Pentecost 15b

Preached: September 13, 2009

Guard God's Flawless Word
Deuteronomy 4:1, 2, 6-8

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit leads us to cherish the words of our Savior, Jesus is Deuteronomy 4 as Moses addresses the people Israel before they enter the land of Canaan.

[Moses said,] “Now listen, Israel, to the statutes and judgments that I am teaching you to do in order that you may live and enter and possess the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to the word that I am commanding you and do not subtract from it, in order that you may keep the commands of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you. Keep them and do them, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'What a wise and understanding people this great nation is!' For what nation is so great as to have gods close to them as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call out to him? What nation is so great as to have statutes and judgments as righteous as this entire teaching that I am giving you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:1, 2, 6-8)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

He cherished every letter that came from her. His deployment had started six long months ago. No end date was in sight. These were the days before emails and webcams. Those handwritten letters from his sweetheart was his only lifeline out of those trenches to back home. Her love flowed through each stroke of the pen. He read and reread every letter until the pages were stained with his sweat. He treasured them, guarding them close to his heart. Yet his whole platoon knew when a letter came, for he eagerly shared the good news, beaming with hope.

We too, dear Christians, are on a battlefield away from our true home. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV), as the Apostle Paul reminds us. The fight is fierce and the battle long. But your dearest Savior has written to you. Do we cherish his letters? Does our sweat stain their pages? Do we guard them in our hearts?

May the Holy Spirit increase our devotion to God's Word, his love letter to us, as he works in us through these words he gave Moses to write. For just as Moses encouraged the Israelites to guard God's flawless word, so also the Holy Spirit speaks to us today through these words, encouraging us to do the same. Keep that theme in mind, dear friends: Guard God's flawless word.

A. By seeking your God in it

1. Why are we to seek God only in his word?

Guard God's flawless word by seeking your God in it. That's part one. The Israelites had looked elsewhere for a god. Do you remember how forty years earlier they looked to a golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai?

How many things today tempt us to look to them for health of for wealth rather than trusting the Lord! How often the world's promises of happiness and fulfillment drown out our inner longing for God! How many seek a religious experience through meditation, music, emotionalism, medication, or anything else but God's Word! How many seek a god in nature or inside themselves or in some other so-called holy book!

But God has not chosen to be found in the quiet dew before sunrise on a grassy plain. He's not chosen to be found in the throbbing heart that beats within our chest. He's not chosen to be found in the pulsating beat of musical tones or the solitude of a mountain monastery. Rather he makes himself known through his Word. That's where we are to seek God.

The first words of the text make that clear, “Hear now, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 4:1 NIV). What is it that we hear? Words, of course. This call to hear, to listen, to pay attention, directs us to the words of the Lord, our God. Hear now, O Christians.

In the past God had directly spoken his promises to the forefathers of the Israelites. Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God spoke his promises to them that the land of Canaan would belong to their descendants and that from them the Savior would come. Now through Moses the Lord had these promises written down. Even though people would fail to speak his word to the next generation, that word remained written, so that you and I still today can hear the word of the Lord. His word stands firm, not subject to the vagaries of memory, for it is written. It is recorded on the pages of Scripture, recorded for you and me to search and learn and guard in our hearts.

His word is trustworthy and true, for it is the word of the Lord, the I AM God, Jehovah. His grace does not change. So we dare not tamper with that word as we seek our God in it. His word is flawless. Any change damages it. Don't come to the word with your own agenda, seeking to justify your opinion. Don't ignore the word because you don't like some of what it says. Don't redefine its meaning in order to fit in with current thinking as some have done with what the Bible says about homosexuality, for example. And don't redefine its meaning in order to make yourself look better than others. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for that in the Gospel today from Mark 7. Rather humbly say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” That's putting into practice what Moses commands, “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” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV). Yes, guard God's flawless word. Guard it by searching it as a humble servant ready to listen to whatever your God says to you in his word without changing it. That's how we seek God.

As we guard that word by seeking our God in his word alone, he draws near to us. Moses points that out to the Israelites. As they keep and do God's Word, other nations would notice the closeness of God to them. “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV).

How much truer for us who have not only the five books of Moses but the entire Old and New Testaments, the complete, unabridged word of God! How much truer for us who live after the time when God the Son came so close to us that he became one of us, Emmanuel, God with us, and sacrificed himself in our place on the cross for our sins! How much truer for us who also have God's word connected with water in Baptism and connected with bread and wine in the Lord's Supper! How close our God comes to us, even giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink! So seek God in his word, recorded in the Scriptures and made visible in the Sacraments. What a way to guard his word as a flawless gem and a priceless treasure! What a way to guard his word by continually seeking him in it alone! For through his Word in Scripture and the Sacraments your God draws close to you, dear friend.

B. By clinging to it for life

1. Why can you be sure God's promises won't fail?

And since the flawless word brings us our God, it brings us life. So guard God's flawless words by clinging to it for life. This is part two. Moses talks about that: “Follow them so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV). The Lord promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hundreds of years before Moses, that their descendants would inherit in the land of Canaan to live there. He kept that promise. He humbled Pharaoh with ten plagues. He took his people out of slavery in Egypt through the walls of water. And despite their grumbling, their complaining, their murmuring, and their rebellion, soon they would enter the land promised to their fathers. For the Lord keeps his promises. Those who rejected his promises, perished in their unbelief. But that does not change the truth: The Lord kept his promise. For he is the Lord, the I AM God, Jehovah. His grace is constant and unchanging. He freely makes his promises, for he is independent of all, for he is the Lord, the I AM. He faithfully keeps his promises for he does not waver or change, for he is the Lord, the I AM.

Cling, dear friend, cling to the Lord's flawless word of promise. Cling to it for your life. For that is what the Lord has promised to you who believe in Jesus, your Savior-God. So cling to the cross of Christ. For in his death you have life. In his cross you have forgiveness and reconciliation. For God has promised that Jesus' blood has paid for all the sins of the entire world, including all of yours. And God keeps his promises, for he is the Lord, the I AM, Jehovah. Cling to the empty Easter tomb, for Jesus has risen from the dead to bring you life. He is the Lord, the I AM, Jehovah. His promises are trustworthy and true. In him alone you have life. For he says to you, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25 NIV). “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19 NIV).

Don't throw away this life, this eternal life. Don't throw it away by letting go of the cross. Don't exchange the Lord's flawless word for some man-made bauble. Cling to God's word of promise. For he has promised you something much grander than the land of Canaan, even though it was a land flowing with milk and honey. To you who trust in Jesus, your Savior-God, to you, dear Christian, the Lord promises heaven, paradise itself. That's the inheritance Jesus purchased for you. That's his promise for you to believe. Cling to his promise, guarding his word deep in your heart. Cling to it like that soldier clinging to those letters from home, for in Jesus heaven is your home.

C. By drawing others to its wisdom

1. How does guarding God's word in our hearts draw others to him?

And finally now as you guard God's word by seeking him in it and clinging to it for life, you don't keep it hidden away like a buried treasure. Just the opposite. Guarding God's word in our hearts changes our attitudes and actions. It changes our words and works. So, as we guard God's word in our hearts, it also shines out in our lives, just as that soldier's face beamed whenever he got a letter from his sweetheart. As God's word shines out from us, others are drawn to its wisdom. Guard God's flawless word by drawing others to it. This is part three.

Moses recognized that this would happen. “Observe them 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'” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NIV).

So put your faith into practice. Live God's Word. Do his commands out of love and thanks for what Jesus has done for you. This means you will be different from the world. Whether you're seven or seventeen or seventy, you will be different when you guard God's word in your heart and practice it in you life. But that is a good difference, just as light is different from darkness. Remember what Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).

Now when we live God's Word, we may suffer the ridicule and hatred of some, maybe even many. But living God's Word also draws others to want to know what makes you different, to want to know your source of strength and joy and hope. What an opportunity to share with them the true wisdom, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of forgiveness in the cross of Christ, the promise of eternal life and heaven to all who believe in Jesus! What an opportunity to share with them God's flawless word, which alone makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15 NIV).

Guard God's flawless word, dear Christian friends. Don't keep it locked up on your bookshelf. That's how we lose it. Rather Guard his word by daily seeking your God in it. Guard it by constantly clinging to it for life. Guard it by drawing others to its wisdom as you continually put it into practice. Guard God's flawless word, for it is more precious than even the dearest love letter. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313