- Order of Service: Special Service for 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Terror Attacks
MEANT FOR EVIL
SERMON TEXT: Genesis 50:15-21
- When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 17 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." 19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Men like to pay back evil for the evil that is done to them. This has been the case since the very beginning of time. Adam slighted God because it was ultimately God's fault that there was a tree in the Garden that they couldn't eat from (Genesis 3:12). Even from the beginning of time, man has been ingenious in how they go about doing their evil.
Joseph was a dreamer (Genesis 37:1-11). His dreams, and his ability to interpret them, irritated his brothers to the point of wanting to kill him. But they decide on another path. They sell him to a group of Midianite traders heading towards Egypt. Far away in Egypt, they wouldn't have to worry about Joseph and his silly dreams any more. They faked his death in order to convince their father that he was dead. The ten of them were very ingenious in their evil.
So we also have the terrorist attacks ten years ago this morning. If you have read at least through the timeline that was published with this week's Murray County News, you have to agree that those who put together these plans were very ingenious. The World Trade Center was built to withstand the impact of a large aircraft. But they were designed to withstand the impact of an aircraft with almost empty fuel tanks having flown cross-country. But the hijackers took over planes from Boston and Washington. Taking the planes over early in their flight, they could cause more physical damage with the filled fuel tanks. The great minds who had built the wondrous skyscrapers had been outthought by the ingenuity of these nineteen men bent on Allah's evil purposes (Surah 3:169-171):
- "Do not think of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their Lord; they rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: and with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them, the (martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve. They glory in the grace and the bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah does not suffer the reward of the faithful to be lost."
For their evil, the cries went out for retribution. We want retribution to be paid when someone wrongs us. That's human nature. For the 9-11 terror attacks, the United States went on the War on Terror. Many people believe the war to be unjust. A war without a clear cut objective. Wiping out terrorism. A wonderful thing but terribly abstract. But when does it end? When is the threat of terrorism sufficiently quelled? Bin Laden's dead. Hussein's dead. Thousands of others as well. When does it end? When is it enough?
That was the same question Joseph had in his mind. How much retribution should he dole out against his brothers for all the things they did to him? After all, they threw him into that pit (Genesis 37:24). They sold him as a slave to the Midianites (Genesis 37:28). The Midianites sold him to Potiphar (Genesis 37:36). The life of a slave. Ten times over. Now Jacob was dead. No one stood in the way of his revenge.
No one except the God who had kept him throughout everything and made him the governor over Egypt. The God who had given him the ability to save Egypt and most of the world through his administration of the grain harvests. The God who had made all his dreams come true. The God who is gracious and merciful. The God that gives what you don't deserve.
One thing you don't deserve is God's grace and favor. God doesn't have to show you grace and favor. He doesn't have to show your evil heart ANYTHING. But He does because that's who He is. He is the God who immediately sought for Adam and Eve to repent of their sins. He is the God who kept Joseph. Despite everything his brothers did to him, God kept Joseph so that he could save their miserable lives from starving in the worldwide famine (v20). And what about the terrorists who hijacked the airplanes ten years ago? They had spent years in our country. Years where the great blessings of God's true Word could be shared with them. God showed them His grace and favor by bringing them to a place where His people are supposed to dwell. People who are called to "speak the truth in love" to all people, including Muslims (Ephesians 4:15).
Above all, among God's great grace and favor, the blessing of Jesus is something you don't deserve. Jesus coming down from Heaven to die on the Cross is something you don't deserve. As we will confess in a moment, we are poor, miserable sinners who justly deserve God's temporal and eternal punishment. But God gives us Jesus. Jesus who died. Jesus who suffered God's temporal and eternal punishment. God's wrath from Hell poured upon His shoulders as He hang on the Cross. Wrath you deserve He endured. Peace and life that you don't deserve He has given to you.
Not only peace and everlasting life. He causes "all things [to] work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). God uses everything, including man's sinful evil desires, to work good for His kingdom in this world and the next. Joseph was brought to a position of power where he was able to save his family from starvation and certain death. The terrorist attacks brought about a renewed thirst for knowledge about the largest devil-worshipping portion of the world's population. Because the hijackers were Muslim, many sought to read and study the Qur'an so that we might understand and be better able to minister to Muslims. We studied this book to see where things were similar that we could use as jumping off points to discuss the things that are vastly different between the two religions. Then we can show God's grace and favor that the terrified Muslim conscience can run to when he becomes tired of Allah's flippancy and rage.
Where men mean things for evil, God makes it work for His good. No matter how ingenious man's evil, God's grace and favor and mercy are far more ingenious. "'FOR MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS, NEITHER ARE YOUR WAYS MY WAYS,' declares the LORD. 'FOR AS THE HEAVENS ARE HIGHER THAN THE EARTH, SO ARE MY WAYS HIGHER THAN YOUR WAYS AND MY THOUGHTS THAN YOUR THOUGHTS'" (Isaiah 55:8-9). God commands us to repent.
Therefore, having heard the Word of God, let us stand and confess our sins to Him, imploring Him for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.
SERMON TEXT: Matthew 18:21-35
- Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I DO NOT SAY TO YOU SEVEN TIMES, BUT SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN. 23 "THEREFORE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN MAY BE COMPARED TO A KING WHO WISHED TO SETTLE ACCOUNTS WITH HIS SERVANTS. 24 WHEN HE BEGAN TO SETTLE, ONE WAS BROUGHT TO HIM WHO OWED HIM TEN THOUSAND TALENTS. 25 AND SINCE HE COULD NOT PAY, HIS MASTER ORDERED HIM TO BE SOLD, WITH HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN AND ALL THAT HE HAD, AND PAYMENT TO BE MADE. 26 SO THE SERVANT FELL ON HIS KNEES, IMPLORING HIM, 'HAVE PATIENCE WITH ME, AND I WILL PAY YOU EVERYTHING.' 27 AND OUT OF PITY FOR HIM, THE MASTER OF THAT SERVANT RELEASED HIM AND FORGAVE HIM THE DEBT. 28 BUT WHEN THAT SAME SERVANT WENT OUT, HE FOUND ONE OF HIS FELLOW SERVANTS WHO OWED HIM A HUNDRED DENARII, AND SEIZING HIM, HE BEGAN TO CHOKE HIM, SAYING, 'PAY WHAT YOU OWE.' 29 SO HIS FELLOW SERVANT FELL DOWN AND PLEADED WITH HIM, 'HAVE PATIENCE WITH ME, AND I WILL PAY YOU.' 30 HE REFUSED AND WENT AND PUT HIM IN PRISON UNTIL HE SHOULD PAY THE DEBT. 31 WHEN HIS FELLOW SERVANTS SAW WHAT HAD TAKEN PLACE, THEY WERE GREATLY DISTRESSED, AND THEY WENT AND REPORTED TO THEIR MASTER ALL THAT HAD TAKEN PLACE. 32 THEN HIS MASTER SUMMONED HIM AND SAID TO HIM, 'YOU WICKED SERVANT! I FORGAVE YOU ALL THAT DEBT BECAUSE YOU PLEADED WITH ME. 33 AND SHOULD NOT YOU HAVE HAD MERCY ON YOUR FELLOW SERVANT, AS I HAD MERCY ON YOU?' 34 AND IN ANGER HIS MASTER DELIVERED HIM TO THE JAILERS, UNTIL HE SHOULD PAY ALL HIS DEBT. 35 SO ALSO MY HEAVENLY FATHER WILL DO TO EVERY ONE OF YOU, IF YOU DO NOT FORGIVE YOUR BROTHER FROM YOUR HEART."
As sinful human beings, we want to put a cap on our forgiveness. An arbitrary number of times a person can sin against us before we stop forgiving them. An arbitrary level of heinousness of the sin. We want to put a limit on the forgiveness we mete out. We want people to deserve our forgiveness.
The Pharisees limited the number of times you had to forgive your offending brother to three times. After three times of the same sin against the same person, you could not be forgiven for that sin. There was no hope for you. How many of you can count the number of times you've sinned the same sin against the person next to you? Probably many more than three times have you sinned the same sin against that person. Especially if you've been married to that person more than a week. And that's probably giving some of us too much credit.
The Pharisees had great grounds for their teaching. Eight times through the prophet Amos, God said, "FOR THREE TRANSGRESSIONS OF [SUCH-AND-SUCH COUNTRY], AND FOR FOUR, I WILL NOT REVOKE THE PUNISHMENT" (Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13;2:1,4,6). The Pharisees, in their strict interpretation of the Scriptures, took these literally and said that God Himself only forgives a sin three times. The fourth launches you far outside God's forgiveness. Not that God CANNOT forgive you that fourth time. But God WILL NOT forgive you that fourth time. That you have taken yourself to a point where God doesn't want you any more. And God has said to His people, "YOU SHALL THEREFORE BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY" (Leviticus 11:45). One sin that God will not forgive will take you out of His eternal presence. Three transgressions you were allowed, but that fourth one took care of everything.
As Peter comes up to Jesus, he decides to do one better than the Pharisees. Taking the same passages as his proof texts, he decides to add the numbers together: "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" (v21). But Peter's real question remains unstated: When can I STOP forgiving? When can I get beyond having to dole out forgiveness to these pitiful sinners? When do I get to stop dealing with these people? This is the Muslim question. One of the 99 names of Allah is Al Ghafur, "the Oft-Forgiving". Not "All Forgiving". Oft-Forgiving. Allah has a limit to his forgiveness: "But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits,--then he is guiltless, for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" (Surah 2:173).
Jesus replies, "I DO NOT SAY TO YOU SEVEN TIMES, BUT SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN" (v22). Jesus tells us not to focus on the number but the forgiveness. He points us to His own prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). Jesus reminds us every time we pray the Lord's Prayer that our forgiveness is based on our willingness TO forgive: "IF YOU FORGIVE OTHERS THEIR TRESPASSES, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER WILL ALSO FORGIVE YOU, BUT IF YOU DO NOT FORGIVE OTHERS THEIR TRESPASSES, NEITHER WILL YOUR FATHER FORGIVE YOUR TRESPASSES" (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are unwilling to forgive someone because they've done it a half-dozen times before, why should we believe that God will forgive us for all the sins we've committed against Him? In fact, as we pray this prayer, we continue to pray for God to look past our many sins and not hold them against us. We pray for God to answer us even though and BECAUSE we don't deserve Him to answer us.
But thanks be to God that He does answer us. He answers us because he has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us. He has promised to give us forgiveness when we repent. Therefore we should graciously receive His invitation to return to Him, repenting of our sins as we did earlier, and receiving His forgiveness. Forgiveness like that of the gracious Lord in Jesus' parable. Forgiveness of such a great debt of sin because God NEVER stops forgiving you. The only limit He places on forgiveness is your death. "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
Were God to stop forgiving you, you'd be damned to Hell. Just as the forgiven servant was thrown into prison with his family until he were able to repay the debt, you would find yourself in Hell forever repaying the great debt of sin that had not been forgiven. But God does forgive us. God sent Jesus into the world to take the punishment of Hell for you. He commands that His forgiveness not be forsaken but flowing through you to those who sin against you.
YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE
SERMON TEXT: Romans 14:1-12
- As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
We've talked this morning in the previous two devotions about the very things St. Paul talks to the Romans about. The one thing that Christians and Muslims agree completely on is the last phrase of the text just read: "Each of us will given an account of himself to God" (v12).
As we give an account of how we spent the days that God has given us on this earth, we stand before God's judgment seat (v10) with all mankind in attendance. This is a core belief among Muslims: "Lost indeed are they who treat it as a falsehood that they must meet Allah--until suddenly the hour is on them" (Surah 6:31). For Muslims, those who don't believe in Judgment Day will find themselves in Hell no matter what else good they might have done in their lives. Judgment Day drives everything they do.
Judgment Day used to be a great doctrine in American Christianity. It seems to have become a lost doctrine. One simply assumed yet not understood. One skipped over to get to the other side and the life everlasting. It is one of the great twelve doctrines of the Christian Church. It's in the Creed, "From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead."
What do we mean when we say that? We will stand before Jesus' Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). We will have everything--EVERYTHING--we've ever done put on display for all of humanity to see and hear. How many things do you have in your life that you'd rather not have other people see? Plenty if you're anything like me. Everything will be on display, and you will have to answer for how you lived your life. You will have to answer to God.
God is allowed to judge because He is the one who created man out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). God has appointed Jesus to be the judge of the living and the dead from all eternity as the One through whose name we receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:42-43). As we have seen from Romans earlier this summer, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" (11:36). St. John says in the beginning of His Gospel, "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (1:3). Because God created us through Christ, He has ultimate authority over us. He articulates this plainly to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah (18:3-6):
So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O HOUSE OF ISRAEL, CAN I NOT DO WITH YOU AS THIS POTTER HAS DONE? declares the LORD. BEHOLD, LIKE THE CLAY IN THE POTTER'S HAND, SO ARE YOU IN MY HAND, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL."
As Creator, God has the authority to judge whether His creation is worthy or unworthy of His continued attention. Just as the dissatisfied potter reworked the spoiled vessel, God also reworks His creatures through His love and grace and mercy. However, there are times that the reworking still doesn't take. That the creature, no matter how many times they hear of God's love, refuses to be reworked by his Creator. These stubborn creatures want to be like Isaiah's parable (29:15-16):
Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? Those who refuse to be reworked will like the vessel spoiled beyond reworking and cast into the fire. Why does God do such a horrible thing? His standard is perfection. His vessels must be perfect. he continues to rework them through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ until they are perfect whole or perfect useless.
St. Paul takes a moment to remind us that those who are being reworked into perfect wholeness are those who have faith. It might be strong faith. It might be weak faith. But it is faith nonetheless. Both the strong and the weak have faith in Jesus. Their faith is simply at different levels in regards to opinions. These opinions cover everything from what we should eat to when should we worship. The food discussion concerns the kosher dietary laws of the Jews. Are they still binding on Christians who believe God gave us the Old Testament? The weak in faith would say, "Yes." The strong in faith would say, "No." Which one's right? The holy days concern the celebration of differing feasts and festivals throughout the Church Year. Or even if we should bother with the Church Year at all. Some say, "We should only meet on Sundays because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday." Others say, "We should meet on Sunday, the Lord's Day, and any other day where there is a great chance to commemorate God's mercy and grace to one of His saints." Still others say, "It doesn't matter which day of the week we worship. Every day is the Lord's Day." Again others, "We should worship only on Saturdays because it's the Sabbath." Which one's right?
The correct Christian has the perfect reaction towards the other side. The strong cannot despise the weak. Nor can the weak despise the strong. After all, these are matters of opinion and not doctrine. Neither matter has anything to do with your salvation. Food won't save you. Whether you worship just on Sundays or Saturday or any other days won't save you. What matters is your heart's conviction. St. Paul tells both the strong and the weak, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (v5). Sin against conscience is a horrible sin. "Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ" (1 Corinthians 8:12). Being convinced in your own mind about what is important, you are further able to make those decisions by what is an opinion.
Your conviction comes from Jesus' life, death and resurrection. These three things are the most important things in the Christian faith. These three things would be completely useless if we could earn God's favor by being "good enough." If we were "good enough," Jesus wouldn't have had to come to earth in our flesh. He wouldn't have had to die on a cross. He wouldn't have had to rise from the dead. Jesus' life, death and resurrection become our life, death and resurrection as we are buried with Him in Baptism (Romans 6:3-5).
He gives these things to us through faith. Gifts whereby "none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself" (v7). Because you have been baptized, your life is no longer your own. Paul also says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). It is no longer your life that you live. Jesus lives in you. It is not you who die. Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" (Romans 8:34). Because of our Baptism, we have an Intercessor in Heaven (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:5; 12:22-24). We have hope in God, unlike those hijackers who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. They had on their minds a couple of passages from the Qur'an (Surah 2:284):
To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth. Whether you show what is in your minds or conceal it, Allah calls you to account for it. He forgives whom He pleases, and punishes whom He pleases. For God has power over all things. and (Surah 47:4-6):
- But those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon He will guide them and improve their condition, and admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.
Muslims have no Intercessor before Allah. Only Christians are privileged to have an Intercessor. Only Christians have true forgiveness of sins. Only Christians, whether strong or weak in faith, have salvation from their sins. No other religion has a Savior. Every other religion has you earn your way into the glorious afterlife. Whatever they call it, you have to earn your way into it. Not Christianity. In Christianity, the afterlife is given to you freely. Given because you are Jesus' weaker brother or sister. He puts up with you in perfect love.
And it's that love that you are accountable for. Christ's love grants you a relationship with Him and the Father in Heaven. You're accountable for how you treat your relationship with Jesus. How is your relationship with Jesus? Are you taking Him and His grace for granted? Or are you staying with Him as He guides you through life? With Jesus, it's all or nothing. And you're accountable for your end of the relationship. Jesus has upheld His end of the relationship. He will uphold His end of the relationship for all eternity. You are accountable for your end once you stand before Christ's judgment seat. How will you fare? With Jesus, He covers your sins and your taking Him for granted and places you at the table with all the rest of the saints at the marriage feast that has no end.
Many, undoubtedly, who perished in the terrorist attacks are already sitting at that feast, waiting for you. Waiting to welcome one more Christian home. Waiting for the accounting of all things for God's glory. Amen.