Talk, Tie, Write

Fear the LORD Your God and Serve Him Only

As followers of Jesus, we pay attention when Scripture speaks of having “other gods.” In catechism we learn that there are many things that can be our own personal “gods.” A false god is anything that we make more important than the one true God in our lives. This is the truth that we will speak of this week, fitting as it follows right on the heels of trinity Sunday! God’s blessings on your worship of the True God today!

Deuteronomy 6:4-18
As followers of Jesus, we pay attention when Scripture speaks of having “other gods.” In catechism we learn that there are many things that can be our own personal “gods.” A false god is anything that we make more important than the one true God in our lives. This is the truth that we will speak of this week, fitting as it follows right on the heels of trinity Sunday! God’s blessings on your worship of the True God today!

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors,

Listen to the Lord and Live

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15th Sunday after Pentecost
Deuteronomy 4:1-8

What makes a sermon worth listening too?  I suppose there could be many answers to that.  Some might say, “well he’s a very engaging preacher!”  Others might say, “He has some colorful and entertaining illustrations that make his points.”  Still others might say that he gives good practical advice or that every week they leave church with some tidbit of new information to perplex their atheist co-worker with.

But is this what we’re here for?  Semi-entertaining practical advice like, 3 easy steps to a better family life, or ammunition for our debates with our friends or co-workers?  So, then what makes a sermon worth listening too?

As an old friend of mine would say, “Did the pastor preach the text?”  That is to say, was he faithful to the Word of God that he was proclaiming that Sunday.  Did he lead his congregation to an understanding of that specific portion of scripture?  Was their unique and specific law shown from that portion of God’s Word, then was the Gospel that is unique to that text proclaimed?  In short, did the sermon add or subtract from God’s Word or was it handled faithfully?

That is what makes a Sermon worth listening to.  When it’s God’s commands, his statutes, and his judgments – his law and his Gospel being proclaimed. The Words of men can’t give life!  Only God’s Word gives life. A sermon is worth listening to if it speaks the Word that gives life.

This is what Moses was encouraging the Israelites to do in the text for today.  He encourages to Listen to the Lord and Live!  Live by the Lord’s decree and Live as an example to others.   

Speaking of Sermons, Deuteronomy is really a series of farewell sermons given to his people before they entered into the Holy land.  Moses had served his time as Israel’s leader and now the torch was about to pass to Joshua and Moses would go to heaven.


PART 1: By the Lord’s decree

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.

In this first verse Moses says LISTEN!  Israel that you might live! He wants them to be followers of the Lord and not let any pagan influence shade their judgment or their beliefs.  Now Israel listen that you might live!  Follow the Commands of the Lord so that you get to see that promise made to Abraham fulfilled that you would be a great nation and that this land would be yours!

Before He left this world, Moses knew that his people’s troubles would not be ending any time soon.  In fact, they were just beginning.  The desert had its own hardships but the temptations that laid in wait for them in the promised land would be sure to test them.

He implores them: Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

Moses gives this warning because he knows that God is deadly serious about his Word, about his commands.  These were his people with whom he had made promises, and a covenant.  But truth be told Israel had already, on more than one occasion, turned away from God’s commands.  They were seduced by the Canaanites, both men and women were seduced into the hedonistic worship of the false god Baal.  A thing that would continue to be a problem for Israel for most of its history.  Moses reminds them of the results of God’s people turning from God’s commands in v. 3-4, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.”

Moses actually puts this unhappy incident lightly here.  Really, over 24,000 people were killed in a plague because they didn’t listen to God’s commands.  Relying on their own judgment and their own reasoning to gain entry into the holy land literally got them killed.

If that seems harsh, remember that St. John says in Revelation that adding and subtracting from God’s Word will garner the same result for us!

He says, I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”

I know that some of you might be thinking right now, “Hey pastor, pretty sure I haven’t participated in hedonistic Baal worship lately.  And here I am in church, I believe that the bible is God’s Word!”

But brothers and sisters, Christians are still tempted to “Add to God’s commands and judgments” and get dogmatic and judgmental concerning things that really have no bearing on whether others are Christians or not. We are all tempted to elevate our own pious notions, our own decrees and judgments, of what the “Christian Life” ought to look like to the level of Scripture.  But the reality is that we have no business binding the conscience and hearts of others unless we can prove from Scripture “THUS SAITH THE LORD.”

On the other side of that coin, we are still tempted to subtract from God’s commands and judgments when it “diminishes” from our lives.  That’s literally what the Hebrew word for “subtract” means here, to diminish.  We like to leave behind those things that make us uncomfortable or unsettled.  There are those passages that condemn us, and how often don’t our eyes just glaze over when we run into one of those sections of Scripture that we don’t like.  The 1st commandment for example.  So often we say, “Oh yea I know that’s there! No big deal, pretty sure I’ve not bowed down to Baal lately!”  But there are NO OTHER GODS!  What things in our lives do we treat like God?  What things do we treat better than God?

And as happened to the Israelites who added and subtracted from God’s Commands and Judgments and as St. John reminded us in Revelation – the punishment for doing so is death and hell.

It does us no good to say, “I don’t know if I want a God like that! Isn’t that too harsh?!”  God’s Laws should be terrifying.  And our reaction to our realization that we’ve failed to keep that law should be equally terrifying.  It is God’s perfect nature to hate and punish sin.  When God’s Law scares us to death there is only one solution – to flee to the Gospel.

Flee to the savior who did what no one could do – Keep every command, decree and Law of God perfectly.  Flee to the savior who on the night he was betrayed said to his disciples, “If you love me keep my commandments!”  He said that not to terrify them but to remind them of what he said to them in the upper room when he got down and washed their feet.  “This new command I give you, Love one another as I have loved you!”  Listen to God’s decree that you are forgiven by the blood of Jesus – Listen and live in the joy of that decree!


PART II: Live as an example

Even the ancient Israelites could live in the Joy of that decree!  They were God’s chosen people.  They were the children of the Promise, the royal priest hood, the holy nation the people belonging to God – from whom the Messiah would come.

Think of all the spiritual advantages that the Israelites had!  Theirs’ was not a collection of dusty old myths and legends about gods who did such and such, long long ago in a galaxy far far away. They lived it, they saw with their own eyes the Love the Lord their God had for them.

Moses says as much in v. 7 when he says, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”

He says this to encourage them to have willing hearts that listen what the Lord has decreed.  That they might be a light to the nations around them!  That they might live in the land as an example to others.  Showing to the world around them that there is no other Path to eternal life than the one that leads through Jerusalem to the only true and living God.

Jesus says in Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

That little light is the same one that the Kid’s song talks about.  “This little Gospel light of mine!”  Just as the Israelites were to live in the hope that they had we are called to do the same.  Moses wrote in verse 6, “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

This clearly is not a call to ostracize our selves from the world and form our little Christian enclave.  How often do we forget the times in history when believers have lived by God’s decrees and judgments and been an example to the rest of the world?  The Queen of Sheba came and sought out the wisdom of Solomon!  The Jews as they spread throughout the world took the decrees and statutes of God with them and passed them on to others.  Evidence of that is the wise men who came to see the baby Jesus!

So, the robe of righteousness that we have is not given to us that we might walk around hoping that other sinners don’t smudge it up!  Jesus and the apostles didn’t go around avoiding sinners for fear of “infection.”   Look back at the Gospels and remember how that forgiveness of sins got to you!  It was because Jesus was in, with and among sinners.  And sinners spoke to sinners about forgiveness in Christ!  And that spread from Jerusalem, to Antioch, to Macedonia to Rome, Spain, to our ancestors in Europe to some people who got on a boat and made a life for themselves here in the new world.  All they while passing along the hope in Christ that they lived by!  Christians were never called to ostracized themselves from the world.  Rather we are to be an example to those around us.  We were called to live according to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.


That hope isn’t even shaded in the least bit by death!  We live our lives more freely than the rest because we know that the only path to a life worth living leads to the Lord.  Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it to the full.  This is why we listen to His Word, his statutes, his decrees and his judgments – His Law and His Gospel.  Those are the word that our souls need to hear.  Listen to the Lord and live!  Amen.


Listen to God’s Promised Prophet’s Voice…Alone!

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, It makes a father feel good and needed.  It’ll happen sometimes when one my daughters are startled or scared of something whether it be a dog they don’t know or someone they don’t know.  Almost instinctively they will hold their hands up begging to be picked up and held.  Why?  Well, there’s just something about being in Daddy’s or Mommy’s arms that gives a certain security and comfort, isn’t there?  There’s a certain protection to have someone who has authority or power or influence who is looking out after you.  And this applies to more than just children.  Part of what makes us feel safe is that we have a police force who have authority to keep us safe.  We’re not scared of being invaded by an enemy country because we have an army that has authority to protect us.  The same goes for our lives of faith, we have protection, but that protection is only found in and through God’s chosen His instruments- His Words and Sacraments.

Well, the Israelites about 3,400 years ago had someone in authority who looked after them.  This was Moses.  Moses had faithfully led the Israelites for about forty years through some very tough times, times of rebellion, times of battle, etc.  Now the Israelite nation is finally ready to start taking over the Promised Land, which God had promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Yet, Moses is not going to lead them in, Moses is going to die and he knows that.  So the book of Deuteronomy is a collection of Moses’ farewell speeches or sermons to God’s people whom he dearly loved.  Moses was truly a faithful leader who often showed how much more he was concerned about other people than himself.  Remember, God Himself hand-picked Moses at the burning bush, God used Moses when He sent those plagues on Egypt, God parted the Red Sea when Moses stretched out his hands, God appeared to Moses when He gave the 10 commandments, God would meet with Moses at the tent of meeting, God allowed Moses to see the backside of His glory when He put him in a cleft in the rock, and it is said that God spoke with Moses face to face, and at the end of Deuteronomy we’re told: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face…for no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

So Moses, God’s prophet, who spoke on behalf of God, is now about to leave the people.  So what he’s laying down in the book of Deuteronomy is kind of his last word.  After leading the Israelites for so long, what is it that he wants them to know?  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him.”  So at some point God will send another prophet, someone who would speak to the people God’s Word, and this prophet will be like Moses.  So put yourself in Moses’ congregation, who are we looking for?  We’re looking for a prophet who will come from God, but also be from us, who will be like Moses who met with God, performed miraculous signs, and spoke God’s Word.  He goes on, “For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’”  Remember when this happened?  The name Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai.  Mt. Sinai is where the Lord descended with smoke and fire, thunder and lightning and gave the 10 commandments to Moses.  When God came with the law it brought fear and trembling and the people essentially said, “We don’t want God to come in the full force, we want a mediator, a go-between, someone to intercede for us on our behalf.”  So, “The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.”  God liked there idea, which was His plan all along.  Notice what God does.  When God comes to us in the law (as he did on Sinai) it shows us how horribly we’ve failed to keep God’s commands and we see God’s power and wrath on law-breakers and we are filled with dread and fear, like the Israelites, and we want an intercessor, a go-between, a Savior, the Gospel.  And since this Prophet who is coming, whom God has sent, will tell us God’s very own Words, God is very serious when it comes to listening to this Prophet.  “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.  But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”  God isn’t playing around here, He’s dreadfully serious, if someone refuses to listen to God’s Word given through this coming Prophet, God Himself will call him to account.  Who falls into this category?  Well, people who say, ‘I don’t have time for God in my life right now, I’m taking my chances that God doesn’t exist, why should I listen to what the Bible says?”  God elsewhere says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

God’s second warning involves someone who claims to be speaking God’s words, but says things that God hasn’t said or who speaks things that are from some supposed other god, a false god.  The punishment is death.  Will you agree with me that in the OT God showed Himself very serious about His Word?  Maybe you’re thinking right now, “Wow, God sure sounds pretty harsh here, I mean, the death penalty for someone who adds or subtracts from God’s Word?”  Yet this wasn’t without a purpose.  We’re actually glad God ordered this.  We’re thankful.  Why?  Several thousand years later we still have God’s true words preserved for us in the Bible!

Now fast forward from Moses to about the late 20s A.D.  Here we have the fulfillment of this prophecy in Deuteronomy, but don’t take my word for it, look at it yourself.  Jesus went into their church of the day, the synagogue, and began to teach.  And his teaching amazed everyone there because He taught as one with authority.  Then when an evil spirit, sent by the devil, cries out in order to disrupt, distract, and dispute Jesus, Jesus drives it out.  With what?  His words.  And people were amazed at who Jesus is, His teaching, His miraculous working, and news spread all over about Him.  Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses’ words.

It’s important for us to realize this: the devil’s main purpose is to distract you from hearing God’s Words (just like the evil spirit tried to do), to disrupt your life in order to hinder you from being connected with the Lord through His Word, because he wants nothing more than to destroy your faith.  Jesus, on the other hand, drives the devil out with His words of authority and power.  That’s why God says in our text it’s so important to a.) Listen to Jesus’ words b.) not be distracted from them by anything else.

In order that we might be prepared, let’s for a moment put ourselves behind the enemy’s sidelines so we can see what some of the devil’s battle plans look like.  Now his goal is always to lead people away from Jesus and His words.  One way he’ll do is by distracting you from even hearing God’s Word, that one works pretty well for many.  But it hasn’t worked on you since you’re still here hearing God’s Word.  So what’s his next step?  Something that is perhaps a bit more subtle is getting you to believe some false doctrine, false teaching.  So, if you were him what would you do?  If you’re smart and he’s very smart- he knows what human beings are like- you start out with a little bit, you test the waters.  You’re not going to begin by calling into question some of the very fundamental truths of Scripture, for instance, he’s not going to begin by outright denying that someone is saved totally and completely through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  You’re not going to start there.  But if he’s smart where’s he going to start?  Well, just like someone doesn’t become an alcoholic overnight but starts out with a minor little drink, which leads to another, and another and another and… you get the picture.  The devil starts by calling into question “minor” teachings of God’s Word.  (Let’s be clear here, there aren’t major and minor teachings in the Bible- they are all vitally important).  He starts by casting doubt on different things: “God can’t really mean it’s a sin to live together before you’re married, can he?  God can’t be serious when He says that people who don’t believe in Jesus go to hell, can he?  So if those parts aren’t really true well then maybe other parts aren’t true either…maybe baptism isn’t all that important, maybe that part about how I’m sinful isn’t that important, maybe that part about Jesus rising from the dead isn’t all that important…”  Wow, do you see where we are?  Unfortunately there are many churches today that have gone down that path and devil is jumping for joy.  Why?  Because a little false teaching spreads like gangrene.  And the truth is, none of us is immune to the devil’s deceptions, any of us could fall prey at anytime, all he has to do is get a foothold in your life and get you to believe something contrary to God’s Word and will.

And there are so many things in our lives that contradict what God tells us in His Word.  Just think about it for a minute.  The devil’s voice is all around us in movies, in TV shows, in magazines, on the internet, in the mouth of a friend.  In anything that makes sin look fun and trivial.  Anything that tempts us to doubt God’s Word or forget God’s Word or neglect God’s Word is a false prophet and in that sense needs to be “put to death” by us.  Yet, even worse, however, are the false prophets that come to us and appear to speak in God’s name.  Who are they?  Not everything at the Christian book store is worthwhile to read, not every TV evangelist preacher is worthwhile to listen to, not every religious information we hear is worthwhile to take to heart.  Forgive us Lord for seeking truth outside of the only truth, which is Your word!

So, now we see why God takes His Word so seriously.  Because it is the only antidote to the devil’s schemes and temptations.  God wants us to cling to His word in its truth and purity and to shun, separate from, keep away from anyone who teaches something different from God’s pure Word.  So what does that mean for us?  Well, that means we ask the Lord for a discerning heart to distinguish when someone is telling us something that is according to God’s Word and when someone is not.  It means taking everything we hear and comparing it to what we have learned from God’s Word.

You see, God takes His Word seriously because of what it is!  Why would we want to believe any lie of the devil?  Any lie of the devil distorts the “picture” of God’s Word; it makes it harder to see Jesus.  Let us, rather, hold on to all of God’s Word and not let any of it go because of what it is!  What are the words of the Prophet God wants us to listen to?  “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” “I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”  “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

You see, it’s God’s Word that equips you, strengthens you, and encourages you!  When God’s Words are held on to the devil must run and hide, because Jesus’ words drive the devil out!  There is no need to be afraid or timid or fearful as you approach life you have Jesus’ own powerful words!  Jesus words’ drive the devil far away, Jesus’ words give life, Jesus’ words remind you of your Savior, Jesus’ words lead you and guide you, Jesus’ words keep you on the path that leads to your eternal home in heaven with Him.  So, listen to the words of God’s promised Prophet; they are meant to give you life!  And listen to them alone!  Amen.