If you picked up this book and looked through it, you would find that it is 197 pages of rules. This is the Handbook of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It was issued as a result of the convention that was held in July 2016. After the convention this summer, another one will be issued to incorporate any changes that are made at the convention.
This is the most boring book ever written. It describes in minute detail the Regulations for Corporate Synod and Agencies of Synod, the Dispute Resolution of the Synod, the Membership in the Synod, the process for Expulsion from the Synod, the function of elected and appointed officers and boards of the synod … the list goes on and on. It’s one mind numbing page after another.
If you asked me, “What is the meaning of the statutes and rules that are in his book?”, I would say, “Well, as an organization the Synod has to have rules that govern how it operates. This book tells you how things have to be done.” Honestly, there is no way that my response would start with Gospel. I wouldn’t begin by saying, “Well, we were slaves to Satan, sin and death, but God sent his Son to redeem us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.”
When you read through Deuteronomy, you will also find a lot of rules about how Israel was to do things. The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” It derives this name from the fact that in this book we find the second occasion the Ten Commandments are listed. Along with this you find many other rules and laws that govern things like what food to eat, what festivals to celebrate, how cities of refuge are to work, how to atone for unsolved murders … the list goes on and on.
In tonight’s text Moses take up the question about what the content of Deuteronomy – the Torah – means. He addresses the question: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’” He tells the Israelites what to say. But unlike my answer about the Synodical Handbook, Moses does begin with Gospel.
He says, “then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.’”
Moses begins with Gospel. The exodus is the great Gospel event of the Old Testament. With good reason, the language of “redeeming from slavery” that is used to describe the exodus is then taken up in the New Testament and applied to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Moses says that the starting point for understanding the Torah is Yahweh’s saving action. Then he goes on to say, “And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.”
Notice how for Moses doing these statues, fearing Yahweh, receiving good and receiving life go together. The God who had rescued them from slavery and was giving them the land of Canaan as a home, had commanded these things for their good. He had commanded them in order to keep them alive.
Yahweh was about to bless them very richly. But there was a danger in this. Our text says, “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Like Israel, God has blessed us richly. We live at a level of comfort that surpasses anything the world has ever seen. Our “hardships” are the fact that we can’t take as many vacations as we would like, or we can’t do all the improvements we want to our house, or we can’t get the latest technology right now: my goodness, my phone is so old.
Just as Moses warned Israel, this abundance leads us to forget God. We forget that he is the Giver of all these things. He is the One who had blessed us with them. In our sinfulness we end up loving the blessings more than the One who blesses. Yet in our text Moses says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Moses tells Israel, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you-- for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God--lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.”
Yahweh commanded Israel that they were not to worship the gods of the peoples around them. Yet we must realize that this involved more than just religion. In the ancient world, religion and life of a society were interwoven. To be involved in one was to be involved in the other. Again and again Yahweh warned the Israelites not to intermarry with the pagan people around them because this would lead them into idolatry. Instead, they were to remain separate as God’s people.
In our world today to remain faithful to Jesus Christ increasingly means separation from the world. The world - its ways and beliefs - encroach more and more. How many demands on Sunday morning does youth sports have to make, before we are forced to say that Christ must come first? Is there a point when we are willing to say this, or will Jesus just continue to lose in the competition for our time? Are we willing to be alienated from the world because we say that sex is not part of dating? Are we willing to incur the world’s wrath by confessing that homosexuality is sinful and a rejection of God’s will?
In our text, Moses says that when a son asks, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?”, the Israelites were to begin the answer with God’s saving action of the exodus. As we consider how we are to live as God’s people, our starting point is God’s saving action in Jesus Christ.
We begin with our Lord Jesus who redeemed us from sin and the devil by fulfilling the law in our place and dying on the cross for our sins. We begin with Jesus Christ who defeated death by his resurrection on the third day. We begin with Jesus Christ who as the risen and ascended Lord, poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
We begin here because in Jesus Christ we receive forgiveness for the ways we have allowed the blessings to supplant the One who blesses us with every good gift. We begin here because through the Gospel we receive not only the power of salvation, but also the power and strength to live in ways that are true to God’s will. It is through the Gospel that the Holy Spirit has made us a new creation in Christ. We have born again of water and the Spirit, and the Spirit continues his work in us as he daily renews and strengthens us to say no to the world and yes to God. The Gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you – enables us to live as the people of God each day.