Lent 1 March 5, 2017
140, 141, 151:1-3, 37
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, we give You thanks that of Your great goodness and mercy You did suffer Your only-begotten Son to take on flesh and to redeem us from sin and everlasting death; and we implore You, enlighten our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that we may evermore yield You unfeigned thanks for this Your grace and may comfort ourselves with the same in all time of tribulation and temptation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
What is the difference between wages and a gift? Obviously, a wage is something you earn by your work and a gift is something that you receive even though you did not work for it. These definitions hold true in every day life. They also hold true in our every day spiritual lives, specifically in connection with our sin and God’s grace.
When we do a job for someone sooner or later they ask, “What do I owe you?” We answer, “I want what is fair.” Scripture bears this out, as Paul writes to Timothy, “A laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). When we work we want what we feel we deserve in return for our labor.
In the United States, the public is becoming more vocal on the issue of crime. The people feel that not enough is being done to stop crime and to punish those who break the law. We want to see criminals get what they deserve for their evil deeds.
But what about our evil deeds? We say that lawbreakers are evil because they commit crimes against society, because they break the law. But we break the law too! Every day of our lives, in one way or another, we sin. Scripture calls sin “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) because it breaks God’s law. Are we willing to admit that we should receive what we deserve for breaking the law?
In the light of Scripture, held against what we know about our daily lives, we have to admit that we are lawbreakers. From the very time that our life begins, we have sin to reckon with, as the Psalmist admits, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Throughout our lives we add sin after sin on top of the original sin that we are conceived and born with. This includes not only the unbeliever, but the believer as well. The Apostle Paul, e.g., said of himself, “The evil that I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:18). Scripture says of all people, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19).
The world may call many sinful pleasures “fun.” Indeed, that is the very reason they are called sinful pleasures. But this is a contradictory phrase in light of what these sinful works earn man.
We read in our text, “The wages of sin is death.” Death has been the wage of sin ever since Creation, when God said to Adam and Eve, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Sooner or later this judgment for sin will get everyone, even as we read, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Death is what we deserve for sin, both physical and eternal. The Prophet Ezekiel writes, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Even believers, as we have seen with the Apostle Paul, and as we observe in our own lives, if left to rely on our own works are doomed, for “By the deeds of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). If we rely on the law for our salvation we will only succeed in finding out that the wage we deserve for our unrighteous labors is death.
Fortunately for all sinners, God does not give us what we deserve. The Lord would rather give us a free Gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God loved the man and woman He had created and placed in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned the Lord did not want to see them get the wage they had earned, namely, death. Instead, God gave them a Promise. In giving this Promise to mankind He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
That One who would bruise, or crush, the head of that serpent satan is none other than that same Jesus Christ named in our text. He is the free Gift of salvation. Through faith in Him alone we receive eternal life.
From beginning to end, the free Gift of the Savior from sin is just that—a free Gift. The Promise of the Savior given in Eden was a free gift, given when man fell into sin. That Savior Himself was a free Gift, sent into the world as humble Man. He suffered and died on the cross, offering up His own holy body as the atoning sacrifice for sin. All of this He did without asking anything in return, for Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Having sent us this Savior from sin, to keep the law in our place and to offer up His life in payment for our sins, God did not leave it up to sinful man to bring Himself to faith. If this were the case we would still be doomed to eternal death for the Scriptures tell us that “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Instead, we find that faith in the free Gift of the Savior is itself a free gift. We read in Ephesians 2:8f, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
And so it is that through the Gift of the Savior, in whom we believe by the gift of faith in Him, we receive the gift of eternal life. Having been brought to faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, we can be confident that God will not judge us according to what we deserve.
Rather, because Christ kept the law perfectly in our place and paid for our sins by His death on the cross we “become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Christ we are judged by God, again, not according to what we deserve. Rather, as believers we are judged to be “not guilty” of sin. Through the gift of faith in Christ we believe what our Savior has promised, namely, that “Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“The wages of sin is death.” The law shows us that we are sinners who have fallen eternally short of being righteous.
“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Through grace, that is, “undeserved love,” God sent the Savior into the world to suffer the wage of eternal death which we deserved. He has brought us to faith in that Savior, turning that wage of sin (death), into the entrance into everlasting life. The Apostle writes, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
This is the contrast that sets the tone for Lent: we deserve death for our sins, and yet, in Christ, God gives us what we do not deserve, eternal life. We are sorrowful that our sins drove our Savior to humble Himself and go to the cross to suffer our punishment. For this same reason we are joyful and eternally grateful, for unless Christ had done this we would get what we deserved. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.