The Sixth Sunday After Trinity July 27, 2003

INI

Too Late

Hebrews 12:12-17

Scripture Readings

Genesis 25:29-34, 27:33b-35
Mark 7:14-23

Hymns

19, 388, 373, 50

Grace, mercy and peace be yours in richest measure from God our Father, and from our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus:

Sometimes honesty must be tempered with tact. That much is just good manners. We are fast approaching the point in our society, however, where we are using much more tact than honesty. At some point, tact buries the truth so deeply as to render it meaningless. Here is an example: Not long ago, I attended the funeral of a young man who was killed when the driver of the car in which he was riding lost control and rolled his vehicle. State Troopers established that the man was driving well in excess of the posted speed limit. The young man who died was ejected from the vehicle and crushed. There was alcohol involved. After the accident and at the funeral the driver of the car obviously felt terrible about the whole thing. “If only I had known,” he lamented. “I’m so sorry.”

What do we, as a society, say to that young man at a time like that? Most often we seek to bury the truth under a mountain of tact and compassion. “It was an accident,” we tell him. “You didn’t intend that anyone should get hurt.” “That sort of thing just happens.” The truth, on the other hand, is that the driver did know. He was just too careless or too thoughtless to realize that it could happen to him. It was not just “an accident.” He had been taught from little on not to drink and drive. His parents, his driving instructors, and the law itself had told him that speed kills. All of this he simply ignored and as a result he killed his best friend. That’s the cold, hard truth of the matter. But then we can’t speak such truth at a time like that, can we? All we can do is comfort the grieving family and hope someone, somehow, learns a lesson from the tragedy. The young man who killed his friend has his own punishment to bear for the rest of his life. It is a self-inflicted wound that will never fully heal. No amount of remorse or sorrow can ever change or undo what he has done. In a start-over, do-over, video game world, this is a lesson we need to learn. In real life, what is done can not always be undone. This is one lesson we need to learn when we are young.

It is important to establish this fact in the secular world so that we can apply it also in the spiritual. Our text today makes this transition for us. It takes what cannot be undone on earth and compares it to what cannot be undone in the spiritual world. That text is found in the Book of Hebrews, the 12th Chapter:

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

So far the verbally inspired words of our God. In humble thanksgiving for these words we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.

What a world of negative emotion and disappointment is tied up in those two little words: Too late. It is a phrase, however, that most children neither understand nor accept. Young people tend to cling to the mistaken notion that it is never really “too late.” Rules can always be broken. Deadlines can always be extended. Closings can always be delayed. To a child, everything can be undone. Reality is often very unkind to such childhood ideas. It crushes them, sometimes with extreme cruelty and without mercy. Like the young man who killed his friend, reality teaches everyone, sooner or later, the rock-hard true meaning of “too late.”

Our text reminds us of an example from the Old Testament. There are many such examples, but our text uses Esau and the selling of his birthright. It is most interesting, first of all, to note the force carried by a man’s word back then as compared to today. We heard the particulars of this account in our Old Testament reading (Genesis 25:29ff). Did you happen to notice what sealed the deal? It was Esau’s oath. He swore an oath to Jacob, selling his birthright, and that was that. There is little chance that something like that would hold up in court today. A man’s word means little today, especially in the legal world. Esau’s oath would almost certainly be set aside as coerced or “given under duress” or some such legalese. In Esau’s day, however, a man swore an oath and that was the end of it. From that point on Jacob owned the birthright and no one (not even his father) could change that fact. Esau could cry, complain, beg, or threaten, but it would make absolutely no difference. As far as his birthright was concerned, it was too late.

The birthright was, in this case, more than just the inheritance of the firstborn. What made Esau’s actions so despicable was the fact that the his birthright was tied to the Covenant Promise of God. In other words, inheriting his father Isaac’s land was not the greatest part of this particular birthright. Esau showed himself to be godless and worldly (the literal meaning of the term “profane person” used in our text) by trading the covenant promise of God for a pot of bean soup. Esau is called “godless” in our text because he cherished his own instant gratification much more than the covenant promise of God—the Covenant, you will recall, that carried as its most important component the promise of the Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ.

Here is where our text connects with the present so perfectly. To our 21st century ears, Esau’s reasoning sounds solid. Remember what Esau said: “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?(Genesis 25:32). To our ears that sounds like rather good logic—what good is an inheritance if I am dead? Except, he wasn’t about to die, was he? This was childish instant gratification talking, not physical necessity. A man who can walk into camp is not about to die of starvation. That can take months. Had Esau been dangling by one hand from the edge of a thousand-foot cliff and traded his birthright for a rope from Jacob his logic might have held. Not so in the case of what really happened.

The key here, as always, centers on the condition of the man’s heart. Esau despised the Promise of God. It meant next to nothing to him—worth less in his opinion than a pot of beans. It was, remember, through faith in God’s promise of a Savior that believers in the Old Testament were saved. This same Book of Hebrews tells us: “These all (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Sarah, Abraham, etc.) died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth(Hebrews 11:13). Their faith in God’s promise made them “other-worldly”—strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

We, today, are saved by the same faith. The only difference is that our faith is in the accomplished fact that the Savior has now been sent, and that he has completed the payment for our sins, and has opened heaven’s door by his death on the cross. It was this same promise that Esau despised. It was for his lack of faith that he was condemned. His foolishness and need for instant gratification caused him temporal hardship. The real tragedy was the spiritual poverty indicated by his actions.

This, again, brings us to today. The worst aspect of the immorality of our society is not the sin itself. The debt for this sin has been paid by our Lord. The worst aspect of the immorality in our society is the indication of the condition of the heart. All around we see those who are willing to trade their own birthright for a bit of pleasure here on earth. How do we do that? Christians do that when they drive saving faith from their hearts by giving themselves over to sin. It is the same as selling the birthright for a bit of stew. Our text warns about “falling short of the grace of God (literally: falling from grace); lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled…” Sin is the “root of bitterness” that “springs up.” The “trouble” that it causes is unbelief, and it is unbelief that alone can damn us.

These are cold hard facts, and hell is full of shattered, tormented souls who learned these truths the hard way. I pray God that he will spare you from learning these truths only when it is too late. Speaking of which…

There are those words again: “Too late.” There is so much history and we are still so slow to learn. Perhaps the trouble is that we are once again covering the truth with too much tact. For the sake of clarity and truth let’s be tactless for a moment. How are Christians selling their birthright (despising their Lord and their faith) today? The number one “pot of beans” today is sexual perversion. In case there is any doubt among us here today, let us be tactlessly clear.

It is still a sin to engage in any sexual activity outside of marriage. Living together is not marriage. Being “in love” is not marriage. Being engaged is not marriage. This is not man’s commandment to change. It is God’s will and it does not change.

Jesus himself explained to us in our Gospel reading that this is the sort of thing that defiles both men and women. Here is part of the list he gave us in Mark 7:21: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, wickedness… lewdness…” Again, for the record, “adultery” is having marital relations with a married person other than your spouse. It is a sin. “Fornication” is having marital relations with someone who is not married. It is a sin. Looking at pornography on the internet or in magazines or movies is “lewdness” and brings about “evil thoughts.” Both are sins. What is more, they are most grievous sins. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 tells us why: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Paul gives us all some sound advice: “Flee sexual immorality” before it is too late.

Satan would be thrilled if the sermon ended at this point and on this note. He knows that if he cannot drown saving faith in a flood of sin and perversion, then his only recourse is to try to starve it in the desert of pharisaic self-righteousness. In other words, if he can’t get you to abandon your faith in favor of sin, he will tempt you to try to save yourself by doing good. Both are a rejection of Jesus Christ and saving faith. Jesus does not want you to abandon sin “because you have to or you can’t go to heaven.” He wants you to hate sin because you love him and because of what you are. He wants you to appreciate what it is that he has done for you and in you. He wants you to understand that you are now a new creation. You have been, as we just heard, “bought at a price.

The Pharisees would never have dreamt of engaging in the sexual perversion that is so common today and yet, they died in unbelief because they tried to save themselves by their avoidance of sin. That doesn’t work—not unless you avoid every sin every moment of your life. Sin just once and you have to find another way to heaven. That way is Jesus, who called Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” You are His. He died to save you. Having given His life for you, He doesn’t want to see you throw eternity away for a bowl of beans, which is exactly what all the pleasure this world has to offer will look like from the perspective of heaven.

So then, dear Christians, look at your life today. Do you see anything that you are doing that does not please the One who died for you? Do you see anything that is out of character for a child of the Most High God? Do you see anything in your life that is tearing down your faith in Jesus Christ? The remedy is clear. As a child of God you don’t even have to be told what to do. That is what our text means by “make straight paths for your feet.[v.13] Do what is necessary before it is too late.

Our text warns us that there will come a time when it will be too late. As with Esau, no amount of crying or begging will change God’s righteous decree on Judgment Day. So our Lord told us: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). Do not, dear Christian, allow sin to destroy the faith that has been created in you. Do not deny the Spirit’s call within you. In Christ Jesus you are a holy creation. Walk as is fitting a holy child of God. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl


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