Obedience to God’s Word and will design us to become “living epistles”, that others may read. Why does obedience matter? The kids skirted the edge of the trail to Laurel Falls. Loose stones plunged over the precipice as parents reminded them, again, to not walk near the edge. The kids raced around the curve in the trail and disappeared and their parent’s commands, again, echoed off the mountain, “slow down, come back here with us.” The 3 and 5-year-old chaffed at the rules and didn’t desire obedience. Their Dad rounded the curve in the trail and we all heard his urgent whisper, “bear, bear, bear.” The fully grown black bear was just a few yards off of the trail. Obedience’s reasons became clear. “…Be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey.”
(Deuteronomy 1:3) The Israelites, as well as the kids on the trail, needed to address their obedience issues: the why of obeying, the who of obeying, and the product of obeying.
Just like children need the protection of obeying their parents, the Israelites needed the protection of obeying Yahweh, and we need God’s protection in our lives too. Yahweh knew the dangers and blessings in their path and in the future generations’ paths. “The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God so that we might always prosper and be kept alive…” (Deuteronomy 6:24) God was concerned about the external conduct of His people, but He was also concerned that their hearts were devoted to Him. The children on the path to Laurel Falls, chaffed against the rules of their parents, but they reluctantly obeyed because they trusted their parents’ wisdom, and their parents had proved their trustworthiness in their relationship with them. God had proven Himself, faithful and trustworthy, repeatedly, through the wilderness, despite the Israelites reluctant obedience. When have you had to exercise your reluctant obedience in a trustworthy God? “…The Lord, our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5) Successful obedience occurs in the context of a relationship. Why do you find it hard to obey all that God has commanded?
What does obedience produce? We want to become “living epistles” so that others may read as God writes the Word on our hearts. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” (2 Corinthians 3:2) The product of obedience is how we live, and how we live backs up what we say. Read Deuteronomy 6:6-7. How can children in your life “read your life” and see obedience to God in action? Those children careening down the trail had the opportunity to safely view a bear and avoid becoming a bear snack because they chose obedience. The Israelites were invited to enjoy a “land flowing with milk and honey”, and to live long and prosper, within their obedience to Yahweh. Your obedient life speaks volumes about the who and why of your “obey”. “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.” (1 Corinthians 3:3)
The word "rules" is distasteful to most people. “Commandments” is even worse. So, we substitute words like” guidelines” or “suggestions.” Sorry, but this won't do when we're talking about what Yahweh requires. I wonder if he thinks, "What is it about 'You may do this' or 'You may not do that' that you don't understand?"
Do you remember learning the Ten Commandments? Have they been the rules you live by? If not, why not?
In the Ten Commandments God has very graciously given us the secret to having good relationships, first of all with himself, then with our parents, and finally with other people. I like to tell children, "Rules are like fences. They are there so you won't get hurt."
God has given his children rules to help them avoid being hurt.
It all begins with a right relationship with God. Humans need something or someone to worship. We have been created with such a vacuum in our hearts. But, when people don't know about the one true God, they create gods of their own.
What are some false, man-created gods that 21st-century people worship?
Think about how blessed you are to know the one true God? But our God is a jealous God, who will not tolerate the worship of anyone or anything but himself. Thus, the first four commandments are our "rules for a relationship" with him.
1. You must worship only me.
2. You must not make any kind of an idol to worship in place of me.
3. You must not misuse my name.
4. You must keep the seventh day as a day of rest.
So, how are you doing with the first four?
Dr. Rata's recent sermon on the plagues, with its application for us today, should have made us all stop and evaluate just who and what we idolize and worship. What are you worshipping before or instead of Yahweh?
Today, we may often think about our relationship with Jesus more than with God, but, of course, Jesus is God. So, the words of this gospel song should be our daily pledge.
I'll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus
I went to visit the shrine of plenty,
But found its storerooms all filled with dust.
I bowed at altars of gold and silver,
But as I knelt there, they turned to rust
So, I'll worship only at the feet of Jesus,
His cup alone: My holy grail.
There'll be no other gods before Him
Just Jesus only will never fail.
Oh, God, help me live by this promise every day. Holy Spirit, please show me the things and people I have put before you and help me worship God alone. Amen.
jbd & gmd
Moses is my name. Yahweh is my God. Israel is my nationality. Being God’s spokesperson is my responsibility.
You may remember that God spoke to me once from a burning bush. He also told me many things to say to Pharaoh. But he said the most to me from Mt. Sinai.
The first thing God said from the holy mountain was probably the most important. It was about the covenant relationship: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession (Ex 19:5).
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the people built a golden calf and worshiped it. Incredibly, they gave credit to false gods for bringing them out of Egypt! It should have been obvious that the “if” of the covenant relationship was serious business. Apparently, they ignored it. And God responded appropriately, “Leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them that I may destroy them” (Ex 32:10). So much for being the “treasured possession.” (For the rest of the story, see Ex 32:11-35.)
The Israelites ignoring their part of the covenant relationship was especially grievous since even before the exodus out of Egypt God had demonstrated his grace in the most amazing way. It was a night of life and death. The angel of death “passed over.” No blood on the doorpost? Thousands of Egyptian firstborn died. Lots of blood on the doorpost? Thousands of Israelite firstborn lived. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex 12:13).
God created a memorial so the people would never forget what he had done. Passover: Lambs slaughtered. Blood splattered. Bread flattened (made without yeast: no time to let it rise in the rush to flee Egypt). “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you” (Ex 24:8).
Fast-forwarding, I am now speaking as the Moses of the New Testament. Jesus is my name. Yahweh is my Father. The people of the world, my ministry.
You probably remember sermons I preached, parables I told, and many things I said. But those weren’t my words. “The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it . . . whatever I say is just what the Father told me to say” (John 12:49-50). Being God’s spokesperson, like the Moses of the Old Testament, was my responsibility too.
One of the most important things I said was one of the last. It was the final time I was together with all the disciples. It was that night again—life and death. Passover. But not the same. It was back to the future. This time, the focus was not bread without yeast, but my flesh: “My body given for you” (Luke 22:19). This time, not the blood of a lamb, but my blood: The new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20). But beware: “Woe to the one who betrays me” (Luke 22:22).
Now please don’t ignore the “if” of the new covenant: “If you hold to my teachings, then you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
Life Application Questions
This scene reminds me a bit of the story of Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. The difference is that Moses, of his own accord, walked straight into the “devouring fire.” Rather than being thrown into the flames by King Nebuchadnezzar, he was invited into them by God. It’s like he jumped off the edge of a volcano into spewing molten lava. No wonder the people of Israel thought he must have died when he didn’t show up again for many days.
But he hadn’t died. What he had done was enter the terrifyingly glorious presence of Yahweh, the one, true God.
That’s not to say that Moses himself hadn’t done this with some apprehension. Of this same scene, the author of Hebrews wrote: “Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear’’ (Hebrews 12:22). Facing his own trepidation, Moses went to God on behalf of the people, who were petrified by the blazing appearance, thunderous voice, and holy command of God.
The author of Hebrews went on to write that we who are followers of Jesus Christ do not approach God this way. We don’t come to “a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them”(Hebrews 12:18-19).
Instead, we “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
This is an altogether more inviting picture. And it is made possible because Jesus, like Moses, went ahead of us into the presence of God. Not only did Jesus go into the Father’s presence, He made a way for us to do the same. Jesus did this by dying in our place for us, resurrecting triumphantly over death, and then ascending to the Father’s side. His “sprinkled blood” covers us, washes away our guilt and shame, and makes us worthy to confidently follow the trail he pioneered into God’s presence.
But don’t think that God has changed. The author of Hebrews warned his readers not to reject this offer of grace...“for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). He is worthy of all our respect, our reverent worship, and our lives.
Let’s fear God and cling to Jesus, following him with confident faith into God’s presence.
As a newspaper reporter, I’d often find myself at an event, meeting, or scene of an accident. It was vital to get information that could be reported to our readers. They were confident that we’d provide the most accurate, up-to-date information.
Frequently, when I encountered such a situation, access to the general public would be denied. But I would show up, introduce myself as a reporter for the local newspaper and be provided access – to cover a meeting, interview a witness, or talk with an investigating officer. Often, I was recognized by those providing security and allowed admittance.
In many cases, it was an “all access” pass that permitted me close proximity to the action, take photographs as needed, and interview individuals who were in the know.
I’ll guess the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai wished they had an all-access pass to whatever was going on. They watched as Moses built an altar then sacrificed young bulls as a fellowship offering. He splashed the blood of the animals on the alter and then on or towards the people as a sign of their covenant with the Lord. It was a solemn and momentous occasion. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and the 70 elders of Israel trekked up the mountain to meet with the Lord. (Can’t you imagine the stories they had when they returned?)
With the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we no longer have to wait for someone else to share a story of an event or read the words of God to us. As Dr. John Davis writes, “The believer has an equally glorious opportunity to come into the presence of God in the high of holies because of the blood of Christ. We no longer have to wait at the bottom of the mountain for revelation that has been given to us in the Holy Scripture. Our responsibility is to read and obey (Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, BMH Books, 1971, 1986, p. 250).