by Clarke Dixon
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Decisions. Decisions. What to choose? I am always glad when my wife is close at hand when I get dressed. How I knew what ties went with what shirts before I was married, I do not know. Decisions, decisions. Yet while I stress over ties, the world unravels. Decisions must be made by world leaders on how to deal with terrorism. Our current conundrum has arisen due to a complex interweaving of history, politics, economics, and yes, religion. Such complexity makes rocket science seem like a grade school project. I am glad I am not a world leader. You should be glad I am not a world leader too. Thankfully, not every decision in life is so hard to make or so mired in complexity. Let’s take a moment to think on one from Deuteronomy 30.
As God’s people stand ready to enter the Promised Land, and as Moses gets ready to say his final goodbyes, he makes a call to commitment to the Lord. He begins with this:
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:11-14
Bible scholars tell us that the expression translated “not too hard,” could be translated as “not too mysterious,” “hard to understand,” or “incomprehensible.” In other words: this is not rocket science. Nor is it kept hidden. God’s people need not go on a search in heaven or across the sea for the answers to big questions like “who is God?”, “who are we?”, and “what is expected of us?”. God has revealed it. In fact “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” if indeed they were listening back in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 when He said “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them.” God has revealed enough of Himself, His purposes, His covenant, and His expectations that His people ought not to be confused. As they stand ready to enter the Promised Land, it is crystal clear who God is, who they are, and what is required of them.
Moses goes on lay out the possible consequences of the decision he is calling them to:
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Deuteronomy 30:15-19a
This ought to be an easy decision to make. Life, or death? Again, this is not rocket science. And so comes the call to make a decision:
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20
While some translations have “for that,” i.e. the act of choosing God, loving and obeying Him, “means life to you”, another possible translation is “For the Lord is your life”, as the NIV has it. Either way, God’s people are called upon to choose the Lord, to choose to obey His law, to choose life. All these go together. Given the consequences this was an easy decision to make.
People sometimes refer to the afterlife as “The Promised Land” and of death as “crossing the river” which of course alludes back to the Jordan river which lay between God’s people and the Promised Land. There is a decision that needs to be made by every person before making that journey, before crossing that river, crossing over from this life to the next. Just as God’s revelation was clear to His people in Deuteronomy, so too it is clear today. There is a clarity to the Gospel, of the good news of right relationship with God. In fact this is part of what Paul is getting at when he refers to our passage from Deuteronomy:
. . . the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? ’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss? ’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:5-9
In other words, salvation is not something impossible for us to attain, like going up “into heaven . . .to bring Christ down” or going down “into the abyss . . .to bring Christ up from the dead.” Those are examples of things we of course can not do. In fact salvation is not even something we do. It is something God does for us in and through Jesus Christ. God “is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13 NRSV) Our part is to call upon God, to trust Him, to repent from our sins and turn to Him in Christ. It was for us that Jesus chose death. Our part is to choose life.
The consequence of our decision is clear:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15
It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the consequence of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the love of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the power of God, the reality of God, the evidence for God, the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God. We have the opportunity, one we don’t even deserve, to make a decision: to choose life.
Did you notice when the call to decision was made for God’s people in the days of Moses? It was before they crossed over the Jordan. Did you notice from God’s Word in Revelation that the book of life is opened to be read from rather than written in? No angel will stand with pen in hand waiting for you to make your choice. Now is the time to make that decision. Now is the time to choose life.
Unless stated otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV
Clarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor who blogs a sermon summary weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.