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Labor of Love 3: Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 20-25

Deuteronomy chapter six is one of the more gentle chapters in the whole Bible, and yet it probably makes the most difficult claim on us all.

Having just left chapter five and the emphasis on obeying the ten commandments whatever the price, we now find that obedience is far more than “Because I said so.” What we find in Deuteronomy six is an outstretch-ed Hand and a calm voice that explains what awaits the people of Israel if they trust God enough to be faithful as they enter this new land.

Read along with in Deuteronomy 6:1-3: These are the commands, decrees and laws that the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.

This is an important turn. It is one thing to obey someone because of fear. We have all been there, and “there” is a decent place in certain seasons of life. But it is another thing to obey someone for the sake of reward. That is not a small distinction. We now move from the fear of being hurt to the prospect of being helped. And this is exactly what is before Israel. In obedience they will find long life, which has always been a goal of people who die. In obedience they will find life’s turns and boundaries going well for them, which has always been a goal of people who know that all things do not inevitably go well. In obedience they are promised to increase greatly, which means a great deal when you are a people surrounded by nations greater in numbers.

And so it would seem the table has been set. “Obey me because of my power to punish, and obey me because of my power to reward.” This should be meal enough. But it is not. And this is what makes Deuteronomy 6 such a remarkable turn in the life of faith. Read along with me in 6:4-9: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your heart. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The great turn in Deuteronomy six is the call to love the Lord your God. More than fear Him and hope for reward, love Him as you fulfill these commands. What is so concrete about this paragraph is what it reveals about love for God. This love is to be pervasive. It involves heart, soul, and strength. These commands are not to sit idly in your mind or simply as a poster on a wall; they are to be upon your hearts and be an expression of love. They are to spill over to your children, your homes, your travels, your bedtimes, and your waking hours. They include your hands as well as your forehead, your doorframe as well as your gate. The point, of course, is to describe God’s hope for the reach of God’s commands in our lives: pervasive, comprehensive, and absolute. But here’s the kicker. The only way anyone can follow God’s commands with this level of commitment is not by grit but by love. The picture here is of saturation—a sinking, seeping hope that reaches the heart. You cannot serve God as a sweeping statement of life merely by fear or hope for reward. The final word is love.

Late in the chapter, in verses 20-25, the proof of God’s own love is given as a story for memory: In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out of there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The Lord commanded us to obey these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

This is the great story of God’s power over the great forces in the world, but it is also a story of God’s faithfulness to Israel uniquely. When anyone asks, “Why are we following these commands?” the answer is simple: “We were slaves but the Lord brought us out.” An act of power was also an act of love. And because He loved, Israel was to love.

And that is exactly where we find ourselves today as we consider the Lord’s Table.

We have to remember that any remembrance of the Last Supper must return to the roots of the Passover meal as a celebration of God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt. It is a meal that remembers the act of God in Egypt on behalf of Israel, and it remembers the lamb that was killed and whose blood was put over the doorframe to save from death. The lamb’s blood was a sign of faith, and the lamb saved the faithful. In like manner, Jesus serves as the lamb at this Passover meal with the disciples. His is the body and blood offered to bring peace. His is the blood over our doorways. Jesus is the new exodus from slavery, because he brings forgiveness through his own death on the cross. In the Lord’s Supper we remember and celebrate our own exodus and delivery.

If the deacons would join me at the table.

Prayer, pass out the bread.

I Corinthians 11:23-24: the bread reveals the body of Jesus broken for us; he is the lamb offered as our sacrifice and the substitutionary death for our sins; we live because he died, he died that we might live; we eat in order to remember him. Eat.

Prayer, pass out the cup.

I Corinthians 11:25-26: the cup is the new covenant, the blood given before the second exodus, the last act of Jesus on behalf of a world of sinners; we live because he died, he died that we might live; and as we drink we remember that our forgiveness came at the great price of God’s only Son; we drink in order to remember him. Drink.

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