The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany February 1, 2009
279, 325, 373, 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: “Thus you say, ‘If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?’” Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: “The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.” When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. Yet the children of your people say, “The way of the Lord is not fair.” But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is not fair.” O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.
Dear fellow sinners redeemed by Christ:
Have you heard the story about the cow that sunk a fishing trawler? The dazed crew of a Japanese boat was rescued in the Sea of Japan while clinging to the wreckage of their sunken ship. The crew said that the cow fell from the sky, struck their ship, and shattered its hull. No one believed them until later when the Russian Air Force informed Japanese authorities that the crew of one of its cargo planes had shoved a cow out of the cargo hold from an altitude of 30,000 feet.
Speaking of animals, it seems that now you can truly buy anything from the internet. penguinwarehouse.com sells certified purebred penguins to anyone who is willing to pay the price.
If you haven’t heard these two stories you probably have heard that it is dangerous to throw rice at weddings because the birds will eat it and will die when the rice expands inside of them.
What do all three of these stories have in common? They are all urban legends and myth. They are the kind of “believe it or not” stories that have been told through generations. They are hardly believable, but yet our desire for the amazing leaves us wanting to believe it. These myths used to be spread through story-telling and now they multiply in email forwards across the internet.
There are also many myths and misunderstandings concerning the true God and what He says in His Word. These religious myths may originate because of the sinful desire to confine God within the scope of human reason, or they might arise because of the sinful desire to decide for oneself what is right and wrong instead of truly listening to God.
Today we are DISPELLING MYTHS WITH THE TRUTH. There are more myths about God than we can answer in one day, but we will consider these three: Myth 1: A loving God would never condemn sinners; Myth 2: Sin doesn’t matter because there is forgiveness; Myth 3: God isn’t fair
This myth arises because of a confusion over what love is. Love is not receiving everything your heart desires. Love is not indulgence. In fact, indulgence and getting everything we want is often a refined kind of hate and selfishness—not love at all.
If parents give their children everything they want, this over-indulging “love” will end up harming the children because their hearts will desire things that are harmful, e.g., “knives are shiny and fun.” It is not love to overindulge children. Love will, at times, keep things away from someone. Love will, at times, include correction and discipline.
The same so-called love that showers everything upon a child may also be selfishness. If a parent doesn’t want to say, “no” because it is so much easier to say, “yes” than to deal with what comes after the “no,” then the decision is made by what the parent wants, not what is best for the child.
Genuine love, is not selfish and it looks for what will truly benefit the object of its love. Consider God’s love for sinners. He loved us and sent Jesus to be our Savior. Was that a good thing for Jesus from a selfish standpoint? No! He was the eternal Son of God who set aside the full use of His divine power and glory, became man, and died on the cross for us. There wasn’t an apparent advantage for Him, personally. Was there an advantage to God and how it would affect Him? No! He gave up His only begotten Son into death for us. But was it in our best interest? Yes! Was it true to God’s character? Yes! In His love, God desired to sacrifice those things so that we could live with Him forever. Love does what is best for the object that is loved, even at the expense of personal sacrifice.
A second belief contributing to the myth is that love and justice can’t co-exist, that they are somehow mutually exclusive. This is a false belief from human desire and misguided logic. Love and justice are two different characteristics of the true God. Saying that they can’t exist together would be like saying that I couldn’t have blue eyes because I have large hands—they are two different characteristics that can and do co-exist. In God, love and justice co-exist perfectly. We have a loving Father who is also a holy God and just.
God’s love is actually connected to His justice. What kind of love is there in someone who is not just? What kind of love disciplines and judges sin, but another time would turn away. What kind of love is there in a God who would say, “This is my will” and then later change it to meet the whims of sinful creatures. There is neither love nor justice in such an approach. Love and justice are miraculously combined with perfection in God. He is a loving God who indeed desires our best interest, but at the same time is consistent and just and holy in everything He does. That is a wonderful God, that is the true God with justice and love combined.
A third contributing factor to this myth is the human desire to do “whatever I want” and to decide what is right and wrong and how we want to define God. When these three factors are combined, out pops the myth that a loving God would never condemn sinners, but the truth dispels that myth as God says: “Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ [vv.10-11]
God is holy. He is just. He will condemn sin. But His desire, His love for us, is that all people be saved. “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It is not God’s desire, He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He wants souls to be saved to live with Him forever in heaven.
That desire is so incredibly demonstrated in the whole path and plan of salvation. Consider that God in eternity planned our salvation, that He in eternity elected us to be His own, and that in time He sent His only begotten Son to be our Savior. When you look at that wonderful story of salvation, how could you possibly conclude that this God wants sinners to die? You can’t! His love wants us to live and his justice remains.
God does not desire the death of the wicked, but if the wicked continue in their ways and reject their Savior, they will die eternally because that is their just reward and punishment for sin.
In Psalm 121 God promises that He will “preserve our souls” (Psalm 121:7). His dealing with us won’t always be the way we think it should be. We won’t always have a carefree life. It won’t mean that we won’t face the effects of sin. At times it may even look like He’s not loving us because of the kinds of things He’s allowing to come into our lives. But He is doing that with the goal of preserving our souls. So what perhaps looks like a lack love to our human eyes, is never a lack of love on God’s part. He is administrating His will in our lives for our soul’s salvation and that is the height of love.
This is also a common myth and one that unfortunately, Christians may fall into even without realizing it. Because we have been the beneficiaries of God’s grace for so long we can be in danger of apathy toward it’s value. We understand and are comforted by the Word of God that assures us that we are completely forgiven by the work of Christ Jesus. The Devil may not tempt us to deny that, but what he will try to do is come in the back way and tempt us to think that we have a blank check to do whatever we want and that those sins will be forgiven.
Think of how a criminal’s mind would work if he knew that he could steal, kill, and do whatever he wished without ever being caught. That would be a free ticket for crime. Unfortunately, the Devil wants us to approach the sin in our lives in the same way. He whispers through the temptations of the world, “It’s OK. Jesus died for your sin so go ahead and sin. It won’t matter.” It does matter! It is a false, misleading, soul-destroying myth to ever believe that sin doesn’t matter because Jesus forgives it.
God sets this myth aside when He says: “Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.; When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die.” [vv.12-13]
Someone who has been following God’s Word and has the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, but then forsakes Jesus and pursues wickedness is not justified and holy in God’s sight. The temptation is, “I have been a Christian since I was little, I was baptized as an infant, I’m a member of a church, and I do all of the things I’m supposed to do. God will forgive me.” Under this approach, we are tempted further to say after we sin, “Yes, I’ve sinned, but, God, look at how good I am. I’m doing the right thing and also asking for forgiveness.”
We may not ever say it in so many words, but if we are relying on our goodness, our Christian life, or “doing the right thing,” as our way of salvation then we are asking God to forgive us because of what we do.
Sin matters. Whether you have been a Christian for a day or for 90 years, every day that you sin is a day that needs repentance. It needs to be a day of recognition that every sin offends the holy God. Every sin justly deserves His eternal punishment and it is only by the grace and mercy of Christ that any of us live. If we who have had the forgiveness of sins, turn away from Christ’s righteousness, pursue sin, and reject that salvation, we will stand condemned on the Last Day. Sin and its guilt that are still ours on the Last Day will be condemned, but in Christ it is washed away.
This leads to the second scenario that God presents: “Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.” [vv.14-16]
Someone who has lived an abominably wicked life but before his time of grace on the earth ends repents and is brought to faith in Jesus—this person’s sins are washed away completely. Even though the wickedness was there for so long, he is restored and renewed with the forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus. The sin is gone. Sin matters because it’s presence condemns us. It’s removal is our salvation.
The apostle Paul warned against the myth that sin doesn’t matter when he wrote to the Romans: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:1-6).
Jesus has set us free. Having been set free from that captivity of sin, it is not consistent with our salvation to keep pursuing sin or to go forward into it with the assumption that “it’s OK, it will be forgiven.”
The truth that dispels this myth takes effect in our lives when we examine our hearts daily, when we realize that the sins we commit are still just as serious as they have ever been, but they are forgiven through the blood of Christ. We diminish the salvation of Christ if we diminish sin because the more sin is diminished the less we need a Savior.
This myth is very common in the world today. We are told that adultery is no longer adultery. No longer is it really against God’s Word to live together before you are married. You know it’s not so bad, really, if people of the same gender pursue a relationship together as long as they truly love each other. We’re told these things again and again and the myth lives across the world. We need to dispel that myth with the truth lest we be pulled into it.
The world’s view on the fifth commandment is similar We are told that the child growing in the womb is up for the killing if it is unwanted—it’s the mother’s personal choice. The myth is that it doesn’t matter, but it does. Sin is still sin.
Cheating and stealing still break the seventh commandment regardless of what the world might say. Whether it is stealing money through work, or stealing money by cheating on taxes, or by stealing answers for a test in school—whenever we are cheating we are stealing something. That’s still sin. It doesn’t change and it still matters.
The more we see that sin remains the same, the more we understand that we need the Savior and that we can put our every hope in His righteousness, not our own. Then the myth that sin doesn’t matter is dispelled and gone because it is replaced with joy in the salvation that Jesus brings.
This myth is as old as sin itself. When the Devil first tempted Eve he tempted her to question God’s fairness in not letting her and Adam eat from all the trees in the garden. God identifies this myth in today’s text when He says: “…the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.” [vv.17-20]
This myth grows partly out of the false notion that fairness is always equality, i.e. in order to be fair God would have to give the same thing to everyone. This myth is dispelled by the truth that at times fairness is equality, but at other times fairness may be tailored to individuals and not be equal. If someone believes “it’s not fair” because God has given certain blessings to this person and not to me, the myth is dispelled by the truth that God gives gifts according to His wisdom. God wisely chooses what gifts to give or not give to each individual according to his ability (cf. Matthew 25:15). This is wisdom and complete fairness according to God’s gracious purposes and His deep love.
Some may say, “It’s not fair” and reference the first myth: “Why would God condemn me when I’m doing the best I can—It’s not fair!” God is fair according to what is true and just. Remember that God is our Creator and has the authority and prerogative to define what is right and wrong, and He does so in His law. He has every reason to expect our perfect obedience to His Law, and we fail. The righteous judgment on sin is eternal death in Hell. That’s fair—we have earned death by our sin. God’s love is also fair through Christ Jesus because He has provided rescue for us. As God says, He gives life to the wicked because of their repentance, but He judges the “righteous” because they have turned from Him—that is fair, and it is just, and it is loving.
Jesus told a parable of workers in a vineyard (cf. Matthew 20:1ff). In this parable, the master of the vineyard went to the marketplace in the morning and hired workers for the day at an agreed upon wage. Throughout the day, the master returned to the marketplace and hired more workers agreeing with them to pay a just wage. At the end of the day the master paid all of the workers the same amount. The workers who were hired in the morning and worked all day complained that the men who had only worked one hour received the same wage as those who had worked through the heat of the day. The master replied by saying he was doing nothing wrong. The first workers had agreed to the day’s wage and it was within His ability and right to give what he wanted to give to the others. “Why would you quarrel with me because of my love and generosity” the master asked, “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (cf. Matthew 20:15). Jesus’ message through the parable is that whether we come to faith in our youth or old age, whatever our earthly standing in this life may be, salvation in Christ is equal. Believers in Christ receive His righteousness and thereby inherit eternal life. God is completely fair. The myth that He is not fair relates back to the first myth and is a misunderstanding of justice and love and of God’s purpose and plan of salvation.
When we remember that God’s purpose is our eternal life in heaven and that He works all things in this life for that goal, then even though things may not seem fair in our earthly lives, they will be proven fair in our hearts because we are able to trust God’s truth and promise. We can rely on God to preserve our soul and bless us according to His will.
In these words from Ezekiel God repeatedly emphasizes that this is His Word—“Thus says the Lord.” As we go about our lives we will be faced with many a myth. They will be myths that will tempt us to doubt and to question things about God and His salvation. Be assured in knowing that God’s Truth always dispels the myth and gives you life and salvation. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.