The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Sunday after Ascension Day 2024

Sermon Date: May 12, 2024

Passage: Deuteronomy 12

And ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters… (Deuteronomy 12:12).

There are many ways in which the Word of God is incompatible with the accepted, public religion of our day. Paul tells us we will be surrounded by people who ‘…are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things’ (Philippians 3:18-19). These people are contrasted with God’s chosen: ‘For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself’ (Philippians 3:20-21). There will always be two types of people in this fallen world: those who look to earthly things for their happiness (and so will always be unhappy) and those who look to heaven where the true God beckons them to join Him in glory.

The people of God should constantly remind ourselves of the great gulf between these two perspectives of reality. True Christians are not just slightly more spiritual versions of our pagan neighbors; no, the mighty acts of God in history and in our own lives have marked us as different in a fundamental way. We are the resurrected sons and daughters of tomorrow, but an enormous part of our great enemy’s campaign against us is centered around seducing us away from that self-knowledge—battle after battle for our minds and hearts trying to convince us we are no different than they who have no hope. As Peter writes, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). Lions attack when they are hungry, and Satan is starving.

The allies of evil’s great hope can be difficult for us to see because so much of our world has been tasked with teaching us to be ignorant of saving reality and experts in the temporary dying things of this world. We are constantly being taught to love and desire people and things which are terrible for us, and after a lifetime of this training, we can struggle to know where the lies stop and the truth begins. It is getting clearer as the evil forces of our land feel empowered to discard the masks which hid their twisted and hideous natures, but this revelation is only possible because men and women have less and less connection to the divine light which makes them human and so can no longer tell the difference.

Into this stormy world of confusion, God has always shined the light for His people to follow. The chosen men and women who followed Moses out of Egypt had been trained by hundreds of years of exposure to the demon gods of the Egyptians to trust in meaningless sacrifices offered to lifeless idols. After all, the Egyptians were the most powerful people the world had ever seen, how else could they have accumulated such wealth and prosperity if the gods were not pleased with them? Even after the living God spent months showing His people the impotence of the Egyptian gods by choosing plagues which matched up with their supposed sovereign domains, even after parting the Red Sea to save them from the Egyptian god/king’s warriors, even after all those incredible demonstrations of the true God’s power, the people were still constantly tempted to trust in the comfortable lies of the past. Mere days after being saved, the people built a calf of gold and pretended it was the God who made the earth; they sacrificed and fornicated before a shiny cow to somehow bind to their wills the God who crafted the Himalayas and your circulatory system. Madness is the only possible description.

We must carry this history with us as we examine why God gives this command in today’s first reading, ‘You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you are going to dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains, on the hills, and under every leafy tree. And you shall tear down their altars and smash their memorial stones to pieces, and burn their Asherim in the fire, and cut to pieces the carved images of their gods; and you shall eliminate their name from that place’ (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). This command is merciless because the cancer of mankind’s rebellion against truth and ordered nature must be combatted lest it metastasize and poison everything it touches. The cost is not just a people adrift in the darkness of their own imaginations. No, our enemy never stops with the destruction of one person; rather, evil uses our strengths and talents to hurt others. In fact, evil works most efficiently when it can convince us we are doing the right thing in surrendering to its cruel seductions.

All but a remnant of the Israelites would indeed ignore this divine command and welcome the demon gods of the Canaanites into their homes and hearts. The consequences are laid out by God speaking through Jeremiah: ‘…they have abandoned Me and have made this place foreign, and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and…they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I did not command nor speak of… (Jeremiah 19:4-5). The cruel, mad logic of child sacrifice lies in a parent offering that which he loves most to a demon god who will then give them things in return. We see this same logic on display in our own time with the way parents submit their children to modern pagan rituals—offering them to the gods of transhumanism or abortion or in teaching them that money or sex are the highest goods. Same demons, new victims.

Blessedly, God knowing all that will come to pass, promises to establish a conduit of mercy: the temple. Here is where the people can be in the presence of the Lord and feast in joy with the other members of the covenant people: ‘And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the LORD thy God hath blessed thee’ (Deuteronomy 12:7). The worship of that temple was masterfully designed to teach the people that sin is death, the blood is life, and the feast they enjoyed in the presence of God was derived from a dead creature sacrificed in their place. But, within this system, there was always the understanding that the blood of bulls and lambs and goats could never equal the great betrayal of God through sin. As we read in the Psalms, ‘Hear, My people, and I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God… Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of he-goats? Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; Call upon Me on the day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me’ (Psalm 50:7, 13-15). Forgiveness of sins comes from God, and it is always by grace through faith, especially in the Old Testament, but what salvation could the slaughter of bulls and lambs and goats possibly be pointing towards?

The clue is in our text from this morning, ‘But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and you shall come there’ (Deuteronomy 12:5). This connection between tribe and place foreshadows the union between Man and Temple, and consequently, Man and God. How? Well, the land God chose for the temple, the holy space in which God and Man would meet, would be Mt. Zion in the land of Judah. As we read in the Psalms, ‘He also rejected the tent of Joseph, And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like the heights, Like the earth which He has established forever (Psalm 78:67). Judah, the tribe of everlasting Davidic Kings, is the chosen tribe because it will not be merely a temple of stone which is established; no, men can always destroy brick and stone, they can always destroy what other fallen men have built (no matter how beautiful or great), and this destruction was the fate of both the 1st and 2nd temple: reduced to ruins men gather around and mourn.

But blessedly, the great temple these other temples were teaching the people of God to yearn for is no decaying building or sacred monument. As we read in John’s Gospel, ‘The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and yet You will raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.’ (John 2:18-21). The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the true place wherein God and Man are united forever, this Jesus Christ becomes the holy space of worship and triumph Deuteronomy foretells.

It is in Christ that we can burn down the pagan groves in our heart and cut down the idols poisoning our souls. It is in Christ that we bring the sacrifice of our souls and bodies to lay before the One who sacrificed everything so that we and our children will live. It is in Christ that we spiritually feast upon the Body and Blood of the great sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Our perfect union with the everlasting temple allows us to rejoice with our sons and daughters before the Lord our God secure in the knowledge that our salvation is the product of thousands and thousands of years of careful preparation and hard promises kept. Our perfect union with Christ has made the Church of God unstoppable in her conquest of the hearts and minds of God’s elect.

Let us then never forget that God the Father has saved us from sacrificing our children to the demon gods of then and now to instead be saved by the One sacrifice of His Son: the One who bears the name of God, the Temple which can never be destroyed.