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What is 'covenant' and what kind of life is that?

What the book of Romans is to the NT,

the book of Deuteronomy is to the Old.

Ever thought Deuteronomy was that important?

Most of us would confess

we know very little about Deuteronomy.

When we share our favorite Bible verses,

not too many of us pick a verse from that book.

Our Sunday School kids never get a lesson

from this book.

Nobody chooses a verse from Deuteronomy

for their wedding text.

 

How much do you know about the book?

Here’s a quiz:

 

Is Deuteronomy longer or shorter than Genesis?

It is shorter.

The longest book is . . .  no, not the Psalms.

Jeremiah is the longest book if you go by word count. Genesis is 2nd.

Deuteronomy is 8th.

 

Did Jesus ever quote a verse from Deuteronomy?

Actually, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy more

than any other book except for the Psalms.

Most notably, when Jesus is tempted

in the desert by the devil,

he uses Deuteronomy to face temptation

and defeat the devil with the word of God.

 

True or false,

Deuteronomy is the most quoted book

in the New Testament.

False, it is 3rd,

only Psalms and Isaiah are referred to more often.

 

These all make us wonder,

if Deuteronomy is that important,

how come it is so ignored by us today?

 

Part of the reason is that we assume

we’ve seen and heard everything

that’s in Deuteronomy before.

Like this chapter,

a re-telling of God’s law given at MT Sinai.

Ask a Bible reader where to find God’s law

expressed in the Ten Commandments

and most will say, Exodus, Exodus 20,

rather than Deuteronomy 5.

The title even falsely leads us that way:

Deuteronomy means 2nd law,

or a copy of the law.

But that’s not really why the Holy Spirit

has given us this book.

A better title is the Hebrew title which translates, ‘these are the words.’

That’s how the book begins

and introduces to us the occasion for these words: Israel is ready to enter the promised land,

but there, opposite the Jordan,

they are not spiritually ready.

They need a guiding word from the LORD.

 

So Moses’ last days and last acts

are to teach the people

what the exodus means

and answer the question, ‘Now what?’

‘How do we live as a saved people?’

Israel is not done with God

once they arrive in their new homeland.

If they think that way,

they will, be lost,

and the land will lose its promise.

So Moses begins here in chapter 5:1 –

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.

Learn them and be sure to follow them.

 

And that leads to the other reason

we tend to ignore Deuteronomy:

it’s all about law and covenants,

and we don’t value law or covenants.

We’d rather live by our own rules.

 

But covenant is all about the fact that

God and his people are in a living relationship, together:

Creator and creature, Deliverer and those set free.

By and large when people think of God today they don’t think of it in terms of relationships,

they think in terms of religion.

What do I have to do to be a good person?

How little do I have to do

to be considered a religious person?

How much of God can I cram into an hour on Sunday

and how few Sundays a month for me to get by?

So Moses reminds the people of covenant,

to say you are his people,

you are related to God in this living promise.

Don’t think when you get into this land of promise you have arrived.

You are here by grace:

God has rescued you,

delivered you out of Egypt.

And if you are going to live,

you have to live in response to this grace.

 

And this is how you can do that well:

Moses then gives the ten words,

the ten commandments

the instruction for living with God.

We call it God’s law.

That’s not our favorite topic either.

Because we assume law is about what we can,

and mostly what we can’t do,

not allowed.

When really it is about loyalty, love and flourishing.

33 Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

 

So let’s focus on these two questions:

what about God’s Law?

and, what about covenants?

 

Most objections to the law of God

focus on extreme cultural or ritualistic rules

for ancient Israel,

so that we can excuse ourselves from obedience.

For instance, what do you mean

the Bible teaches right and wrong?

Doesn’t it say in Leviticus

to put to death anyone who curses?

And you’re not allowed to wear

clothes made of a blend of fabrics?

And it’s wrong to eat a medium rare piece of beef?

Nobody lives this way,

good riddance to ancient rules.

 

Others set up a false dichotomy between law and grace, thinking they are opposites:

Aren’t we saved by grace alone?

Is faith all about being legalistic?

So then it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, does it?

And we forget that the same Lord who delivered us

in Christ also commands us to holy living.

Grace and God’s laws are not opposites.

 

So, what about God’s law?

The laws of God in the Old Testament

fall into three categories:

ritual

civil

moral.

The ritual laws guided Israel

in the tabernacle and temple worship.

These laws were completed in Jesus

by his sacrifice on the cross.

Once for all, is the way the book of Hebrews puts it.

Those laws point us toward Christ and

have been replaced by his sacrifice.

Our worship now focused on Christ

and his cross and empty tomb.

 

The civil laws established Israel in their new land.

Israel, as God’s people,

was to be a witness to other nations and peoples

by how they lived

in the daily routines of life and government.

The specific laws don’t apply

but the principles of order and justice

remain even for us in a modern, democratic society.

We are still bound by the laws of the land,

but we are in Christ to be salt and light,

a new witness,

living out the justice, mercy and peace of Christ

and insisting on it even today.

‘Be holy, because I am holy, says the Lord’

is God’s word in both the Old and the New Testaments.

 

The moral laws remain as instruction

for all God’s people in all ages.

Though these too are fulfilled in Christ,

we remember Jesus didn’t do away with them,

but exercised lordship over our morality,

so that these commands take on new meaning

for how we live.

We sense their difference:

who would do away with the 8th commandment:

you shall not steal.

What would happen to Target or Walmart

if they put a big sign on the door,

the 8th commandment doesn’t apply here:

so go ahead and take what you want!

And, How would any justice get done

if the courts didn’t pursue the truth?

What if the judge said,

if the truth makes you uncomfortable

go ahead and lie?

 

But now are we back to legalism?

No, for the law of God is grace to us 3 ways:

it is a teacher of our sin,

convincing us of our need to believe in Jesus and receive his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins,

it is a protection for neighbors and society,

keeping before us the call to justice and mercy,

and the law gives a fullness to our gratitude and praise of the Lord,

giving purpose and meaning to life lived as

thankful glory to the Triune God.

 

Moses reminds the people

that the only reason they’ve made it this far

is because of God’s deliverance.

If they’re going to keep making it,

they’ll do that only by God’s gracious care

and continued deliverance.

So Moses speaks these ten words again,

commands that are like

the check engine light on your car:

if you transgress these laws something is wrong –

vs 29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

 

Then three times in this chapter Moses mentions

that there is blessing in obedience.

A ‘wellness’ or ‘prosperity’

that goes beyond the financial or material,

a blessedness and fullness to life.

 

The laws of God are designed by the designer,

the one who made you knows how life works best,

and these commandments are

the maintenance and troubleshooting manual.

The law reveals our sin to us,

our need for forgiveness,

where to turn in repentance.

 

Notice too, that these commands are given

to guide people in living in society together:

The 4th command to keep the Sabbath day holy

is kept not by private observance,

but extending rest

to the whole household and neighborhood:

On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

 

The laws are given to make for flourishing:

rest, truth, no stealing, honoring the generations:

not just for me, but for others, too.

 

But it’s the third use of the law

that Moses has most has in mind:

our obedience gives thanks to God.

Moses begins this chapter reminding them

of God’s deliverance.

He then says this wasn’t ancient history,

this was for you.

And then, this is how you live.

Gratitude.

Thanksgiving.

We see it most clearly in the 4th commandment.

Here in Deuteronomy 5 we get a different reason for

keeping the Sabbath day

as compared to Exodus 20.

So that’s your homework for today;

compare the 4th commandment here and in Exodus 20.

What are the different reasons?

And you’ll see where Exodus 20

gives a creational care reason for the Sabbath,

while Deuteronomy 5

talks about thanksgiving for deliverance.

 

How do you say thanks for the greatest gift ever?

How do you live a life of gratitude?

Moses says, remember?

This is how.

If you value your salvation,

if you value your life,

if you value the grace of God,

then you’ll take care of your life

and the lives of all those around you

from the least to the greatest,

and this is what you’ll do.

 

So look again at the ten commandments.

Remember that Moses taught them again to Israel

as they were entering the new land.

Some of you are starting new life chapters too:

maybe you graduated,

maybe you’re planning a wedding or newly married,

maybe your family situation is changing,

maybe your facing some tough times,

or you’ve recently been delivered from some burden.

It is time again to take to heart the law of God.

How would you apply anew each command?

Ask how obedience to each

shows your gratitude to the Lord.

Ask how each choice to follow

would show care to your neighbor

or bless your community.

See in each a way that you are drawn to Christ

a little more closely in relationship to your Savior.

 

Maybe you ask,

I kind of get it when the laws talk about

not stealing or lying and, of course, murder,

yet there are others

that don’t seem to fit our society today:

how strict am I to apply the command

against adultery?

Isn’t my sexuality up to me?

And who observes a Sabbath day today?

And what about those first commands

that have to do with worshiping God?

 

These questions get us to our second focus

this morning:

covenant.

Moses introduces the ten commandments

by reminding the people

that they are in a covenant relationship with God:

vs 2-3: 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.

3 It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.

 

It’s a reminder to you and me that spiritual life

and the well-being of your soul

is not merely a religious activity,

a one day, one hour a week exercise,

but spiritual health happens

in a daily, living relationship with God

who is Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Lord,

Provider, and sovereign ruler.

Covenant is a relationship word.

And the reality is God the Creator and Savior established a living relationship

with creation and with you, his people.

To break these commands is to do damage

to covenant and our understanding of

covenant promises.

 

What is covenant?

Sometimes people think of contract

when they think of covenant,

but this isn’t the best way to think about it.

You can have a contract

without any kind of relationship at all.

I have a mortgage through a loan company.

I don’t know anybody there.

Nobody knows me.

We have an agreement tho,

and every month they get a check from me.

Contract.

But what happens if you break a contract?

Then the obligations end, right?

If I don’t like the rate my mortgage company

is giving me,

I can choose a different lender.

If I don’t make my payments,

I can lose my house.

 

Covenants are both stronger

and more fragile than contracts.

They are promises that bring people together,

uniting them.

Think of it this way:

Dad says you have to be home at 1030.

But dad, it’s a weekend, you say,

okay, so by 1130, no later.

And you agree.

That’s contract talk, right?

So what happens when you sneak into the house after midnight?

You broke the contract,

there will be consequences.

But you are also in a covenant relationship

with your dad.

Father-son or father-daughter.

While you broke the contract,

the covenant can’t be broken:

because a promise is a promise.

Your dad may say you didn’t come home

like we agreed,

so next weekend you are grounded.

But he wouldn’t say,

well, since you broke the contract

I guess you’re no longer my child,

been nice knowing ya!

 

Not even the worst

can break the covenant relationship.

Yet . . . any sin against the relationship

leaves lasting scars,

wounds, which need healing.

Because the promise is still

a part of who we are.

That’s why false worship is so damaging,

it abuses God’s faithfulness.

That’s why sexual sin is still sin,

no matter what culture says today,

because it abuses what we mean

by promises made,

it hampers our ability to make meaningful promises

later on in life.

It forces people in covenant relationship with us

to bear hurt and pain that is of our own making.

 

And that’s what Moses is getting at

by linking covenant and law together.

When you break God’s law

you are damaging the relationship

between your Savior and Lord and you.

When you keep God’s law

you are strengthening that relationship.

And since you were made for God,

obedience leads to flourishing,

disobedience to loss of identity

and spiritual belonging.

 

How deeply?

Just look at the cross to see

what it cost God

to bear the damage of covenant violation.

 

Now we can put law and covenant together:

Obedience to God’s law is not a burden,

but a response

to the privilege of belonging to God.

Obedience is not a duty God imposes on you and me,

but in honor of our covenant relationship.

Like a parent teaching a child how to bbq,

or teaching you to drive,

or a married couple sacrificing for each other,

or a soldier following orders in protecting a country’s citizens.

We don’t work for our salvation,

but obedience shows salvation at work in our lives.

 

Obedience is to Christ, who is our life,

tho obedience may be costly,

in this broken world we gain our life by losing it for Christ,

and if we seek to keep our life and our wants

we will in fact lose our souls.

Moses tells Israel,

you were set free.

God is the God of exodus.

This is life to you.

So follow  . . .

We have been set free by Jesus.

Life is found following him . . .

He said,

I don’t set aside the law of God,

I fulfill it.

So we don’t set it aside either,

but strive to obey

that Christ’s fulfillment may be seen in us.

 

Earlier this week the Cubs lost again

to the lowly Brewers,

and TV color man Jim DeShaies

imparted some wisdom.

He noted how one player

was working on changing his batting,

what pitches he swung at,

and how he swung.

But then when that batter struck out,

looking like he did a season ago,

Jim said:

‘when the pressure’s on

we tend to revert to old habits.’

 

How much more is this the case

when life gets hard

and temptations are strong.

When the pressure is on,

we tend to revert to old habits.

 

The Lord was faithful to Israel through the desert.

Tho the people were delivered from Egypt,

when the going got difficult,

they were tempted to turn from God

and back to slavery.

When life got hard,

what was easy was grumbling,

complaining,

despairing,

doing their own thing

instead of following the word of God.

‘When the pressure’s on

we tend to revert to old habits.’

 

So God gives us the ten commandments.

Because there will be pressure,

temptation,

broken situations,

hardships.

But you have more to go on than just old habits.

The law of God is grace

because the exercise of faithful obedience

frees us from living by our own rules

and making it up as we go along.

Opening up to us the finer things of life

like forgiveness, confession, assurance, trust, and repentance.

So let us be renewed again in our covenant promise:

we belong to God,

we are made for the righteousness of Christ,

we are led by the spirit to obey.

 

And God is faithful,

forgiveness

and counsel toward repentance are ever with us.

So let us hear these words as Israel did,

in relationship with God

by faith,

to live for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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