JESUS CHANGES THE HEADLINES

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… a false sense of safety

SERMON: Luke 13

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

 

Blood was a very normal sight for the Jewish worshipers.  Bulls, calves, goats, sheep, even some birds were regularly and daily slaughtered for offerings at the altar.  It would not make the headlines at all that blood was being shed at the Temple.  And it would not be the most shocking headline to see that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had found some more lawbreakers who needed to be executed.  The government kept a firm hand on the people and would not tolerate disorder.

But this time it was different.  This was the type of thing that would make your mouth drop open in shock and your head shake in disgust if you were a Jew. The headline was “Blood mixed at the altar.”  Some people from Galilee were executed while they were at the Temple courtyard making sacrifices, so their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.  It’s the kind of headline that got everyone talking.

And that’s not the only one that Jesus brings to our attention today.  Another tragedy that rocked the area was to hear that 18 lives were lost because of a terrible accident south of the Temple at the pool of Siloam.  That headline read: “18 innocent bystanders crushed in tower collapse.”

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine those kinds of headlines.  We see these types of tragedies and killings every day.  We probably have a similar reaction, too.  Why do bad things happen?  Why all the crime?  Why the accidents?  Why the diseases and hospital stays? Why the chaos as if this world has no idea what is good and what is bad, what is up and what is down?

Do you want the answer to these types of questions?  I know you do.  It’s actually a really simple one: Sin. Now, I’ve said that before, and I’d like to have a more concrete answer that you can use when you are seeing the headlines.  I’d like to clear up all the uncertainties, but God gives us only this one simple answer: sin has ruined this world.  Its grip squeezes everyone and everything: people, politics, weather, crime.  Sin is like radiation that permeates all things and brings destruction and devastation.  I can’t get rid of it.  You can’t get rid of it.  Sin will linger like a dark cloud over the earth until the voice of God says, “ENOUGH!  This is the end.  It’s time bring our people home forever.”

So, if sin is the only answer for the terrible headlines, both way back then and now, then we have to give up a false sense of safety, because not everything is ok for us.  Sin is part of my life and yours and that makes us guilty.  You and I cannot deny that, and it won’t work anyways. When I see the headlines, however, I don’t want to be lumped into the same category as the killers, rapists, and thieves. I’m guessing you don’t either.  I don’t even want to be in the category with people who are too selfish or have any other kind of undesirable trait.

And so I try to rationalize.  We all do it.  We say things like, “I would never do anything that bad. I’m glad I’m not like that.”  When we think that way, we are making levels of sin.  We put really bad people – like those who get a death sentence as Jesus brought up– way down here.  We put the pretty bad screw-ups next.  We put the foolish and selfish next up.  Then, maybe we make a category for ourselves.  We know we’ve made some mistakes, we know that we don’t always have the right attitude, and there are some pet sins that are hard to give up, but we like to think we’re not that bad.  Finally, we might even be honest enough to make a category of really good people above us.

We are the ones who naturally rationalize like this because we are human.  We rationalize because we have to find some way to cope with the guilt of sin.  We have to find a way to be safe before God.  And so we try to rationalize sin and minimize it.  When we look in the mirror we want to see someone good staring back at us. We think if we can do that well enough then we can find our way into God’s good graces.  If we can be better than others and work hard enough, then we can be right in God’s sight.

Jesus knows that we do this.  He sensed it when he was talking to these people.  So, he asked a couple questions that get to the heart of the issue. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  …Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  We would naturally and logically answer, “Well, yeah!  Bad people get what they deserve.”  Jesus answers these two questions much differently than we would. “Do you think some are worse sinners or more guilty than you? I tell you, no! These levels of sin that we make to look good in front of God don’t work at all.  Turns out God doesn’t have any levels for sin.  You either have it or you don’t.  Period.

Brothers and sisters, in us Jesus sees sin. You and I can try to come up with a way to cope with our guilt, you and I can try to get rid of it, hide it, or explain it away.  We can try to make ourselves safe, but you and I cannot change the truth.  We don’t carry out God’s demands. We don’t have ability to be right in God’s sight. So then, we are not the kind of people that God accepts into heaven.  Sinful people are the ones who go to hell.

However, Jesus says the headlines don’t have to be doom and gloom for us.  He says, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  So there’s our solution!  If we repent, we can avoid the whole mess. But what if I have forgotten to repent since this morning?  There are a lot of sins that I do every day, not to mention my sinful nature makes my whole life unacceptable to God.  I would almost have to walk around every second of the day saying sorry to God. And what if my repentance is not sincere enough?  Would it still count?  And what about unbelievers, how can they repent if they don’t know God?  Why would they say sorry to Jesus if they don’t believe in him as their only Savior?  Do you see how what kind of trouble we are in? If repentance is something we have to do to avoid hell or if heaven is based on how well I repent, then I’m still going to perish.

This is the point of the sermon that is like looking at headlines.  Our mouths hang open a little bit in shock. We want to stop listening, shaking our heads in utter disbelief.  We don’t know how our situation could be this bad.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to tell this little parable of a vineyard owner, who wanted his fig tree to be fruitful.  That makes total sense.  If you plant a fruit tree in your yard, I’m guessing you want to pick some fruit in the future.  Well, the owner didn’t find any fruit for THREE WHOLE YEARS!  He calls that tree a waste.  The owner wants it cut down.

Ok, so that doesn’t change anything, does it?  That news is still bad for us.  God is the owner and if he doesn’t see fruits of faith in your life, then he wants to cut you down.  But here’s where Jesus starts to change the headlines for us.  The gardener steps in at this bleak moment and says, “Leave it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.”

Jesus sees the situation very clearly.  He sees the sins in our life.  He sees how we try to rationalize them with different levels. He sees how we think maybe there’s some way I can help God fix it.  But he knows there’s nothing we can do. He knows that we can’t fix our situation by trying harder, praying more, or being sincerer in repentance. He knows we are lacking the righteousness God is looking for.  Jesus knows we deserve to be cut down and burned up forever.

And that makes him go to work to change our life.  He doesn’t want your story to end this way.  So, Jesus himself starts to work on you. He’s the only who can do this because he is the only won who is right in God’s sight.  He’s the only one who can do the job perfectly. So he picks up the shovel with his nail-pierced hands and starts digging. He digs out the excuses.  He digs out the sin.  He digs out the guilt. He digs out the rationalizing.  Making different levels for sin is not going to change anything for you.  Looking in yourself for righteousness because you aren’t that bad is not going to make you fruitful. Jesus digs all that bad soil away. That’s when he hits the roots, the stark reality is that you are not bearing fruit for God and you are dying in sin.  That leaves us feeling kind of exposed and raw, weak and helpless. That makes us realize we need some serious, life-changing help. That leads us to confess that we are not safe and we need serious, saving help.  That’s when Jesus starts shoveling on the nutrients and the fertilizer. He fills up the gaping holes around the roots where sin used to be with his forgiveness.  He loads on his love in place of the guilt.  He packs on his promises in exchange for the excuses. He replaces our rationalizing with his perfect righteousness. Then, he keeps watering with his Word and waits.

Did you notice how long the work takes? It’s not one time.  It’s not a couple days a week for a while.  It’s every day for a whole year.  If you want fruitful results tomorrow, don’t be disappointed if there isn’t any fruit yet.   Jesus is doing the work underground at your roots first.  Jesus is feeding you and strengthening you.  He’s getting you strong and healthy. And that might take some time.  But don’t give up.  Jesus isn’t. He’s not ever going to give up on you.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is working on you.  He is working on you with his law and gospel.  He is working on you with repentance and faith. This means he changes our bad headlines.  He changes the focus from our own miserable mistakes and failing fixes.  He changes our attention, so that we see him and everything he has done and still does for us.

Do you think that it will work when Jesus does all these things to you?  Jesus doesn’t finish the story.  He doesn’t tell us what happens.  But if God planted the tree and if Jesus works on that tree to get rid of the bad and nurture and feed it with his goodness, then what do you think the headline will be?  “Sinner is saved.”  “Guilty is innocent.” “Fruit instead of fire.”  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s our headline through the work of Jesus Christ.  To him be thanks and praise forever. Amen.

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GETTING RID OF THE TROUBLE WITH GREED

SERIES: I GIVE UP…the root of all kinds of evil

I give Up

Joshua 7

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.
14 “ ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the LORD chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the LORD chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’ ”
16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.
19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.
24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.”
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor h ever since.

 

“Oh, we got trouble, right here in River City! Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!”  That’s a lyric from Professor Harold Hill in the famous musical… anybody know?  The Music Man.  (Stick around for Bible study today and I’ll tell you the story of how I know that)  In the musical, Harold Hill goes from town to town to selling instruments and putting together a band for kids.  The catch is that he’s not a music professor.  He just wants their money and then bolts town.  What’s ironic about the song is that Harold Hill and not the townsfolk is the one who’s got the trouble.

Today, we’ve got trouble, too.  Literally, that’s what the name of this valley is; Achor means “trouble.”  And what exactly is the trouble?  It’s not that the boys of Israel were getting together at the local billiards hall to play pool.  The trouble is the same thing Harold Hill was consumed by.  It goes by many names: greed, materialism, coveting, as the Bible calls it “the root of all kinds of evil.”

If you’ve ever seen the Music Man, then you know that Professor Harold Hill was caught in his act.  For him, the punishment was being handcuffed and forced to lead the unrehearsed and untalented River City Boys’ Band in a song.  It went terribly, but it’s a fictional story where everybody always lives happily ever after.  The parents are all happy that their kids were part of something and had an exciting few weeks.  Harold is released.  He gets the girl.  And the rest is history.

I guess after hearing this section of Joshua 7, you know that the same cannot be said for Achan.  It’s a troubling history to read, but I’m happy God included it in his Word.  Troubling stories like these would not be in the Bible, if God’s Word was a collection of made up fables and feel good stories meant to teach us some moral lessons or motivate a religious following.  God doesn’t hide it, however.  God doesn’t cover up some of the dirty details of human history.  He doesn’t change things so that his Word is less offensive to study.  He gives us the honest truth, with all the troubling details, so that we will see what we need to give up and what we need him to give us.

If I were to ask you to tell me anything about Achor, Ai, or Achan, what could you come up with?  This isn’t the first lesson that we teach in Sunday School, that’s for sure.  But what if I asked you to tell me anything about Joshua and Jericho?  Maybe that’s in your wheelhouse.  The context is always crucial.

Joshua was the man appointed to lead Israel into the Promised Land after Moses died.  It was called the Promised Land because God promised to give it all to his people.  The land, the cities, the crops, the animals, the riches, all of it would be theirs.  But God also said, “The first city that you take is for me.”  That first city was Jericho, with the high walls that came a tumbaling down after the people marched around the city for 7 days and then blew their horns on the final day.  Because God said, “This first city belongs to me,” they weren’t allowed to take any plunder from it.  Instead, God told them to burn it to the ground.

 

Well, everyone listened except this man, Achan, who took a fancy robe, some silver, and gold.  He took it back with him and buried it in the ground.  It seems like the crime is not a huge deal.  No victims because it was all going to be burned anyways.  The stuff wasn’t worth a fortune, maybe about $25,000.  Why does this cause such trouble?

First of all, God told the Israelites not to do it.  And if you haven’t figured it out by now, when God says anything, he is serious about it.  God never has said something that is kinda, sorta important, take it or leave it.  Therefore, it was an offense that violated what God said.

Secondly, Achan’s sin of coveting and greed uncovers the root of a serious problem. See, God had promised the Israelites everything in Canaan.  He had demonstrated his power to keep his promise by giving them Jericho.  By asking for them not to take anything from Jericho for themselves, he was giving the Israelites the opportunity to trust him to deliver on his promise the rest of the way.  In and of itself, God says coveting and greed is wrong, but they also have deep roots that don’t just lead to sinning with possessions but also sins of priorities and trust.  Achan was not just caught wanting and taking something that God told everyone not to.  He was caught loving things more than God. Achan was caught trying to hide from God.  And Achan was caught trusting himself and worldly passions more than God.  So, it wasn’t about the robe, the silver, and the gold.  It was the hearts of his people that God cared about.

God cares deeply for your heart.  He wants you to be with him, both right now in your life and for eternity.  And so he says, “Me first!”  When it comes to your time, your energy, your relationships, and your money, God knows how easily those things can take hold in your heart.  He knows how a little bit of greed or materialism can sink deep roots into your heart and life and take up more space than they should.  God needs to be first.

Some might accuse God of being selfish or petty.  Sometimes that thought might cross our minds.  We might say, “No one is going to be hurt if I’m a little greedy, no one is going to find out if I’m too materialistic sometimes, there are no victims when it comes to coveting.”   That’s exactly how sin works; sometimes it can make so much sense.  And that’s the danger.

Here’s the thing: God does not need your money.  He owns everything already.  But God does want your heart.  God wants your trust, because trust is about more than your schedule for the week, your relationships, and your finances.  Trust ultimately impacts our eternity.  There is only room in our hearts for one object of trust.  It’s either going to be God or something else, and something else always leads to death.

The devil works hard to get us to misplace our trust.  To do that he doesn’t have to get us to denounce Jesus, stop reading the Bible, or never come back to church again.  He can use something that seems so harmless like materialism, coveting, and greed to sink deep roots into our hearts that crowd out our full and complete trust in God.  It’s no wonder, then, that God demands to be first and why he was so upset with Achan’s sin.

Did God go a little overboard, though?  Achan, his family, his animals, his possessions and all that he had were taken to this valley of Achor and stoned to death, then burned, and covered with a large pile of rocks.  But before that do you see how careful God is with Achan?  He didn’t just strike him dead in his tent. God went through this long process of identifying the tribe of Judah, the clan of Zerah, the family of Zimri, and then the guilty man, Achan.  God was being patient with a sinner, urging repentance.  And God’s patience helped Achan arrive there. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel…” Notice that his confession is not directed to Joshua or Israel, and there’s not a word of passing blame, minimizing his mistake, or justifying himself.  Achan acknowledges what he has done against the Lord and confesses everything in detail.

The root of all kinds of evil is going to lead to evil. Sin is going to grow more sin.  When it shows up here (in this section of Joshua) and when it shows up here (my heart), it’s never a good thing.  God says the wages of sin is death.  So, Achan died because of sin.  That’s the same reason I am going to die.  That’s the same reason you are going to die.  But my death and yours is just going to be one day.  For all who are turned away from sin by God’s loving patience, for all who live in repentance and faith, for all who trust God above all, the suffering of death is just one day.

That’s what Joshua said to Achan. “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.  There is nothing in these words about his eternity.  Now, we can’t say with certainty what was in Achan’s heart, we don’t know for sure where Achan ended up, but we know that God wants people to be with him.  We know that God was trying to accomplish that by leading him to repentance.

Trouble today is far better than trouble for eternity.  Isn’t that the way God still deals with us?  Good days, success and blessings are wonderful gifts from God.  Be thankful when you have them, but those things aren’t God’s number one priority for us.  God wants us to be happy with him forever in heaven.  Very often a dose of trouble today can go a long way in getting us to remember that.  Sadness, hardships, and the like shows us that we are in a broken world and we are broken people.  The time for God’s forgiveness, the time for us to trust him is today.  As much as it hurts God to see us suffering, he will put up with it if that means he will be with us for eternity.

But maybe you’ve noticed something about this sermon so far.  We’ve heard about sin that so often sends it’s roots out into my heart and takes hold of me turning my trust in God to trusting myself or my stuff.  We’ve heard how that caused trouble for Achan and for all of Israel.  We’ve heard about the trouble that happened on that day in the Valley of Achor for that one guilty man.  But how do we get out of trouble?  How do we give up this sin?  How do we get what we desperately need from God?

Well, there was another man who had a day of trouble.  He didn’t deserve any of it.  It wasn’t forced on him, but he willingly took it.  And he did so that we would not have an eternity of pain and trouble.  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, took our troubles on himself and suffered our punishment.  The root of all kinds of evil wrapped around him and held him in its clutches so that it wouldn’t hold us anymore.  Jesus went into the valley of trouble for us.  That is how God took care of our trouble, so that we can have joy for eternity at his side.

Do you want to give up sin?  Do you want to give up the coveting, the greed, the materialism, the root of all kinds of evil?  This is how!  This is how God did it.  Jesus fought off every temptation.  He fought off the devil.  He was the perfect One, the righteous One, the holy One.  And he gave it all to us.  His death takes away all of those sins and all of those roots that try to crowd out our faith and trust in Jesus.  His death removed all of them and replaces them with his perfection.  Your sins are gone through faith in him.  God gives you a new life through Jesus, apart from sin.

Let me say that again!  APART FROM SIN!  That’s how to give up the materialism.  It’s not fear that you might end up like Achan.  It’s not trying to earn something from God.  It’s that the material cannot give you what Jesus does.  He gives you a life apart from sin.  He gives you an eternity apart from trouble.

God cares about your heart so much that Jesus came to save you from those roots that lead to evil.  God cares about your heart so much that he patiently leads you to repentance.  God cares about your heart so much that he has an eternity free from trouble waiting for you.  Amen.