Editor’s Note: Prior to starting the March for Life in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in early May, Bp. Charlie Masters preached an awesome sermon at a service held at St. Peter & St. Paul’s Anglican Church. An excerpt of it is below and the full text and video link are posted on AFL’s website. You can also watch Bp. Master’s sermon in the video below.
I’m really grateful to have a chance to look for a few minutes at the passage that has been read this morning from Deuteronomy 30. My text actually comes from the last two verses of the passage, Deuteronomy 30, verses 19 and 20. This is Moses speaking, and he says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Therefore, choose Life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of day, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
For review, the scene in which these incredible words were presented was at a kind of a rally that Moses called with the people of Israel. They’re on the east side of the Jordan. Moses is now 120 years old. This is clearly his swan song. It’s his opportunity to review with the people of Israel all that God has done in the past 40 years. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, he freed the people of Israel out of Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, and led them through the wilderness for 40 years.
Sadly, because of their resistance in sin, it required 40 years. All the others of that generation had died in the wilderness, and so it’s a new crop of people, who at one level need to be informed of what God had done, while also reminding them repeatedly of their own sinfulness, their running after other gods, their reticence to trust Him, and their fearfulness, in terms of what it would mean to go into the Promised Land.
What Moses also makes clear is that, always, God was merciful and available, eager to restore what seemed to have been lost and to bring them back to the path of life. Here they are, poised, ready. All this was in place. Now, in a great crescendo, in a great finale, Moses proclaims all of that past, some 30 chapters that we have in scriptures, and brings them to a climax in this passage.
He says, “See? I’ve set before you today life and good, death and evil.” In a sense, he’s kind of like a lawyer presenting a case on two sides or a salesperson saying, “You can choose this, or you can choose that.” But–lest there be any confusion–He’s not at all neutral. He is not just saying, “Go ahead, choose. It doesn’t matter to me. Life, death, blessing, cursing, it’s up to you. You choose.” Moses was not neutral, and you can be sure that God is not neutral on this. The call to choose life, good, and blessings, as opposed to death and evil and curses, is a real one, but not one that God doesn’t care about.
It would be lunacy to choose death and curses, but the sad facts shown in the history of mankind is that, repeatedly, people have done exactly that. Before us today, in this March that many of us will be part of, we are actually taking, making, declaring our choice and inviting others to make the same choice.
To understand the choice, you need to understand that the reason the Father sent the Son, and the Word sent is a clear one in the gospel of John. It says of Jesus, the word, “In him,” in chapter one, verse four, was, “Life, and the life was the light of man. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus, as the light of the world, the word of God, came to bring life.
Jesus continued declaring His intentions, in contrast to the plots of the thief who is Satan, in the Parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” What an agenda. But it doesn’t sound that way. It sounds like compassion and dignity and grace and what is legitimate and right, and due choice, and so on. Those are the kind of words which veil the agenda of the evil one and the whole system of death, which is to steal, kill, and destroy. The whole world system aligns itself with Satan in this, and so it should come as no surprise to us that well-intentioned people could actually align themselves with death.
But Jesus goes on and says, — and this is truly good news to an otherwise dark world — “But I have come, that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This is something profound, that God is interested in life. Notice, in the Deuteronomy passage, it’s about quality of life. It’s about abundance of life. It’s about relationship with God, through Jesus, which makes life what it’s meant to be. This is what God wills for all individuals. Do you realize that every individual who has ever been conceived or ever will be, that God’s agenda, God’s longing, God’s hope, God’s intention, is for relationship with them, which He described as eternal life? It is quality, forever with Him, by virtue of connection with Him.
The life that we’re talking about is here is life by virtue of creation. Who called us into existence? Who is the one who brought us into life? It’s God alone. Make no mistake. We’re answerable to him, and who is the one who brought us back? You are not your own. You’re bought with a price. This is the life that we have.
But if Christ comes to bring life, then Death is an enemy who, make no mistake, Jesus has defeated. For us to capitulate with death, now, in the light of creation and in the light of the resurrection, would be entirely wrong. After the death of Lazarus in John 11, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out.” Jesus has nothing in his tone of voice which is of, “Death is my friend,” or “I was capitulated with death or maybe we can work this out or whatever.” This is an enemy who he’s faced before, and in a sense, is mocking, because he’s calling Lazarus, who’s been dead for these days and is even stinking by virtue of decay, and calling him back to life. It is not resurrected life, because Lazarus would have died again, but what He does in His resurrection is call us. He says, in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, thought he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Paul also celebrates Jesus’s victory over death in his letter to the Philippians. You know that passage in Philippians 1, where Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” You might think that this is an argument for choosing death. It’s not that at all. In fact, if you follow the passage, you discover that he understands that as long as God gives him breath, there’s purposeful life and fruit to be born. No matter how old I get—and I’m getting there fast—I will still trust in God and believe that there’ll be fruitful life, because that’s the nature of life in Jesus, the fruit.
Paul also says, “Therefore, do not be ashamed that the testimony about our Lord nor of me, his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus, before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our savior, Jesus Christ,”—listen to this—“Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
No wonder Moses could give such a resounding summary of all that God had done to save His people, bringing them out of slavery, freeing them from the horrors of all that to the glories of a land flowing with milk and honey. They simply had to choose to walk with God, which is where life is found.
Dear friends, our prayer for people is not just that they will hang on and exist. It is that they will find life and life as it’s found in Jesus. You see, if you terminate life, you rob the multitude from the possibility and the reality of coming into that very relationship. This is a profound and perverse plan of the evil one.
To you today who are here, I proclaim life as Moses did,. I invite you, first of all, to receive life in Jesus and to get the word out, so others may receive Jesus and find life in all its forms, because that’s the full plan. That’s the whole plan.
But choose more than just to proclaim life. Promote life. Stand up and be counted. Stand up for life in every way. Let’s pray for doctors and nurses who have been charged with the task of doing only good, of doing no harm, and are now caught in this crazy, conflicted, and perverse situation, where they’re being asked, actually, to facilitate what is absolutely contrary to the stated will of God and His good works.
Let’s help them to stand up and protect life, and let us put our own names on the block, as well, and be seen and known to stand for life. Dear friends, if this was just about a position, if this was just a political argument, it would not be worthy of us traveling miles to get here, of devoting this day, but we are here because it’s right at the heart of God, and is right in line, right from the beginning –Moses talking about the father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of the living because He loves life, because he’s the author of life, and therefore, to identify with Him and with Jesus is to choose life.
Would you pray with me?
Lord Jesus Christ, we’re frail flesh, but we stand amazed because You destroyed death and brought life, Lord Jesus, in Yourself and in the Gospel. We thank You that we’re not just asking people to hang in there and exist or to keep a pregnancy going, but we’re pointing people to the Author of Life, who loves them eternally, who created them with only good in mind, and has saved them in Jesus. We pray, Lord, that You would do something significant through me, through this service, and through this March, to your glory. Allelujah, because Christ has risen, the Lord has risen indeed. Allelujah. Amen.