feast: Deuteronomy (Part 2)
An Overview of Vision
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 02-Oct-01; Sermon #FT01-01-AM; 66 minutes
Deuteronomy was given to our forebears standing on the boundaries of a physical kingdom as it is now given to us standing on the boundaries of our spiritual inheritance encompassing all of creation. As time is closing in on all of us, we need to develop vision (the ability to see in the mind's eye which cannot be seen by the natural eye) as our father Abraham had acquired (Hebrews 11:13), so that by living the statutes of Deuteronomy, going through the straight gate, mortifying our flesh, we may actually become a witness and blessing to all of mankind. We need to be living like God right now, keeping His statutes, in order that we can occupy the inheritance God has prepared for us.
We will begin today's sermon in Deuteronomy 4. I was thinking this morning, as I was looking at this, that we are going to be in Deuteronomy 4 quite a number of times during the course of this series.
Deuteronomy 4:5-8 "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?"
Virtually every one of us can quote at least the essence or make a paraphrase of Matthew 28:19-20, because it is the church's mission statement from Jesus Christ. I will remind you, by telling you what it says. It says:
Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Deuteronomy's mission statement is related and precedes Jesus' statement in that it lays the foundation, the groundwork, for preparing God's witnesses to the nations so that they will be effective in witnessing for God. Here is what I feel is Deuteronomy's mission statement. The message of Deuteronomy is not only indirectly one of going and doing, rather the message is one of being what we claim to be. This is pretty much what is says here in Deuteronomy 4:5-8. God's ultimate purpose is for His children (that is, Abraham's seed) to be a blessing to all nations. To do this, we must be prepared in a unique way. And Deuteronomy's purpose is not for confronting people with a message, but preparing His children to be the message. So its themes cover how to do this—through living up with the covenant made with God.
Devotion to and loyalty to are very high on the requirements list. And this is why Deuteronomy is so important to us. So at the beginning of this series, I want us to focus in on some of the very things that Moses focused on as he began the book. In the course of these messages we are going to be reviewing a large number of familiar scriptures. This is because Deuteronomy encapsulates the subject material needful for being prepared for salvation into the Kingdom of God.
The first four chapters are devoted to reflections on a number of historical events of the preceding 40 years. I am sure that Moses chose them with care—either because of the significant impact they had on Israel's journey, or because of the lessons that should have been learned from the events after they went through them. Deuteronomy is a book for people on the move! In it (that is, in this "on the move" thing), at its most shallow level, the Israelitish people are seen as literally moving geographically from the 40 year wilderness journey and on to the Promised Land. But more importantly for us, it is written for people who are on the move spiritually, morally, and ethically.
Most specifically, it is written for people who have traveled and are now standing virtually on the boundary of their inheritance. Not on the boundary though of a geographical area, but on the spiritual boundary of the Kingdom of God. It is written for people who are being prepared to enter into the final, most difficult part, of the journey.
For Israel, it might have been easy to say, "The land is before you. Take it. It's yours." But can one truly say it was theirs until they were actually in possession of it—living and producing within it? In like manner, the Kingdom of God stands before us and remains an unfailing promise of God. But, brethren, we are not there yet.
We, too, stand on a boundary. Some of us have had journeys of maybe only a short time—a year or two. We just baptized some young people. Their journey, in one sense, has only begun. It is a week, or two, or three, old. Some of us have been journeying now—Evelyn and I—for 42 years. And there is a family here that has been baptized 5 or 6 years longer than we have. So their journey has been quite long. But wherever it is, whatever period of time, the course of your journey has reached at this time—you and I, I believe, are standing on the boundary.
I think it good to remind ourselves that Israel's most significant failure in the wilderness took place at the end of the second year of their journeying, when they too stood right on the boundary of the Promised Land and refused to go into it. Why? They did not have the faith to overcome their timidity.
I believe that there might have been a time in the life of almost every one of us who have a fairly long history as a part of the church of God, when we carelessly thought that we might waltz right into the Place of Safety with Herbert Armstrong and wait out the worst of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. But I will tell you, any notion of that—if that had been your scenario of how things were to go; if it were anything similar to that—I think that it has been dispelled by the events that have taken place since Herbert Armstrong's death.
However, I want you to think back into the distant past once again, and I want you to think a bit more on Israel's history as they once again (the second time) stood on the border of the Promised Land. Recall especially that God appointed a military man—Joshua—to lead them into the Promised Land. That should have been an ominous thought for people standing on its borders. And what lay before them? We are now able to look into later books (Joshua, and Judges but especially Joshua). What lay before them were 7 years of war before the land was actually secured in Israelite hands.
Now, if there is any typology in this, I think that we had better prepare ourselves—our thinking, our attitudes—for some very tough times that lie ahead. Let us go back to another very familiar scripture, so that you will know where I am coming from here.
Ephesians 6:10-13 [Paul writes:]Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. [Think of this in terms of a warfare that lies before us, as we stand on the boundary of the Promised Land.] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood [No, it is not the Anakim. It is not tall giants who are bigger and broader than we would ever imagine a whole family or race of people could be], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
If you think times are bad now, I think you'd better rethink and understand (and I think we all agree) that the times that lie ahead are going to be far worse than any of us have ever experienced since we have been in the Church of God.
The Bible shows the "principalities and powers"—demons—as being a source of both physical and mental illnesses, as well as being tempters (seducing us into sin, either directly or through other people of this world). These are very familiar scriptures indeed; but, brethren, it is real in its spiritual application nonetheless. When combined with Revelation 12—which tells us that the devil will come down to earth having great wrath—we can surely expect that we are going to have to fight 'tooth and toenail' spiritually to hang on to what they look upon as their own. Remember that the earth, according to the book of Jude, is their first estate, and we are the interlopers. We are the ones who are going to replace them—even as Israel were the interlopers and they were moving in to dispossess and replace the Canaanites and all of those other "-ites" that were in there. So, our inheritance—the earth—is the same as what the demons consider as theirs.
Surely we understand that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual. But, as we have been discovering, there is a great deal of sacrifice involved in making spiritual war. I want us to turn to another scripture that the apostle Paul wrote, to Timothy especially.
II Timothy 2:3-4 You therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
We are going to have to endure the hardships of a spiritual war being made against us. And it is interesting that Paul, at this point, directly warned us to stay clear of the world—because that is where the temptations are. And, as I think we understand, Satan's nature through human beings created this world; and our mind (our nature) is attuned to it just like it is a magnet attracting us there. And it can very easily pull us into its attitudes and ways of conduct, and the first thing you know we are mired in it, like molasses that is hardening.
It is especially critical to us—not only because of the time that we live in, but also because time itself is closing in on us. The times are growing ever more dangerous to life itself. And we very greatly need vision! This is going to be our first subject—an overview of vision for this critical time.
A couple of things that are commonly known and understood: Violence is everywhere, and it is increasing. We have tasted it in America for the first time in our history—a violence that did not come from within, as it were, but an enemy without. The potential of being caught in some terrorist activity is increasing daily. The further we get away from the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, the closer we are to the next one.
I do not know whether you saw USA Today's headlines, but yesterday it said that John Ashcroft is warning of more terrorists' activities to come. And it might be a great deal more insidious and a great deal more deadly if somebody finds a way to use chemical or biological weapons against us, and hordes and scores of thousands of people die because of the water that they are drinking. Or maybe a disease epidemic spread by airplanes (as they have already been looking into).
So terrorist activity is increasing. Disease is in no way abating. Pollution is working insidiously to destroy our health. Government is not trustworthy. And almost daily, freedoms that we have enjoyed without even thinking of them—or appreciating them—are being taken away under the guise of "security." Maybe, indeed, they are needed; but will they ever end?
Almost every day in the paper now, you are seeing things about a national identity card that you may have to carry. And on that card is going to be all kinds of electronically printed information about you. It is very likely that card is going to be tuned into a satellite so that regardless of where you are in the United States, they know exactly where you are if they want to. It is coming.
Government is always looking for ways to increase its power, to increase its control, and to give itself security in office. That is, to continue in office. And Americans—Israelites—are no different from others. They are looking for ways to secure these things for themselves, and taking advantage of this situation. Americans by and large are agreeing, because they want to be secure; and this looks like the way to be secure.
But, brethren, our security is not in the United States government. Our security lies in faith in the Almighty God—and that He is near to us, and He knows exactly what is going on. The well-being of His people is our security. Because He is faithful, He will carry through. But we have to do our part. With the responsibility and the privilege of knowing, it is our responsibility to follow through and make ourselves secure in His sight.
But as I mentioned before, I think that more important than any of these things that I have just mentioned in the previous paragraph here is that time itself is closing in on us. And this is a reality that we have to face. So go back to Matthew 24.
Matthew 24:32-34 "Now learn this parable of the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So likewise you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! [That is, the return of Christ is near.] Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place."
The generation of which He speaks is that generation in whose lifetime all these signs (previously mentioned in Matthew 24) reach their apex. Jesus is not limiting these things to any one period of time except that period of time just prior to His return. Some of these things that are given in Matthew 24 can happen at any time in history. But all of them happening together and reaching their apex are going to occur in one generation. And so one generation will see the entire list of signs climax in its lifetime.
Do any of us think that we are not part of that generation? When I say "we," I am speaking of me. I am speaking of Evelyn. And the reason I say that is because "we" have lived the entire time that that Herbert Armstrong was preaching. We were born before he began preaching to the world, and I sincerely believe that it is our generation—that generation that lives during the time that he preached, and following that period of time that he preached. And so I think that it is us! Who else could it possibly be?
You can read what Matthew 24 says. Are those things happening during the time that Evelyn and I have lived? I will very shortly turn 69. Evelyn is going to be 70. And so we have lived all during this period of time. So I ask you, "Who else could it be?" In verse 37, it says:
Matthew 24:37 "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of man be.
Can anyone doubt that we are living "in the days of Noah"? By and large, brethren, the world is overwhelmingly oblivious regarding what is going on. But you are not! There are even some evangelicals who have a fairly good insight into what is going on, but they do not have the truth, regarding things like the keeping of God's commandments, as you and I do. We have been given that additional privilege of knowing that. And so, in addition to being able to see these things, we have other privileges that we have to meet. Surely, brethren, we are right on the cusp of His return. Time is running out on us! And although I cannot say that Christ will return at such and such a time, the signs are becoming more and more evident that we are getting very close.
Deuteronomy 1:8 See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give to them and their descendants after them.
When Deuteronomy was written and given to them, they too were right on the border of the Promised Land—and so close that there was hardly any time left for them to get ready to take over the land. The journey through the wilderness was designed to prepare them for living in their inheritance. Are you ready? I think that we could honestly say—maybe fearfully say—"No, we're not ready." We need a little bit more time. How much more time do we need? It is closing in on us, and there is going to come a time when it is going to run out.
So important is the theme of vision of inheriting the land that the word "land" appears 160 times in the book of Deuteronomy alone. Of these, 130 are direct references to the Promised Land.
Now let us go to the New Testament, and see what Paul wrote when he thought the time was running out on them. But how much closer are we, than the apostle Paul was?
Romans 13:11-14 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
When Deuteronomy is applied to us, it is final instructions—just as surely as it was to them. It is a summary of events and standards necessary to inheriting and actually living in the Kingdom of God.
It is interesting that here in Romans 13 are some words that have typical (symbolic) reference to us. The word sleep—"it's high time to wake out of sleep." Spiritually, that means being insensitive to our obligations as a Christian. Just preface this with your understanding of Matthew 25 and the Parable of the Virgins, which seems to fit pretty closely to the time that we are in right now. What did it say about the virgins—who represent, symbolically, all the church members? All of them—they all slumbered and slept. By God's judgment, at the time of the end (just before Christ returns), the whole church has gone to sleep. The church—as a body, as a group—has become insensitive to our obligations as a Christian.
I honestly believe that it is something that you are to be commended for. I think that we have made a serious turn. As I mentioned way back in 1992 or 1993, I personally in all of my years in the church had never been with such a group of people who were so serious about their responsibilities. And I will tell you, brethren, you are so serious about your responsibilities to God that some of your brethren, in other churches, are afraid of you.
They leave us, telling us, "You people are too serious." That sometimes really hits me. I wonder, "What in the world are we supposed to be—but serious?" Evelyn and I were talking about a woman who called me on the telephone (back in about 1993 or 1994) and said that she was really excited about us because now she had come in contact with a group that really seemed to have things together. And her husband (who had not been attending services for five years) was attending services; and he was "loving it." But about a month later, she left us. I guess her husband "loved it" so much that he pulled her right out of it. (That is what I am guessing.) And they went on, elsewhere.
It makes you shake your head. What happened in one month? But I think what happened was that both her husband and herself were becoming more and more aware that this was going to cost them something in terms of the lifestyle. And so they opted, then, to go with somebody else—where they felt more comfortable. Well, that is fine. God's in charge, and I have learned to adjust to those things—at least, somewhat. But it still bothers me every once in a while, because I think that we are supposed to be serious.
God wants us to seriously evaluate whether we are overlooking something or are weak in some area important to our character. This is what the book of Deuteronomy is about. "Before you go into the land, go over this checklist and see how you evaluate yourself against it." He wants to give us understanding of principles about being prepared—things that are important to making it. Bringing glory to His name, earning reward that we might be able to truly "put on the Lord Jesus Christ."
Now, vision (as I am using it here) includes all of the following usages. These are taken from a dictionary. Vision means a thing, or idea, perceived vividly in the imagination. It also means imaginative insights. It also means statesman-like foresight. It means sagacity in planning and farsightedness. I am going to give you an over-all definition of it. Vision is an insight—a perception—into a reality that the physical eye cannot see. Let us go back to Hebrews 11, and we will get a pretty good insight as to what this means in a practical application.
Hebrews 11:24-27 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for [here comes the big reason] he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
It is being able to see in the mind's eye what is not revealed to the natural eye. And the primary source for "vision" for those of us in the church is the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The gospel is inextricably linked with faith, because a vision forms around what one believes. Vision arrives from meditations upon what we believe as a result of the revelation of God and His Word as compared to the quality of our life and the swirl of events occurring in our lives and around the world.
I do not know whether you have ever noticed it, but whenever the Bible reveals a vision being given, it is always accompanied by a voice speaking. I will run through some examples. If you will consider Jacob's vision (in Genesis 28), he had a vision and God—or an angel—spoke. Moses' vision at the burning bush, from which God called out to him. Elijah's—at the "small, still voice" episode, when God spoke to him. Isaiah's vision of God's throne. Jesus' transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. And, finally, Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. Vision and words are clearly associated in the Bible.
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Our vision—our insight into a reality not yet physically discernible—forms around the Word of God given in the gospel. The voice is the bearer of the message. For us, it was Herbert Armstrong. The message is of a supremely better world government, by God and His children. And it provides the guidance and much of the motivation for life. It gives shape to our future, should we choose to follow it.
Now, Deuteronomy 1:8 seems rather innocuous as you are just beginning to read the book, and it is very easily passed over as insignificant. But that verse sets the tone for the whole book—as being of immediate importance. It sets the time—for our time in history too. The "land" is before us, but our "land" is of such greater magnitude of value that there is no adequate comparison between what lies before us, and what lay before them.
Let us go back to Genesis 12, because here is the beginning of the promise from which our vision arises.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get you out of your country, from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
At first glance, it only appears to concern Abraham. However, as we get to verse 3, it contains a very significant piece of information. What God does in and through Abraham (in meeting His promise) is going to be a blessing to all nations—showing that, as this promise begins, already there is a universal goal to God's calling of Abraham and the Israelites. And there is the same function within this to the church and therefore to you, individually—since no man can come to the Son except the Spirit of the Father call him. And so the promise is aimed directly at you!
And the book of Deuteronomy is aimed directly at you (and me, of course) because we are God's witnesses of what He is working out here. And so what God does in, and for, and through the church must be understood as ultimately for the benefit of all of mankind. Brethren, we are involved in something that is very big! Far bigger than the United Nations, far bigger than "Babylon" which is forming. What He is forming in and through you is the Kingdom of God! I should say, "the expansion of the Kingdom of God"—because the Kingdom of God already exists.
Genesis 15:18-21 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates."
The key phrase there is "to your descendants." Now the promise is expanded to specifically include those descended from him—his seed. And the Promised Land has taken on definite boundaries. That is what is in verses 19, 20, and 21—definite boundaries.
Genesis 17:4-6 "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of nations. I will make you exceeding fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you."
Do you see how this thing is expanding? Every time we read of part of the promise, it has expanded from what it was before. Now what we have here is that rulership is now part of the promise. "I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you." So rulership is added to the promise. By the time we get to the New Testament, the promise is even more greatly enlarged. Paul writes:
Romans 4:13 For the promise, that he [Abraham] would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
I just mentioned to you (in Genesis 17) that the Promised Land had taken on definite boundaries. Those boundaries were limited to the Fertile Crescent there—from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. But now the promise is for the whole world! It is not limited to one small portion of the earth. But, brethren, the promise is even greater than that—because it says:
Hebrews 2:7-8 But one testified in a certain place, saying, "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? [That you are concerned about him.] You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet." For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.
These verses that I just read to you do not apply directly to Christ, but rather directly to mankind. That is why verses 9 and 10 follow, with this:
Hebrews 2:9-10 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For [Here is the reason.] it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
We are, at the very least, to inherit all things—even as Adam did. Before his sin, he was the ruler of all earthly things. But verses 6-10 here seem to imply very strongly that, when God says "all," He means the whole creation is our inheritance. And we look to Jesus, who governs at the right hand of God, as being the arch-type of what lies before you and me. The word in the Greek there, that is translated captain, is archegos; and archegos means someone who goes before so that others may follow. And so it can be translated "scout," or "trailblazer," or "pathfinder," or "leader." That is, "one who goes on."
A little bit later, Paul calls Him the prodromos in the Greek; and prodromos means "forerunner." And that, incidentally, is where our magazine got its title. It is the combination of both of these words—archegos and prodromos—both appearing in the book of Hebrews (one in Hebrews 2 and one in Hebrews 6). Jesus Christ is our forerunner—and we are the forerunners of all of those who are going to follow. And we are going to inherit with Jesus Christ everything that He has inherited. That is pretty awesome, because these verses seem to carry the scope of our inheritance beyond all earthly things. Christ has inherited all things; and, since we are coheirs with Him, we too have inherited all things.
I Corinthians 3:21-23 Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Brethren, what lies before us are worlds, time, and powers without end! Notice what Paul said:
Hebrews 2:1-3 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.
How shall we escape? It is no wonder that Paul exclaims, as he does. Since we are in Hebrews, let us go to chapter 11 once again—because here is our challenge (at least, as it regards "vision").
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive for an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
Does that fit your life? I will tell you, it fits my life and it fits Evelyn's life. When we were baptized in 1959, we had no idea where our life was going to go. I had no idea that I would ever end up in the ministry. I had no desire whatsoever to get up in the front of anybody and speak. The only time, believe it or not, that I ever had to get up in front of people was when I was going to high school and I had to talk to the whole student body. Stress got to me, and I broke out in the measles. I do not think it was measles at all. It was probably just the hives, from worrying.
I was running for office—treasurer, or something, of the student body; and some girl beat me. She had more guts to get up there in front of people. So they, at least, knew her. And so she deserved it. I did not. But, believe me, I had no desire whatever to get up in front of people and speak.
To get up and give a speech at Spokesman's Club was sheer agony for me. And now, here, I have to do it all the time. My stomach still gets into knots, and I get stressed out. You will never know how I was before the Feast, and it is still continuing. I was so distracted by these sermons and what was rolling through my mind that I started doing all kinds of dumb, stupid things that I would never do in a normal moment—forgetting things, dropping things.
But Abraham was the same way. We never knew how our lives were going to turn out, because we did not know the path. Our understanding of Christianity was so shallow that we had an idea of "Well, I'm saved now" or whatever; and "We're going to go into the Kingdom of God." (That kind of thing.) But God had other ideas, and He had other ideas for Abraham as well. You can read his mistakes, and you can read the strengths that he had, as he went through his life.
Hebrews 11:9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country. . .
Do you know what happens when you are in a strange country? You do not know where you are going, and so you zigzag all over the place. That is what it is talking about here. And when God took Israel out of Egypt, did He take them on a straight path—right to the Promised Land? Oh, no. They zigzagged all over the place. They were not thinking of even a two-year journey, let alone a forty-year journey.
Hebrews 11:9-10 . . . dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise [Now, here is why he did it.]; for he waited for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
That is telling you that Abraham had vision! This is one of the things that really set this man apart. Even though he did not know many of the particulars that his life was going to be confronted with, he did have this picture in his mind: That God is great, and God is good, and I can trust that God; and He is going to take me to a place that is far better than what we experience here.
Hebrews 11:11 By faith also Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.
Did she ever think, when she came into contact with God through her husband Abraham, that she would have a baby when she was 90 years old? Oh my. I am telling you, Evelyn would have conniptions. And I think any woman would have conniptions.
Hebrews 11:13-14 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.
There we are—right on the border of that country now!
Hebrews 11:15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out [to us—the world], they would have had opportunity to return.
We can always go back. We can allow human nature to pull us back into that lifestyle, those attitudes.
Hebrews 11:16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
And we know that city is the heavenly Jerusalem. So here is our challenge—at least, as it regards vision. Can we, like Abraham, live our life not merely accepting the reality of the promise but allowing it, using it, as the overall guide for everything we do? Consider this. God promised Abraham three things, and Abraham never saw even one of them fulfilled in his lifetime. But still, the vision of God's promise motivated him. (1) He never received the land. (2) He never saw his family grow into a great nation. And (3) he never saw himself, or his descendants, become a blessing to all nations.
Despite this, numerous examples of how Abraham conducted his life by faith are given. But, of course, none stands out as brightly as his willingness to sacrifice Isaac—who was the very one through whom a major, major step of the fulfillment of God's promise would come. And God has called us to the same inheritance, to rule within it, and to be a blessing to all. Can we live our lives by faith as our father, Abraham, demonstrated in over 100 years of testing? Can we dedicate our life to sacrificing the desire to walk according to the beat of the same drum as this world?
I know that our calling is almost too big, too great, for our minds to contain with any real sharp definition. "We look through a glass darkly," as Paul said; and we have a strong tendency to drift, to wander from the vision. But we at least have had the benefit of modern technology. Things like space travel, electronics, television, and movies can even be of some help. They can stir our imagination. They can give us insight and understanding that those who went before us did not have the benefit of. But please understand that these mechanical and electronic gadgets are not really what God wants us focus on, because that is not where 'the good life' lies.
But nonetheless, God expects us to catch the same vision that He expected the ancients to catch. The vision of a far better world, of peace, of harmony, of productivity, and fulfillment based upon a divine government of loving wisdom, foresight, cooperation, compassion, and endless accomplishment. Much of this vision arises from making comparisons between what God promises in His Word and what we see and hear happening in the world today.
Other aspects of our hopeful yearning and vision arise from having to resist the pulls of this world, fighting to overcome the flesh. And, brethren, it can be a wearying battle. We are in a war, and the war goes on continuously. Even so, our minds can contain only so much. God knows that too. So He hopes to catch our fervent interest and desire through a way of life of such quality and promise that we want it never to end!
But there is one catch. This way of life must be lived in order to experience this desire and hope. We have to taste of the fruit of doing it. Book knowledge, words, indeed can create a vision, but the reality is that it can only carry us so far. His way of life and its enjoyable fruit must be experienced and produced for the effect to be sharp and clear. The only way the wonderful hope of that kind of world will ever occur is because there are those who have already been living that way. They are prepared to go on and live eternal life.
Do you understand that, in the Bible, eternal life is not necessarily describing endless life? It is describing the quality of life that God lives. And Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that you know God." And only those who know Him can live like Him. How should we then live? We should live like God lives. That is the answer. And it will produce the fruit that we will not want to turn from—because it is too good to give it up. It has too much promise of much more to come.
Deuteronomy 4:1 "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you."
Deuteronomy 4:4-5 "But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you. Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess."
Did you see that? We keep God's statutes, commandments, and judgments so that we can go into the Land—and continue on a higher level than we have already done it.
Deuteronomy 4:6 "Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'"
Deuteronomy 4:14 "And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you go over to possess."
Everything that God puts us through is designed to prepare us for living there—and at the same time to produce the desire, the hope, of even much more and better still (when we are there). The real purpose of trials is not for this life, but for the Kingdom of God—because they produce what is needed for the Kingdom of God. Let us be reminded of what Jesus said:
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter by the narrow gate [the difficult one]; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
The way is not easy, because human nature fights with great tenacity by strongly influencing us to pander to it. It wants to keep us enslaved to every old familiar habit of thinking and doing. It is constantly moving us towards discouragement, and things like accusations. We say, "It's too hard." "God," we even accuse, "it's too hard for us." It is going to take a very great deal of effort. I am reminded of what Jesus said:
Matthew 11:12 "[T]he kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."
Now look with me again back in Deuteronomy, only this time in chapter 1.
Deuteronomy 1:19-21 "So we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great and terrible wilderness which we saw on the way to the mountains of the Amorites, as the LORD our God commanded us. Then we came to Kadesh Barnea. And I said to you, 'You have come to the mountains of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving to us. Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you. Do not fear or be discouraged.'"
Deuteronomy 1:28-29 'Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there." Then I said unto you, "Dread not, neither be afraid of them."'
Deuteronomy 1:32-33 "Yet for all that, you did not believe the LORD your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day."
These examples in God's Word are recorded to show us how human nature is going to react. There are those who have gone before us, to search out the land. And they bring back a good report of how wonderful our inheritance is. Who are they, who have gone before us? Well, it is the apostles, and the prophets, and primarily Jesus Christ. It is that "great cloud of witnesses" that Paul spoke of in Hebrews, whose reports we read in the Book. But think of Moses as being Jesus, who said not to be discouraged or doubt.
John 14:1-3 "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
Yes, the way is difficult. But Jesus has never been unfair by hiding from us that the way is going to be difficult without also counterbalancing it with the encouragement that if we will believe and plow ahead in faith, facing the difficulties, He will be there to help and to provide—even as this says that God was there to help and provide for the Israelites.
Looking at my notes, I think this is probably a good place to stop, because it will lead in good to the next sermon, when I speak again. We will pick this up the next time, God willing.