How about a show of hands. Which do you prefer?:
Holden or Ford?
Summer or Winter?
Pizza or pasta?
Luxury holiday or adventure holiday?
Beach or bush?
Tissues or hankies?
Some choices are EASY, while others are DIFFICULT.
Some choices AREN’T SIGNIFICANT. It doesn’t matter much either way – whether you wear the red tie or the blue one. Or whether you live in THIS street or THAT street.
But others choices are A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH. Like: Should I run across the road now, or wait for the lights?
Should I have chemotherapy, or just take Chinese herbal medication?
Should I get in the car with the driver who’s been drinking, or catch a taxi?
And as Moses winds up his greatest sermon ever, here in Deuteronomy. Here on the plains of Moab as Israel look across the river to the promised land. He wants them to realise that the choice in front of them is ONE OF THOSE LAST SORT. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.
Two choices. Obedience or disobedience. Doing things God’s way, or ignoring him. It’s not complicated. Black and white. No shades of grey. No complexities, no excuses. Obedience or disobedience.
It’s not complicated, but the consequences are HUGE. If they OBEY, there’ll be BLESSING. If they DISOBEY, there’ll be CURSES.
It’s like that movie “Sliding Doors”. Two completely different versions of the future. One- where things turn out WELL, and the OTHER – disaster. And it all comes down to ONE CRUCIAL CHOICE.
In the movie, the two versions of the future depend on whether Gwyneth Paltrow catches a train, or misses it.
But in Moses’ two alternative futures, the crucial decision is much more important than whether you catch a train. For Israel, it’s whether they choose to OBEY THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. To do things HIS way, or to go their OWN way.
And just to hammer it home, to SYMBOLISE the choice, Moses plans a huge dramatic production. PERFORMANCE ART involving the whole nation. I’m calling the production, “Twin Peaks”!
Have a look at Ch 27 v12, Moses says,
12 When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. 13 And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.
Troop through the land, says Moses, until you come to Shechem. The town sits in the valley between two mountains, Ebal and Gerazim. And when you get there, split into two groups. Half the tribes head up Mount Gerazim, and the other half head up Mt Ebal.
And that split – that division, that FORK IN THE ROAD- it represents the turning point to your two alternative futures. It’s your “sliding door” moment. ONE, Mt Gerazim, represents OBEDIENCE and BLESSING. The OTHER, Mt EBAL, represents DISobedience and CURSES.
And then, Moses continues, WHICHEVER mountain you’re on, shout out your “Amen” as the Levites spell out what disobedience looks like. And what the CONSEQUENCE will be.
V15. Make an idol? You’ll be CURSED. Everyone says, AMEN!
V16. Dishonour your parents? You’ll be CURSED. “Amen” comes the reply from both hills.
17. Same thing if you move a neighbour’s boundary stone. CURSED. Or if you lead the blind astray on the road. (Not LOVING them). CURSED for THAT TOO. Amen comes the response.
Every area of life. Big and small. Life that’s thoroughly saturated with obedience.
And so on, to the end of the Chapter.
Blessing and curse
That’s what you’re to do says Moses. And then he goes on to describe in detail what the blessings and curses will LOOK LIKE. What obedience or disobedience will RESULT IN.
So verses 1-14 we see the BLESSINGS.
28:1 If you fully OBEY the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these BLESSINGS will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:
V3. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, so will your crops and your flocks.
V7. Your enemies will be defeated before you. They’ll come at you in ONE direction, but flee from you in SEVEN.
V9. The LORD will ESTABLISH you if you keep his commands. All peoples on earth will see that you’re called by the name of the LORD, and they’ll FEAR you.
V12. He’ll open the storehouses of heaven. He’ll send RAIN, and bless the work of your hands. You’ll LEND to many nations, and BORROW from NONE. The LORD will make you the HEAD, not the TAIL. Always AT THE TOP, never at THE BOTTOM.
Moses is painting a picture of PARADISE. Of a return to Eden. That’s what God’s promises for obedience, for not turning aside to the right or the left.
if you do NOT obey the LORD your God and do NOT carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these CURSES will come upon you and overtake you:
The complete OPPOSITE of the blessings. V18 The fruit of your womb and your crops and herds will be cursed.
V20. Curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you do.
V24 The OPPOSITE of blessing. The LORD will turn the rain of your country into DUST AND POWDER. Not PLENTY, but FAMINE.
V25 The LORD will cause YOU to be defeated by your enemies. You’ll come at them in ONE direction, but flee in seven.
V27. The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumours, festering sores. He’ll afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
V32. Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day. A people you don’t know will eat what your land and labour produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days.
Down in v43. More blessing reversal. The ALIEN WHO LIVES AMONG YOU will rise above you higher and higher, but YOU will sink lower and lower. He will be the head, but you will be the tail. Like a giant game of snakes and ladders. But Israel will always LOSE.
49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined.
Here we’ve got Moses painting an alternative reality THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Eden. After Eden was THE FALL – when the snake and the ground were CURSED – that’s what Israel will be if they choose disobedience.
Two mountain sized choices. With BLESSINGS piled up like a mound. Or CURSES piled up even HIGHER. Choose a mountain – Gerazim or Ebal? Blessing or curse?
Disobedience and Curse for Israel
So what happens?
For those of you who know anything about the story of the Old Testament, there’s HALF of this chapter that SOUNDS PRETTY FAMILIAR. And I’ll give you a hint – it’s not the FIRST half.
As we follow the story of Israel in the land through the Bible, there’s precious little of the BLESSINGS Moses describes. (Every so often we catch GLIMPSES of it.)
But we see MUCH MORE of the CURSES. Of the famine, and the sickness. And especially of the foreign oppression.
Because the reality was Israel RARELY followed God like they SHOULD. They DIDN’T listen. They turned to the left and the right. They forgot his laws. They were stiff-necked, and hard-hearted.
To the point where you wonder whether there’s EVEN ONE ISRAELITE who follows God’s law like he should.
Let’s make a giant leap across a whole lot of history. And the rest of the Old Testament. Because it’s pretty depressing really. And touch down in northern Canaan, around the Sea of Galilee. Around AD 30.
We’re looking at Matthew Ch 8. And we might have jumped a couple of thousand years, but we’re in pretty much the same place, and things are looking pretty much like Moses’ picture.
This is a land that’s bearing the scars of God’s CURSE for disobedience. There in v2 of Mt 8 there’s a man with LEPROSY. Just like Moses SAID.
Then in v5. A foreign oppressor. A centurion with a paralysed servant. Or down in v14, Peter’s mother-in-law has a FEVER. Or v16 MANY demon-possessed and sick.
Or, v28, two more demon-possessed men living a graveyard.
Into Ch 9, a paralysed man.
Or V18. Moses said, “You’d lose your children.” And here’s the daughter of the synagogue ruler – DEAD. NOBODY’S safe – not even children or religious leaders!
And another, v20, a woman suffering from twelve years of menstrual bleeding. Then again, v27, two BLIND men. And finally, v32 a MUTE man possessed by a demon.
And hanging over it all, the dark cloud of Roman oppressors. Moses said, God will curse you by sending a nation, swooping like an eagle. They’ll devour your livestock and your crops. They’ll be the HEAD, you’ll be the TAIL.
And that’s what was happening!
And yet in the MIDST of the CURSES, there’s the ANSWER to the question – Is there ever going to be an Israelite who TRULY obey God’s law? Who’ll come to the CHOICE, and who’ll choose OBEDIENCE? And then who’ll live the blessings God promised?
And Matthew’s WOVEN the answer into his picture in these chapters. JESUS. The ONE TRUE ISRAEL. THE FAITHFUL ISRAEL. The BLESSED ISRAEL.
Jump back to Matthew Ch 1. A story about Jesus, The Son of Abraham, the son of David. The true Israelite.
Then in Ch 2 he was born, then v15 he fled to Egypt. Then he came BACK from Egypt – just like ISRAEL had.
And then we come to Ch 4, and Jesus is in the wilderness – just like Israel. 40 DAYS instead of 40 years. But here’s where the story changes. Because where Israel FAILED, Jesus DIDN’T.
As Satan tempts Jesus. As he presents Jesus with a “Sliding doors” moment. The chance to choose an alternative future. Jesus consistently choose OBEDIENCE. Chooses BLESSING.
And he does it USING MOSES’ WORDS FROM DEUTERONOMY.
V3. Satan says, You’re hungry. Do what Israel did and complain against God. And in v4, Jesus responds. Straight from Deut 8:3. “Man doesn’t live by bread alone.”
So Satan tempts him to prove his identity by jumping off the temple. V7 Jesus quotes Deut 6:16. “Don’t put God to the test.”
A THIRD time. Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world. Even though they belong to Jesus ANYWAY. Jesus quotes Deut 6:10 Worship and serve God ONLY.
Here’s Jesus, a faithful Israel of ONE. EVERY TIME/ he chooses obedience and blessing / over disobedience and curses.
So it’s no surprise that as he walks through the curses and suffering of Palestine that BLESSING and DELIVERANCE begins to break out EVERYWHERE.
Sickness and madness and demons and poverty begin to be turned upside down. CURSES become BLESSING.
It’s no surprise that dead eyes become SHARP and CLEAR. That lifeless or broken bodies are RESTORED. That crippled limbs become straight and strong. That Satan’s oppressive foot soldiers are beaten back into submission. That hungry crowds are fed and satisfied.
And Jesus offers more than just a restored and blessed promised land for Israel. He offers a restored CREATION. The blessings he brings glimpses of AN INVITATION. An invitation to experience an ETERNITY of God’s blessed creation. For ANYONE who joins himself to Jesus and the blessing that comes from his obedience.
And he GIVES the invitation in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Ch 5. Jesus’ invitation of BLESSING is to all who recognise that they’re POOR IN SPIRIT. Who recognise that they’re no more able to obey God and bring his blessings down / than Israel was when Moses gave THEM the choice.
And he promises blessing to any who HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Who long to BE right with God, and to LIVE right FOR him. Even though they know they can’t ACHIEVE it.
To people like THAT, To ALL who come. Jesus promises BLESSING. Because he’s the one who BRINGS God’s blessing. Through his PERFECT OBEDIENCE.
The choice Moses offered might have seemed significant. But it matters little compared to the choice Jesus offers. Hebrews 10:28 compares the two offers.
28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has TRAMPLED THE SON OF GOD UNDER FOOT, …
And then in v31.
31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
And that’s the ULTIMATE choice of two we’re faced with this morning. What we do with JESUS’ offer. To continue in the curse of stiff-necked disobedience. Or to come to Jesus, poor in Spirit, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And receive his BLESSING. The blessing that comes from HIS perfect obedience. The blessing of seeing God. Of being called SONS of God.
Most of us have already DONE that. Which is FANTASTIC. Because when we ARE sons of God, he gives us the blessing of his Spirit. To walk with us and HELP us. And we actually begin to be able to CHOOSE obedience.
Romans Ch 8 describes what the new blessed life of being God’s sons and daughters is LIKE.
8:1 Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life SET ME FREE from the law of sin and death.
No more CURSE!
3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (bring blessing through obedience), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 IN ORDER THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US,
We can actually CHOOSE OBEDIENCE. How? What’s different? (the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us)
WHO DO NOT LIVE ACCORDING TO THE SINFUL NATURE BUT ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.
As Christians we have the choice of living according to the sinful nature, or according to the Spirit. He’s the key that ENABLES us to choose to obey. He’s the key to victory over sin, and to blessing.
Paul goes on to describe his own “Sliding Doors” moment. His description of two alternative realities. Presenting US with the choice. Which will YOU choose?
Here’s Mt EBAL. The CURSES. Rom 8 v5.
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires;
Heres My Gerazim. The BLESSINGS.
but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
V6 EBAL. CURSES.
The mind of sinful man is DEATH,
but the mind controlled by the Spirit is LIFE AND PEACE;
v7 EBAL. CURSES.
the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
v9 GERAZIM. BLESSINGS.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet YOUR SPIRIT IS ALIVE BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Here’s the CHOICE. Blessing or Curse?
12 THEREFORE, brothers, we have an OBLIGATION-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the SINFUL nature, you will DIE; but if by the spirit you put to DEATH the misdeeds of the body, you will LIVE,
So many of the decisions we make / come down to A CHOICE OF TWO. Big and small. Dozens of moments each day to give in to temptation or resist it. To speak or remain silent. To stop and help, or to walk on by. To trust God’s promises or to trust what you SEE. To listen to God’s Spirit, or to listen to the voices around you. To fuel the desire, or to FLEE it. To seek YOUR comfort, or Christ’s glory.
With the help of God’s Spirit, as his children. We CAN choose obedience and blessing.
This week. Choose Christ. Choose the blessing of being IN HIM. Of being sons and daughters. Choose to be LED BY HIS Spirit. To RELY on him, and to follow his lead. Choose to put to death the misdeeds of the body. Choose LIFE.