February 5, 2023

The Word is Very Near You (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:11–14

message video button copy

Children Lesson (click here)

I. Can't or Won't?

Try to imagine that you are in charge of training at a bicycle factory. Several new employees need to learn how to put the wheels on a children's bicycle, and it's your job to make sure they have the necessary knowledge and skills to do just that. Now, to make sure each person is competent, each worker is placed in their own workroom, with the parts and tools they need, along with written instructions, visual guides, and a training video to complete the task.

An hour after playing that comprehensive training video, you begin visiting each workroom to see how the trainees are coming along. To your surprise, no one has completed the project. Frustrated, you ask yourself, “Was their a technical issue with the video? Were the written instructions or visual guides missing from the workrooms? Was there a problem with the parts and/or tools?” But upon investigation, everything is fine. You're left scratching your head.

But as you talk with the trainees, you quickly realize the problem. The issue is not that these new hires can not complete the task. The issue is that they will not complete the task. Instead of presenting bikes with wheels, each worker presents only... excuses for his or her lack of work.

This issue seems to be the same issue Moses is addressing in our main passage this morning, Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Turn there if you would.


II. The Passage: “In Your Mouth and in Your Heart” (30:11-14)

As he wraps up his review of God's gracious work among his Hebrew listeners (beginning with their deliverance from Egypt), as he concludes this presentation of God's law, as he finishes describing both the blessings and curses that will result from their obedience or disobedience, Moses seems interested in heading off or squelching a certain kind of reasoning, or maybe, a certain kind of excuse-making that may arise with some of these Israelites. Listen to 30:11-14...

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [12] It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [14] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

To make sense of this passage, let's talk together about what we find here, specifically, two excuses and one encouragement.


1. Two Excuses (vs. 11-13)

The first potential excuse Moses wants to tackle is right there at the beginning of verse 11.

Some might hear the explanation of God's law that is the book of Deuteronomy and say, “This is all way too hard. I could never keep this. We could never keep this.” What's interesting is that some Christians would echo this excuse about the Law. Those fellow believers would point us back to a verse like Romans 8:7, where we read...

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; in-deed, it cannot.

These followers of Christ would argue that when it comes to the Old Testament (OT) law, it was impossible for the Hebrews to keep that covenant. They would contradict Moses and say, “Yes, it was 'too hard' for them to keep that law.”

But this conclusion sounds like a misunderstanding of that bicycle factory difference between can't and won't. You see, can't removes the reality of moral culpability. It would be like firing a wheelchair bound police officer for not participating in a foot chase to catch a criminal. Can't. Is a command like “Honor your father and mother...” (5:16) “too hard” to obey? No. If real choices are made when a person dishonors his or her father and mother, than no, it is not “too hard” to obey. The real question is will we obey? And will we obey consistently, and comprehensively, and purely, to the glory of God? The answer is no. The “cannot” of Romans 8:7 is based on an assessment of what sinners always do, rather than what sinners are able to do.

So our nature as sinners, and our guilt as sinners, is based on our sinful choices. You may know that we've been in a cultural moment for many decades now where the idea of victimhood is a much bigger part of our moral reasoning. In some cases, this is good and right. Voices that need to be heard and wrongs that need to be addressed are being given the attention they deserve. But as human beings do in every area, the concept of victimhood is also being abused by those who are looking to shirk their responsibility, or those who seek, not justice, but simply attention. Friends, though we can be, we are not ultimately victims of sin. We are victimizers in sin.

So as Moses affirms in verse 11, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you...”. He removes the excuse before it's even raised. But that leads to a second excuse. Look back at the end of verse 11. “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you... neither is it far off.” Now what exactly does that mean? Well, the next two verses unpack that phrase “far off”...

It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’

So this second excuse is not, “I can't do it because it's too hard”, but rather, “I can't do it because something's missing.” This excuse is about a lack of information, not a lack of ability. Some of these Israelites may have been thinking, “How can we obey all these laws if we don't know about this, or that, or the other thing? We need more revelation from above. We need more learning from abroad.” Moses actually anticipated some of this thinking at the very end of the previous chapter. Look at Deuteronomy 29:29. He declared there...

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

For some, what was not revealed could become an excuse to ignore what had been revealed.


2. One Encouragement (v. 14)

But all this leads to the one encouragement I mentioned earlier. And it's such a beautiful encouragement. Look back with me to verse 14. After anticipating some of these excuses, Moses encourages the people by reminding them, “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

Moses is telling them, “God's word is not 'far off'. No. It's 'very near you'”. What exactly does that mean? Well, notice that next phrase: “It is in your mouth and in your heart.” Okay. But what does that mean? I think Moses is bringing them back to the importance of revealed knowledge and real faith; that is, what they know, and what they believe. And these things have to be kept together. A simple confession is not enough. It must be inspired by genuine faith. But if you actually believe the truth, that belief will result in public acknowledgments of the truth.

Fun fact: the word “heart” in Hebrew is found in Deuteronomy more than any other book in the OT. That's important because it reminds us that Moses, that God through Moses, has been ministering to the hearts of the people. And that ministry regularly connected the commandment and the heart: when Moses declared God's word, he called his hearers to “lay it to your heart” (4:39) or “lay up these words of mine in your heart” (11:18), or “take to heart all the words” (32:46). As Moses said clearly in 6:6, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” It's important to remember that unlike their parents, this second generation of emancipated Hebrews had already been confessing and believing God's word. As Moses told them in 8:2...

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

You see, whatever excuses some of them might make, all of them knew the nearness (or known-ness') of the word. “But the word is very near you... so that you can do it.”


III. Accountability, But Hope

Here's the question I'd like to put to you... to put to us: is the word “very near” to you? For most of you, the answer is yes. God's word makes it clear that every person has some light. But I'd like to focus on those of us who know God's revealed word (to whatever you degree you know it). In fact, even if this morning was the first time you ever heard the word of God, that word powerfully preserved in the pages of the Bible, then you do have some knowledge. But most of us have much more than 'some'. Most of us are not only aware of the word, we also understand it, and, most of us believe it. Indeed, the word is “very near” to us.

Why is that significant? Let me suggest two reasons: first, its significant because an increase of knowledge leads to an increase in terms of accountability. That fact should get our attention. Second, it's also significant because, wonderfully, an increase of knowledge leads to an increase of hope. That should also get our attention. Let's ask the Apostle Paul to help us with this question of significance by looking together at Romans 10. In chps. 9-11 of that letter, Paul is talking with his Jewish-Christian readers about fellow Jews who had not yet acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. Notice what Paul writes in 10:5, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”

That statement may sound helpful at first, but Paul has already made it clear how damning that truth really is. Why? Because as he revealed about the commandments in 7:10, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” You see, the increase in terms of accountability that comes with an increasing knowledge of the word only leads us to condem-nation. Why is that? Because we will not obey God's commandments... not in the way they should be obeyed, when they should be obeyed, to the degree they should be obeyed, for the ultimate reason they should be obeyed. We simply won't. As Paul has made clear in this section of the letter, this is what condemns every Jew who knows and relies on the law.

But as I mentioned before, there's also a wonderful reality that comes with the word being “very near to you”. Paul goes on to explain this in verses 6-10 of Romans 10. After exposing “the righteousness that is based on the law in verse 5, Paul writes in verse 6...

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) [7] “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss [i.e., the bottomless depths]?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). [8] But what does it [the righteousness based on faith] say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); [9] because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Wow! There it is! There's Deuteronomy 30! What is Paul doing here with the words of Moses? He's using them exactly as Moses used them: to confront the excuse-making of certain Israelites, and point them back to one beautiful encouragement.

Brothers and sisters, friends, there is no missing knowledge. We don't need more revelation from above. We don't need more learning from abroad. Jesus has already ascended. Jesus has already risen from the dead. What is true of the Jews of Paul's day is just as true for us: we don't need something else to be accomplished by God. What we need is to truly believe and cling to what has already been accomplished! Gloriously, the knowledge and faith to which Moses pointed... has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the One who fulfilled the law for us. Because Jesus also took our condemnation on the cross, that “very near” word that once condemned us, can also be the “very near” word that gives us life... eternal life... in Christ and with Christ.

What has God made known to you? Equally important, what are you doing with what God has made known to you? We are still excuse-makers, aren't we. Jesus has risen from the dead. Jesus has given us a new heart. Jesus has given us his Spirit and his presence. And yet, we say, “this is too hard”. Or Jesus calls us to stop... or go... or speak... or be silent... or to give, and give, and give. But we say, “But I need to know how this will go, Lord. I need to know what it will cost me. I need to know how this situation will turn out; if I'll be hurt, or if I'll come out on top. Just tell me why, Lord... why it has to be this way.” Somehow what has not been revealed becomes an excuse to ignore what has been revealed. May that convict us, sober us if need be.

But “the righteousness based on faith” points us to trust that God so loved excuse-makers like us, that he gave his Son. And he rose from the dead that excuse-makers might become word-lovers. Believer, give thanks this morning for how much God has revealed, and for how near the word is to you. Savor that grace. In light of how Jesus kept the commandment for us, let God's word do it's work in you. Talk with him about your struggles. Talk with him about your excuses. Talk to a brother or sister. The word can be truly near us because the Word was near us; he was with us; he was one of us. Let's talk with God now about the implications of his “very near” word.


other sermons in this series