Banner Logo

Sermon

Sermon Graphic


Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, February 17, 2019


It’s a Heart Thing


Text: Deuteronomy 30:15–20

Today is the sixth Sunday after Epiphany. This has been a time of reflection on the life of Jesus while here on earth. The stories of his teaching and life are to serve as examples to us as to how we should then live. Jesus came as God in the flesh and modeled for us how Adam should have lived in loving obedience to God and his word. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul Apostle Paul wrote that “For as in Adam all will die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” And then in verse 45, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” In essence, the first Adam chose to follow his own reasoning instead of faithful obedience to the command of God his creator. The second Adam - Jesus - God in human form came to live and die in complete loving obedience to his Father in Heaven. He showed us the perfect example of selfless love and what it looks to obey God, the object of his love, even unto death.

Today we will consider our Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy 30:15–20 and see how Jesus used that passage to interpret our gospel reading from Matthew 5:21–30.

As I considered our passages for this week, I was reminded of something that happened to me many years ago. I think I may have shared this story before, but I think it illustrates what I believe God wants us to see this morning.

In my first parish in Roanoke I received a phone call from one of my parishioners who is an attorney. He told me that he had a client that was in serious trouble and needed pastoral care. He didn’t feel that he could share the nature of the charges but would leave that to the discretion of his client. We set up a time for me to meet with his client later that week. When the client showed up he told me that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing the nature of the charges, but he did want me to know that he was guilty and would most likely go to prison. We talked for about an hour and I shared with him the purpose of Jesus going to the cross and that God was willing to forgive him for whatever he had done if he would turn to Christ in repentance and faith.

We talked about what it meant to turn to Jesus and to follow him in obedience to his word. I prayed for him and set up a time to meet again the following week. When he left my office, I went to my computer and Googled his name. There it was: a newspaper article from a neighboring town describing his arrest and charges of multiple counts of sexual deviancy with minor boys. I was taken aback and felt a strong sense of revulsion. I sat there for quite some time remembering his words, “I am guilty of what I’m charged with.” I confess that at that moment I didn’t want to see him again, much less try and help. I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me of my attitude. I knelt down on the floor of my office and I cried out to God to change my heart. I remember saying to the Lord, “Father, you have called me to minister to this young man and to remember that I am not his judge. I am also a sinner in need of the Savior, so I’m asking you to change both this man and me.”

Over the next three months we met weekly and he started coming to our church and weekly Bible study. I grew to love him, and we became friends. He still was not ready to surrender his life to Christ because didn’t feel he deserved it. I assured him that none of us did which is what makes grace so amazing. The practice at this church was that after the sermon people would be invited to come to the altar kneeling down for prayer with a prayer minister or go the other side to pray alone. One Sunday after my sermon, I went down to the altar to wait for anyone who came forward to kneel down on the other side. I felt someone kneel down in front of me and it was the man that I had learned to love. He whispered in my ear that he wanted Jesus to save him and forgive him. We prayed and wept together while the church waited in prayer for us. He was sentenced to prison, but I want to share with you an update that I received from his brother yesterday,

Hey Mike! Kevin is doing really well. He is the music director of the Protestant church in the prison. living and breathing the life of Christ in prison has its challenges but the Lord has given him great favor. He has a few years remaining and Lord willing when his time is up he will be allowed the opportunity to reintegrate with society. All I can say is continue to pray for him and his ministry in the prison and that his hope for a future will not be quenched by the enemy. God bless you brother for your kindness and interest in Kevin.

My point in sharing this story with you is that God wasn’t asking me to condemn this man for breaking the law of God but to point him to God’s grace for all of us that have broken his law repeatedly. The State of Virginia brought punishment for the crime committed, but that wasn’t my role in the matter. I was to be the face of Christ to him which pointed him to the greatest love imaginable, but I wasn’t able to do it until I invited God to deal with the hardness of my heart. I needed God to change me so that I could love the way Jesus wanted me too. My understanding of God’s law was correct, and the penalty described in God’s law was clear as well. According to God’s law the man deserved to die but I needed to remember that Jesus had come to perfectly fulfill the law and therefore be able to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. I needed to remember that if I wanted God’s law to be satisfied apart from Christ’ sacrifice, I would also need to die as punishment for my sins. What it came down to was my need to allow God to change me from the inside out. Just understanding the law with my mind made no provision for the grace found in the lawgiver, only through the Holy Spirit could that happen.

Let’s now turn to our Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy 30 and read verses 15–18,  

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 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. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

In the first part of Deuteronomy Moses exhorted the children of Israel to obey the laws and commands that had been given at Sinai. He cautioned them that to turn away from the commands of God to pursue other gods would bring about God’s judgment. In Deuteronomy 6:1–2,

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules —that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.”

Moses then tells them how they can be certain to obey God’s commands in verses 4–8,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

The law and commands of God were to be seen as loving gifts from their creator and their response should be loving obedience to him. If they rightly understood God’s power, glory and sovereign reign over all of creation then they should be in fear and awe of him. So even, when their love waned for a season their fear and reverence for God should cause them to stay the course. Their highest priority was to love God in the present and to pass that on to future generations. When that didn’t happen, it wasn’t long before the nation turned from God.

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is writing to the second generation of the exodus from Egypt. Their faithless parents had died in the wilderness as a result of their disobedience to God and his punishment upon them. God had spared the children in order to preserve his holy people and to maintain his promises to their forefathers. Since Moses would not be allowed into the Promised Land, he restated God’s law in order to guide them in covenant renewal under Joshua. Moses was reminding them to not repeat the sins of their parents and to commit to the law so that blessing would come in the future. Moses reminded them that the commandments that God had given through him and the righteousness they required were attainable if they were faithful to their covenant with God and daily spoke the law to themselves and to their children. God wasn’t expecting perfection and had instituted the sacrificial system to deal with the failures that were sure to come. The motivation for obedience had to begin with their love for God, the obedience to the law that reflected God’s heart should have been a joy to them.

The Apostle Paul would later refer to the preaching of the Gospel with Moses offer of the covenant. Romans 10:7–11,

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The requirements of the New Covenant in Christ are not difficult either. If we profess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord, we will be saved. The death of Jesus has fully and perfectly atoned for the sins of all who trust in him. Just like Israel, the problem comes when we fail to continually speak the Word of God to ourselves and to our children. When God and his holy word are not the focus of our lives, something else will always take its place.

So, before Israel moves forward into the Promised Land, Moses calls for a decision. The people only had two choices, life or death, God’s blessing or his sure judgment. As they moved into the Promised Land, they would encounter other nations who were already living there. They were nations that worshipped pagan gods and Israel must be careful to remain faithful to Yahweh and his commands or they would be seduced into following other gods and would incur God’s holy judgment upon them. Everything that God had promised in the new land “flowing with milk and honey” was dependent on them remaining faithful, not just to the law but maintaining their love for the God who had given them the law and the land. Let’s read Deuteronomy 30:19–20,

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 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, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

God the creator of all things calls heaven and earth to witness against Israel that they had been given fair warning and the choice of life or death and blessings or curses. God was giving them the choice and later on, when they rebelled against God, he would remind them of this covenant standard set forth through Moses. In Isaiah the prophet begins with a dramatic look into the court of Heaven and message of judgment and of God’s lawsuit against Israel for violating the covenant that he had made with them through Moses. In Isaiah 1:2 he speaks,

Hear, O heavens, give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

Israel was without excuse as they had been warned from the beginning of their journey into the land given them by God. Everything in their worship reminded them of the holiness and majesty of their creator God. They used the Psalms as songs of praise to the God of Israel and even our Psalm for this morning tells of their knowledge and onetime desire to follow the law of the Lord. Psalm 119:1–4,

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

King David one of the greatest contributors to the Psalms wrote in Psalm 19:7–11 wrote,

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

This Psalm praises the Lord for two of his greatest gifts to humankind: the creation and the law. It speaks of God’s general revelation of his glory and majesty in creation and his special revelation in the Scriptures.

God offered them life, but they foolishly chose death and they paid the penalty of exile from the blessings of God. We saw last week that the presence of God left the temple because of Israel flagrant sins and they were left with dead orthodoxy. Praise God that the story doesn’t end there. Jesus came proclaiming that he came bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. He came proclaiming the good news that the kingdom was at hand because God remembered his covenant with their forefathers. He came revealing the love of God to those who were poor in spirit and revealed the power and blessings of the kingdom through demonstrations of the power of God against disease and the demonic. But, he also came proclaiming the law of God as holy and true. Those who would follow the King would do so through repentance of sin and returning to covenant faithfulness to God and his holy word.

The one thing that most of Israel could not seem to grasp was that the word of God had the power to transform their lives and restore their souls. In chapters 5–7 of Matthew Jesus began his Discourse on Kingdom Law. He taught about the kingdom that he was inaugurating as the King during his earthly ministry, and the ethics of that kingdom were immediately applicable to his disciples. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom’s transforming power, which enables those transformed by the Holy Spirit to live according to kingdom ethics. In chapter 5:20 he told the crowd “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus challenges the scribes and Pharisees who had an outward form of righteousness, but their hearts were far from God’s heart. He begins in 5:21 by giving an example of this:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

The Pharisees often began their teaching with the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”. They would then proceed to further describe a deeper teaching on the subject. Jesus does the same thing but doesn’t make it about just a deeper understanding but of a change of heart and an attitude that reflects who you are inwardly. In essence he tells them that they can avoid the actual act of murder and yet still be guilty of murder because of hatred for the person. He points out the same principle about lust in verses 27–28,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Of course, his point is obvious in both statements: you can refrain from acting on hatred and lust but still be guilty because your heart has turned away from the love of God and focused on the flesh. Many today are ravaged by anger and hatred and it spills out in things they say and do. We see it every day both in the media or in personal encounters. Most people don’t commit murder, but the hatred and vitriol inside them become a wasting disease destroying them from the inside out. Millions upon millions of people both professing Christians and those who don’t, refrain from committing adultery while being addicted to pornography. The young man that I told you about earlier started by looking at Playboy magazines when he was young but then that wasn’t enough, and he soon spiraled down into the endless depths of depravity offered by the porn industry. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5–7 showed that in his kingdom there was relief, forgiveness and restoration but it would only begin by making the decision to follow him faithfully, submitting to the standard laid down in the law of God.

The only way for that to happen is to invite the Lord to transform your heart and mind so that your love for him propels you to faithfulness to his Holy Word. The Pharisees thought that they could measure up through keeping the law outwardly, but Jesus showed them that it only led to self-righteousness and pride. They became legalistic in their pursuit of God and ended up with a form of godliness that had no power to transform.

Hearts that are transformed find loving God the greatest pleasure and his word becomes the “lamp unto our feet” the guide for faithfully following God. Just knowing many things about God’s word did not enable me to love Kevin the way that Jesus wanted me to. I needed the Holy Spirit’s power to transform me so that the word became a living being within me. This is not a one-time event but a way of life. Do you struggle with keeping God’s word or loving those around you? Ask God to transform your heart and watch what he’ll do through you.

Let’s pray.

 

©2019 Rev. Mike Moffitt

Return to top

Sermon Archives