1 Corinthians 15:1-10
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God helps those who help themselves. It’s a recipe for self-righteousness. That kind of righteousness of self will even say to the “universe” or “god,” “You owe me. I do it all. I do it right. I am not like other men. I do right by my family, my friends. I do right by co-workers and clients. Yet they mistreat me. They don’t do right by me. Lord, its hard being your person, ‘cuz no one else is good like me. Therefore, you owe me God.” That’s why we are so incredulous when “bad” things happen, saying, “What did I do to deserve this?” You owe me God.
And because this is the religion of the world in which we live, even Christians get infected by it. We come to church with that attitude. We live our lives with that attitude. “World you owe me. Boss you owe me. God you owe me.” Simply for being a decent person, or for suffering so much, or simply for giving it my 100%, well, in truth, my 80%, (which a lot of days is really just 60%) but that’s still at least 80% more than most people, and so that makes me pretty good. And then we get angry when we are not given our due at work. We get angry when our parents or spouse ask something of us rather than merely catering to our every need all the time. We get indignant when the government socks it to us with one more tax and doesn’t give us our due with some new program, etc. Repent.
Cain came to God with such an attitude. He came with the fruit of his labour in his hands, the evidence of how righteous he was, to buy God’s blessings. He came with the attitude, “I am the promised Son of my mother who will crush the head of the Serpent. I am the gardener like my father who will restore paradise on earth. God you owe me for I have declared myself your chosen one.” And he smouldered with wrath when God rejected his prideful presumption and preferred his humble brother. A brother who did not have the presumption to help himself, or to follow in his father’s footsteps as the architect of paradise, but merely relied on the Lord for grace. He came with the attitude, “Lord, this lamb is the best of what I have. And even it is a gift from you, a gift of Your grace. I can bring nothing to you that you haven’t already provided me. I can not be acceptable to you, unless you are merciful to me, for I am a man cast out of the garden, born in sin,” or as the taxcollector said it, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
For the Lord lifts up the humble, broken, sinner who repents. He squashes the sinner who trusts in himself. For He only has mercy on sinners—real sinners—ones who are traitors, extortionists, unbelievers, wifebeaters, drunks, embezzlers, even persecutors of Himself and His Church. Real sinners. His mercy takes the form of His own death. A life-giving death that pays for those real sins. A life-giving death that even gives mercy to self-righteous, prideful murders like Cain. He gave him time to repent, rather than the swift justice he deserved of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.
For though Cain prematurely ended Able’s life, he could never rob Able of that which the Lord had given—everlasting life. He could never silence with his evil Able’s voice which cried out even from the ground to God and the world. It’s doesn’t seem fair by our sense of justice. But then nothing is with God. He works in mysterious ways. But He is ultimately, eternally just and His justice is always tempered by His mercy which humbles the self-righteous both for justice’ sake, but especially for mercy’s sake that they might repent and receive His mercy. For the ultimate purpose of His justice is so that He might display His mercy in the lifting up of those who humble themselves by repenting of their sin.
So our confidence is not in helping ourselves. It is entirely in the Lord who works in us. For God does not help those who help themselves. He humbles such arrogant ones, crushing them in time. And He lifts up those crushed by their sins, who flee to Him for grace.
And even as we act in this world, our confidence is not in ourselves, nor our abilities, strengths, our character, or our might. Our confidence is in Him who gives all good gifts, from the strength of your back, to the smarts in your head; from the food on your table, to the roof o’er your bed; from the faith in your heart which trusts in His name, to his mercy and forgiveness which fuel faith’s flame.
God helps those humbled by repentance. He helps those who crucified Him with their sin and know it. He exults those who do not help themselves, but come to Him for what He gives from His cross. For His blood, drunk by the humble in faith, speaks forgiveness to them. But in the proud it speaks only accusation like Able’s blood. So humble yourself. Repent, for you are a sinner, born in sin, east of Eden, died for by Christ, and justified like the taxcollector.
Go home to your house in peace. Your sins are forgiven.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
---Pastor David Haberstock