When the Lord first saved me I would listen diligently to his Word and relentlessly obey. If his Word called me to believe or do something, I didn’t question it. I was so excited that the Lord Jesus died for me! I look at my past and all the things I believed God called me to then, I now am living out. However, as I read Deuteronomy 1 this morning, I found myself asking, “Do I still hear and follow his voice or am I playing it safe out of fear?”
That same question is exactly what we see in Deuteronomy 1. The Lord had called Israel out of Egypt, he had started to fulfill the promise he gave to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; Deut. 1:10-11), and he was calling them to take possession of the Promised Land (Deut. 1:21-25). If Israel looked back to when they first met their God, they would remember a God who spoke. They would remember a God who spoke through Moses to Pharaoh. They would remember a God who spoke plagues upon the Egyptians and those plagues always came to fruition. They would remember the excitement and chaos of being called to slaughter an innocent Lamb to be protected by it’s blood. They would remember their God calling them to walk through the Red Sea as he delivered them and crushed their enemies. They would remember hearing their God, receiving what he said as true, and following him wherever he might ask.
So what went so wrong? How is it that Israel ends up murmuring and complaining against God (Deut. 1:26-33)? I think its because they stopped hearing the Word and receiving it with joy. The result of murmuring is an absence of faith that is paralyzed by fear. It was believing what they saw over what the Lord had said. Their eyes told them, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified to heaven (Deut, 1:28).” What about you? Are there things that your eyes see that seem to be too big for your God? Have you forgotten all he has done to save you? Have we become a people that believe what we see at the expense of plugging our ears? Like Israel, will we believe that our Lord will fulfill what he commands of us (Deut. 1:30-31) or will we believe our eyes and miss out on fellowship with our Lord (Deut. 1:32-33)?
The Gospel in Deuteronomy 1
My friend and fellow pastor, Tim Cain, once said, “True humility is when the Word of God and our feelings disagree, yet we choose the Word of God.” This is what our Lord desires. We see in Deuteronomy 1:1, 3, and 5 that Moses is speaking and explaining the Word of God to Israel. It was a Word they had once received with joy as they packed their bags and followed the Lord out of Egypt and under his loving care and kindness. But things went bad! They murmured. They complained. They grumbled. Even Moses, their Mediator-prophet between God and man, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure to joyfully believe the Lord (Numbers 20:11-12; Deut. 1:37). Israel, and us, need a greater Mediator and Prophet. We need a Word that not just speaks but also joyfully obeys.
Jesus is that Word. When driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for 40 days, Jesus didn’t grumble. Unlike Israel who had an endless supply of manna from heaven, Jesus had no physical food to sustain him. Unlike Israel who had God with them by day and by night, Jesus had the company of the evil one, Satan. Yet, when tempted to grumble and complain, Jesus not just believed the Word of God but received it as true and obeyed his Father (Matthew 4:1-11). Not only did Jesus come to be the obedience and righteousness we needed (Romans 5:12-21; 10:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21), but he came to die the death for all of our grumbling and complaining. The cross is where we see what grumbling and complaining deserves. Jesus not only obeyed the Word of God but was himself the Word of God. Hebrews 1:1-3 makes clear that Jesus is the radiant and powerful Word of God. The depth of his power, glory, honor, and beauty are limitless. And the response to this Word is seen in Hebrews 2:1-3: We are to pay careful attention to him.
Have you missed that joy that comes from believing what Christ has done for you? Have you missed those times of joyful obedience? In Deuteronomy 1:34-46 we see the problem with an obedience that comes from seeing instead of faith. After the Lord’s anger is kindled against Israel they decide to obey. They are scared of the Lord and obey out of fear of punishment. So the Lord, who had promised earlier to defeat their enemies, has now withdrawn his hand of grace and they get their butts kicked by the Amorites. They were functioning out of fear instead of joy.
A great picture of joyful obedience is the Apostle Peter. After denying the Word of God three times, he finds himself weeping bitterly. Peter could’ve wiped his tears, conjured up some inner-strength, and obeyed the Lord that night. However, we see that the Word of God shows up to speak to Peter in John 21. Can you imagine the fear you would have seeing the One you betrayed face to face? Even more so, that One being resurrected from the dead? Jesus comes and cooks Peter breakfast and commissions him to feed the sheep none other than…the Word of God. Peter had received grace and love when all he deserves was wrath and judgment. How do you think Peter would respond to such love? Well, if you read the book of Acts (especially chapter 2), Peter fed the sheep the Word of God and he did so with great joy. Will we be a people, even today, that believe the Word of God and joyfully respond?