See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
Have you ever witnessed a parent-child dinner battle? Whether as the parent, the child, or an innocent bystander, you know how often the conversation takes on the tone of hostage negotiations. The child threatens to not eat, and the parent then threatens no dessert, or some similar treat that the child desires. The terms may shift. Maybe if the child eats all of their vegetables, they can still have the desired outcome. Maybe if they eat three good bites, not nibbles, they can still get dessert. Eventually, the parent may say something that sounds alarmingly similar to our reading from Deuteronomy. The child has the choice. They can eat their dinner, thereby submitting themselves to the will of their parent, grow big and strong (or just stay alive), and on top of everything, get their delicious reward. Or they can choose to not eat. They will miss out on dessert, and when they suffer from hunger later, they will still be subject to the same rules of what they are to eat.
We are, all of us, children of God. As such, we are subject to the rules of God, our parent. And our heavenly Father is just. Like any earthly parent, he is looking out for our well-being, both on this earth and for eternity. A parent does not force their child to eat because they are cruel and desire for their child to be subject to their whim for the sake of subjection. They force their child to eat because their child needs food and proper nourishment to stay alive and grow and develop the way their bodies are meant to. God puts his law before us and tells us to obey him, not as a mere whim, but because this is the nourishment our souls require. As the psalmist writes about the just, that they “are like trees planted by streams of water.” When we embrace God’s law, when we love God’s law, when we eat our dinner, we enjoy the reward of having been fed by God.
Too often, in our attempts to understand the depths of God and his mercy, we paint an image of our Heavenly Father as a very permissive parent. Or we see Jesus as the soft touch, the one we go to for mercy, the one we go to for friendship, the one we go to in order to get our way. But Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. This means, the words God has spoken, his laws, his decrees, are what makes up Jesus’ body. And out of the greatness of his love and mercy, God put his laws, his decrees, his very Word into Jesus’ flesh, and then killed that flesh. As those laws suffered such abuse from the priests and Pharisees, so Jesus suffered abuse from these people, was killed, and then was raised. In this, he took on the law and punishment that we are to receive from not obeying the law. However, while he paid the price for our sins, he did not merely hand us a blank check. He left us his body and blood to consume. That body, remember, is made up of the law and God’s word. He left us the law as our dinner to eat. Both physically and spiritually, we are to be nourished by God’s laws and God’s words. When we receive mercy, we are given the chance to eat again. We still get to try. Don’t neglect this chance. God gave us the choice. He puts before us life and death, heaven and hell, salvation or damnation. Will you take up the cross of his decrees and follow him?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to love your commands. You have put your laws in place for my well-being. Help me to trust in your laws, in your words, and by so doing, grow in my understanding of your will and your love. May your word be a light to my feet as I take up my cross and follow you. Amen.