GOD’S TREASURED PEOPLE
April 2, 2006
This morning we are going to focus on the great theme of “God’s Treasured People.” I want to tell you in the beginning that this is not really the study that I started working on at the beginning of this past week. By the end of the week, though, I felt it was the lesson that we needed to study. I was reminded myself this past week that there are people who are a special treasure to me, and I suppose that is one reason why, in reading the Lord’s word especially in our daily Bible reading, I couldn’t help but notice that God has a treasured people, too. However much I may love those who are special to me, God’s special ones are even more important to him. You will see that as we study.
Notice this thought in our text for our lesson this morning which you will find in Deut. 7:6-9. You will remember that Moses is speaking to the people who have been through so much and who are just now ready to cross the river at the end of the land that God has long promised to them. Moses is trying to encourage them to be prepared to be true to that God, and so he says, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the land of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.”
Notice especially in verse 6 that phrase, “a people for his treasured possession.” That is a phrase that may be translated in different places in scriptures of people who are his own special people, a peculiar people meaning not that they are odd or strange but that they stand in a different relation than any other peoples in the world, a people belonging to him. They are all phrases that emphasize a special bond between God and his people. Within this remarkable passage in Deuteronomy 7, there is also introduced to us several of the themes that become key ideas throughout the whole Bible, and especially in relation to the Lord’s church. This idea of God’s treasured people is something that has to draw us closer to God’s heart and face to face with his work, and therefore, face to face with what we are supposed to be as his children.
The Existence of Such a People
In thinking about God’s treasured people, let’s begin just with the observation that there is such a people in the world. Moses talking to Israel here in Deut. 7 illustrates this face. He is saying to Israel here that God has made a choice about you, has entered a covenant with you that makes you different from any other people in the world. Remember in Exodus 19:5 the people so recently brought out of bondage in Egypt stood before Mt. Sinai. It was an awesome sight – thunder and fire and smoke – but God spoke and said in that passage that if these people would hear him, if they would keep his commandments, if they would be loyal to his word, then they would be his covenant people. He would make them his own treasured possession. He would make of them a kingdom of priests. And in Deuteronomy, Moses is simply repeating what had been said to this nation one generation earlier. In Deut. 14:2 God said, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
At the end of Deuteronomy, he gets a little more vivid or picturesque about the relationship he envisions. In Deut. 32 beginning at verse 9 we read in the song of Moses these words, “But the Lord’s portion is his people (notice these people are about to go into the land and receive portions of the land for their inheritance); Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up his nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions. The Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.” (Deut. 32:9-12)
Notice especially in that reading the thought of his people being the apple of his eye. I have read that that little phrase actually refers to the pupil of someone’s eye. If you have ever tried to place a contact lens on your eye or you have had the doctor say, “Hold real still; I just want to check this eye,” you notice how much we guard the apple of our eye. Notice also that he pictures it like an eagle fluttering over her young, catching them, bearing them, protecting them. That is God’s relationship with his people.
I want you to remember that that statement first made to Israel has a fulfillment. The same way you and I often begin in trying to explain things to people that we love, we start with something physical or some object that we can use for an illustration, and then we move from that to the real point or the truth behind it, the thing that can’t be seen but still is real important. In this case, God starts with a physical nation so that he can lead up to a spiritual people who stand as his sons and daughters in this world. So what is first spoken to Israel is finally fulfilled in the church. This very same language that Moses uses of Israel in Deut. 7 is used in the New Testament to describe the church that God has purchased with the blood of his Son. That is a significant thing because what it says is that God didn’t God along for these centuries and suddenly change his mind and jump the track and do something altogether different. It is not a picture where God wanted this physical nation and this world, but the people weren’t willing and they weren’t faithful so God decided to do something as a substitute. No, the Bible teaches that this is what God had in mind all along. He always was preparing a people for his own possession, that he had in mind in his eternal purpose the church to make known his manifold wisdom in this world, according to Ephesians 3:8-11.
So notice in Titus 2:14 that Paul teaches that when the Son of God by the grace of his Father gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession (there is our idea again) zealous of good works. Whoever it is who are purchased out of lawlessness and placed in a right relationship with God to do his work in this world, that is the people for God’s own possession.
Notice in I Peter 2, Peter especially uses this language in verse 9 and 10. He says, “But you are.” Now who is the “you” that he is talking about? I think it would be helpful for us to notice this. If you back up through the passage in verse 7 the “you” would be the people who have believed on this precious cornerstone that God has laid and believed to the point that they are not willing to leave it for anything. Back up in chapter 1, verse 23, these people who have built on that stone are people who have been born again through the incorruptible gospel of Jesus Christ. In verse 22, these people who have been born again are people who have purified their souls in obedience to the truth. In verse 18 this same people would be those who have been redeemed with the precious blood of a lamb without blemish or spot. Whoever those people are, the Bible says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous life. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” When people hear the gospel, believe it and obey it, the Lord washes them from their sins and he makes them his people. They are his treasured possessions in this world, not because they were wiser, smarter or better but because of what he has done for them through Christ.
The Nature of That People
The church that we read about in the New Testament is then the fulfillment of God’s desire to have a people all his own. And that would mean that what Moses says in Deuteronomy 7 describing this treasured people of God would also be descriptive of the nature of the church. So think about this picture of the Lord’s people in Deuteronomy 7 a little further with me. What is the nature of this people that God has for himself?
First, notice that this is a people upon whom the Lord has set his love, verse 7. This is the origin of the people’s existence. The people who had not received mercy obtained mercy, and their obtaining the loving mercy of God is what marks them off as a people. It doesn’t come from their desire to be different from others. It doesn’t come from any thought that they somehow are superior to others. It comes from the fact that God set his love on them. He is the one who initiated this. He originated the very idea of having a people all his own. In Romans 9, the apostle Paul is discussing how God could take people from Jewish background or from Gentile background and put them together as one people. He quotes from the Old Testament in verses 25 and following. He says, “As indeed he says in Hosea, those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved. And in the very place where it was said to them, you are not my people, there they will be called sons of the living God.” Put three phrases together – my people, my beloved, my children. This is a people upon which God has set his love. They are important to him. For us to make light of the object of his love, for us to ridicule it or to set it aside is not to hurt those people. It is to hurt the God who loves them.
Notice, secondly, that our passage says that this people was chosen by the Lord himself. Moses said that twice – in Deut. 7:6 he said, “The Lord your God has chosen you,” and in Deut. 7:8 he makes the point again that the Lord chose you. This is a term that has caused no small amount of anguish among religious people because it makes some people walk around and talk about being chosen as if somehow they have had a miraculous experience from God. This term simply means that in God’s sovereign will he decided that he would have a people, and he made a choice. It was not a choice of certain individuals, but it was a collective choice. God chose a single corporate whole. He chose a collective unity; he chose Israel in the Old Testament. He didn’t choose who would be in Israel. He chose Israel. And that was a way of shadowing the fact that he would chose a spiritual people in Christ. In Ephesians 1:4 it says that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” He predestined us in love. Now think about that. God chose for himself a people before the foundation of the world. He chose us in him. God chose that his people would be those who would be in Christ. Now he doesn’t choose which individuals are going to be in Christ. He chooses those who are in Christ. All of us have a choice about whether we are willing to be in Christ or not. Sometimes the Bible speaks of God choosing certain individuals from among his people for special service. But the Bible never speaks of God choosing some for salvation while not wanting or ignoring others in that way. These people, then, are chosen by the Lord, called through the gospel, and they can decide whether they want what God wants or not.
Third, this people is the recipient of the promises that God made to the fathers. Look carefully at Deut. 7 beginning in verse 8. He said, “It is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.” God made promises, and these people were being blessed because they were heirs of those promises. But the New Testament teaches that the church is heir to all the promises that God made to Abraham and then to the people ever since. In Galatians 3:26-29, it talks about those who are children of God through faith. They are the ones who have put on Christ in baptism and therefore they are heirs of the promises, Paul said in that passage. The Hebrew writer speaks of people of faith who are loyal to the Lord and who inherit the promises (Heb. 6:11). Being God’s people carries with it the idea of accepting his promises. It includes the thought that God would live among them, that God would give to them all the blessings that he had ever promised to their fathers. People who are loved by God, chosen by him in Christ are people who are heirs of the promises.
Fourth, this people is redeemed by the Lord. They are brought from slavery in Egypt out of that bondage for the Lord himself. Moses said here that they had been redeemed from the house of slavery. As you know, to be redeemed means to be purchased at a cost or by a price. It means to have changed ownership. Paul uses a phrase in Acts 20:28 when he speaks of the church of the Lord which God has purchased or “obtained for himself through the blood of his own Son.” The church is simply people who have been bought with the blood of Christ. You can’t be redeemed truly by the blood of Christ and to be set apart from his church because that is what the church is. That is the definition of it. This same word for purchased or ordained, the Greek conversion of the Old Testament uses in Isaiah 43:21 again to speak of God’s forming for himself a people.
This people has entered into a covenant with God we next learn here. God keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. The idea of steadfast love is the word for friendship, two people who stand together in a right relationship. Later on over in Deuteronomy as Moses brings his message to these people he has led for so long to an end, he pictures them in verse 10 beginning, “Standing today all of you before the Lord your God,” he says. And then in verse 12 he says, “So that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God which the Lord your God is making with you today that he may establish you today as his people and that he may be your God.” That is the covenant relationship. He is God; these are his people. In Deut. 26:17-18 it says, “Today you are declaring to God that you will be loyal to him and he is declaring to you that he will be with you and bless you wherever you go.” That is the covenant relationship. When Bro. Feeney pointed out to us a while ago that on the front of this table there is the statement, “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” what we are remembering is that we have entered a covenant. Jesus said, “This cup is my blood of the New Testament (the new covenant) which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” People who have had their sins remitted, washed away, forgiven, enter into a covenant relationship with God. The church is never merely an association of like-minded people. It is not a democracy. It is dependant on God’s will. We don’t ever want anyone to not like what we teach or preach or to have their feelings hurt or to ever be offended about anything, but we cannot ignore God’s will out of fear of hurting somebody else’s feelings. He gave his Son’s blood; therefore, we need to be loyal to him.
Next, the people is holy to the Lord. That means it belongs to God, and that relationship of belonging to him defines the character of the people. This people has both the privilege and the duty of holiness or to separate from those things that are unclean and then to develop a way of life which partakes of the nature of the Father, according to II Cor. 6:16-18.
Lastly, notice that we started with God setting his love on these people. Look how the passage ends. This people therefore loves him. Verse 9 talks about those who love him and keep his commandments. Bro. Everett Ferguson in some of his writings has pointed out that that amounts to a description of the covenant people of God. They are people who love him and keep his commandments. It is an expression for the corporate people of God. Think about the meaning of that. Remember a passage like Romans 8:28 for example: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose.” There is that idea. God promises to be with us and bless us and help us. Paul said in I Cor. 2:9 that he has prepared things for those who love him. That is the idea here.
God has a treasured possession. It is his people. Someone pointed out that God’s work is to gather a people and not just to save individuals. That is an affront to the thinking of our individualistic world which assumes that individual salvation is all that matters. We belong to a people, and those people are Gods.
There’s an old song in our book that we seldom have sung (#706). It says, “We are called to be God’s people, showing by our lives his grace. One in heart and one in spirit, sign of hope for all the race. Let us show how he has changed us and remade us as his own. Let us share our live together as we shall around the throne.” To the church today I challenge us to share our lives together and to be what the Lord has called us to be. For all of us who are here, I want to remind us that God does call us through the gospel. He wants to add us to his people. He wants us to live as his sons and daughters and to finally be with him. If you would like to make that beginning today and we can help you, won’t you come while we stand and sing together?