The ignition of the Great Awakening began at Enfield, Connecticut. It was July 8, 1741, when a local congregation of well-to-do Americans went to church to hear the guest speaker, Jonathan Edwards. He is known in evangelical circles as the man who best articulated a theology of joy. It was Jonathan Edwards who wrote Religious Affections in which he insists that true religion is one that brings joy and satisfaction in Christ alone, and that every decision is made according to man’s greatest desire, and that the only way to live a life pleasing to God is to be so entranced with God’s majesty and beauty, so enraptured with his grace and mercy, that one’s life brims over with the joy of serving him alone. Nascent “Christian hedonism” if you will.
But it was not for this that Edwards became famous. He is best known for having preached the single most powerful and influential English sermon in history: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this sermon he paints a picture of the cauldron of God’s wrath and the vehemence of his anger toward sinners that is so vivid it caused the congregation to weep, cry out, and some even fainted. People actually clung to the pillars in the church, so graphic was the language employed. They were terrified that the earth might open up and swallow them! And this from the man whose primary lifetime efforts would be to declare God’s love, mercy, and glory. How could one man’s ministry be known for two such opposite extremes? The answer is found in the passage we are looking at today and from which Edwards selected his text for that infamous sermon: Deuteronomy 31-33.
Last week we saw Moses calling on Israel to choose life or death. Today we will look at Moses’ final words before his death, in the last few chapters of Deuteronomy: warning and wooing.
2 Necessary Approaches Which Characterize a Faithful Ministry
1. The Warning
Deuteronomy 31:19-22 ~ “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.
In the song Moses composed is this verse that Jonathan Edwards presented to the unsuspecting churchgoers at Enfield.
Deuteronomy 32:35 ~ Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’
The whole song was a loud siren with blinking hazard lights of coming judgment. Why would Moses want this to be his legacy? Why would he want his swan song to be this severe? Because this was God’s commission to his preacher.
This is God’s commission to you as his spokesman in the workplace, home, pulpit, and in society: warn people of the consequences of their sin.
Did you know that Jesus warned more about Hell than he described Heaven? Here’s a sample…
Matthew 5:29 ~ If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Matthew 23:33 ~ You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Paul warned of God’s wrath.
Colossians 3:5-6 ~ Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
When John wrote Revelation, he didn’t edit God’s word to make it suitable to be adapted to a PG-13 movie. The last book of the Bible is basically a catalogue of all the judgments God will rain down upon the earth in the last days.
This is God’s message to his creation and if we leave out this side of our message, we are guilty of censoring God.
But does that mean we all need to become fire-and-brimstone preachers? Does this justify the unqualified, unloving approach of many who just spout judgment?
2. The Wooing
After the song was written and taught to Israel the time came for Moses to die, but he had one last opportunity to address his people, and it was unscripted. God let him say what was on his heart. Moses had been faithful to deliver God’s words of warning, but he also wanted to leave them with some encouragement. A farewell blessing on the 12 tribes he had served for the past 40 years.
Deuteronomy 33:1-3 ~ This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. He said, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you.
Then Moses mentions each of the 12 tribes in turn, and pronounces his blessing on them, echoing the blessings Jacob pronounced on his 12 sons who would father these tribes.
This is the other side of how God gets people to obey, not by warning, but wooing. He woos them like a young man woos his bride-to-be. God blesses, even unbelievers, so that they will see his goodness and kindness and grace and turn to him.
Sometimes Christians will sinfully treat unbelievers with disrespect. But Jesus said…
Matthew 5:44-45 ~ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
This is the heartbeat of God. He loves the world—the whole world. He wants all people to be saved.
Don’t you understand? The lost are those for whom Christ died! You must love them!
Jesus came not to judge, but to save, and he wept for the sins of his people:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, …How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
Some of the most scathing warnings of judgment came from the lips of Jeremiah, but not until he lamented
Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jeremiah 9:1)
And Moses wept for his people before the Lord because they were stubborn and stiff-necked.
Conclusion: Friends, preach the whole counsel of God, warn of the judgment to come, and weep in prayer over those who are lost. And love them. Warn, and woo. Declare truth, but do so in love, or don’t do it at all.