At some point, you probably have had this frustrating experience. You need to print up something. Perhaps it is the receipt for an online purchase. Perhaps it is a recipe you want to try out. The printer swings into action, and then it begins making that annoying sound that tells you it is out of paper. You reach for where you store the extra printer paper … and then you see it. The package is empty. You have no more paper and so you won’t be able to print anything until you buy more. Either you have to go out then and get the paper, or you have to put your printing on hold until a time when you have been out and had an opportunity to buy some.
The next time this happens and you are feeling frustrated, think about Moses. When God entered into his covenant with Israel, we are told in the book of Exodus that God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai “two tablets of the testimony.” The tablets had writing on both sides. And we learn that, “The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” God made the tablets of stone. He wrote on them and gave them to Moses.
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and found Israel worshipping the golden calf that they had asked Aaron to make for them, he took the stone tablets and smashed them before the eyes of the people. This action declared that Israel had broken the covenant. God was ready to destroy Israel and start over with Moses, but Moses interceded and God relented.
God took Israel back into the covenant. And so he needed to write out another set of the tablets of the testimony. But this time, as we learn just before the start of our text, God commanded Moses: “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain.” It was time for God to do some printing. But this time Moses had to supply the material. And it wouldn’t be as easy as running out to Walmart or Target to pick up a package of printer paper. It was going to take some elbow grease as Moses had to cut the tablets out of stone.
In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we have the words that God spoke to Israel through Moses. The book of Deuteronomy contains a series of sermons that Moses preached to the people of Israel as they were about to enter into the promised land in order to conquer it. The timing was about forty years after the first time they had been poised to do this. On that occasion ten of the spies sent into the land to do reconnaissance frightened the people with the report they brought back. The people of Israel rebelled and refused to enter the land. Once again Moses interceded for the people and God relented from destroying them. But he declared that no one twenty years or older would ever enter the land.
Now it was forty years later and it was once again time to go into the promised land. However, most of the people had been born after the exodus from Egypt. Most had not personally experienced God’s rescue. And so in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reviews what God had done.
This morning we are thinking about the Ten Commandments. We know, of course, that the Ten Commandments are Law. They describe what we are to do. But when you look at the Ten Commandments you find something surprising. For you see, the Ten Commandment are introduced with a word of Gospel. The very first statement is this: “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Yahweh, the Creator, announced that he is their God. And then he declares that he is the One who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He is the One who redeemed them.
We find the same thought in our text this morning after Yahweh has just given the tablets for a second time. First he says through Moses, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”
Everything in creation belongs to God. Yet Moses says that in his love God had chosen Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. The contrast is a stark one. Yahweh is the almighty Creator who possesses everything. And yet he had chosen Israel – something that they had not earned and certainly did not deserve. Earlier in Deuteronomy Moses had said about this, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 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, 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.”
God had chosen Israel as his people out of his grace. And then he had acted in a powerful and dramatic way to rescue them. As we hear in our text, “He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.”
The exodus is the Gospel event of the Old Testament. In fact the word “redeem” that is used to describe God’s rescue of Israel from slavery is used by the New Testament to describe what God has done for you in rescuing you from Satan and sin. He redeemed you.
And he did it in a powerful and dramatic way. First God sent his own Son into the world as he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. God became man – one of us – and yet did not cease to be God. Christ did this in order to take our place and bear our sin. God the Father poured out his wrath on Jesus in our place in order give us forgiveness. And then in a mighty act he defeated death by raising our Lord from the dead on the third day.
Now the Spirit of Christ has made you part of God’s people. Though you did not deserve it in any way, through the water of Holy Baptism he joined you to Jesus’ saving death and caused you to be born again. You are a child of God because God has done these great and mighty things.
In our text, Moses describes what this meant for Israel. He says, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
Moses describes how they now are to live as result of all that God has done for them. It is the life of faith. They are to fear and love God. They are to serve him and walk in his ways. And as Moses points out, the things that Yahweh is commanding them are for their good.
The same thing is true for us. We are to walk in faith as we seek to do God’s will. And this will is for our good. In the Ten Commandments God has told us about how he has ordered his creation. He has told us about how things work and how we are to live in order to be blessed and live well. And God knows what he is talking about – after all, he is the One set it up in the first place!
We know this. We want to do this. There are times when we do. But there are also times when we don’t. In our text Moses says to Israel, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” He calls Israel to repentance. God’s Word continues to do the same to us as well. God’s law does show us our sin. It leads us to confess, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But because of Jesus Christ we know that through repentance and faith we are forgiven. We know that we can return to the water of our baptism and there find the assurance that all our sins have been washed way.
Israel had received God’s undeserved love. Moses says in our text that this simply reflects God’s character. He tells them, “For 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. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” In his love God had helped Israel when they were in the land of Egypt. And so now Moses tells them, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
Like Israel, we have received God’s underserved love in Jesus Christ. He loved us when we were helpless. He loved us when we were unlovable. His sacrificial love has now brought us forgiveness and salvation. And so through his Spirit, our Lord now leads us to love others. He moves us to seek out those who need our support as we live in the various vocations of our life. He leads us to care for others who can do nothing for us in return. This is not something that we can do, but rather it is the work that Christ does through us. It is not love that begins with us, but instead it is God’s love passed on through us. As the apostle John wrote, “We love, because he first loved us.”