In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Sin makes us stupid. Stupid so that we think doing sin makes us happy. But as soon as we’ve done it, though it may have brought momentary pleasure, a rush or a thrill, or distraction from your pain, it immediately springs a trap on you of guilt, self-loathing, shame, and regret. You’ve been through it before. You’ll go through it again. Because sin makes you stupid. As Baptized Christians we all live in this cycle of sin, repentance, and faith. When we get particularly stuck in the sin part of the cycle sometimes the Lord uses the events of life to snap us out of our sin. He uses the consequences of life in this sin-filled, broken world to turn us back to Himself. To repent us. Sometimes His Holy Spirit works quickly, and as soon as you’ve sinned you repent. And then He grants His grace and mercy to refresh you and give you joy. And if you doubt it, where do you go? To Christ’s called and ordained ministers: for Holy Absolution, the declaration from God’s mouth to your ears that you are forgiven in Jesus’ name; for the Lord’s Supper which puts Jesus’ own living body and life blood in your mouth, giving you life to the full. (John 10:10)
And so they tested God 10 times during the year or so before God led them to the promised land. (Num. 14:22) Then they kept on at it after God said, “Fine you don’t want to go in, you don’t have to. Stay here in the wilderness where I will miraculously provide for you, but I will also cause you all to die over the next 40 years. And I will raise up your children to trust Me, and follow me. And I will give them My good land.” (Num. 14:20-24)
And so over the next 40 years they keep on at it. They kept testing Lord. They kept grumbling against Him, against all the gifts He gives including Moses their leader, and Aaron their priest. By Aaron they got the Lord’s forgiveness in the Tabernacle. Aaron would take their lamb for a sacrifice, take its blood into the holy place, and its body on the altar. Thus, by being in God’s presence that blood was made holy. Then the holy blood came out and was poured on the side of the altar making the altar holy and all that was on it holy. So that the lamb cooking on the altar, which was then given back to the family who brought it, was holy. So that when they ate it they became holy, and able to dwell in the presence of the Holy Lord. For they are holy unto the Lord. Declared so by the Lord Himself by blood of the lamb.
But sinners never see it that way. Sin wants what it wants want, when it wants it. When you are caught up in sin you can have all the gifts you could ever possibly need. And if that’s not enough the Lord might give you more than you can possibly ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) But if it is not precisely what your sinful self wants, in exactly the way you want it, you will grumble and complain about the gifts you’ve got. Isn’t it true?
How many of us are satisfied with what we have? Don’t we always want more? You’ve all known the pull of desperately wanting some new toy, tool, car, camp, or interior decoration scheme. You’ve all known how these things play on your mind, tug at your heart, and how you fixate your thoughts on them till you just have to have them. And if that’s not you, just think of some relationship, some bit of flesh, some contract or business or school achievement that the old sinner in you was desperate for. It made you miserable till you had to do something about it. That’s called coveting. It is the opposite of the godly gift of satisfaction. It makes you restless, miserable, insatiable. Repent. For you are no worse than Israel of old.
These things happened to them. But they are written down as examples to us. (1 Cor. 10:6, 11) That we might taught and given the faith which trusts in Jesus. For God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world but to save it. (John 3:17) Jesus, before He took on flesh, was the One in the Tabernacle who spoke with Moses. (1 Cor. 10:9; Jude 1:5) So why was Jesus there? To save them. (John 3:17) What is Jesus doing in all things? Seeking the salvation of the whole world. (John 3:16
Even in the midst of their rebellion, when they grumbled against Aaron, what does Jesus do? He says, “Let me do a miracle to show you and teach you and give you my grace. You think Aaron lifted himself up. No. I did. Here, I’ll show you. Take 12 staffs. One for each tribe. One from the head of each tribe. Aaron’s staff will be for him and his tribe. Leave them in My presence overnight. What happens? I miraculously take a dead piece of wood and make it not only bud, but blossom and overnight bear ripe, scrumptious almonds. For not only have I chosen Aaron, but I have set him apart so that My life, My holiness can flow through him to you.” (Num. 17:1-5) So they left Aaron’s staff in the presence of the Lord from that day forward (Num. 17:7) as a reminder of how the Lord had chosen to serve and save His people. By wood He showed them His life giving salvation.
For God the Father did not send Jesus into the world to condemn it: not you, not me, not the Israelites who would not enter the land. (John 3:17) He sent Jesus into the world to save the world: you, me, and even the hard hearted Israelites. That’s why despite their sin He remains slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That’s why He keeps providing a way of salvation, sometimes physically, but always spiritually. He desires to crush the Serpent who brought sin and death. (Gen. 3:15) So by the wood of the cross He lifted up His own Son, making Him who knew no sin to become sin. An image of our own sin and its consequences there on the cross. The thing that is killing us. And He holds this cross of Jesus up before the eyes of the world (John 3:14; 12:32)—no longer by Aaron’s priesthood, but now by his ordained servants sent to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to all the world (John 20:21-23), and by you his baptized, spiritual priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9-10) who tell of Jesus to your family, and to the next gen, and bring your children to Jesus to be blessed in baptism and at His Supper, and through the proclamation of His forgiveness by His servants. For that is the living branch (Num. 17:8), the vine into which we are grafted. (John 15:5) This ministry is Jesus through which His life flows in and through us.
For He is indeed slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, even while we are in midst of that cycle of sin and repentance. His Holy Spirit is constantly working on you through the events of life, through His messengers who speak His word to you, be it your pastor, your family, your friends. When we sin He allows the events of life to lead you to repentance. Sin is not end of the world. It is not the death of faith. For the Holy Spirit is at work in you who are baptized drawing you unto the Father through Jesus Christ. Thus, we all live in that cycle don’t we? We get caught up in sin. So He breaks into our sin. He calls us back to Himself. He feeds us that “worthless food” of heaven—His own body and blood—renewing our joy, conquering death at work in us. On this side of heaven, oh baptized one, you are all the time a saint who can do no wrong, and all the time a sinner who wants nothing that is right. Both sets of desires are at work in you constantly so that you cannot trust your own heart for it is set on the things of flesh, of sin. (Rom. 7:24 and before) But thanks be to God we have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts, fed the “worthless” food of heaven, given eternal life. For God Himself is among us every time we gather in His name bringing us this food which grants forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON