Archive for the ‘Numbers 21:4-9’ Category

Dead Man Walking!

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Lent 4 B, March 18, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the  air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of  the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” [Ephesians 2:1-3]

Can you imagine being there at Mt. Hor, under attack from thousands of poisonous snakes, and knowing that God is really the one who is punishing  you for your despicable, sinful life.  The song you just heard is called “You’re Gonna Pay” by Jim Johnston.  The first few words apply to each and  every one of us, including those no good sinners who died in the Old Testament lesson.  “Dead man walking!  You’ve done it now.  You’ve gone and  made a big mistake.  I can’t allow you to think you can just walk away.  So turn around and face the piper you’re gonna pay; cause the end is now,  this is gonna be your judgment day!”  Dead men and women walking; that’s who the Hebrews were that day at Mt. Hor and that’s who we were;  sadly, that’s who many people still are today; Dead men walking.

You see, God can’t allow sinners to just walk away from their sin and sinners can’t help but to sin; it’s in their broken nature to sin; to choose to  satisfy their wants and desires over the desires of their God and their neighbor.  They’re broken; fallen in sin, and because of that, they have to pay.    On the day they die, that will be their judgment day.  Not only will they die in the flesh but the punishment for their many sins will be an eternally  painful spiritual death, forever separated from God’s love and the love of others.

What are the sins that they’re guilty of?  Well the very same ones we heard mentioned in our Old Testament and Epistle readings.  They grumble against God by complaining about their life.  They let the circumstances of living overshadow the presence of their creator God who is with them in the midst of their troubles.  But they are not alone.  Throughout this world there are plenty of other dead men and women walking who look down upon God’s means of grace, His real presence with them.  They don’t discern His spirit in His Word which is being read and even right now preached to you.  They find it impossible to believe that God can promise to take simple water and wash away a person’s sins.  They laugh at the idea that a pastor can speak forgiveness from God, and they completely dismiss Jesus’ real and sacramental presence in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Because of these many sins, God calls them sons and daughters of disobedience.  They are more comfortable following the desires of their flesh than the will of God.  In other words, they are controlled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in this sinful world instead of the Holy Spirit.

That is the painful truth about everyone out side of faith in Jesus Christ.  They are lost in a world of sin controlled by the father of sin, the devil.  They are dead men and women walking, and all of them are a breath away from judgment day.  Whether it be poisonous snakes, a car accident, disease, sickness, or death of old age, eventually they’re gonna pay!  Unless…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:4-7]  I once was lost but now I’m found.  I once was condemned and about to pay for my sins, but God, BUT GOD… He forgave the iniquity of my sins!  But God; if it had not been for God who made a way out of no way, all of us… would have been goners… a dead man walking!

At Mt. Hor, the way out for the sinful Hebrews was a bronze serpent on a poll, high and lifted up so that everyone could see God’s remedy to their sin and the way He chose to remove their punishment.  In that symbol came the promise of God to save and the faith to believe in that promise of salvation.  And where there is faith in God’s promise of life, there is salvation… there is forgiveness of sins.

Today this same God calls out to you with the same mercy and grace; He is telling you that He has created a way to take away your sins.  But the call of His Word does not direct you to look upon a serpent on a pole but upon His Son on a cross.  His Word promises that if you will see Jesus the very Son of God high and lifted up on the cross for you, as a payment for your sins, you shall not die but live.  You will not be a dead man walking, but a reborn, spiritual man or woman, who no longer has to pay for sin!  Oh it’s true, someone has to pay for your sins, and someone did; it was Jesus.  He paid it with His very life, in order to show us the immeasurable riches of His Father’s grace, which He has given to us through Jesus’ suffering and death.

You know, we use the words, justice, mercy, and grace so much in the church, that sometimes I’m afraid that the words lose their meaning.  Listen to what these words mean and let the realization of the work of the cross hit you like a thunderbolt from heaven.  Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. Through Jesus death upon the cross, God’s justice was satisfied.  You deserve to die for your many sins, but Jesus took your place.  Through Jesus death upon the cross, God showed you mercy by not giving you what you deserve.  Instead, He gave you what you don’t deserve, grace.  He gave to you all of the riches of heaven, His riches at Christ’s expense through Jesus suffering and death.

In His Word, Jesus shows you the Father’s love for the whole world; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  He shows you the death of His one and only Son.  In His Word, He also gives you a wonderful gift called faith.  Through this gift, God opens the eyes of your heart so you can believe that Jesus death is for you.  By faith you can read His Word and know that God is speaking to you; He has made a way out of no way for you to enter into His forgiving love.

In His Word He allows you to see His real presence with you even in the worst circumstances of your life; in His Word you know that you are never alone.  In His Word He has convinced you that He’s taken a simple thing like water and attached His promise of eternal life to it and washed away all of yours sins.  So in essence, your baptism has taken the objective promise of the cross for the world and made it your personal gift.  In His Word you hear the absolution, the Word of forgiveness and you know that God is really talking to you; forgiving you!  Because of His Word you take and eat the bread and wine and you know that you are also receiving the very body and blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your many sins!

By faith you receive all of this and you know it is entirely a work of God.  To think anything else would be ridiculous.  To see yourself playing any part in your salvation would be absurd; it would be like the man who tried to sail around the world trusting in only the wind.  When the wind died out he thought He could get out and push the boat while he swam.  When that didn’t work, He tried blowing air into the sail.  When that didn’t work, he began to take a seat cushion and fan the air next to the sail trying to create enough wind to move.  As he was franticly fanning the air, a soft ocean breeze picked up.  As the breeze began to slowly fill the sail, the man thought of how ingenious he was to come up with a solution that provided some progress until the weather changed.

Friends, what do you put your hope and faith in?  If it’s anything but God you will be disappointed.  Don’t you know that people will let you down every day, but God… but God, He is always with you; always on time.

The story is told of an elderly woman who was standing in the checkout line ready to pay for her groceries. She opened her purse. No money was there; neither was her checkbook. As she was about to ask the clerk to put her things back, a gentle voice said, “Don’t worry.  Today I want to treat you. Take your things with you; I’ll pay your bill.” Then the man wrote a check and paid for her merchandise and his own. A week passed by, and the woman came back to the store. The checker knew about the incident and recognized her. She approached the woman and whispered, “Ma’am, maybe you’d be interested to know. That gentleman from last week, well his check bounced!  We need to be paid for your groceries.”

What are you trusting in?  Is it people?  I’m telling you, eventually they’ll let you down.  Are you trusting in your own goodness?  I think we all nowhere that will get you, right?  No; listen, why go back to being that dead man walking when you can continue to follow and trust Jesus and His cross.  I know that it is tempting to want to play a part in your salvation; but you can’t.  Your good works won’t do a thing for you.  But if it’s good works you want, then God says relax,  He’s got you covered.  Those good works will come naturally to you and through you as you look to Jesus on the cross; as you look at God’s solution to your sin and the attacks of the little serpents or devils that surround you.  As you continue to look to Jesus, you will begin to see God’s work in your life; good works that He’s already prepared for you to do.  The only difference is, it will be Him doing them perfectly and not you doing them sinfully.

So just keep walking that way of faith.  Keep following Jesus and His means of grace; then you will see those good things, God’s good things coming out of you.  He wants that to happen, because he wants other dead men walking to notice Him working in you so that they too will look to Jesus high and lifted up on the cross for them and know that God has made a way out of no way for them too!  Yes, God has big plans for you if you will keep trusting in His way.  And if that old dead you keeps following, remind him or her that they’re just a dead man walking; they have no future!