February 16-18, 2013
First Sunday in Lent
Pastor Tim Smith
5 Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. (NIV) This is the word of the Lord.
Early in this book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeats the Ten Commandments for the people just before they crossed over into the Promised Land. Forty years had come and gone since God had given them the commandments on Mount Sinai, and Moses preached this series of sermons to the new generations across the Jordan from Jericho. Almost everything between the Commandments in chapter 5 and the verses before us in chapter 26 are an explanation of the Ten Commandments, with whole chapters focusing on this or that aspect of marriage laws, prohibitions against every form of idolatry, worship regulations, the use of God’s name, about theft, bearing false witness, moving boundary stones, and parents’ responsibility for their children. Now, in the chapter before us, Moses turns to the time in the very near future when Israel would take possession of the Promised Land and begin to settle down there.
In this passage, we see a piece of Old Testament liturgy for a special worship service.
In this passage, we see a confession of faith—a creed—that was not only suggested but commanded by God for the people to use in this special worship service.
In this passage, we see that the rescue from Egypt—the Exodus—was one of many examples of the way God visibly showed his salvation to his people. A picture of the way Jesus Christ rescued all mankind from our bondage to the slavery of sin.
In this passage, we are reminded that just as the Israelites were rescued completely from their bondage to Egypt and didn’t bring any of it along with them to Canaan, so also we are rescued completely from our bondage to sin, and this salvation is in every way a free gift, given to us by the grace of God through JESUS, who is OUR GREAT DELIVERER.
The special worship service in which these words were to be used only happened once. Moses told the people that this was to take place after they had entered into the land of Canaan and planted their crops. Then, just as the crop was first beginning to come up, they were to cut the firstfruits as an offering to the Lord. This was different from the annual offering of the firstfruits, which Moses described earlier in Deuteronomy and was to be a yearly gift for the priests. Here, God commanded that not just the firstfruits of the year’s planting, but the very first appearance of the Israelite’s crop ever planted was to be cut, and given to the Lord.
Before this, they had never planted crops in Canaan. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were vagabonds—Jacob himself is the “wandering Aramean” in this creed; this confession of faith. He and his fathers had no land at all in Canaan, none that is, except one grave.
Doesn’t that remind us that in God’s plan, left ourselves, we owned nothing at all of God’s great plan for eternity—nothing that is, except one grave. Our own grave. That’s what sin does. Sin slams the door on God’s wide open vista of eternal bliss and eternal joy, and it encloses us in the curse of death, of exclusion from paradise, of eternal torment with no escape, no reprieve, not even a fifteen minute break twice a day.
Let’s look again at Israel in our text. In just a few words, Moses recalls the whole story of the Exodus “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place.” With one Hebrew verb form, the word “brought,” Moses summarizes God’s role and ours. This is a form of a word meaning “to come” or “go.” It’s a form of the word that always means “caused to come”—and so in English we translate that the Lord “brought.” Israel did not do it on their own, but the Lord caused them to come to this land of Canaan, this land “flowing with milk and honey.”
If the Lord had not brought them, if the Lord had not caused them to come, they would never have made it. There were constant dangers and obstacles all the way:
The pursuing Egyptian army. Their first reaction when they saw the Egyptians pursuing was not to turn to God, but to run away. Yet the Lord stopped their running and put them back on track to get to the Promised Land.
The Red Sea. At the Red Sea, they decided to turn on Moses and accuse him of bringing them to certain death. But the Lord brought them through on dry ground.
Starvation and No Water – these obstacles led to the people actually considering going back to Egypt where, they said, they had it so good. But the Lord put food and water into their mouths through miracles in the desert, and still some of them complained.
Snakes in the desert—these were a punishment because the people complained about the food and water God provided and the leadership of Moses. But God also gave them a way to be saved from the snakes, a way that was based entirely on faith.
There were enemy nations who would not let them pass. There was the giant Og, King of Bashan, and Sihon, King of the Amorites—but the Lord gave them victory and put them on the Road to the Promised Land.
There were nations who should have been friendly—who were relatives of the Israelites—who also did not let them pass. Edom, Moab and Ammon were all related by blood through Abraham’s nephew Lot and Jacob’s brother Esau—and the Midianites, relatives of Moses himself by marriage—but the Lord gave them victory after victory and brought them closer and closer to the Promised Land.
There were more obstacles. There was a world-renowned false prophet who was hired to oppose them with a propaganda campaign. There was treachery and rebellion from within Moses’ own tribe and even from Moses’ own family. And there was the fear of the people because of the report of ten of the twelve spies—and it was this fear and this final frustrating sin that caused God to make them wait forty years before bringing them finally to the land.
Do you see what sin and doubt and self-centeredness and double-mindedness does to us? It detaches us from God’s plan for us. It makes us go places where God knows and we should know that we shouldn’t go. It keeps us away from places where God wants to bring us.
And what was God’s solution for our sins? Let’s go back to that word Moses used about the Children of Israel. God brought them. God caused them to come to place where he wanted them. It wasn’t about what they did with their own feet. It wasn’t about their Garmins or their GPS or their good maps—it was all about what God did.
And that’s what God has done for us through Christ. He has brought us back into his family, not because of anything we’ve done and not because of our eager faithfulness. But despite our sins, and because we were lost in those sins, he has brought us home.
Jesus has delivered us completely from our sins. Just as the Israelites didn’t bring any of their chains with them from Egypt, Jesus Christ had freed us from every part of our bondage to sin. There is no more price to be paid, no more blood to be spilled, no more time to be served. We are free.
Just as God delivered his people from Egypt through Moses, he has delivered us from sin through Jesus – Jesus Christ, our Great Deliverer.
That’s worth reminding each other about. That’s why God gave the Israelites this creed in Deuteronomy 26—this confession of faith to say on that one day when they brought their very first first-fruits of the land as an offering of thanks to God. And so we remind each other with statements of faith and creeds, as well. To remind ourselves and to remind one another of what God has done.
In particular, we say the Apostles’ Creed (9:30), which Martin Luther called “the Children’s Creed,” to remember the very basics of our faith. And we say the Nicene Creed (all other services) to remember especially the work of Jesus Christ our Great Deliverer.
Please stand as we say this (Nicene/Aposltes’) creed together, and encourage one another with the faith we share.