Die on the Mountain (1/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 24 June 2013

Churches used to have their own cemeteries, right in their yard. Imagine having to pass through graves and tombstones as you enter the church building to worship and pray. Things have changed quite a bit. Cemeteries are now run by mortuaries and moved out of city centers to the outskirts. It is as if people don't want to be reminded of death, including even Christians. They don't mind seeing it on movie screens and video games--these fictional, unreal deaths by hundreds and thousands. But not real deaths. It is as if they want to move any reminder of real deaths out of sight and out of mind.

Can we blame them? If this life is all there is to life and death is the end of it all, there is really nothing pleasant about death, is there? You have to let go of everything you've been working for all your life. You have to say goodbye to everyone you know and love. It is true that some look forward to dying because their pain is so unbearable. But death, even for them, is only the lesser of two evils, not anything remotely pleasant.

But denying or ignoring death as long as possible is no real solution, is it? Of all the things in life, what can we be absolutely certain of? Success? Happiness? Health? Marriage? Children? Longevity?  Nothing is 100% certain in life except death. How foolish it is to ignore the only thing that is absolutely certain in life! Everyone dies (unless the Lord should return any time soon). Death is the only universal absolute in life. But, though everyone dies, not all deaths are equal. Some die naturally; others die in tragic accidents. Some die honorably; others die in shame. An essential part of living well is being ready to die well.

In the olden days, it was not weird and spooky to walk through graves on the way to worship service. In fact, it was a good thing. Why? It was a clear, ever-present reminder of the essence of the gospel. The gospel is not just about improving our life in this world. It has to do with the ultimate issues of life--sin, death, and eternal life with God in heaven. Someone described Christian preaching as "a dying person preaching to a bunch of dying people." It is not morbid, then, to learn about Moses' death but beneficial.

Take to Heart All the Words (5/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 12 June 2013
But what we have here is more than just a warning from God. In fact, when Moses speaks of God's word not being empty, he is not speaking so much of the warning as he is speaking of the blessing the word of God offers (v. 47). We know that the blessings of God's word are not empty. After all, how does the Bible begin? It begins with God bringing existence and life into being out of nothing by the power of His word!

But what is the problem? Why did Israel fail to take to heart the word of the most glorious and honorable God despite God's dire warning, despite God's lavishing promises! A heart that is crooked and corrupt in sin is not able to do so. It will take to heart all of its sinful and selfish desires. It may be able to take to heart the words of its beloved ones. But it cannot take to heart the word of God, which is our true life, which alone can give us the most satisfying and lasting joy. Where then is our hope? Not in ourselves but in God.

What is the ultimate promise of God's word? Not just the curses of the law for our disobedience, which we deserve for all our sins. Not just the blessings of the law for our obedience, which we cannot obtain because of our disobedience. If that were all God's word was about, it would be an empty word for us; it could not be our very life. It could not be the word by which we live with God forever. God knew all this. That is why the ultimate promise of God's word is a Savior--a Savior for those who cannot save themselves! While we did not heed to God, God paid heed to us. While we groaned under the weight of sin and its punishment, God took to heart our sighs and sorrows. 

So the Word of God, who was in the beginning and was with God and was God, by whom all things came into being, (the Word of God) became flesh and dwelt among us. He became flesh to bear all the curses of the law in our place. He became flesh to fulfill all the demands of the law in our place for our blessing. And having borne our guilt and sin and died on the cross for our sin, Jesus rose again from the dead. And having ascended into heaven, He poured out the Holy Spirit upon His people! By His Holy Spirit, He gives us a new birth from above. By His Spirit, He replaces our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, which beats with that new life from heaven! Now we are able to take to heart the word of God and truly live. With our heart regenerated and renewed, we can truly enjoy the blessings of heaven! 

Have you not experienced God's amazing answers to your prayers--even to the prayers you prayed in passing, even to the ones you prayed with doubt? God takes to heart everything we say in prayer, even our groanings too deep for words! How can we not take to heart the words of such a merciful God, such a loving Father? Let us be like David's three mighty men, taking to heart all that God has spoken to us, rejoicing in the privilege and opportunity to give delight to our God! 

Take to Heart All the Words (4/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 12 June 2013

If God zapped us with His unmistakable punishment right after we sinned, and we behaved better as a result of it, how would we be different from the guinea pigs and lab mice that are trained by behavioral conditioning in the lab? It is just like how we want to be taken seriously because of who we are--even when we don't yell or lift up a stick or paddle to spank. God desires our obedience that flows from our love and loyalty in the heart, not just mechanical, robotic obedience that is fueled by fear of punishment. That is why God is kind and patient with us. That is why God does not whip us into obedience (Rom. 2:4)? Can you understand this heart of God toward you? We must stop asking God to treat us like guinea pigs in the lab and zap us into obedience! We must strive to honor Him according to what we know of Him.

We must also realize that God's patience includes dealing with us diligently and intimately. When we sin, He does not overlook it as if it were nothing. There are immediate consequences to everything we do. It's just that these consequences are not what we expect. There are plenty of spiritual, invisible ones that are far more consequential. When we entertain sinful thoughts in our mind, do we realize how our action removes us from intimate communion with God, which is so vital to our spiritual wellbeing? Do we realize how our sins, especially our conscious and intentional ones, drain spiritual vitality from us and sap our ministry of any effectiveness? Our ministry becomes merely mechanical. Our fellowship becomes a grand waste of time, full of trifles but devoid of significance, full of busy activities but devoid of life and growth. The only encouragement we get is, "I'm bad, you're bad, and everybody is bad. So we are all OK." This is the horrible effect of sin!

Take to Heart All the Words (3/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 12 June 2013

But there is another dimension that adds to the urgency of taking heed to God's word. Moses says, "Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today…" (v. 46). Of many things we must take to heart, a warning is the most obvious one, isn't it? A warning indicates some kind of danger to be avoided. When we ignore a warning, we risk falling into whatever danger it warns us against. So many people have been hurt, so many lives have been ruined or lost, because they did not take warnings seriously.

Human warnings may be overblown. Many are just empty threats. But a warning from God? These words of Moses, spoken under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were the very words of God, the very warning from God. How seriously we ought to take it! There is no empty threat from God, is there? God is almighty. He is able to bring about whatever punishment or calamity he promises to those who do not give heed to His warning.

Then, why is it that we do not take it to heart? There may be many reasons. But one, I think, is a huge one: rare immediate retribution. God's word warns us against sin. But when we sin, God does not seem to punish us right away. When we think a sinful thought, we are not zapped in our brain. When we lie, our nose does not get longer. When we do something wrong, we are not punished right away with a terminal illness or a fatal accident. If every little sin were punished right away, we would be so much further along in our sanctification than where we are, don't you think?

Well, we may be so much further along in behaving better. But would we be further along in the formation of character? 

Take to Heart All the Words

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 11 June 2013

Do you remember David's three mighty men--Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah? Once, fighting a band of the Philistines occupying Bethlehem, David longingly said, "Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate" (2 Sam. 23:15)! When the three mighty men heard it, they "broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David" (2 Sam. 23:16). David would not drink the water. It was too precious. Instead, he poured it out to the Lord. But, oh, how the three mighty men honored David by taking to heart even his sigh! Maybe we can be more attentive to one another if we are not so distracted by our gadgets and mindless entertainments!

Why is Moses calling on Israel to take to heart all his words (v. 46)? Not because they are his words--the words of their leader, who has cared for them faithfully and sacrificially for the past forty years! Rather, it is because it is they are God's very words! He has been speaking as the mouthpiece of God. What is known as "the Song of Moses" (Deut. 32) was commissioned by God in Deut. 31:19. What is also in view here is "all the words of this law" (v. 46)--the whole of God's law.

If we want others to take to heart what we say to them because they respect us, how much more what God says to us! Think about the incomparable glory of God and the kind of honor and reverence He deserves from us! Even when the President of the United States speaks, his speech is dissected and analyzed and scrutinized by the experts. Why? Because it has a huge impact--not only of the United States but also of the rest of the world! He is undoubtedly the most powerful man in the world. But, while he has a lot of power and authority, he is not all-powerful. He is, after all, a mere mortal. Even the President of the United States does not, and often cannot, follow through with all of his campaign promises and statements.

But God is God. He is no mere man. His honor far outweighs any glory of man, His glory outshines all the glories of heaven. His word is not the word of a mere mortal. Man's word is often hollow and empty, even the words of the President. But God's word is not empty (v. 47). God's word, which has the power to bring out of nothing all there is in heaven and earth, cannot be empty (cf., Isa. 55:11-12)! We must take to heart all the words of God because He is infinite in glory and honor, because His word is true and almighty!

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