Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-15
In John 6, the day after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught the people the meaning of that miracle. He had not come down from heaven to give them only bread for their stomachs, but the true bread for their souls. The bread that Jesus would give for the life of the world would be His own flesh. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54, English Standard Version) He means, unless you believe in Him, in His work of salvation and the promise of His Word, you cannot enter eternal life. Sadly, the people did not receive this teaching; they would not trust that faith in Jesus is the only source of salvation. St. John wrote that, after this, “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (v. 66)
Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked them if they, too, would like to stop following Him. St. Peter spoke for the group in the words we well know, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (v. 68) The Twelve confessed that Jesus’ Words are the words which grant eternal life. They are the truth and by them the Holy Spirit works faith in those who hear. Faith is what receives the forgiveness of sins. Bearing this in mind, we confess from the Old Testament reading that since the Lord has saved us from sin through His Word, we teach it to our children so that they may be saved, too.
The context of our reading from Deuteronomy is Israel’s preparations to enter the Promised Land. They had been at the entrance before, 40 years prior. But, when they doubted God’s Word and refused to enter, He disciplined them with 40 years of wandering. Even then, throughout the Wandering, He provided and cared for them. In our reading, they are at the end of their discipline and Moses is preparing them with one final sermon. He reminded the people how the Lord, “brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deut. 6:12) The Lord was remembering His promise, the oath He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He would bring the children into their own land – where they could live and worship without fear. They could live in faithful fellowship with God and each other. In short, Moses’ sermon reflected on the Lord’s salvation for His people and encouraged them to remember His mercy and teach it to their children.
Throughout Scripture, the exodus from Egypt into the Promised Land is used as an illustration for how we have been saved from sin. Once we were lost in sin, slaves in the Egypt of sin. All our thoughts, words, and actions were tainted by it, and we earned by them an eternal separation from God and damnation in hell. We were slaves in the Egypt of sin until our Lord called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. He stepped down from His eternal throne to take hold of us. He became one with our flesh and blood, yet remained without sin. He fulfilled the Law of God and then bore the punishment of our sin in His death on the cross. After His resurrection, He commissioned the Apostles to preach His Word to the whole creation. By the inspiration of the Spirit, they set Jesus’ Word to writing, which is how it has come to us. Through the Word, Jesus reached out to us and claimed us for His kingdom. Through the Word, He brought us to faith and made us no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness and heirs of eternal life. We may not have been physically brought out of Egypt, as the people in our text, but Moses’ wise words might also be directed to us.
He said, “O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.” (vv. 4-7) Through Moses, it is really the Lord our God speaking to His people. He reminded them not to forget Him when they came into a land full of cities they didn’t build and houses they didn’t fill and wells they didn’t dig and vineyards they didn’t plant. Instead, they were to love Him with their heart, soul, and might. And, so that their children might do the same and live long in the land the Lord was giving them, the Lord commanded His people – particularly, parents – to teach these things to their children.
The Word that the Holy Spirit uses implies a constant, continual teaching; “coaching,” might also give us a good sense. The Lord commanded His people to coach their children in His Word. They were not to teach it once and call it good, nor were they to confine their teaching to a few short years and count the children as responsible for themselves. No, they were to speak of His Word together while they were at home, when they were away in the course of life, when they went to bed and when they woke up again. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes,” God said. (v. 8) In other words, God commands that parents teach their children His Word by setting it before them in all things, all times and situations, in conversation and by behavior.
It is in this spirit, then, that we are beginning our Sunday school and Confirmation instruction again. In decades past our fathers in the faith in Fairbank and Jesup were drawn together by the Holy Spirit through the Word to see that Christian worship services were held, that encouragement in the Word was given and received, and that their children were taught the mighty acts of God. This last part was not viewed as optional, but as a serious and vital task entrusted to parents and to the congregation, corporately and individually. Therefore, in thanksgiving to God and mindful of His mercy, we hear His command that our children be taught and we trust that He will bless. But, why does the Lord so solemnly command this?
St. Peter answers for us, again, in the second reading. He said, “The promise is for you and for your children.” (Acts 2:39) He means that the promise of forgiveness is not just for you and me, us adults, but for all people – our children, included. It was for them, too, that Jesus took on flesh. It was for their sins, too, that Jesus died. It was so that they, too, might live eternally that Jesus rose again. These things, He gives to them, too, freely through faith. We also know this passage, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17) It is through the Word that the Lord saved us, and it is how He saves our children.
In their Baptism, Jesus united them to Himself through the washing of the water and the Word. He gave them His Holy Spirit and created in them clean hearts through faith. Through the Scriptures, He comforts them and strengthens their faith when they continually hear all that He has done and even now does for them. As they grow and become adults and parents themselves, it is through the Word alone they will be kept as heirs with us of eternal life. We have the privilege, the honor, and yes, the duty, to teach them these things now. The Lord bless our work. May He grant that we would be mindful of the mercy we have received in Christ, how we have been saved from the Egypt of Sin. The Holy Spirit strengthen our faith, so that by word and deed we would be faithful witnesses to our children. And finally, the Lord bless our children in their instruction this year. Amen.