He Has Done All Things Well

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HE HAS DONE ALL THINGS WELL!

Our God has done all things well. He has left nothing out, and he works everything for the good of those that love him. This is a truth that bears repeating, especially these days when many ask, “Where is God?” We can boldly say we know him, and that he has done everything well for us!

Mark 7:31-37

Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[a] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Reversal of Babel

Babel

Pentecost Sunday 2016
Genesis 11:1-9

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of your love! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many languages are you fluent in? People who study the history of different languages trace specific languages back to language families. Apparently, almost 75 percent of the languages that are in use today trace back to only two different language families. The largest language family that includes English, as well as Latin, French, German, Spanish, etc. is the Indo-European Language family. The second largest language family in use today is the one called Sino-Tibetan, which would include all the various Chinese dialects. For us who speak English, perhaps we would like to think that English will remain the dominate language throughout the world, however, not only are there more native Spanish speaking people than English in the world, but there are 3 times as many people speaking Chinese in the world than English.

Learning a new language can be a fun experience for some. Apparently one of the best ways to pick up a new language is to be immersed in it- to travel to a place that only speaks that language, then you’re forced to learn the language quite quickly. But even if you’re someone who loves to learn new languages, you have to admit that it is a lot of work to learn a new language. I once worked for a farmer who had come to America from Lithuania. Although he spoke English he had a very heavy Lithuanian accent, it took me a couple years to really understand him well and I remember whenever he’d talk to someone he didn’t know they were easily confused by what he said- and he was speaking English! At a different job I had, I had to speak to some people who only knew Spanish and I didn’t know Spanish- it was frustrating, aggravating, confusing trying to communicate. People typically gather around people who speak the same language as they do. The result is different cultures, different backgrounds, different viewpoints. Think about throughout history how much anger, hostility, violence, and bloodshed have occurred between people groups because of different cultures or languages –it’s staggering!

We’ve been feeling the effects of the tower of Babel throughout history and very much still today. Well, where did this all start? Remember that God had directed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). God then repeated that same command after the flood to Noah and his family (Genesis 9:7). But what do we see here from the descendants of Noah? They all had one language, they all understood each other. They moved eastward and found a plain in Shinar. It seems to be the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which was very fertile and so provided good agriculture. Then they made bricks – not just sun dried bricks, but kiln dried bricks, which would be durable against wind and rain. They said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

We can see three outward actions that reveal inward sins. First, they settle in well-watered, fertile valley. It seems to indicate that they have begun to look for their sustenance not so much from God the giver, but from themselves. Second, they want to build a city. The word for “city” doesn’t indicate just a place where a lot of people live, it indicates a place with a fortified wall around it. In other words, they don’t want to face the dangers of scattering over the face of the earth – they will find their security in this walled city. And finally, the tower. What was the point of this tower that they were going to build? They wanted to make this huge tower in order to do what? “So that we may make a name for ourselves.” They want status, they want praise. The tower is really a temple to human glory and power. Their outward actions revealed their inward sins. They wanted sustenance, security, and status, but without God. “I don’t need God, I’m my own master.” The flood may have wiped the world clean of sinners, but it hadn’t eradicated sin.

This is the essence of sin, isn’t it? Telling the Creator, “Leave me alone! I’ll do this MY way! I’ll handle this myself!” God’s creatures had become rebels running away from him, determined to disobey him, clearly abandoning God’s plans for them. And this really shows what’s at the heart of every sinful human being no matter the culture, language, or background.

At the core of sin is placing yourself at the center. Martin Luther defined humans by nature as being incurvatus in se. That’s Latin for “being curved in upon ourselves.”  Sin is always focusing on yourself, it’s always choosing yourself over God or other people, always placing yourself at the center. Yes, we admit that we do bad things and when we do bad things we’re thinking about ourselves, but the reality is, sin is so pervasive in us that even when we do good things, when we help someone out, when we get something for our spouse, when we go to church, it’s always about me. I help out the poor so people with think good things about me or so I can feel better about myself inside, I go to church so God will be happy with me, I help a friend out so that if I ever need help they better be available to help me. You end up relating to God and other people in such a way that it furthers your agenda, that things are going to go your way, that people do things the way you think they should be done. And how do we know that? As soon as the relationship becomes costly, as soon as we aren’t getting as much out of the relationship as we are putting in, we’re out. As soon as I’m not getting what I want out of my marriage, I’m thinking about divorce. As soon as I’m having to put more time and effort into a friendship, I’m looking for different friends.  Here’s the thing: Sin will always lead me to use God or other people as means to my own ends, further myself, to benefit me, to provide me with the basics of sustenance, security, and status. So, although we might not be building a tower to make a name for ourselves, we each have the root problem.

So what does God do? God comes down. Ironic, isn’t it? A “tower that reaches the heavens” and God has to come down to see it. But notice the name for God here. It’s LORD. It’s the Savior God –faithful to His love and grace to His people. You see, if God did nothing, the people would remain on their God-defying, self-centeredness, and rely on themselves for salvation. The LORD of grace intervened. He didn’t annihilate them – he could have – he confused their languages. Imagine coming to work the next day! Imagine the confusion, the anger, the frustration. They had to scatter. They couldn’t rely on themselves for their sustenance, security, and status any more.

The LORD of grace still intervenes today. In various ways He still allows us to see our inability to have sustenance, security, and status without Him. Our plans fail, we face difficulties, short comings. A life focused on myself can only lead to confusion, frustration, and anger.

But God didn’t just confuse their language to frustrate and anger people and show them their sin. In love, He had promised to send a Savior and he wouldn’t allow the whole world to unite in rebellion against him and get in the way of His gracious plan to send a Savior. And at just the right time He did. You see, we don’t have to worry about losing our sustenance, security or status, because Jesus lost them in our place. Jesus lost his sustenance, He cried out on the cross for one of the most basic necessities of life: I’m thirsty, he said. Jesus also lost his security, all alone, abandoned not only by every other human, but worst of all abandoned by God Himself, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? And he also lost his status, crucified, died as the most heinous sinner ever because a funnel had been placed on his head and God poured out his wrath against all sin, every sin – yours and mine – upon him. He lost his sustenance, he lost his security, he lost his status…for you! So you would never lose it.

You can’t really have any of those things apart from God. God, your Creator and Preserver, promises to provide all that you need for body and life. God, your Savior, has given you real security. Having suffered and died for your sins in full, the devil – your worst enemy – cannot lodge any accusation against you! He can try as he might to rip you out of Jesus’ hand but Jesus promises that there’s nothing that can rip you out of His hand. In fact, God promises you, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God uses even difficulties, hardships, and trouble for your eternal good – how could you possibly be more secure? And finally status. God gives you your real status. Who cares what kind of job you have, who cares how popular you are, who cares how fancy of house you live in, who cares how many friends you have? None of those things can really affect your real status. By your baptism you are a child of God, an heir of eternal life, a co-heir with Christ himself! Talk about status!

It is in Christ that the judgment on Babel ends. We see it in the Pentecost account. It’s our sin and curved in on ourselves nature that separates people, that thinks one nation or culture or language is more important than another. If I don’t have sustenance, security, or status from God, I’ll try to get it by oppressing others. But the gospel brings people back together in Christ. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit is poured out and brings people to faith no matter race or culture or language. There is no superior race of people, there is no race or culture or language or people that are more important to God, they are ALL important to him. What amazing grace and power of God that He is able to make disciples out of every nation. The gospel surpasses the boundaries of language, race, culture, background, nationality. It will be part of the glory of God that there will be gathered around the throne of God in heaven, a great multitude that no one could count, from every nations, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb and singing out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Babel is reversed by the Gospel! In Christ you have all the sustenance, security, and status you need for all eternity. In Christ you can share this powerful Gospel with people from any nation, race, culture, language, or background! Amen.

7 Words from the Cross

800px-CrucifixionSt.Matts

Luke 23:34 This is a word of forgiveness.

It’s a gut-wrenching image, isn’t it? Crucifixion is just ugly. The more you think about it, the more your stomach turns. The nails piercing the hands and feet. The body being hoisted up into the air and the weight of the body hanging by the nails through the flesh. It’s ugly. It’s ugly to think about whoever it is- even if it was a notorious criminal. But what about someone who had never done anything wrong, who was totally innocent, what terrible injustice!

And what does Jesus say? “Father, forgive them.” Literally, “Send their sins away so they won’t ever be remembered.” They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t deserve it. It’s so easy to hold on to wrongs committed against us, right? “I could NEVER forgive him for what he did to me!” “I hope she pays for what she did to me!” I think it’s safe to say that none of us have experienced such mistreatment and such injustice as this.

Thank the Lord for this word. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of sinners and Jesus won the forgiveness of sinners. Jesus forgave you and me even our sins of being unwilling to forgive others from the heart. And since Jesus won your forgiveness fully and freely that means you too can forgive from the heart. Send the hurt, the pain, the anger away and forgive.

Luke 23:43 This is a word of hope.

What kind of life do you want? An easy life without many difficulties? A life where everything kind of falls into place for you? I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t wish for a challenging, difficult, rough life, right? Is your life everything that you always dreamed it would be?

Two criminals, one on the right and one on the left. I think it’s safe to say that neither of them expected their life to end in excruciating pain on the cross, but it did. They were getting what their deeds deserved. Well, we know what Jesus wanted in life, his whole life was seeking and saving the lost and he’s still doing that here, isn’t he?

It’s in the midst of excruciating pain that this one criminal meets Jesus. He’s at the lowest point in His life and it’s then when he looks in hope and faith to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We might want an easy, pain-free life. But God knows that it’s so often in pain and difficulty and challenge when we look to him. Life is only temporary. The things of this life will all pass away. So whether you have a pain-free or pain-filled life, in the end what really matters is where you end up in the end. So we pray, “Jesus remember me.” And because Jesus died on the cross to pay every sin, he looks at you and says, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” Amen.

John 19:26-27 This is a word of personal care.

So try to put yourselves in Jesus’ shoes at this moment. Yes, it’s impossible, but just think. The terrible physical pain he is in, the emotional pain of the worst kind of rejection, the spiritual pain of suffering the sins of the world. And in the midst of all that, what does Jesus take time to do? Make sure that his mom’s physical needs are taken care of.

That tells us something about Jesus. He cares. He cares for all of you. No, he doesn’t promise you a healthy, wealthy, and wise life, but he does promise to care for you. He will do what we need him to do. If he was willing to die for you and me, do you think he’ll be willing to get us through tomorrow? Do you think he will take care of that thing you fret about? Or that thing that keeps you up at night? Jesus not only died for you, but He cares for you. Amen.

Mark 15:34 This is a word of horror.

To turn your back on someone in anger. That’s what it means to “be forsaken.” God the Father turns His back on God the Son in anger. It is said that Martin Luther once spent an entire day, not hardly moving, not eating or drinking, almost as if he was in a trance, and when someone finally interrupted him he said, “God forsaking God…who could understand it?”

Here on the cross Jesus is literally suffering hell- the abandonment of God. It doesn’t matter who you are as long as you live on this earth you have no experience of hell. Hell is horrible and hell is what sinners deserve.

The devil likes to get us to downplay sin, like it’s not that big of deal. But sin is horrible. Sin has horrible effects. Because of your sin, because of my sin, you and I deserve to go to hell and be punished forever and ever! Yes, that lie you told causes you to deserve it, that little bit of selfishness, that quick flash of lust, of hatred, of greed, of laziness all of it is horrible, all of it causes us to deserve to go to hell. And hell is horrible. Hell is torment. Hell is fire. Hell is worms eating and never finishing. Hell is burning that never ends. It’s unimaginable! Jesus knew that it was hell for him or hell for us.

So He suffered it- in your place! What incredible love! Jesus caused the sins that you committed to be charged to His account! He suffered the wrath of God, He suffered being forsaken by God, He suffered hell…in your place! He felt it!

And you know what? Because Jesus suffered the pain of hell in your place, because he was forsaken by God, you and I will never be forsaken by God! Never experience hell. Thank God for this word of horror. Amen.

John 19:28 – This is a word of understanding.

Three o’clock in the afternoon.  In six hours he had suffered a world’s eternity of hells.  And Jesus was thirsty. Why was Jesus thirsty? You might think, well, of course he’s thirsty, look what he’s been through! Think a little deeper. It reminds us that Jesus is a real human being on that cross. Yes, He’s also God, but He’s also human, just like you. He’s a real human with real human needs, human hurts, human joys, just like you.

That means that the Savior who died for you knows you! Since He’s human he understands your hurts, understands your joys, understands your needs. Your God not only died for you but He can also relate to you fully because He’s also human, just like you.

John 19:30 – This is a word of full payment.

This word in the Greek is one little word “tetelesthai.”  It’s a word that archaeologists have found stamped on ancient invoices.  The word could literally be translated “Paid in Full.”  What was paid in full?  Your sins, my sins, the sins of the world, paid in full.

Satan loves to accuse.  He loves to point the finger and say, “Look at all the horrible things you’ve done.  Look at all the horrible words you’ve spoken.  Look at your horrible mind full of anger, greed, lust, selfishness…do you really think you’ll end up in heaven?”

We get to respond with one little word “it is finished” “paid in full.”  It may be little in length, but its huge in impact.  Nothing less than the FULL payment for ALL of the sin of ALL of the world.  And if the sins of ALL the world have been paid for, then your sins have been paid for.  In full.  It’s true now; it’s true forever!

Luke 23:46 – This is a word of peace.

So what do you want to be able to say at the very end of your life?  What would you like your very last words to be?  I can’t think of a better choice than the words that Jesus spoke: “Father, in your hands I commit my spirit.”

Can we die with those words on our lips?  More importantly, can it be more than just words?  Can we die with the confidence that when we leave this world, God will welcome us into heaven eternally?

Thank God, the answer is, “Yes!  Absolutely!”  All these words have guaranteed it!  Remember, Jesus didn’t say “It’s started.”  He said, “It’s finished.”  He didn’t just suffer physically, he suffered the full pains of hell.  All of it was done in your place.  You are saved.  Heaven has been won for you!  And God’s given it to you in your baptism, in His Word, and in His Supper.

And so, when your last hour comes, you can say and mean it: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”  That’s a word of peace.  Amen.

You are Acquitted!

11th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 3:9-26

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, It’s a constitutional right every United States citizen has: “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The news story read, “Getting away with Murder.” In 2004 Isaac Turnbaugh was acquitted of the charge of murdering a coworker. However, 7 years later he admitted to committing the crime. But the law says there is nothing the courts can do about it. Why? Because you cannot be tried for the same crime twice. In other words, the law wants the prosecutor to give his best shot at it first and in a way is more interested in finality of the case than the ultimate truth. It’s called double jeopardy. So, when you’re acquitted of a crime, you’re really acquitted. In some cases we might argue that’s not fair, that’s not right, but that’s the law. And for the most part, the law does serve justice. If you are acquitted of a crime, in the eyes of the law you stand innocent. When we think of the word “justify” in Scripture we need to think of such a courtroom setting.

The book of Romans sets up such a court room scene. God is the Ultimate Judge and is seated in the Judge’s seat. You and I and all humanity are lined up one after another as defendants. And then there’s the prosecutor who’s ready, has piles of evidence to bring forward. Romans chapter 1 through halfway through chapter 3 is all the evidence. He starts with Gentiles in general and points out flagrant sins of gross idolatry and then homosexuality and then we move on to a depraved mind, they are filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways of doing evil, disobeying their parents, they call evil good and good evil, then he moves on to the Jews (who had the Bible) they have the Bible, but do they follow it perfectly? Do they keep God’s law in every point? What’s the answer? No. “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” Every person is sinful.

You want evidence? “No one is righteous, not even one, no one understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; no one who does good, not even one.” No one does what is right, no one does what is good, no one understands. When God looks at you and me lost in our sins this is the word that He comes up with: worthless. Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “I’m a pretty good person, I try to do what is right, I do a lot of good things, God ought to let me into heaven when I die.” Evaluate that idea compared with what God says here. No one does good, ALL have turned away. This includes everyone, this includes the pope, Mother Theresa, you, me, every single person born of a sinful father and a sinful mother. Worthless.

And the prosecutor says, “Want more evidence?” Here you go: “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” You open your mouth and out comes the smell of death, rotting and decaying flesh! Words of disrespect, cursing, and filthy which no Listerine or soap is going to wash out. Our tongues continually use lies to deceive, trick, cheat, and mislead.  The words that you and I use hurt and cut and cause worse pain than a rattlesnake bite. The evidence is quite clear: God says, “I know what you say about God and other people, the cutting and biting, rarely do you use words to build up and encourage, rather you use your words to cut down, say bad things about other people, gossip, complain, deride, etc.

And the prosecutor says, “Want more evidence?” Here you go: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Instead of kindness and care and concern, all you do spill blood, hurt and harm, leaving destruction in your wake. It’s the attitude of “I’m more important than you, my needs matter more than yours, move it or lose it.” You see it in marriages, you see it in children, maybe I won’t hit someone, but I sure know how to make life miserable for others. And why? No fear of God. When your worldview is corrupt, everything else is corrupt. You just don’t care about what God’s holy will for your life is. You just live as if there is no God watching every move, every thought, every word and He has a burning hot anger against sin, each and every sin. All sin, every sin has to be punished and you and I deserve that punishment.

That’s the evidence, that’s the situation. It’s absolutely bleak. “So that every mouth may be silence and the whole world held accountable to God.” What’s the first thing we want to do if someone says to us, “You’re a lousy, good-for-nothing, worthless sinner”? You want to open your mouth and defend yourself. But the law sticks a sock in your mouth. I have no case, no defense, no loophole, no plea deal. Everyone in the world stands guilty before God’s judgment throne.

But then, what happens? The evidence has all been brought forward. And it’s time for God, the Judge, to read the sentence. There we stand awaiting the clear verdict of guilty and we know the sentence: eternal death in the fires of hell. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Wait a minute! What just happened?? God has declared you and me…NOT guilty, innocent! That’s what justification means. It’s a verdict of acquittal before God’s judgment seat. It’s a declaratory act from God. It’s a change of our status before God’s judgment seat.  If God justifies, we can’t be accused any more. It is not a change inside of us, it is a change in how we are viewed from the outside. But wait! How is that possible? God is absolutely just, He can’t simply sweep our sins under the rug and forget about them, our sins have to be punished! That’s true! God doesn’t leave one sin unpunished. God does punish the sins of every single person. But He did so in one place, on the cross, there on the cross every sinner died, every sin of every single person was paid in full, Jesus – the God-man – died for sins of the entire human race.

Because Jesus did that, God has declared everyone innocent of their sins. This is called “universal” or “objective” justification. The sins of all people are forgiven. In fact, a person’s sins are forgiven whether he believes it or not. “All have sinned…all are justified freely by his grace.” How do you know you are justified? Because Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead, all sins have been forgiven therefore you are acquitted, forgiven.

Well, what’s so significant about this? Everyone in the world is trying to find peace, trying to calm a guilty conscience that knows that it has offended a perfect and holy God. The devil comes up with all kinds of tricks in order appease the conscience but none work eternally. Atheism that denies God’s existence will not evade God’s wrath, materialism that tries to find peace in the things of this life won’t evade God’s wrath, Pharisaism which thinks that human effort or living a good life can appease God’s wrath won’t evade it. There is only one answer and it’s justification. And that peace isn’t even found in the fact that I have faith, that I believe.  Some people think that God is willing to forgive but only after someone is sorry and believes it. People say, “Have faith, then God will forgive you.” Those are nice words, but they’re in the wrong order. God has already forgiven everyone when His Son died on the cross. But that message of forgiveness comes to us through words. When someone hears that God has justified him, declared him not guilty because of Christ, one of two things will happen. Either the message will work faith in that person’s heart to believe it or that person will reject it by unbelief and miss out on all the blessing that the message promises. If you don’t believe the message, you won’t receive its peace, comfort, or hope. But that doesn’t make the message true or untrue. There will be many people who although their sins were forgiven by Jesus, end up going to hell. But that’s not God’s fault. God has forgiven the sins of the world. If someone goes to hell, the fault is all his for rejecting God’s verdict of acquittal.

If forgiveness were dependent on faith in the sense that God does not forgive until we believe, we would always have to be sure that we are believers before we would be sure that we are forgiven. We may not see how dangerous that is until one of those moments of temptation and doubt comes to us and we’re not really sure we are believers. In such a time we will have no place to go unless we can say, ‘God has told me that in Christ he has forgiven the sins of the world. My faith or my unbelief will neither make God’s word true or untrue. He does not lie. He justifies the ungodly. Even if I am the most ungodly, the most wicked man on earth, I know that he has justified and forgiven me. To that promise I will cling, even if my heart tells me that I am without faith, without love, without hope. I know that God is greater than my heart and knows all things. God who does not lie says, “All have sinned…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” I know without a doubt that includes me!

It is this doctrine of Justification that is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It’s the doctrine on which your faith stands or falls. It’s the doctrine that gives you a sure foundation for faith. It’s the doctrine that gives you the only source of peace in this sinful world. In Christ, God has declared you innocent, He has acquitted you from all your sins. And just think, if God’s done that for you, how important are you in His eyes? If God is willing to send His own Son to pay the price to declare you innocent, will He not then keep His promise to be with you always? To guide all things of your life according to His plan? To victoriously take you to heaven one day? Absolutely!

You know, if you’ve ever watched a court scene where a defendant is receiving the verdict, many times the defendant is nervous, scared, anxious. Then the verdict is read: Not guilty. Then you can just see the relief and joy that comes over such a person. Just think, you’ve been acquitted from not just a sentence of life in prison or the death sentence, but a sentence that would have led you to eternal death in hell! Instead, you’ve been given eternal life in heaven! Talk about relief, joy, peace! Talk about a thankful heart and respect for God’s holy will! Rejoice! Justification means you are acquitted by God! And with God there is no double jeopardy, when He acquits you, you are acquitted. Amen.

“By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved him from our sins which had been imputed to him, and therefore he also absolved us in him that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the cause and the proof and the completion of our justification” (Johann Gerhard)

You’re a Miracle!

10th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 2:1-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Dear fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, when was the last time that you saw a miracle? It was Friday, February 22nd 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. The United States Olympic hockey team was made up of amateurs and collegiates. The Russian Soviet Union team was not only made up of pretty much professional hockey players (they were part of the army, but were paid to play hockey) but they had also won the gold medal in 6 out of the last 7 Olympic hockey games. A few days earlier the Americans played the Soviet Union in an exhibition game and were crushed 10-3. A day before the Olympic game a columnist for the New York Times said, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily with the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.” Well, the game got underway. The Americans were behind for the first period and the second period, but then with ten minutes left in the game they took the lead. As the clocked ticked further and further down the Russian team attacked and fought ferociously. The crowd started chanting the countdown and then Al Michaels, the sportscaster, made his famous call, “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!” Unbelievable. It became known as the miracle on ice and led to the United States winning the Olympic gold medal. National pride soared. Chants of USA were heard everywhere. It was a sports miracle.

But that doesn’t even close in comparison to the miracles that I see sitting before me today. What is a miracle? The dictionary defines a miracle as, “an effect or an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” A true miracle is something that happens only by God’s divine intervention. And that is true about everyone who has faith in Jesus as their Savior. It is only a result of divine intervention.

Our text for this morning tells us, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Did you catch that? Let’s think about those words for a little bit. This is the natural human condition of everyone born into this world by a sinful father and sinful mother: Dead. Dead. We don’t really like to hear that, do we? And the Bible is very clear on this point. Ever since the fall into sin, how are human beings described? “Sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5), “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3), “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Every inclination of the thoughts of the heart is only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5). In other words, we’re dead. By nature we’re objects of wrath. Born into this world we inherited sin, we weren’t neutral, we didn’t have any good in us.

Sometimes I really wish “dead” didn’t mean “dead”, I wish it meant “badly injured” or “less than perfect” or “slightly below average.”  But the word “dead” as every dictionary is going to describe it is dead, lifeless, breathless, deceased, a corpse.  And the one word God uses to describe human beings born into this world is…dead.  Where people in the world see the great goodness of people, human ingenuity, God sees dead things, lifeless corpses which are fit only for rotting and decaying.  Human beings are born into this world spiritually dead.  We inherited this spiritual death from the very same parents from whom we inherited our physical life.  This is called original sin.  And it is from this original sin, this sinful human nature we were born with that oozes out all kinds of rotten, filthy, disgusting sins: Greed, envy, anger, jealousy, impure thoughts, hatred, cruelty, unkindness, selfishness, etc.  It is vitally important that we get this straight.

Why?  Because how much power does a dead corpse have in helping itself?  Let’s say you and I were going for a drive.  At some point, if you’re driving around here, what are you going to see? Road kill.  Well, let’s say we’re driving and here in the middle of the road is a dead deer.  I pull the car over and get out and walk up to the dead deer.  And I say, “Mr. Deer, you are an awful road hazard, please move off the road, please roll over a couple of times and get out of the way, just crawl several feet.”  And…nothing, no movement, no twitching, no sound, not even a little kick of the leg to show me that he’s looking for a little help…he’s dead!  A dead thing can’t do anything!

So here’s the problem. If someone comes up to you and says, “You just have to give your life over to Christ, make your decision for Jesus, if you’d like to begin a relationship with Jesus, just say this prayer right now, invite Jesus into your heart.” All of that sounds so nice and good, but it’s as effective as telling something that is dead to do something.

When it comes to coming to faith and conversion, there are two main false teachings. One originated by a man named John Calvin and another by a man named Jacob Arminius. Both tried to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” John Calvin essentially said that it’s all in God. If you’re going to heaven, it’s because the Sovereign God has declared it and likewise, if you’re going to hell it’s because God has decided that too. So, that makes God no longer all-good and wanting all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Jacob Arminius said that’s a terrible thing to say that God has chosen some people to go to hell. So he said it’s all in you and me. It’s up to us to decide whether we go to heaven or to hell, it’s up to us to decide whether we should believe or not. But that totally denies the truth we just talked about, that on our own we’re dead, incapable of doing anything good and that makes faith in part OUR work instead of God’s gift through the power of the Gospel. And think about the effects of thinking that faith is YOUR decision. It will lead to either pride because at least I made the right decision or lead to despair, “am I really a believer? Did I really make the right decision? If I really did, then why do I still have temptations and doubts? Maybe I didn’t! Maybe I’m not a believer! I can mess up a lot of things in life and if faith was up to me and my decision, I can mess that up too!

But that’s what makes the truth of God’s Word so comforting. If I am going to hell, it’s ALL my fault for rejecting the grace of God. But if I’m going to heaven, it’s ALL to God’s credit and His glory –from Him sending His own Son Jesus to rescue me to using His gospel to work faith into my heart to believe it.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

God intervened, God chose you, God worked a miracle!  God came to you, using the Word and the sacraments, and God worked faith in your hearts.  In so, God took you from spiritual death, to spiritual life!  God took you from the road to hell and put you onto the road to heaven!  God took you from being His enemy to being His friend, even more, His child!  And so you, dear friend, are a walking miracle!  GOD took you from spiritual death to spiritual life!  That makes you to be an amazing person who is the object of God’s amazing love!

And so can we understand why we want and need to stand firmly on this truth?  Those who say “it’s up to you to decide to believe in Jesus, you have to make your decision for Christ,” those people deny that God is working the miracle!  Those people deny, therefore, that YOU are a miracle!  Are you okay with that?!?  No way!  No way we can be okay with that!

In short, God says, “I worked a miracle!  That miracle is you!  I brought you from spiritual death to spiritual life!  That you believe in Jesus as your Savior, that you believe that your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you, that you believe that Jesus rose from the dead – it’s due to the miracle of my grace!”  Do you and I want to give that up?  No way!

Think about what this means for your life. Since your salvation is completed by God from beginning to end, you have incredible peace with God, it’s not contingent upon you to do your thing, it’s not contingent upon your decision, it’s been done and given to you by God Himself: peace. It also gives us certainty in life. Think about it, if faith were up to me, if my assurance of having faith and believing came from being able to pin point an exact time and experience that I had, I would be focusing the basis for my faith not on God, but on me, and I’m a sinner full of sins and doubts and questions. But faith isn’t based on me and what I have done, it’s based on God and His promises. Am I a sinner? Did Jesus die to pay for my sins? Yes! God’s promise is because of that I’m going to heaven. It’s not based on me, on my decision, or what I’ve done or haven’t done. It’s God’s doing! It’s God’s miracle! I can live with certainty!

I’m going to guess that later today you’re going to take a look in the mirror.  What will you see?  Yes, you’ll see yourself, I get that.  But if you think about it deeply, what will you see?  You’ll see a miracle!  Why so?  Because you’ll see a believer in Jesus in that mirror.  That believer in Jesus is you!  And the fact that you believe in Jesus – that’s a miracle worked by God!

This week, live with peace and live with certainty for your salvation, even your faith, is a gift from God!  Amen.

Is it worth it?

Ash Wednesday
Matthew 26:6-13

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, the one who bled and died for our sins, dear friends in Christ, is it worth it? How often do you say that phrase? You know, we’re constantly making value judgments in our life, aren’t we? $2.50 for a dozen eggs, seriously, is it worth it? $39 for a new pair of jeans, really? Is it worth it? I suppose I could change the oil in my car myself…but…is it worth it? I suppose I could drive to my friend’s house, but the roads are slick and icy, is it worth it? There’s so many things in life that we make value judgments for, aren’t there? Is it worth it?  We weigh our options and make a decision.

There’s a value judgment in our text, isn’t there? Along with a heart searching question. Would you do this? Would you or I do what Mary did here? Now, we need to keep in mind a couple things. We’re told of two different incidents in the gospels about Jesus’ being anointed by someone. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry he was anointed by a woman we assume to have been Mary Magdalene, she was a prostitute who came to Jesus while he was eating at a Pharisee’s home and wet Jesus’ feat with her tears and wiped them with her hair. This, however, is a different incident. This is most likely the Saturday before Palm Sunday. Jesus is at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany which was only 2 miles from Jerusalem. Was he someone who had leprosy whom Jesus cured? Seems so. Well, here a meal was being served in Jesus’ honor and Lazarus was there – Lazarus who was dead for four days and Jesus raised to life, as well as at least Jesus’ disciples. So at least 15 men are at this meal. John also tells us that Martha was serving. Matthew here simply says “a woman” and John tells us who this woman was: Mary. She came up to Jesus with an alabaster jar of perfume. An alabaster jar was a kind of stone that had a neck on it and when you were going to use this perfume you had to break the jar. And it wasn’t just any perfume it was pure nard. Extracted from a plant in India it took a lot of work, a lot of expense, and a lot of time on a camel to import it to Israel. Was this a family heirloom? Perhaps. And we’re told that it was “very expensive.” John again informs us that it was worth about a year’s wages. So in modern day, we could imagine possibly at least $25,000-30,000. And she poured it out, all of it on Jesus! Would you have done that? Would I?

The disciples are simply shocked while watching this and only one word can come to their mind with regard to this extravagance: waste! What a waste! This could have been sold and the money given to the poor! What a waste! But notice what Jesus says: Why are you bothering her? She’s done a beautiful thing. When she poured this perfume on my body she did it to prepare me for my…burial.

You know, Jesus had told his disciples on numerous occasions about his upcoming death. He told His disciples that he would be betrayed, rejected, suffer many things, be beaten, mocked, sentenced to death, be crucified, die and be buried. He had told them that He was the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. Jesus had even named the Jewish ruling council as the ones who will carry out the plot on His life. But then when it happens the disciples all abandon Jesus. But, we do know of at least one who was listening, one who got it, Mary.

While the disciples missed it, she got it. She understood that Jesus’ death was both near and imminent. She knew that Jesus’ death wasn’t going to be by chance either. Jesus had clearly said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus’ death on the cross was going to be a payment for her sins. So what did she do? She gave Jesus her best. There wasn’t going to be time to anoint His body when He died, so she did it now. And as the fragrance of the perfume filled the house, its smell was beautiful, but it’s message was strong: Jesus was going to die. This unlikely messenger Mary showed how much Jesus and His death was worth to her.

How much is Jesus worth to you? How much is He worth to me? Is He worth breaking not an alabaster jar, but breaking that sinful habit? Is Jesus worth taking that pet sin – you know the one we like to keep close to us and not let it go- and killing it? Is Jesus worth your time, your dedication?  Is Jesus worth 20 minutes reading His Word a day? What is Jesus worth to you? Is Jesus worth pouring out not perfume, but pouring out my wants for life, my desires for life, my hopes, my dreams, and laying them at Jesus’ feet, submitting my life to Him and His will? How often haven’t we been like those disciples and thought: Jesus isn’t worth it.

Mary showed her costly and humble devotion to her Lord who would soon be going to the cross.  Mary showed her faith in Jesus by showing that He was worth everything to her.  And isn’t this the beautiful picture we have every Lent is to see once again how much WE are worth to Jesus?  He considered YOU worth it to suffer at the hands of evil people, He considered YOU worth it to be tortured on a cross and die a horrid death.  You see, to Jesus you are worth everything.  It wasn’t with gold or silver that you were bought back from your previous way of life but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect!  God spent His blood on you!  How much does that make you worth?  How much is God’s blood worth?  Priceless.  To Jesus that is what you are!  This Lent once again see how much you’re worth to God and serve Him with all you have and are for He is worth it to you!

Self-Indulgence Creates Craving, Grace Creates Self- Control

10th Sunday after Pentecost
Titus 2:11-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Just “Like a kid in a candy store.”  There’s a well-loved fictional children’s story that goes something like this: a wealthy man owned a factory that made a bunch of candy.  After the factory was closed for 3 years it reopened and began selling tons of candy all over the world.  But, nobody was allowed to see its operations.  But one day the owner announced a special prize.  In 5 of his factory’s chocolate candy bars there was a golden ticket allowing the owner to have an exclusive tour of the chocolate factory.  By chance, a boy named Charlie happens to get the last golden ticket.  5 children and their chaperones are allowed to tour the factory.  The tour begins and before they go on the tour each child has to sign a long contract that the factory is not responsible for any harm that comes to the children.  The tour begins and Augustus falls into a hot chocolate river attempting to drink some of it and must leave the factory.  Veruca is judged to be “bad-nut” by the nut-judging Squirrels and is thrown out of the factory.  Violet impetuously grabs an experimental piece of gum and turns into a giant blueberry and has to leave the factory.  And Mike shrinks himself to the size of a few inches by mischievously trying out an experimental TV broadcast thing.  The only one left is Charlie.  And in the original movie he, too, samples some Fizzy Lifting soda which causes him to float to the ceiling and almost get sucked out a giant exhaust fan.  Fortunately for him, he’s able to get down.  Perhaps you’ve seen the movie or read the book, it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Surrounded by the lures of candy the children couldn’t resist.  The lure of the sweets, the temptations were just too compelling for the children and they had to have it.  And they were willing to disobey in order to get it.  Whoever coined the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” was right.

But really, is it much different for us?  We live in a society of many, many freedoms.  We enjoy our freedoms and those freedoms enable us to do many things.  We also, in comparison to past civilizations, live in a world of unprecedented wealth and material and luxury.  The combination of these things makes it very accessible for us to be self-indulgent.  There is little keeping us from being over-indulgent with the pleasures and treasures of this earthly life.  There is little hindering us from living without restraint.  The mantra of the world we live in is “There are no limits.  If it feels good, do it!  Gratify yourself!”  Advertising often thrives on it.  How often in one day do we hear things like, “You deserve this, you owe it to yourself to indulge, if it feels good, go ahead!”

I think we’ve all also heard many accounts of self-indulgence or people living with self-control.  I’ve heard of people winning the lottery, taking the lump sum pay out, and squandering it and are broke within a year.  There are magazines that make their living on telling the details of all the Hollywood stars who’ve become popular and wealthy and the have become monsters with terribly messed up lives.  A few years ago I remember the story about a family who was down and out financially and was given a brand new mansion to live in by the show Extreme Home Makeover.  Then, within a matter of years their home was lost to foreclosure.  Why?  The loss of self-control and the takeover of self-indulgence.  The paper is also full of these stories: the desire for more wealth causes someone to steal or embezzle.  The desire to feel better about oneself causes someone to indulge in drugs or alcohol.  The desire for sex causes an unmarried couple to go too far, causes a husband or wife to be unfaithful to his or her spouse, broken homes, broken families, broken lives.

But what about you and me?  Are we innocent in this world of self-indulgence or loss of self-control?  When was the last time you or I lost our temper?  When was the last time we spoke things we shouldn’t have?  When was the last time we charged too much on the credit card or bought something we couldn’t afford?  When was the last time we permitted indecent thoughts or lust to linger in our minds?  When was the last time we over-indulged our body, eating or drinking more than we should have or failing to exercise the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Often self-indulgence involves taking a good blessing of God and abusing it.  Pride convinces us that we deserve all the things that we think will make us feel good.  But the result?  Any striving after the selfish appetites of our sinful nature leads only to a greater craving for more and plunges us into greater spiritual trouble.  Finally, self-indulgence boils down to abandoning what I have already in God and thinking that the pleasures and treasures of this life will give me what only God can give.  Nothing, nothing, nothing in this life can give you or me: lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting fulfillment, lasting meaning, lasting purpose, and lasting significance.  Those things can ONLY come from God.

You and I have failed miserably.  We’ve indulged ourselves more than we could ever count.  We deserve nothing from God but punishment.  And that’s what makes grace grace; pure, undeserved grace.

For the grace of God that brings salvation for all has appeared.  Where did this grace, this rich and undeserved love appear?  It appeared the night the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; today in the down of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”  It appeared as Jesus withstood the every one of the devil’s temptations to self-indulgence.  It appeared as Jesus gave Himself in service to others his whole life and never indulged selfish appetites.  It appeared as Jesus hung bloodied and beaten on a cross paying the price for all sins – yours and mine included.  It appeared as that same Savior burst from the tomb of death alive proving the victory was won the payment for sin was made.

And what does this grace do?  “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”  But isn’t it God’s law that says, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal?”  Yes, God’s law demands us to say no to ungodliness.  But it’s God’s grace that moves us and motivates us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.  It is God’s grace that enables us to reject self-indulgence from the heart.  It’s God’s grace that creates in our hearts the desire for self-control.  We can’t demonstrate godly self-control in our lives unless God’s grace has enabled us to do so.  We can demonstrate self-control for all kinds of reasons.  Even someone who doesn’t believe in God can come to the conclusion that leisure and pleasure have to be contained in order to reach a higher good.  But the Christian who grasps the grace of God thinks not so much about the negative effects of self-indulgence, but thinks about the amazing and rich grace of God and asks, “How could I not live a self-controlled, upright and godly life?”  I have a Savior who’s lived, died, and rose for me!

Add to that what we know: We are waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  One day Jesus will return.  And when Jesus returns we’ll see all the worldly stuff we’re tempted to indulge in  for what it really is: temporary and fleeting.  But rather, unlike the fleeting pleasures and treasures of this world, we look forward with a certain hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade kept in heaven for you!

Jesus redeemed us from all wickedness- all our self-indulgent sins and our self-indulgent ways – by Jesus’ blood you have been purified, cleansed, and freed from sin and it’s slavery.  So what do we want to do?  Enslave ourselves to sin again?  Plunge ourselves back into self-indulgence?  No way!  As God’s own dearly loved people how can we not be eager to do what is good?  How can we not strive for self-control?

It’s God’s grace, the gospel, that is the power source for everything we do as Christians.  It’s God’s grace that is the power source for living self-controlled lives.  And what does that mean?  That means empowered by God’s grace we keep our emotions and feelings in check and don’t let them escalate and cause us to lose our temper, become easily angered, or react to someone with rage.  Empowered by God’s grace we can maintain self-control financially as we properly distinguish wants from needs and not let our emotions lead us to indulge in things we can’t afford.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live self-controlled with our bodies by taking care of them by how we eat, by what we put into our bodies, and by what thoughts we allow access in our minds.  Empowered by God’s grace we can live in self-control by guarding our hearts and bodies from sexual impurity.

Like a kid in the candy store we are each surrounded by an enormous buffet of options for self-indulgence.  How do we live?  How can we be self-controlled?  On our own we can’t.  But the grace of God has set us free.  Keep the grace of front and center in your heart, live in light of the fact that Christ came once to redeem us and will come again to take us home.  It’s that grace that assures us that we have all we need in God our Savior that disciplines us to live in self-control and uprightness and godliness.  Remind yourself of this constantly, keep a focus on God’s grace, say to yourself “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  And may that shape your heart, your tongue, and your actions in Christ this week.  Amen.

We covet what we value most; what we value most, we sacrifice the most for

9th Sunday after Pentacost
Joshua 7:19-26

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, the spy is ushered into a dark room without any windows.  He’s chained to one side of the table.  His interrogators pelt him with questions, trying to pry whatever information they can out of him about his organization.  But he’s been trained to withstand great suffering without giving up any information.  But he knows and his captors know that if he shares any information it will mean dire consequences for his fellow spies and, if he is released from his captors, the top secret information he gave away will most likely mean death for betrayal from his own people.  So what do his captors do?  They place before him a picture of his daughter implying that if he remains silent, she will suffer.  So what does he choose?  Of course, he gives up the information putting his own life on the line.  The spy valued his daughter most and was ready to sacrifice the most for her.

Well, the same is true in our lives.  Probably not in such graphic ways, though.  What we strongly desire or “covet” is what we value most and for what we value most we’ll sacrifice the most.  What is it that we “covet” or have strong desires for in life?  Well, if you really want to run in the Blue Ox Marathon in Bemidji, you may sacrifice all kinds of things in order to do so- maybe sacrifice junk food, sacrifice time relaxing on the couch for some intense running and conditioning.  If you really covet straight A’s, you’ll sacrifice play time for study time, maybe sacrifice sleep for a late night cramming session before an exam.  If you really desire having that new boat or that new car, perhaps you’ll sacrifice free time for extra hours at work, perhaps sacrifice spending on other things for saving your money.  Whatever it is that we covet, it is that which we value and for whatever we value most, we’re willing to sacrifice most, right?

And we see it in the account here with Achan.  At this point Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promised Land which God had promised to their forefather Abraham hundreds of years earlier.  God had faithfully led them for 40 years through their wandering in the desert, faithfully provided food and water for them every day, and most recently, faithfully parted the Jordan River which was at flood stage for them to cross over and enter the Promised Land.  The first city they were to attack was the city of Jericho – a well-fortified and walled city.  And this was God’s direction on how they were to capture this city: they were to march around the city once a day for 6 days.  Then on the 7th day they were to march around the city 7 times and after the 7th time the people were to shout and God promised that the walls of Jericho would fall down and they could go right into the city.  Sound like a good plan?  There was one more piece of instruction that God gave them: all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to be saved and put in the Lord’s treasury and everything else in all the city was to be completely destroyed and burned.

Well, everything happened just like God had said and the Israelites won and destroyed the city.  Their confidence soared and they moved on to the next city which was significantly smaller and so they decided to send a small force and easily defeat it.  However, not only did they not inquire of the Lord before they went, they also had someone in their midst who had acted unfaithfully.  So, when they marched against the next city, they were routed and 36 of them died in the battle.  Their confidence was shattered.  “Now what?  This small force defeated us?  What if the rest of the Canaanites hear about this?  They’ll also come at us and easily defeat us!  We’re ruined!”

So Joshua prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered telling him that someone had stolen, had lied, had taken things from Jericho that should not have been taken.  So, they couldn’t defeat any enemies until they were right with God again and cleansed themselves from this sin.  So they drew lots narrowing it down to find the culprit from tribe, then clan, then family, then individual.  Interestingly, the perpetrator never stepped forward until the lot fell to him.

Finally, the lot fell to Achan.  And what does he say? “It is true!  I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel.  This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weight fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.  They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”  I saw, I coveted, I took.  What was he thinking?  Hadn’t God faithfully given them an amazing victory?  His actions cost 36 people their lives!  Well, with our experience at rationalizing sin, perhaps we can guess what was going on in Achan’s mind as he stole those things: “No one will know.  God is too strict.  What I’m taking is a mere pittance compared with what others have.  I’m not really being greedy, I just want to take care of my family.  Others are probably doing the same thing.  What a waste to burn this nice robe.  God is getting so much silver and gold out of this, he won’t miss this little bit.”  But regardless, he sinned against God and it affected the whole nation.  But when confronted he confessed his sin, they found the robe, the silver, and the gold hidden under his tent.  His sinful actions had consequences.  They rounded up all that he owned and stoned all of it, including him and burned it all.

Here we see the devastating consequences of the sin of coveting.  What does it mean to “covet”?  Finally, the word “covet” simply means to have a strong desire for something.  We generally think of “covet” in the bad sense, but it is possible to have a strong desire for something in a good sense.  This same word “covet” is used in the Bible to describe the desire that exists between a husband and a wife.  God also wants us to have a strong desire for Him and His Word.  One Psalm says, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for the living God.”  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  God wants us to have a strong desire for Him, His Word, for what is right and good.

But as we see in the case of Achan there is, of course, all kinds of bad coveting.  Bad coveting is always wanting more of something other than God.  It’s never content with what one has no matter how much that might be.  It wants to gain things at the expense of other people.  But here is what coveting boils down to: It is really a deified desire.  It moves a desire inside of us to have something at all costs into the place in our hearts that God has reserved only for Himself.   This coveting, this wanting, this desire becomes more important to us than God.

It happened with Achan.  God had clearly directed the Israelites to destroy everything and put all the silver and gold into the treasury.  But to Achan, by denying him something so obviously good (at least in his own eyes) God was being ridiculous and selfish.  So, at least in the moment, it was more important to Achan to have silver and gold than to obey God.  And that’s what coveting in essence does.  It reflects our value system.  Shows what is most important to us.  People don’t covet what they have determined to be little value.  People generally don’t covet someone else’s trash.  We covet what we value most and we’ll be ready to sacrifice things we determine of lesser value to have what we value the most.  What did Achan value the most?  Gold, silver, a robe.  What was he ready to sacrifice in order to get it?  His honesty, his faithfulness, his trustworthiness, his relationships with friends and family, the lives of his fellow soldiers, but most severely: He was ready to sacrifice his relationship with God in order to have gold, silver, and a robe.

It’s really idolatry.  It shows up in our lives too, doesn’t it?  In the end, isn’t it God who is the greatest good in life and of infinite value?  So, with a proper value system we should covet a strong relationship with Him and be ready to make whatever sacrifices we need to in order to keep that relationship with Him.  And whatever we give up in life in order to know God better is far worth the price.

But what so often happens?  Just like Achan, our value system gets all messed up.  We begin to think that the essence of life, of our happiness, our joy, stems from having something in this life: a better home, a new boat, a better spouse, a new car, more money, a better job, you name it, and we’ll be ready to sacrifice anything in order to get it – time spent in God’s Word, time with our family, our marriage, our credit rating, going into bankruptcy, our relationships with others.  What is our value system?  Is our faith and our relationship with God of supreme importance in life that we’re willing to sacrifice ANYTHING that might get in its way?  Or are we ready to sacrifice our relationship with God and what He wants for us for ANYTHING that we covet?  We covet what we value most and what we value most we sacrifice the most for.  But as our Gospel states God will not share mastership over us with anything.  We may be able to hide our thoughts and desires from people, but He sees it all.

Which leads us to one conclusion: there’s nothing we could possibly do to earn God’s favor.  For not only have we done many sinful actions, but God sees even our hearts and condemns the sin of coveting in each of us.  So what did God do?  Apart from anything humans have done, God strongly desired something, coveted, if you will, and just like we covet what we value the most so did God.  Yet, what did God covet the most?  God strongly desired the salvation of us humans the most.  And what God valued the most, He sacrificed the most for.  He sacrificed His one and only Son who laid His life down on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice, shedding His blood for our sins and washing us clean from every covetous thought and feeling and desire.

God doesn’t want to force or demand anyone into being His child.  Rather, in pure grace God wants to win our hearts by what He’s done for us on the cross and in the empty tomb.  You see, God’s grace in the gospel is what changes our hearts.  God’s grace in the gospel moves us to want Him, to strongly desire Him.  He changes our value system in life making Him, our Gracious Savior, the most important and priceless treasure in our lives.  And since we have Him- and with Him His love and eternal life- we have all we need.  We can live content with what He’s given us in life.  We can be ready to sacrifice whatever it is in life that gets in our way of knowing God better.  And then we can say with the apostle Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”  In Christ you have it all!  Live with that contentment!  Amen.