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March 27 lesson: Because of the Lord

March 21, 2022
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Because of the Lord

Spring Quarter: God Frees and Redeems
Unit 1: Liberating Passover


Sunday school lesson for the week of March 27, 2022
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard


Background Scripture: Deuteronomy 8
Key Text: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.” Deuteronomy 8:11

Lesson Aims
  1. To understand why we are called to respond to the Word of the Lord with great care. We are to be careful with what we hear, know, and how we respond.
  2. To understand the importance of humility in helping us understand the spiritual intent and substance of the Law of the Lord.
  3. To understand and grasp the redemptive destiny that God makes possible for the community of faith.
Introduction

Our text is almost certainly an exhortation to a new generation poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses and his generation wandered for 40 years after the Exodus. They faced moments of triumph and adversity. Remember, Israel was known as a nation of complainers. They complained continually while quickly forgetting the mighty acts of God on their behalf. God had provided for their every need. However, the Lord seeks to ensure that Israel has learned the lessons from their complaining, struggles, and God’s providential care. These lessons needed to remain in the hearts and minds of the new generation. Their meaningful life in the Promised Land would depend upon their gratitude, humility, and obedience to the Law of the Lord.

Listening and Obeying in a Spirit of Care

The text begins with the command, “Be careful!” The moral law of God, revealed in the Mosaic Law and later embodied in Jesus Christ was, and is, never to be taken lightly. First, consider the source of the command. It is God who exhorts us to handle the Word with holy hands, holy hearts, and respond with holy actions. Before I preach or teach, I take a moment and silently pray. I remind myself that the Bible was passed to me through the lives of thousands who preceded me. It touched millions of lives with its inspired message and would continue to do so for generations to come. From the first authors and meticulous scribes, the Bible was transmitted with extra-sensitive care. Our ancestors were careful, for they understood they handled the Word of God! The scribe, especially, ensured not one word was altered as the sacred Word passed from one generation to another.

How great is your awareness of the past care in the transmission of God’s Word to us? Why do you think the scribes were so meticulously careful in copying the Law from one scroll to another? What does their careful handling of the Word say to us about our own responsibility in passing on the sacred texts and their meaning?

Consequently, the listener should be equally careful. Our care extends beyond just hearing. We are to listen. That is, the ageless message must not just strike our eardrum and dissipate. Listening requires our entire attention and focus. Our desire is for the text’s sacred message to move from the ear to the heart. We believe it is the Lord who blessed us with this revealed truth. The Word originated in God and was revealed to us from God. The Lord initiated it and revealed it in a manner that was understandable to the listener. I have repetitively emphasized in the Sunday school lessons that God speaks to his people in images and words they could comprehend at that time in their history. God would not have revealed the eternal Word had we not been intended to grasp it and respond appropriately.

Therefore, we must be a grateful people for such a gift! God has chosen to reveal the divine nature and will to us! Most of us own heirlooms and sentimental treasures. We always handle them with great care because they mean so much to us. The treasures are not only intrinsically valuable, they also are of value because they remind us of their origin. When we hold them, we think of the people who first owned them and passed them to us. Consequently, we hold nothing in our hands more precious than holy Scripture. The sacred messages contained within the texts are “finer than gold, much fine gold.” The Word also reminds us of its source. It is God, the creator of all, who has chosen to speak to us. Thus, let us handle Scripture with great, loving care.

When you hold a Bible in your hands, and read from its pages, do you consider its source? In what actions do you engage to remind yourself of the value of Scripture? How has Scripture enriched your life? Do you believe our handling of the Bible conveys our gratitude and reverence for what it means to us? In what ways do you think we can teach coming generations the importance of the Word? In what ways do you think we can teach them to treat Scripture with care regarding their listening and obeying?

Humility Opens to a Proper Response to the Word

We are to be careful because there is life in these commands. It was never God’s intention to burden us with a mountain of difficult laws that make life burdensome. The Mosaic Law brought societal order and taught the early Israelites how to live out the Covenant in the world. Though sin, mistakes, and lack of understanding can create pain and suffering in the world, still, those who carefully follow the Word of God experience a fulfilling, loving, and meaningful life. Why should we not be careful with something that blesses us so richly?

We are to be careful, for we are called to pass the sacred Word to coming generations. The history of Israel reveals the generational consequences of obeying and ignoring the Law of God. When obeyed, the people experienced a far more meaningful life. When people disobeyed, they often needlessly suffered! Experience teaches us that obedience or disobedience are not always related to our suffering or joy. Many other dynamics can intervene in or influence our life. Still, those who are joyfully obedient to God attest to a blessed life. Our life is blessed whether we live in joy or suffering when we live in obedience to the Word of the Lord. The Israelites experienced both joy and suffering in their wandering. However, God was always with them. They were never abandoned, and God used every experience to teach them the meaning of life and the promise such meaning brings.

How do you believe the church can help coming generations to embrace the importance of living in obedience to God and God’s Word? How can we as individuals teach our young the importance of following Jesus? In what ways do we share how God’s Word has enriched our life with our young?

Few behaviors and attitudes interfere with our ability to understand and enjoy the meaningful life the Word makes possible like pride. Biblical history is peppered with individuals who prided themselves upon “knowing the Law” in contrast to enacting the Law’s spiritual intent from the heart. Few could compete with the Pharisees. They memorized the Mosaic Laws and wore robes in public prayer adorned with phylacteries. Phylacteries were small leather pouches often strapped to the left arm and forehead of the Pharisee. They contained pieces of parchment upon which was inscribed particular Mosaic Laws. These pouches were to remind the wearer that the Law must be written upon the mind and heart. However, they became an expression of pride for some. Many Pharisees knew the Law, but their pride caused them to misuse the Law to suppress and burden others. Jesus specifically criticized those who made such show of the Law.

Any person can “become a Pharisee” when knowing the Word becomes more important than living the Word. Humility is that attitude that recognizes God’s revelation is a gift. Humanity has done nothing to deserve or merit the gift of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture, and especially in Christ. When we are asked to “Be careful,” when listening to the Word, we are being called to engage in humility. We are to listen to liberating, life-giving truth for which we did not ask or earn. This truth was freely given. I love that facet of our worship service when Scripture is read and the minister says, “This is the Word of God for the people of God.” Then, the people respond appropriately, “Thanks be to God.” This liturgical exchange is rooted in the dynamic of humility.

Our text records the purpose of God allowing his people to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. The passage reads in verse 3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” The text continues, “He humbled you causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is clear in this beautiful passage that the Word was intended to both order life and nurture the soul. The Word of the Lord is the gift of God’s nourishment for the heart, soul and mind. Jesus, when tempted in Matthew 4:4, quoted this text, reminding Satan that he possessed a spiritual food that always satisfied and strengthened. There was no other food capable of providing the eternal sustenance that makes this life meaningful and abundant.

We can never fully experience the abundant life provided by the Lord unless we receive this life in a spirit of humility. Humility does not require that we perceive ourselves as worthless. It asks us to recognize that God considered us precious enough to reveal to us the divine nature and will. God initiated this action, participated in this action through Christ, and asks that we humbly respond.

Humility recognizes that this gift of God isn’t just for us as individuals. It is given to “us.” Certainly, it speaks to the individual and grants the individual spiritual life. However, a humble spirit always recognizes that God’s love is for all, and God’s redemptive desire is to redeem all. What we, as individuals, receive from God’s Word is intended to enrich the manner in which we live in community. Consequently, let us listen and respond carefully. The Word enriches the individual life and the Church.

A humble spirit allows the Word to engage us with its message. Scripture is intended to speak to us in a meaningful, instructive manner. We are blessed when we “connect” with the Word. Pride always creates an obstacle regarding this connection. Pride makes everything about us! Scripture speaks about God, us, and the world. It is the humble heart that most easily enters into a meaningful dialogue with the Word. A humble heart can hear its comfort and challenge. A humble heart can hear the Gospel given for the redemption of the world.

What do you think it means to read Scripture with a humble spirit? How can be become “humble listeners” when Scripture is read in worship? How do you believe humility changes and enlivens your perception of Scripture and its message? Can you recall experiences in which pride hindered your understanding of the Bible or a particular passage in the Bible? Can you attest to the benefit of reading Scripture with a humble heart?

Destiny is where the Law is Leading

Finally, we are to be careful, for the Word of the Lord is leading toward a redemptive end. There is land or promise awaiting the faithful. Verse 7 reads, “For the Lord is bringing you into a good land.” Therefore, be careful not to wander! Paul wrote, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor had it entered into the heart of man what God has in store for those who love him.” This one inspired statement from Paul should fill the heart with anticipation, joy, and hope. For the Israelites, that land was Canaan. For the Christian community, that destination is the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God, described by John in Revelation, as a “new heaven and new earth.” In our journey we can experience this Kingdom alive and moving in the world. We are experiencing a taste of what is to come! The Promised Land for Israel was a place in life to worship and commune with God. Israel had been experiencing this promise from the moment they left Egypt. God had always been with them and was filling their life with both physical and spiritual nurture! They would experience this promise most fully once they crossed into Canaan. The Kingdom toward which we journey is already present in our life. There will come a day when we most fully experience it as we cross from this life into the next.

Our life individually and corporately is a journey. We are not intended to wander aimlessly through life. We are moving in a direction of hope and blessing. This is that great awareness that allows us to endure difficult moments in life. Hope is the belief that God is with us in all moments of life, wasting not one of them. Therefore, all moments, triumphant and difficult, have meaning, for God uses all of them in leading us toward his blessing. This does not mean we passively accept injustices and actions that dehumanize. We are called to be instruments of hope and change. However, not every situation can be altered by us. Still, we act as the recipients of grace to change the destructive world as we move toward God’s promised Kingdom. As we journey, we nurture ourselves with the gift of the written Word, and the Word made flesh, Jesus. Yes, there is a “good land” that awaits.

How can you seek God’s Kingdom in your journey of life? How does Scripture and your relationship with Christ nurture you in your journey? Where have you witnessed God’s redemptive, liberating Kingdom breaking into human history? How do such moments offer you hope and strength? What does “hope” mean to you? Do you believe God is present in all moments of your life? If so, what have you learned as you have walked through such experiences, joyful and difficult? How does the hope of the coming Kingdom of God enrich your life now? When you think of God’s “good land of promise” or your spiritual destiny, what images come to mind?

Prayer

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great crowd of witnesses as we journey through life. Thank you for the precious gift of the Word passed to us and all coming generations. Bless us with holy hands and hearts as we engage the Word of life. Grant us courage to joyfully obey your truth in the written Word and the Word made flesh in Christ, that we might enter the fullness of your promise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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