“Why Would You Choose Death? (Deut. 30:15-20)
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 8, 2019)
Would you characterize yourself as having self-destructive tendencies? By that I don’t mean necessarily that you have ever entertained thoughts of suicide, although such thoughts would definitely qualify for self-destructive tendencies. Rather, what I am asking is whether or not you have made decisions or performed actions that set you on the course to self-destruction and death.
I’m sure most of us would insist that, of course, we have not made such decisions nor taken such actions knowingly. We love life too much. We would never intentionally do anything to endanger our life. In fact, the desire to continue to live is one of the strongest desires that God has built into the human spirit.
You might be quite surprised, however, how often every one of us does in effect chose death rather than life. You see this with regard to our physical health. We have all been taught or educated that certain foods… habits… or activities can be quite hazardous to our health, and yet, we have chosen to eat or do them anyway. We have chosen death!
But, now, let’s think spiritually. Do we ever choose death, eternal separation from God? You may say, “Wait a minute, Pastor! I’m here aren’t I? I’ve chosen to come to church today. I’ve chosen to be with God! I’ve chosen to live!” Indeed, to choose to come to church, especially given all the worldly things you could have done this morning, is certainly a positive, life, decision. At least for this moment, you have all chosen life. As our text tells us, to be with the LORD is to have life! But what about later today? What about tomorrow… or the next day… or next week? Will all your decisions and activities be in keeping with life or will they be actually seeking death?
We might begin our consideration of this topic by first asking what it means to chose death?
We can definitely learn from ancient Israel’s example. Through His servant Moses, God was confronting His people with this very thing. Poised as they were to enter the promised land of Canaan, after their 40 years of wandering, it was not only a momentous occasion in the history of Israel, it was also a true moment of decision. The whole reason they had been wandering in the wilderness all those years was because their parents had actually preferred death rather than life. They did this by rejecting to remain faithful the LORD who had rescued them out of slavery in Egypt. Instead of following the will and word of Yahweh, the LORD, they continued to bow down and worship the golden calf and other idols of Egypt. Now, as they, the children of these obstinate idolaters, stood ready to enter the Promised Land. Would they make the same wrong choice or would they make the right choice and live? The LORD said to them: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!”
The reason the LORD had to say this to the people of Israel is because it was not at all a given that they would choose life over death. You and I might say such a decision is a no-brainer! Of course, they should choose life! However, such a choice was not that easy for them. Neither is it for us! Why? Because there are forces at work that make choosing death seem so appealing!
Remember how the devil made the path to death look so attractive to Adam and Eve in the very beginning, saying: “Even though God commanded you not eat of the fruit of that tree, He knows that the day you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Oh, to be like God, there is no more powerful spiritual aphrodisiac in all the world! If we were like God, knowing what He knows, then, of course, we could make all the right choices. Better choices than even God! In fact, then we could actually be God, calling all the shots, directing our own lives! Oh, how alluring that is to our fallen nature!
Yet, how dreadfully wrongheaded and perilous! God had already told Adam and Eve the truth about eating that fruit. It would be self-destructive. “The day you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Disobedience to God always leads to death, not only physical but the spiritual death of eternal separation from God. God is perfect and just. Sin, disobedience, rebellion, can not exist in His presence. Being cast out of the perfect existence of Eden was only a fraction of the evil Adam and Eve brought upon themselves by their choice to disobey God. In their sin and rebellion they also found that they no longer knew each other or trusted each other. They knew only to fear God. They no longer knew Him, and more importantly, He no longer knew them. They were dead to God!
Israel should have learned from the unfortunate experience of their parents, who all died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. Death and destruction was their fate because they had turned from the LORD, who had so graciously and miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt. They had been warned: “If your heart turns away from the LORD… if you are not obedient to His laws, decrees, commands… if you are drawn away to bow down and worship other Gods, it will mean death for you!”
Once this new generation entered Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey but also full of false gods and idolatrous worship, choosing life instead of death would be just as difficult for them as it had proven to be to their parents. Worldly goods and pleasures, not to mention the alluring philosophies of heathen religions around them, would be striving day and night to steal their hearts from the LORD. Everywhere they turned they would be lured into disobeying the true God and giving their hearts to other gods. Would they choose life or death?
It is critical to keep in mind that all disobedience is idolatry. As Moses makes clear it’s not simply about disobeying the LORD’s commandments. Obedience to the LORD is loving the LORD your God, walking in His ways, and keeping (honoring) His statutes. Idolatry occurs anytime we put someone or something else before God. Idolatry is not just the crass bowing down to an idol of gold or stone. The idol that steals our hearts may be a loved one or a friend who wants us to put them first before God in our lives. Maybe that idol is even our own self… our own desires… our own wants. Perhaps our idolatry is simply thinking that we don’t have to obey God’s laws to the letter or don’t have to always put Him first because we know better! This is bowing down to other gods! It is choosing death!
Be assured, Satan does not want you and me to know the truth. He wants us to think that we can gain and have life having things our way, setting our hearts on other things or persons rather than the only true God. But the simple truth he continually obscures is that these false gods can only bring us death, never life. They separate us from the true God, the LORD, who is life and alone gives life!
But here we see that God in His grace is not only warning Israel and us, He is also lovingly making us an offer that we can hardly refuse. He says through His prophet: “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it…Chose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers…”
Four times the LORD says in reference to Himself, “I am your God.” In spite of everything their parents had done, all their idolatry and disobedience, the LORD still considered Himself their God. He had not abandoned them.
In accordance with His gracious nature, He was still remembering His covenant with them and now their children. In His loving righteousness He was still going to make good on His promise to them if they would continue to hold fast to His Word; that is, in faith, trust His Word… follow His word in their lives…cling to Him for their life and salvation. Then they would not only enjoy His presence among them, He would forever be their life and length of days. Their lives would be hidden away in Him. They would be blessed all their days in this world and live in the land He promised them. God made them an offer they couldn’t refuse!
Yet, we know from the accounts of Israel’s history recorded for us in the Bible, incredibly, they did refuse God’s offer! Over and over again they turned from God’s ways and word. They allowed their hearts to be enticed away to other gods. The result: death and destruction came upon them. They would repeatedly be routed by their enemies. The northern tribes would eventually be laid waste and the survivors taken off into captivity in other lands, never to return to Canaan. The southern Tribe of Judah would be hauled off into 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Then again later when she would reject The LORD completely by rejecting His Christ; that is, Jesus, Judah would be rejected by God as His covenant people and their temple destroyed. To this day that temple has never be rebuilt. It is a perpetual testament that they, unbelievably, chose death instead of life!
But that was them, it does not have to be you! Nor does their fate have to be your fate! The LORD in His unbelievable grace, through His servants, His preachers of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ today, makes you the same offer of life rather than death…. Good, or blessing, rather than evil. It is an offer that you can hardly refuse.
You see, in spite of your lusting after other gods … your falling back into the same old disobedience over and over again … your neglect of His Word … the many times you have put other people before Him … your preference at times to participate in worldly activities rather than coming to church to listen to His Word and receive the gifts of His grace through His Holy Supper which He instituted just for your eternal welfare, the LORD has brought you good, life-giving, news. He still considers Himself your God! Again today He is reminding you that He has gifted you, His Child, His only begotten Son to bring you life. The Son of God has become flesh of your flesh to free you from having to make the wrong and deadly choices. In Jesus Christ, the LORD, has offered you the atoning sacrifice for your inherited sin, as well as the sins you commit each and every day in every thought, word and deed. Yes, the punishment rightly due you, even for all your idolatries, has been meted out upon the body of Jesus. Accordingly, through His Word and Sacrament again today, the LORD extends to you the full forgiveness of all your sins, gifting you good instead of evil, life instead of death! In Jesus the LORD God is graciously offering you a different choice. He is offering you life and immortality! He is offering you true good and every blessing. Truly its an offer you can hardly refuse!
A drowning person, who is thrown a rope to be pulled to safety, hardly has a choice if he wants to live, does he? That rope is an offer he can hardly refuse!
So why do so many reject the LORD’s lifeline so graciously offered them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do so many who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ refuse God’s saving offer, choosing death through their unbelief? Why do we, who have been baptized into Christ and confess Him as our Savior, still sometimes struggle to embrace the Word of God’s promise in Christ in all avenues of our lives, preferring instead to trust in our money, or our own resources, or man’s technology? Jesus has come that we might have life and have it abundantly! Why do we still insist on choosing, or trusting in someone or something else? It should be a no brainer!
Yes, it should be but as as we see in our Gospel reading today, there is something else that often hinders us from fully embracing in faith the way of life; that is, believing in Jesus Christ, following His Word in our lives, seeking to live our lives in accordance with His commands to love Him with our whole heart and life. Following Jesus, the One crucified for us, comes with a cross of our own to bear. That cross can involve being ostracized by friends because we put Jesus and His Word above them and their word, sacrificing worldly pleasures to enjoy heavenly ones, even being persecuted by the worldly because we seem to them to be out of touch, too exclusive, and even unloving and bigoted.
But so what! What can such temporary crosses like these compare with the eternal good and life the LORD God graciously has given you in Jesus Christ through His cross! As the holy apostle of the Lord declares: “…this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17,18).
I for one am very glad you have wisely chosen life today by coming to church to meet with Your Savior Jesus Christ in His Word and Sacrament. If you remain in His Word and Sacrament, He will give you the will, the desire, and the ability to daily choose life. God grant you both the faith and the will to choose life tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and the day after that so that you might live long in the promised land of His eternal glory! Amen!