Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
There are times in the Bible when we hear the phrase, And the Lord said… (Deuteronomy 31:14). In these instances, God is speaking directly to the recipient just as I am speaking directly to you. And the Lord said… and what follows is God’s word and yet it is the same Word spoken in this passage from Deuteronomy where Moses has been commanded by God to say, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… (Deuteronomy 30:15). These words, although spoken by Moses, are still truly God’s word. Like the words of the Bible and preaching faithful to the Bible, these words may come to us through prophets, apostles, human writers and preachers, but they are still God’s Word to us.
God says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… (Deuteronomy 30:15). Now in the past when I’ve read this verse, I quickly imagined it to be a road that divides into two, like a fork in a road; one leading to life and good, and the other leading to death and evil.
When a person comes to such a fork in the road, he is confronted with a decision, a choice of direction. Now like many Christians I would like to believe that I have chosen the right path of life and good. However, why is it that I often find myself on the other road and how did I get there if I had chosen the good one? Well, perhaps this image of a fork in the road is not the best one for this passage. Maybe, rather than two roads God is describing here only one road. Allow me to explain.
Let’s imagine that at birth there is only one wide road for all of us and there we are plopped. However, in the middle of this road is a very narrow elevated path, kind of like one of those gymnastic balance beams. It’s elevated high enough that it takes great difficulty to get up there; perhaps it’s even high enough that you can only get up with the help of Someone far greater than you or I. So, we have this wide road with this elevated narrow beam of a path in the middle.
The other thing about this wide road is that it slopes steeply away from the beam and eventually falls into very deep ditches on either side. So, can you imagine this picture? Can you see this road in your mind’s eye?
When we are born, we are placed on this wide road with this narrow beam of a path running down the middle. In our hearts we know that we ought be walking on that narrow elevated beam, but the slope of the wide road always pulls us away from it and even if we managed to somehow clamber up onto that beam we either quickly fall off it or don’t have the stamina to remain on it very long.
In summary then, we are born to walk the wide road and even though we know the narrow beam is where we ought to be, no amount of effort on our part can make that possible. We are doomed to stumble along that wide road, eventually sliding into the ditch where death and evil await us. Sounds dismal, but there is hope.
As we are baptized or hear God’s Word preached or hear the Gospel through someone’s witness and believe it, the Holy Spirit places us on that narrow beam of a road and through the Word connects us to Jesus who has already travelled this beam for us; who has already died for our failure to walk it; who has already won for us forgiveness of sin and a place in God’s kingdom.
We are placed on that narrow beam of a path, but our ability to travel its length can only be done because we are connected to Christ. Walking that beam still requires the promises of our baptism, the assurance of our forgiveness in preaching and in the Lord’s Supper; the daily strength of God’s Word as we read it and study it together because it is only in God’s word promising life and blessing in Christ that we can obey His commandments “by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules” (Deuteronomy 30:16).
Now that may sound so straightforward and yet our position on that beam, loving God, walking in his ways, keeping his commandments are still totally dependent upon our connection with Jesus – our faith in him and what he has done; what he is doing and what he will lead us to. We are totally dependent upon him and his Word and Spirit, to keep us on that beam of a road that leads to life.
Again, this sounds straightforward, but why is it that no sooner are people placed on that balance beam by water and the Word, then they’re quickly jumping off it or falling off it. Some even imagine or interpret themselves to be on the beam when in reality they’re walking beside it, back on that wide sloping away road leading to death and evil.
How many people think to themselves that they can both do what God wants them to do, like getting baptized, having their children confirmed, occasionally coming to worship and still do all those things that happen on the wide road? It didn’t take Israel long to leave the narrow path and begin walking in their own ways, keeping their own version of the commandments. How many has God placed on that narrow beam of a road leading to life, calling them to faith in Christ and obedience to his word, who then step off to walk on the wide sloping road, trusting themselves?
You see, walking that narrow beam of fearing, loving and trusting God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and loving your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39) is not so easy. God can put you up on that beam leading to life, fill you with his Spirit, provide you with his Word and make you part of those who travel together as the Church, but if you leave behind Christ’s body and disconnect yourselves from His Word you will very quickly grow tired and fall off that beam, tumbling onto that wide sloping road leading into the ditches of death and evil.
Being placed on the narrow way and instructed in the way that leads to life does not change the fact that we are as St. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 3:1-9), “people of the flesh.” We’re always standing on that beam precariously, with sin still dwelling in us, often throwing us off balance and off the beam as soon as we take our eyes off Jesus, the one holding us on that narrow way.
Now I would venture to say that most people today don’t even believe they have to walk on that beam. Most people believe they can do just fine travelling the wide road. Even many Christians think they’re doing a fine job of walking on that beam on their own or walking close to it anyway. They think they know best. They don’t need worship or Bible studies or pastors telling them what to do. They believe and that’s just fine.
I sat down with some people this past week and as their pastor I wanted to probe into their spiritual well-being, kind of like a doctor interested in the health of his patient. Now if you went to a doctor, the doctor would have all kinds of ways to assess your health. He’d take your temperature, your blood pressure, your heart rate. Well, we as pastors are like spiritual doctors and my calling is to care for your spiritual and eternal well-being; to help ensure that you are walking on that narrow beam. So I asked questions and discovered how resistant people can be to such care. It made me wonder about the spiritual well-being of many people.
St. Paul writing to the Corinthians said (1 Corinthians 3:1-3),
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh…
The evidence of this poor spiritual health at Corinth was the divisions among people or as Paul writes, “there is jealousy and strife” (1 Cor. 3:3). Despite Paul’s ongoing desire to instruct these people in their walk along that narrow beam of faith in Christ and obedience to his Word, Paul couldn’t get these people past the baby formula. It’s like they were content with being baptized and then living on the wide road that leads to death and evil. This same condition occurred in the Old Testament as Israel lived with that same illusion that they were being faithful while at the same time committing adultery with all kinds of other gods on the wide sloping road leading to death and evil.
So where are you standing? Are you on that beam, that narrow road leading to life and good? Or have you fallen off and are stumbling around with the vertigo of sin?
How easy it is to convince ourselves of our own righteous position on that wide road because of what we are doing. This self-righteous attitude was the reason Christ had to instruct his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount about the depth of their sinful nature. He does this by taking his listeners far deeper into the fifth, sixth, and eighth commandments which deal with anger or murder, adultery, divorce and false witness (Matt. 5:21–37). Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old…but I say to you…and then Jesus describes the sin that dwells not just in our external actions, but also in our words, thoughts and in the darkness of our hearts.
We all have this tendency to obey God’s law on the surface; to believe that we’re somehow okay; that we’re walking close to the narrow way. At the same time though, it is our sinful predisposition that too often covers over our sin with a list of “good” works. It is our sinful selves that says, “It’s okay to be close to the beam. You don’t have to be actually walking on it.” It’s kind of like the person who says, “I don’t have to come to the church to worship. I can worship wherever.” But do they?
We cannot walk that narrow beam on our own. Close may be good for horseshoes and hand grenades as the saying goes, but close is not good enough for life and good with God. You can be close to the narrow beam and yet you’re still on the wide road that leads to death and evil. All infractions against God’s commands are the breaking of the fist commandment: You shall have no other gods… and as a result we “shall surely perish” as Moses said (Deuteronomy 30:18). So, who will save you from yourself and from this sinful world and from the devil who wants company in hell?
Well, praise be to God! On the cross, Christ died to forgive your sin; to forgive your inability to walk the narrow way. On the cross Christ freed you from the wide ways of curse and death that sin brings upon us. It is Jesus Christ who is your “life and length of days” (Deuteronomy. 30:20) as Moses wrote and it is only through faith in what he has done for you through his life, death and resurrection that you can have the assurance of forgiveness, life and salvation; the assurance that even though you fall off the beam time and time again, Christ is there to call you back in repentance, to forgive you, to put you back up on that beam and make sure you get to the end.
Through water, Word and Spirit we are placed on the beam that leads to life through the beam on which Christ died for you. Through water, Word and Spirit, faith has been planted in your heart so that you might not trust yourself or all those other gods calling you off the beam, but that you might only trust Christ who holds you there even though you may waver. Through water, Word, Spirit, bread and wine, body and blood, you are fed, nourished and strengthened to walk on this beam leading to life so that among the many things of God’s kingdom, you can be reconciled to your brothers and sisters, live in chastity and marital faithfulness, and speak with the honesty of love.
It is as you hear God’s Word preached; as you study God’s Word together and daily read God’s Word, that you will grow from being infants into a maturity of faith that enables you to see clearly your own weakness as you walk this beam and your complete dependence upon Christ who comes every week in worship to serve you from His cross, showering you with his baptismal mercy and offering His gift of reconciliation as you come to his altar where he speaks: “This is my body, which is for you….This cup is the new covenant in my blood” for you.
God says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… (Deuteronomy 30:15) and through the Word proclaimed and in the waters of Holy Baptism and in Christ’s body and blood, you are set upon that narrow beam of life and good that you may be at peace with your brothers and sisters in Christ who are as St. Paul writes, “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9).
God sets life before you in Christ and has placed that gift of life within you so that you can walk in the way that leads to life. Amen.
Grace be with you,