Old Testament laws about foods and other things with God's requirement for marriage to be between a man and woman. The question you always hear is: "If laws for bidding homosexual behavior are still binding, then so is every obscure Old Testament law (stoning of adulterers, not mixing seed in the field, etc.)" It seems like a very logical question. But it flatly ignores the biblical distinction between ceremonial, civil, and moral laws in the Old Testament. Ceremonial laws were binding on Israel as part of God's covenant with them. The civil laws only applied to the nation of Israel at the time. Only the moral laws including those about homosexual behavior carry over into the new covenant era. This is because God's moral nature never changes. His requirements for human behavior in the moral sphere are permanent. I usually like to pointed out this way. Can you give me a list of 10 things that describe God's requirements for human behavior in a way that's easy to understand? Of course this is the 10 Commandments. This is the very reason we study these first in confirmation classes. If you asked the question "Does Jesus want us to keep the 10 Commandments" the only valid answer is yes. Jesus and St. Paul uphold God's moral requirement for people. For example St. Paul referring to Jesus' words:
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9–10, ESV)
And the example of that is the Gospel reading for today is about what defiles people not being what they eat but what's in the heart.
God is deadly serious about his moral requirements for human beings. His requirements are for all people for all time. Sometimes we Christians fall into the trap of thinking that God does not require us to be morally pure. But if you look over the 10 Commandments and especially Martin Luther's explanations you can't come away with the idea that God expects anything less than perfect obedience. Anytime Christians say in relation to the 10 Commandments something like "I do the best I can, and let God worry about the rest" we are making light of God's moral requirements for human beings. God clearly requires perfection when it comes to moral behavior. If you think any different you only have to listen to a few interchanges between God and his people regarding his moral requirements. Listen to Deuteronomy 4:
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23–24, ESV)
Or just look at what you memorized for confirmation class, used as part of Dr. Martin Luther's explanation of all the commandments:
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5–6, ESV)
And will God makes these threats of his wrath very clear, his people know that God is always ready to forgive.
‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” (Numbers 14:18, ESV)
God goes to great lengths to remind his people in the Old Testament that he is indeed their God. From our text today, "For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" Over and over again he speaks of his love for them, his nearness to them. He is their God and they are his people. He is the one who brought them out of Egypt and save them from Pharaoh's bondage. He is the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. He continues to love them and he is always near them.
God is near to his people for their benefit. He heals broken hearts. He forgives sins and gives comfort. He protects from those who are their enemies. And… He promises to save them by coming himself as their Messiah, called Immanuel, which means "God with us". The ultimate coming "near" of God. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV) This promise is fulfilled in Jesus. He is God and man together in human flesh. The ultimate expression of God with us, God "near" us. This is God very "near". Through trust in him we have salvation, that is reconciliation with God. Punishment we deserve, for our imperfect obedience, is laid on Jesus on the cross. He is our great deliverer and Savior. Those who have "met" Jesus through faith, love him. Listen to the apostle John:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:15-16, 19, ESV)
This is God near not only to his Old Testament people but to you and me. In Galatians 3 St. Paul makes the connection between us, God's children through faith, and the children of Abraham.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:7–9, ESV)
So in the face of our inability to keep God's commandments perfectly, as he demands, we have God's promises to his people. The promises given to Israel for deliverance from sin and God's love and nearness. God near his people is a reality for us.
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” (2 Corinthians 6:16–17, ESV)
This is God's nearness to us. Here in this place. He comes in his Word and Sacraments. He comes to us in the gathered "body of Christ". Those of faith who are gathered all around us. In Holy Baptism he gives us access to this family through his adoption as sons (and daughters). In the Lord's supper we are near to God as he comes to us in his body and blood, "with Angels archangels and all the company of heaven". And he comes near to forgive. All of this is our connection to Immanuel, "God with us", who comes to save. Jesus Christ our Savior whose life death and resurrection reconciles us to God.
How does this "nearness of God" play out in our lives. Through the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness that Jesus gives, his nearness to us means that we can joyfully bear the fruit of obedience: The Apostle John:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:5–11, ESV)
This is "good news" that we have to share. God commanded his people, Israel, to make known his nearness to their children and their children's children. And this is also hours to give to our children and our children's children. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.