Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Romans 4:1-8; 13-17
Sermon Theme: “God’s Ledger”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Harper’s Bible Handbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Online Yahoo Answers; Book of Life by Jack Zavada, about.com/Christianity; Wikipedia; Online Bible Hub)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I’ve said many times, we are not saved by our good deeds; they are performed out of gratitude to God for having already saved us. It is faith in Christ, not the good works that come from that faith; that saves us.
Here’s an example. A single-engine plane was flying over ocean waters with three men aboard. While still several hundred miles from shore, engine trouble developed and the plane was forced to land on the water. The three men barely climbed from the plane before it sank into the depths.
Of the three men aboard, one could not swim, and quickly drowned. The second man could swim but was not physically fit and after about ten minutes he sank below the waves. The third man was an Olympic medal winner in swimming. He kept afloat for three hours but eventually was exhausted and could not save himself from drowning.
Now the differences in their ability to swim did not make any difference. It only kept some afloat longer than others. What they needed was not to improve their swimming, for even the talented swimmer drowned. They all needed someone to save them.
This is how it will be when we stand before God on Judgment Day. Our own best efforts will not save us. Without someone to save us we are doomed. We differ in our good deeds. Some perform more, some are morally dead. But in the end we all need to be saved, for the Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As Paul said to the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Faith in Christ makes us justified in the eyes of a righteous God.
So all things depend on faith. Where we place that faith is critical. Dodgers’ pitcher Billy Loes was once told that, since he was the sole support of his parents, he should have some life insurance. He replied, “They wouldn’t need it. If anything happened to me, it would kill ‘em!” A similar sentiment, but with more theological integrity, was voiced by a small child who, when kneeling to say his prayers, declared, “Dear Lord, please take care of yourself. Otherwise, we’re all sunk!”
The Apostle Paul was highly intelligent and well educated. Having been a Pharisee, he had a legalistic and a running-a-business kind of way of thinking, and our sermon text reflects that. The language of Paul’s text is borrowed from the economic sphere, as Paul speaks of credits and wages and freebies. Because Abraham believed God, God forgave his debt and credited the treasure of eternal life in each person’s account. All we need to do to collect is to follow Christ in faith. As Paul declares, the person is blessed whose sins are not counted against him.
This is God’s “divine ledger”: Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He was accounted righteous because his faith demonstrated obedience. Picture God placing a deposit in Abraham’s account, which canceled whatever debt due to sin that he previously owed.
In a similar manner, God put a deposit in our account because of Christ. This deposit was not a wage – something earned – but a gift. If we accept that deposit in our account through faith, God cancels the debt of our sin and declares that we are in good standing with the Almighty. Our account has been paid through the generosity of God in Christ.
Paul was determined to get this message across to Jews and even non-Jews who believed more like what the ancient rabbis taught, which was kind of like a ledger that public school teachers sometimes keep. Typically, the teacher writes down demerits in her ledger for each student. For being late to class, you get 2 demerits. For skipping class you get 5 demerits. Talking during class, 3 demerits, etc. Ten demerits results in 4 hours of Saturday detention; twenty demerits gives you 3 days of school suspension; 50 demerits equals 30 days suspension; 100 demerits will result in your expulsion.
God does have a ledger; it’s called the Book of Life, the Book of Remembrance, and the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is spoken of in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, Malachi 3:16 says, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” In Exodus 32:32, Moses pleaded for the people, “Now please forgive their sins – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Daniel 12:1 says, “But at that time [the End of Times] your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.” And the psalmist says in Psalm 56:8, “Record my lament, list my tears on your scroll, — are they not in your record?”
In the New Testament, Paul says in Philippians 4:3, “Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Jesus says in Revelation 3:5, “. . . I will never block out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my father and His angels.” In describing the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:27, the Apostle John says, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Just to give you some of the illustrations.
There were both Gentiles and Jews in the congregation at Rome. The Jews had a book that is not considered canon, called The Book of Jubilees, which spoke of the Book of Life and the Book of Death. According to Jubilees, those whose names were recorded in the Book of Life were free of impurity, they did not commit evil against their neighbor, in other words, they obeyed God’s law. It tells how God opens the book of life on Yom Kippur, and studies the words, actions, and thoughts of every person whose name he has written there. If a person’s good deeds outweigh or outnumber their sinful acts, his or her name will remain inscribed for another year. Not all Jews accepted Jubilees, but it was almost the main scripture for the Essenes, and there were many copies of it among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It influenced other law-oriented Jewish groups.
I mention this to show you why Paul worked so hard at convincing his congregation that, because of God’s grace in giving us Jesus, our names will remain in God’s ledger through faith in Christ. He says in the text, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham had the Promise, whereas we have the Promise fulfilled in Jesus, yet even Abraham was justified by faith, not deeds. Jesus died for all sinners, otherwise none of us would be holy enough to be justified. Our holiness, our righteousness, is imputed to us from Christ.
So, during this Lenten season and throughout the year, let us stay focused on the entry that makes God’s ledger so wonderful, his Son Jesus. There was a pastor who was struggling with his faith, so he went to see his elderly mother who had brought him up in the church. She showed him an old Bible Story Picture Book which she had read to him as a child. She opened the Children’s Bible to a picture of Peter sinking in the lake, — his eyes are focused on the waves.
Next, she showed him a picture of Daniel in the lion’s den. It was a deep pit. Daniel is in the middle of the pit. He is on his knees praying. His eyes are looking up. Daniel is surrounded by lions. “Where are Daniel’s eyes?” Mom asked. “They are looking toward heaven,” her grown son answered. “Always remember, Son,” she said, “look not at the problem, but at the Problem Solver.”
And so should we! Only He can balance the ledger! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and minds through Christ Jesus.