13 Pentecost, Proper B17
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 6-9 Sermon
August 30, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
136 "Come Thou Almighty King"
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
468 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
560 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
TEXT (vs. 1 & 9): "[Moses said] Hear now, O Israel, 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 that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
[Pastor singing:] "Oh be careful little eyes what you see, oh be careful little eyes what you see; there's a Saviour up above, and he's looking down in love, oh be careful little eyes what you see."
I'm guessing that this little ditty is something that's familiar to a lot of you. It's one of those old Sunday School or Bible School songs that are taught to children. This is one of many such songs that I learned even before I could read.
There's more to the song than "Oh be careful little eyes what you see" too. There's other verses that are similar, but with different body parts. "Oh be careful little ears what you hear...oh be careful little hands what you do...oh be careful little feet where you go...oh be careful little mind what you think...and the last one I could think of, but certainly not the least is: oh be careful little heart whom you trust."
I thought this little song fit very well with the first sentence of verse 9 of our Old Testament lesson for today: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live."
But then we put the second sentence in along with it: "Teach them to your children and to their children after them." With this in mind, I began to mentally run through a list of those old Sunday School songs, those songs I learned from the earliest memories of my childhood. And as I did this, I found it amazing as to how profound these songs actually are, even though their message is very simple.
Consider this one: "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E." That's just one sentence! And look at what children are learning from it. They are learning that the Bible is God's inspired and inerrant word. They are learning that they can trust what the Bible says. They are learning that the Bible provides a firm foundation for their faith. And they are making a statement that they will remain faithful to God and what he teaches. All of that is in that one simple sentence. And what a sentence it is too!
Now if you want theological depth, think about this one: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong." Now I know that a variety of other verses have appeared over the years, but personally I remember singing two more: "Jesus loves me, he who died, heaven's gates to open wide; he will wash away my sin, let his little child come in." And then there's verse 3: "Jesus loves me, he will stay, close beside me all the way; if I love him when I die, he will take me home on high."
Okay, now let's analyze this. The Bible that is trustworthy and true gives us a picture of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He shows love to everybody on earth. Regardless of how sinful and weak a person may be, Jesus is stronger than anything or anybody else, and that includes Satan and every trick he has up his sleeve. And that's just verse one.
Verse two now talks about the great love Jesus has for us that took him to the cross where he gave up his life on our behalf. He did this, so that through faith alone we would gain access to heaven. This is a sure and certain promise.
We also learn about our sin and how Jesus has washed away that sin. Regardless of how young or old we are, we are sinful people in need of a Saviour. The only way we can enter the paradise of heaven is to have our sins washed clean in the blood of our Saviour.
Now verse three. Jesus loves and protects his children on earth. He promises never to leave nor forsake them. Jesus says, "Lo, I am with you always," and he means it. We have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. He is not just some intangible abstract supreme being out there someplace. Besides being our Saviour, he is our friend, shepherd, guardian, and guide. Jesus is actively involved in our lives as his children. That relationship of faith will carry us through our life, where we will finally dwell with him in heaven forever.
In our text for today, which is our Old Testament lesson appointed for this Sunday, Moses is giving an exhortation to the Israelites. They are still in the wilderness, but the return to their homeland was drawing closer and closer. And now they are given an exhortation to obedience.
As far as the Israelites are concerned, the statutes and judgments spoken about in verse one incorporated not only God's moral law, but also the ceremonial laws concerning the Old Testament worship and sacrifices, as well as the civil laws that governed Israel as a theocratic nation. Now even though observance of the ceremonial laws ceased when Jesus sacrificed his life, and Israel's civil laws were only intended to govern them as a nation, we still have God's moral laws before us today. God wants more than just mere lip service from us. If we are a Christian, God expects us to act that way.
Now come some very important words to remember. In verse 2 of our text for today, we read: "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." Unfortunately people have either forgotten those words over the years, or they have just chosen to ignore them. But they are as applicable today as they were when Moses spoke them to God's people.
At that time, heathen worship practices and superstitions often found their way into the religious life of the Israelites. In other words, things got added. And on the other hand, the Israelites had the tendency to overlook or eliminate altogether the practices they felt were bothersome or put a crimp in their lifestyle. So people added and subtracted to God's Word as they wanted to.
It almost seems like things have gone full-circle, haven't they? We not only have a society, but so-called theologians that add, subtract, and change God's Word however they see fit. And it all starts with attacking the inerrancy and authenticity of the Bible. When people start regarding the Bible as man's book instead of God's book, then everything starts to collapse. When people call God's wisdom into question and replace it with their own, then the only thing they are demonstrating is their own stupidity.
Verse 6 of our text today reads, "Observe [God's Word] 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.'"
Other nations could readily see how close God was to the children of Israel. He led them through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. He fed them and he protected them. And even though they were disobedient time after time, yet God never deserted them or forsook them.
The heathen nations had worthless gods who did absolutely nothing for them. lf we look at I Kings 18, we read the story about Elijah and his encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal. There were two bulls there to be offered as a burnt offering. The prophets of Baal took one and placed it on their altar. Then they called upon their gods, shouted and screamed, and even slashed themselves until their blood flowed. They were trying to get their gods to set fire to the sacrifice, but nothing happened despite their best efforts.
But when Elijah went to offer his sacrifice to the one true God, he placed the animal on the altar, and then proceeded to soak the wood and the sacrifice with many gallons of water. So when Elijah called upon the name of the one true God, the fire started and burnt everything up, including all the water.
There are numerous instances that show us how futile it is to have false gods, and to have faith in a power that doesn't exist. Heathens all around could look at God's people and see their wisdom in following him. God's power, protection, and love had been demonstrated for all to see. It only made sense to follow him.
As we proceed now to verse 9 of our text, Moses speaks some great words of advice. He says, "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
He knew that temptations would come in all shapes and sizes. Satan would be working hard to try to get the people to desert the one true God and follow heathen practices. So the people needed to watch themselves carefully so Satan wouldn't trick them.
The people were to keep the message pure amongst themselves for a couple of very good reasons. First, it would keep their faith intact. Grace alone through faith alone was the only way they could walk with God and receive the salvation he offered.
Secondly, the generations after them, their children and grandchildren and on down the line needed that pure message too. They needed God's pure Word, and not something that had become altered by generations or changed according to human will. Young souls needed to be fed according to the diet God had prescribed. We find this explained in 1 Peter chapter 2 verses 2-3: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."
At the beginning of my message to you this morning, I quoted you the words of three very simple Sunday School songs. These are the songs that children learn even before they can read. They're simple songs, and children love to sing them. But as simple as the songs are, they still make some profound theological statements.
"The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E." And if you've ever heard a group of children sing that, they usually wind up shouting the letters "B-I-B-L-E." That's God's holy word we're talking about. Children know from a very early age that God's Word in the Bible is trustworthy, without error, and can be believed without any reservation.
"Jesus loves me, this I know..." What a great message this teaches about the Saviour. When children learn this song, they are learning about things like sin and grace, what Jesus did to save them, the importance of having faith in him, and finally the assurance of eternity in heaven with him. This is underscored by just how much Jesus loves them and sticks by them, regardless of what happens.
And finally, there's that song about "Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little hands what you do, be careful little mind what you think, be careful little heart whom you trust." The Christian faith is a faith that is active. The Christian seeks to do the God-pleasing thing in their lives. Having the Christian faith is something that is lived out in the lives of believers.
If we look at 1 Peter chapter 3 verses 15-16 we read the following words: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
In our Old Testament lesson for today, Moses is giving a strong exhortation to the Israelites; but those same words apply to us today. We are to keep God's Word pure in our midst without adding or subtracting anything. We need to remain faithful. We need to keep our faith firmly rooted in Jesus our Saviour. We are to witness this faith to the world around us by living a life devoted to Christ.
But just as important is passing this faith down to the generations that follow us. By doing so, it starts with sharing a very simple faith that might come through a few songs a child learns in Sunday School.
I think it's tragic when the simple faith taught to children is frequently forgotten by theologically educated idiots. Such people have so often deserted the simple faith in Christ that actually saves, and instead spend their time in writing lofty theological articles that use a lot of ambiguous words to say absolutely nothing of value. They become like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in our Gospel lesson in Mark chapter 7 verses 6-8: "...'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
So let's get back to Sunday School again. The songs may be simple, but the faith is profound. The faith that can move mountains starts in a simple and personal way in a person's heart. It's a miracle that the Holy Spirit works in people's lives. And this miracle which brings a person to faith in Jesus their Saviour will endure into eternity.