The gods of the people around you
In the Book of Deuteronomy God was preparing His people to finally enter the promised land after 40 years of wilderness wandering. He renewed His promises to them and reiterated the 10 commandments (Deut. 5). In Deuteronomy 6, the Lord commands the people that when they enter the land, "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people around you" (Deut. 6:14).
This past Sunday we heard of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness by Satan. For forty days Jesus was fasting and being tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11). In every case Jesus refutes Satan's attacks with words from Scripture; all three temptations are countered with words found in Deuteronomy 6 and 8. The final temptation, to fall down and worship Satan, Jesus refutes with Deut. 6:13, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."
Obviously, Deuteronomy 6 verses 13 and 14 go together. In order to worship the true God we must avoid the "gods of the people around" us. What are the gods of the people around us in our culture in our day and age? You may see a statue of Buddha around town or a mosque but there are many other gods of the people around us. Money, sex, fame, power, or security can all become gods.
What other things does our culture value more than God? One way to ponder that question is to identify where our culture spends its money. Consider the great buildings of our day, sports venues, resorts, universities, government buildings, airports. Compare those to the number of churches built. Government data estimates that in 2020 roughly 3.5 billion dollars was spent on construction for religious purposes. Compare that to 98 billion for educational construction, 82 billion for office space, or 25 billion for amusement and recreation construction. Does our culture value those things more than worship of the true God? As Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
We too would do well to heed the words of the Lord to the Israelites, "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people around you."
This week we begin our annual observance of the season of Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. 40 is a common number in Scripture. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years between the time they left Egypt and when they entered the promised land. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). These two events are typically referenced as to why our Lenten observance lasts 40 days.
There is another 40-day period from the Old Testament I want to consider as we reflect on Lent, the 40 days that the spies (or scouts) went out to observe the land of Canaan in Numbers 13. Twelve men, one from each tribe, were appointed to go to the land of Canaan to do reconnaissance. They were to see what sorts of things grew in the land, what the people were like, how the cities were fortified, etc. They made their observations for 40 days then reported back to Moses and the others what they had found.
Upon their return all twelve spies reported that the land was indeed fertile and prosperous, a land flowing with milk and honey. Ten of the twelve, however, said that the inhabitants and the cities were too great, too strong to be defeated by the Israelites. They put fear into the hearts of the people. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, responded that with the help of the Lord the people who dwelt in the land would be no match for Israel. The majority prevailed however, convincing the assembly that they could not take the land. This greatly displeased the Lord, and the people were consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before they would enter the promised land.
In a sense, we are like those spies. In Lent we are considering the battles that wage war in our lives, the struggles we face over our own sinfulness, the temptations of this world, and the assaults of Satan. We take time to observe our situation, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, lost without God's mercy and protection. We are waiting to see what the Lord will do about our sin-filled situation. Will he be able to conquer our enemies for us? Will we trust in Him alone, or will we fall back in fear and despair doubting whether God's strength will overcome all our weaknesses? The promised land of heaven is indeed rich and prosperous, but how will we enter there?
We know what awaits us at the end of 40 days as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter. The Lord would defeat our greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil. On the cross Jesus died for our sin, opening the promised land of heaven to us, and on Easter we see in Jesus’ resurrection a preview of our own. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb confident in our Lord’s promises that he gives us the victory in Jesus.
Does it Sound Like Jesus?
In our daily lives we are inundated with words, words on TV, on the internet, from our radios, in papers, from friends and coworkers. Our world is awash in information and opinions. It's hard to know which pieces of information are true and which ones are not. It's even harder to know whose opinions to listen to and whose to ignore.
The areas of religion and spirituality are not immune to this influx of words. Everyone has a religious opinion it seems, even those who claim to not be religious but only "spiritual." The source of religious authority that would seem to be most dominant in our world today seems to be feelings. The logic goes like this, "If God is causing me to feel this way, then it must be right."
God has a different message for us. This coming Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, when we hear the account of Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James, and John. There, He is transfigured before them, with his face shining like the sun, His Divine glory on full display. The disciples see Him having a conversation with Moses and Elijah. What a sight that must have been to behold. What feelings must have welled up in those disciples. But perhaps the most important aspect of that event was the voice of God the Father saying about Jesus, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Matt 17:5).
We must measure the words of the world and the feelings of our hearts by what Jesus says. We are to listen to Him. That is, we gauge the soundness of new ideas, the importance of the opinions of men, and the thoughts of our minds by the sure and certain words of Jesus that we find in Holy Scripture. We can be sure what God says is true, and His Word is life-giving.