This sermon was preached on September 11, 2016, at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Mankato, Minnesota.
“Now, this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I commanded you, all the days of your life, and that your days might be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
School has started again this year … things are getting back into the “normal” swing. For those of you who are in school, picture this. (And for those of you who aren’t in school right now, think back to when you were.) Imagine that one beautiful morning you woke up after a restful night’s sleep, ready to tackle confidently whatever the day was going to bring. All of a sudden you remember something very important, something which sends shock waves up your spine and gives you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach: today is the day of the BIG test! How could you have forgotten? How could you forget to study the night before? How could you pass up that chance to review?
All of us have had to take tests at some time in our lives, even if it’s just a test for your driver’s license. And so we all know the importance of reviewing what we need to know before we take the test. If you don’t review, you’ll probably not do as well.
Take, for example, the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. These are the people to whom Moses spoke the words of the text. They had been wandering in the desert for forty years, and now were ready to take possession of the land promised to them by God. This was huge! What they had been waiting for! And what does Moses do? He reviews God’s Word for the people. Once more he goes over the most important parts of God’s Word.
And this is a good lesson for us, also. The essence of what Moses says in the Bible passage for today is don’t ever stop teaching God’s Word.
Why? Because we are blessed by it.
Look again at the Israelites as an example: they were brought to the Promised Land. They didn’t come up with a grand plan on their own of how to get there and how to take possession of it. This was simply a great blessing because they did nothing to earn it.
Remember from where the Israelites had come—they were chosen by God to be his people, but they ended up in slavery in Egypt. In Egypt they chafed under the oppression of their masters who made them work hard, barely able to survive. Their lives were miserable and they longed for freedom and a better life. They were promised, however, that they would eventually be free and have their own land, one “flowing with milk and honey.” In other words, they would have everything they needed and then some!
In addition, by learning from and listening to what God told them, their “days would be prolonged,” it would “be well with” them, and they would “multiply greatly.” Now, I suppose that you could take these promises of prolonged days and well-being and increasing in number in both a positive and negative sense—if they did what God told them, he would “reward” them; if they didn’t, God would punish them.
But that’s looking at it from our perspective. Remember how God works when he makes a “covenant,” an agreement, with his people, his promises are not conditional; there are no strings attached. He loves his people no matter what! We could say that God really told his people that “because you are my people, you will (naturally) do these things.”
But either way, when the teaching of God’s Word continues, blessings follow … even for us. We may have to wander the wilderness of this world for a while, but eventually we are brought to the Promised Land of heaven.
What exactly do we learn from God in his Word? We learn very clearly and emphatically that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God but punishment and eternal death. God tells us in his Word that he cannot be in the presence of sin, and since we sin every single day, we cannot, on our own, come close to God. We know there is nothing we can do on our own to earn favor, to somehow look good in God’s eyes. Because of our sin, we’re supposed to die … eternally, in hell, forever separated from God. We definitely fail the test.
But when we keep listening to God’s Word we also learn about the forgiveness of our sins, forgiveness which comes only through the life and death of Jesus Christ! “By his wounds we are healed,” Isaiah tells us. Because of what Jesus has done for us, in other words, because he lived a perfect life in our place and died to take the punishment we deserved from God, God does not hold our sin against us. He counts what Jesus did—his perfect life and sacrificing death—as ours, as if we had done these things. Jesus passed the test for us!
Once we’re forgiven of our sins, once God the Holy Spirit has caused us to trust in that forgiveness—whether that was at our baptism or later in life—even more blessings follow. Yes, God continues to take care of us: physically, by providing for our well-being, and also spiritually, by feeding us from his Word, his written Word and his Word in the form of his sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
And the end result, of course, is the final realization of this new life with which we’re blessed: heaven! Living forever with God!
But it’s important for us not to take these blessings for granted. Listen to Moses’ warning later in Deuteronmy 6:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land … to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of good things which you did not fill … vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied, then watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
What a good reminder for us also. Isn’t it too easy for us to take the things God gives us for granted? We become so used to having all he gives us—food, clothing, shelter, health, eternal life—that we sometimes forget where they came from. We may imagine that we have worked hard for our physical provisions, and that somehow we “deserve” our spiritual provisions, but we need to remember: they are all blessings from God. We did nothing to earn them. He gives us everything we have only because he wants to, not because we worked hard or deserved them.
And these blessings come to us through the teaching of God’s Word. That’s one reason why it’s important that we never stop teaching God’s Word: we are blessed by it.
But there’s another reason, just as important, why we’re not to stop teaching God’s Word: because our children (and their children) need to hear it. If they don’t, if our children and grandchildren don’t hear God’s Word from us, from where else will they learn about the salvation of their souls? What more important thing could there be, to them and to us?
Many times we think about entire races or tribes of people—maybe in a deep jungle somewhere—who are not Christian, and whom we say have never had the chance to hear about God. But, whose fault is that? It really all goes back to someone’s parents not teaching them God’s Word.
Think of it this way: after the flood, all the people who were left on this earth were God’s people (only eight people were left—Noah and his family). But through the years the teaching of God’s Word became less than the number one priority for some parents, and their children were not taught God’s Word, and their children … and on down the line. This has continued for thousands of years, and now billions of people all over the world are not God’s people.
That’s why the Lord (through Moses) said (vv. 6–7):
And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up.
And that, dear friends, is still a responsibility we have today. How do we carry out that responsibility of teaching God’s Word to our children?
We have Sunday School … where we bring our children for instruction in God’s Word, to learn about sin and salvation. Someone else does the teaching, but it is because we have delegated that person to teach our children. It is still our responsibility.
We also teach God’s Word to our children at home. This is where the vast majority of teaching will be done (Sunday School is only one hour per week). At home we teach God’s Word through our family devotions. Do we have them? Do we use our Bibles, our children’s devotion books, our “Meditations” booklets, or some other type of devotions? And do we do this on a regular basis and not just when it’s convenient or we manage to remember?
We also teach God’s Word through our discipline. We can teach our children that just as God disciplines us because he loves us, so also we discipline our children because we love them. We can use those times to speak about Jesus’ forgiveness, not just ours.
And our personal example is just as important as anything else in living God’s Word—how we conduct our lives, what we say, what we do. For example, do we go to Bible class to learn God’s Word after telling our children that it’s important for them to go to Sunday School? (And I’m not just talking about you parents who have children here in Sunday School—what about all you other adults? What sort of example are you setting for all our young people? Are you showing them that once you’re older you’re done with studying God’s Word in that sort of setting?) Furthermore, do we demonstrate forgiveness and understanding toward others or become infuriated and rant and rave when someone does something wrong to us or gets us upset? Do we “put the best construction on everything” as we interpret the actions of someone else? Children, especially young ones, learn more by example than words.
Let’s not treat God’s Word like a fire extinguisher, using it only in times of crisis or emergency. Let’s not treat God’s Word like a relative who only comes around once in a while and for whom we clean the house especially well. Let’s make using and learning God’s Word an everyday thing!
Yes, it is a big responsibility we have in teaching our children God’s life-giving Word. And it’s just as important that we learn God’s Word throughout our entire lives. But remember that “life-giving” aspect of God’s Word—we are not on our own! Only God through his Word gives us the strength, the motivation, the ability to teach his Word—through it he gives life.
And yes, it may have sounded like this sermon concentrated on commands and Law (Do this or else!), but the commands God gives us about continuing to teach his Word to our families are not commands that curse and destroy—they are commands that bless. You see, God has given us the important task of teaching about him, but he is the one who actually does the teaching … through his Word! It is our responsibility to bring our families to his Word, but a responsibility which, when carried out, is promised to be blessed by God. God gives life through his Word. When we teach his Word, we’re sharing that life with others. Amen.