Today a message on one of the things we are taught in the Bible to do. Of course, there are many things God teaches us to do, but today the teaching - the challenge - is to choose life, which will be taught using two Bible passages, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament.
The Old Testament teaching is found in chapter 30 of the Book of Deuteronomy. We will concentrate most of our attention from this passage on verses 11 through 20, but let’s begin by listing the promises God has available for His people - specifically His Old Testament people, but promises He continues to offer us even now.
It is quite a list that is found in the early part of Deuteronomy 30.
Compassion. Other words can be pity and concern. Not pity as a bad thing, but feeling sorry for anyone who is suffering. So sorry He wants to help whoever is suffering.
Ending captivity. Freedom had happened just a few books earlier when God had rescued His people from slavery in Egypt. It would happen over and over again later in the Old Testament when the people of God were, from time to time, taken away from their homeland. Taken away as spoils of war.
Those later captivities came after God’s people failed to do what we are going to discuss in a moment. When His people refused to choose life. But God’s promise was that He would put them in their land again. He would offer to restore them to true happiness.
He would do His people good.
That would include multiplying them in many ways, most importantly with children they would have, but also the fruit of their land and of their cattle.
Whatever curses were spoken against His people, God would turn back onto their enemies.
Their hearts would be formed to love God.
All of that - compassion, freedom, restored happiness, God’s goodness, abundance in children, cattle, and food, turning curses back on those who curse, good hearts - is what God promised His people. All of that is what God wanted to give to His people. What He would give them if - that is a very short but very important word - if they would do what is listed in many of the following verses of Deuteronomy 30.
Right before Moses got to what God wants His people to do, he explained that what God expects is easy to understand.
Verse 11. “This commandment [the statutes, ordinances, laws of God, which were told to the people of God by Moses] which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.” What God expects - what He wants - is not beyond our doing. More on that when we move to the New Testament passage for this message. Nor is it beyond our understanding.
Verse 12. “It is not in Heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to Heaven and bring God’s word to us, that we may hear it and do it?’” It is not some lofty teaching, too high for anyone short of some kind of advanced degree to understand. We do not have to wait until we get to Heaven to know and comprehend God’s word.
Verse 13. “Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring God’s word to us, that we may hear it and do it?’” It is not unusual for people to travel far distances to hear and learn things, which is not a bad thing. But God’s word? It is close to each one of us. For God’s Old Testament people, that was true through Moses and, later, through God’s prophets. For us, that is true through the Bible and through God’s ministers.
In the Bible, and I hope in how I present God’s word, there are no obscure phrases that are intended to confuse. It takes study and prayer to understand everything in the Bible, but it can be understood. Understanding His word is what God wants us to do.
Verse 14. “God’s word is very near. It is in our mouths and in our hearts.” That is true if we will allow His word in.
But then, in the last part of verse 14, there is a challenge. The challenge that is the theme of this message. The teaching is to choose life, the discussion of which begins with verse 15. “I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.” What that means is that God’s word shows the way to obtain all the happiness you can desire and how to avoid all misery. How to choose life over death.
Assuming we want life and what is good about life, verse 16. “Obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day.” That refers to all God’s word that Moses received from Him and shared with God’s people, including to “love the LORD your God, to walk in God’s ways, to keep” [abide by] everything God taught. All the laws He gave.
“If” - there is that small but important word again - “you do that [if you obey, love, walk, keep], then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.”
Remember that Moses spoke this passage before God’s people reached the land promised to them by God. This was part of God preparing His people for the time they would be in the Promised Land.
For us, this can allude to us being in a good relationship with God. If we will obey God, including accepting Jesus as Savior, He will bless us here and now and help us to multiply spiritually.
Obeying God, loving Him, walking in His ways, keeping His laws are what we are to do - what we will do - if we choose life, which should be our joy to do.
However, there is another choice that can be made. Verses 17 and 18. “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear …”
Notice the wording. It is not “cannot hear.” It is “will not hear.” That means choosing to not listen to the word of God that is spoken in the Bible and by ministers and that rests in the mouths and hearts of all who will let God’s word into their lives.
“If your heart turns away and you will not hear, but are instead drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, you shall perish [which means death]. You shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.”
It is interesting that even those who would choose death would still enter the Promised Land, but it would not be a good place for them. It would be a place fraught with problems. Problems faced without God’s help, that happening because of the person’s refusal to listen to and heed God’s word.
The challenge is clearly stated in verse 19. “I call Heaven and earth to witness against you this day…” The phrase “Heaven and earth” is another way of expressing that what is about to be said is critically important. “I call Heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”
Make a choice. That was the challenge for the people who heard Moses back in the time recorded in Deuteronomy. That is the challenge for us today. Make a choice between life and death.
And may the choice be life. May we show that decision as it is described in verse 20. “Love the LORD your God.” Remember that LORD means master. Let Him lead you and guide you and provide for you in every part of life. “Obey Him.” Show your love by obeying Him in every part of life. “Cleave to Him.” Never forsake Him in affection or in practice.
Choose life. Make that choice. That is what God wants. That is what we should want. Making that choice will honor God. It will help us now and forever.
But, someone might say, that certainly sounds like the right thing to do - to decide - to choose - but I do not have enough strength or the discipline to make and stick with that decision. I mean, what about all the temptations around?
Drugs. So easy to get, especially with some of our 50 states making certain drugs legal, which I guess is allowed if that is what they want to do, but the trafficking of the drugs is so much higher now in states like ours that do not allow those drugs, and the push back against drugs seems to be getting weaker and weaker as more and more people say they are just fine. Which they are not.
Alternate lifestyles are being promoted as perfectly fine. Which they are not.
Entertainment sometimes celebrates unrighteous behaviors.
What about how much food we have around us? That can certainly make it difficult to follow what God desires for proper diets - diets that will help us to keep pure the temples that our bodies.
Human nature. That can deter us from choosing to do what we know is right.
It can be easy for anyone to say he or she does not have the strength or the discipline to choose life. Guess what. You and I do not need to rely on our own strength and discipline. What we have to do is rely on the one who will share with us His strength and His discipline, that one being Jesus, which moves us to chapter 10 of the Gospel of John.
We are going to concentrate on verses 7 through 14 of John 10. It is a passage that begins with assurance from Jesus that He wants to have a relationship close enough to us whereby He can share His strength and discipline with us.
John 10, beginning with verse 7. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
A bit of background. What Jesus is picturing in verse 7 relates to the kind of sheep pen used in the fields of that time. They were places in the fields enclosed by walls, the only way in or out through a single opening.
There were no doors to close the openings of those areas - no doors as we know doors. What would happen is that the shepherd of the sheep in a particular pen would, once the sheep were secure for the night, lay down in the entrance. The shepherd was, in essence, the door since there was no way for anyone or anything to get in or go out except over or through him.
Jesus claimed to be the door for His sheep, His sheep being His people - those who would and now do believe He is the Savior. The promise is that He would and will protect His people.
That had not been the case before Jesus. Verse 8. All who came before Him, that referring to Jewish leaders who had or were denying God’s love and Jesus’ power - those before Jesus who only said they were interested in the sheep - were “thieves and robbers” because they did not have the best interest of others at heart.
Instead, some were intent on achieving their own political goals, causing rebellions to reach their goals, not caring what happened to those they persuaded to join them. Others were more interested in making religion a business venture, leading others to weaken their faith to boost their economic advantages.
Verses 12 and 13. Some before Jesus were simply “hirelings.” Those simply hired to watch over some sheep, the hiring the only intent of the one hired.
In a worldly sense, that means it was just a job. A job a hireling would fulfill as long as things were easy. A job from which they would run at the first sign of trouble. As the passage says, “When a hireling sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and flees,” the result being the wolf snatches some of the sheep and scatters the rest of them.
In a spiritual sense, a hireling represents someone who leads a church, a congregation, a group only for the job or the pay. A job that will be quickly abandoned at the first sign of any kind of trouble, the result being the people of God being put in danger.
Some leaders before Jesus were thieves and robbers. Some were simply hirelings. But not Jesus. The “door” was and still is “the good shepherd.” A true shepherd. A caring shepherd. The shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep who are God’s people.
Verse 9. Jesus said, “I am the door.” If anyone enters by Him, that one “will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Why was Jesus willing to be the door? The good shepherd? Verse 10. He came that we - remember the theme for this message - “may have life, and have it abundantly.”
There are times we still might struggle, which brings to my mind an episode of M*A*S*H called Dear Sis.
If you are familiar with M*A*S*H, you know the chaplain, Father Mulcahy. In Dear Sis, there are a lot of issues Father Mulcahy has to deal with, which he writes to his sister.
For instance, he tried to help with an unruly patient in OR, but instead of being able to talk him down, the situation required Margaret Houlihan, the head nurse, to shoot the patient with a sedative, leaving Father Mulcahy to feel he did not help much.
Then Radar, the company clerk, asked Father Mulcahy to say a prayer for Radar’s mother’s pregnant sow in Iowa. To pray over the phone, which Father Mulcahy agreed to do. But before the prayer was finished, the sow went into labor, requiring the advice of Dr. Winchester, not the chaplain. Again Father Mulcahy felt useless.
Father Mulcahy admitted no one came to him for confession, or even just to chat.
Then wounded soldiers arrived. One lightly-wounded patient was short-tempered and combative. When nurse Margaret tried to check the patient’s wound, he pushed her away, insisting he see a doctor. Father Mulcahy tried to help, but the soldier angrily pushed him away, too. The chaplain paused for a moment before raring back and belting the young man so hard the wounded man fell off his stretcher. Father Mulcahy could not believe how he reacted. He then admitted he reacted with violence because felt useless.
Later, at a party, Hawkeye - Dr. Pierce - knowing how low Father Mulcahy was feeling, toasted him, thanking him for his simple decency and kindness.
That simple toast apparently encouraged the chaplain because then, as more wounded arrived, which broke the festive mood of the party, Father Mulcahy’s final line is this. It is how he ended his letter to his sister. “It doesn’t matter if you feel useful going from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”
That is one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H because I assume we all wonder from time to time if we are making any difference. I wonder that.
During those times when we struggle, we might not feel there is much life in us. But even then, the call is the same. It is to accept Jesus as the door. As the good shepherd. As the one who will share His strength and discipline with us. Enough of each for us to choose life.
Father Mulcahy did that on M*A*S*H. He used life, in a fictional sense, to continue to help others in the name of God. We are to do that as well. We are to have life abundantly. An abundance that will help us grow ever closer to Jesus. An abundance we can share with others to attract them to the Lord as well.
One time in the 1980’s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain, she was interviewed by a reporter from BBC Radio. Knowing Thatcher was a Christian, the reporter asked her what she considered the essence of Christianity.
The reporter expected the Prime Minister to answer “love,” or maybe “charity.” Since the reporter did not think of Thatcher or her political party as very loving or charitable, he was ready to question her - to criticize her - for her policies.
However, Thatcher did not say “love” or “charity” in her answer. She gave another answer. A one-word answer. Her answer? “Choice.”
What do you choose? May you choose life. As is taught in Deuteronomy 30, that choice is based on loving God, walking in His ways, and keeping His laws, which is not too hard or too far off to accomplish. It is a choice that is possible, as taught in John 10, with the strength and discipline of Jesus.
We have before us life and good and death and evil. Let’s choose life. The kind of life offered by Jesus - abundant life.
In a moment, a closing song. Before that, please, if you have not made life your choice, do so. Or maybe you chose life once, but have slipped away. Come back to that decision. You can do either by praying to the Lord, accepting Him as your Savior, thereby accepting His strength and discipline, and asking for His help to live abundantly, in good times and difficult times alike.
Please do that as we sing a song that speaks of the joy that comes from choosing life. Heavenly Sunlight. We will sing verses 1 and 2.
Walking in sunlight all of my journey,
Over the mountains, through the deep vale;
Jesus has said, “I’ll never forsake thee,”
Promise divine that never can fail.
Heavenly sunlight, Heavenly sunlight,
Flooding my soul with glory divine;
Hallelujah! I am rejoicing,
Singing His praises, Jesus is mine.
For those of us who have already chosen life, let’s sing the next verse with even greater joy. Total joy that the Lord has given and will continue to give us abundant life. If you have not yet made that decision, or if you need to re-decide, please pray to choose life. Accept Jesus. Rely on His strength and discipline. Join others in enjoying abundant life. Please pray.
Shadows around me, shadows above me,
Never conceal my Savior and guide;
He is the light, in Him is no darkness,
Ever I’m walking close to His side.
Heavenly sunlight, Heavenly sunlight,
Flooding my soul with glory divine;
Hallelujah! I am rejoicing,
Singing His praises, Jesus is mine.
Lord, You offer abundant life. Help us to make the decision to choose life. Help us to continue with that choice through loving You, by walking in Your ways, and by obeying Your laws. Thank You for the strength and the discipline to do that. Amen.