Archive for April 20th, 2009

Well, we’re coming to the end of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and Moses knows he will die before they cross over to the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy is all about Moses’ last words to the Israelites before he dies and they make the significant crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land. He isn’t talking to the generation that lived in bondage to the Egyptians and saw God’s great deliverance. He is talking to their children and their children’s children.

Imagine yourself, near death, knowing that your entire extended family was about to embark on a dangerous but exciting journey to a new home. The God you know so intimately they know only as a shadow. What would you say to your family? How would you communicate the goodness of your God? How would you instill in them the faith they would need to meet the challenges ahead.

Moses’ Three Sermons 
That is the task of Moses in Deuteronomy, and he accomplishes it by preaching three distinct sermons. In the first one (Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43), he reminds the Israelites of their history with God, concluding with this passage:

32“Search all of history, from the time God created people on the earth until now. Then search from one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened before. 33Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire-as you did-and survived? 34Has any other god taken one nation for himself by rescuing it from another by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, awesome power, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the LORD your God did for you in Egypt, right before your very eyes.

35“He showed you these things so you would realize that the LORD is God and that there is no other god. 36He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it… 39So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The LORD is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other god! 40If you obey all the laws and commands that I will give you today, all will be well with you and your children. Then you will enjoy a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

          Deuteronomy 4:32-41

Reading Deuteronomy is good for my soul! It is good for me to remember what God has done for me. It is good for me to be reminded that I could search all of history and never find a God as great as my God. He is the Lord of both heaven and earth and there is no one else like Him.

Moses second sermon (Deuteronomy 4:44-28:68) takes up most of the book, and it expands on the law, teaching the Israelites how to live in relationship to God and one another. Beginning with the Ten Commandments (5:6-21), the sermon ends with a long list of blessings associated with obedience to the Lord (28:1-14) and curses associated with disobedience (28:15-68). In between, if your Bible has .headings, you’ll find that many of them include the words “Remember…” and “A Call to…” Moses is urging the people to remember where they have come from, how they have acted toward God and how He has responded to them. He is also lifting them toward their destiny, calling them to higher things as they move closer and closer to entering the Promised Land.

Finally, Moses preaches his last sermon (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20), in which he calls this new generation of Israelites into covenant with the God who made a covenant with their ancestors. Read some of his closing words

11“This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand or perform. 12It is not up in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go to heaven and bring it down so we can hear and obey it?’ 13It is not beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear and obey it?’

19“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! 20Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
          Deuteronomy 30:11-13, 19-20

May Moses’ words pierce our hearts as we read them! May we hear the Lord urging us to choose life!

Moses’ Postscript and His Death 

There is a bit of a postscript to Deuteronomy in chapters 31 through 34. Moses installs Joshua as the Israelites’ new leader with the words “Be strong and courageous” (31:23). He writes and sings a song to the Israelites (32:1-47) and he gives them a final blessing (chapter 33) Finally, Moses dies and Deuteronomy ends with this epitaph:

10There has never been another prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11The LORD sent Moses to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and his entire land. 12And it was through Moses that the LORD demonstrated his mighty power and terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.
          Deuteronomy 34:10-12

Deuteronomy is a great conclusion to the Pentateuch. I know that some of you have found Numbers and Leviticus a bit difficult to read. Look forward to reading Deuteronomy, friends. I am confident that God will speak to you as you read through the book.

Be blessed!

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A commonly memorized verse is Romans 3:23

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It’s a great verse, confirming that each of us – every person on this earth – has fallen short of God’s glory – we have all sinned. The word “sin” means “to miss the mark.” We have all missed the mark. We all need someone to make up for that shortfall. That someone is Jesus Christ, as the passage in which the verse is found makes so clear. Let’s look at the whole passage.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious
of sin.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been
made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God
presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
          Romans 3:20 -25a

The passage I’ve included here begins with verse 20, but you’ll notice that the first word is “therefore.” That means it’s worth looking at the previous verses to understand our jumping off point. Verse 20 follows a discussion about how we have all done wrong. We have all cursed or slandered or hurt others. We have all gone our own way instead of God’s way. “Therefore” – in other words, because of that – no one will be declared righteousness in God’s sight. God’s standards haven’t kept us from wrong-doing; rather, they have made us conscious of how far we have missed the mark.

“But now a righteousness from God…has been made known.” (V21) I love it when God says “but now.” Things used to be like this, but God stepped in and now things are different. Hallelujah! In this context, we were a sinful people and none of us could be considered righteous. But God stepped in and has introduced us to a righteousness that is available despite our sinful nature.

Righteousness means “equity of character or act” and “by implication, innocence or holiness.” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries) In other words, we can read this verse as “a holiness, or innocence, from God has been made known.” The holiness or innocence is from God, not from ourselves. We fall short of the mark; we are guilty. But He has provided an innocence that He wants to give us.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (V22) God has provided an innocence, a holiness for us, and it comes through faith in Jesus Christ and is given to all who believe. It does not come by what we do – the discussion prior to verse 20 makes it clear that we haven’t and can’t do it – we can’t keep God’s holy standards. The truth is that we probably don’t even want to.

Let’s think about that. Most of us would like to believe that we’re good people, and by earthly standards we probably are. But God’s standards are so much higher than ours. (Aren’t you glad about that? I am. I would not want to worship a god who is as morally corrupt as I can be!) Again, think about it:

Have you ever hurt another person intentionally? Have you ever said or done anything to hurt someone? Sure, it might have been because they hurt you, but that’s not really relevant. What is relevant is that out of the darkness of your heart you intentionally inflicted pain.

I have. I’m not proud of it, but I know that there have been times when I’ve said things to try to make me seem superior to others. Maybe it was in sarcasm or in debate, but again, that’s pretty irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the other person was hurt by something I did or said. In doing so, I killed something in that person. And so have you. It’s part of who we are in our fallen nature. We seek to build ourselves up, do what’s best for us and think of ourselves first. In doing so, we often put others down, take actions that hurt or hinder them, and ignore their needs and feelings. My friend, that’s missing the mark. Big time.

So we all need this righteousness which comes from God. And in His goodness, He provided it. He has made available to us an innocence – a holiness, a righteousness – to replace our sinfulness. That righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

The words “faith” and “believe” are related in the Greek. They mean a “continued reliance upon.” They don’t mean “intellectual agreement with.” My husband can intellectually agree with the doctors that he should take certain medicines to regulate his heart, but he is not demonstrating faith until he is actually taking the medication – he’s not relying upon the medication by knowing that they will help him; he relies upon them when he makes them a part of his everyday life. The same is true with faith. Placing our faith in Christ means relying upon Him for our righteousness before God and making Him a part of our everyday life.

This point is so important that Paul repeats himself in verses 23 through the first half of 25:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.”

This passage uses many words that are foreign to our western mind. Words like justified, redemption, sacrifice and atonement don’t bring up the same images as they did for Paul’s audience. But if you’ve been following along with the Resting at the River’s Edge readings, perhaps you’re seeing a shadow in the words that gives them more meaning. The word “justified” is from the same root word as “righteousness,” but it carries with it the act of bestowing that righteousness – that innocence – upon someone else. Being justified means that God has put His righteousness upon us. It is by His grace, looking upon us with favor that he freely chooses to do this.

That righteousness that God bestows upon us comes “through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The word redemption isn’t used often in today’s language. Sometimes you’ll see the word “redeem” on the bottom of a grocery store coupon. “You may redeem this coupon for…” In other words, you can exchange this coupon for whatever it’s “value” is. Jesus Christ is the “coupon” and God’s righteousness is the value the coupon carries. We don’t cut the coupon out of the newspaper or magazine, we receive it through faith – by relying upon what Christ did for us to close the gap between God’s righteousness and our sinfulness.

You see, “God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” (V. 25) In the Old Testament, the Israelites sacrificed a bull, goat, lamb or some other animal as an atonement for their sins. Atonement literally means “to cover” or “covering.” To cover their sins, they sacrificed the animal and poured the blood on the altar. God is now saying, that Jesus was sacrificed as a covering for our sins. We receive or accept that sacrifice when we trust in it to make up the difference between God’s standards and our sinfulness.

What a wonderful God! Choosing so great a sacrifice to cover our sins – yours and mine. And having done so, He then makes a phenomenal exchange – our sinfulness for His innocence – He actually bestows upon us His righteousness. And it all happens when we simply decide to rely on Him – to believe that He has done it for us.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious
of sin.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been
made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God
presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
          Romans 3:20 -25a

Hallelujah!

If you haven’t ever decided to rely on Jesus – to believe His blood serves as the covering, atonement, for your sins, you can do so today. Please take a minute to e-mail me at Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com. I’d love to correspond with you to help you understand what it means to put your faith in Christ and to help get you started off on the right foot.

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