Chief of Sinners though I Be, Jesus Shed His Blood for Me!
Lord God, I am glad and thankful to be here this morning to honor You, and to receive blessing from Your Holy Word. Be with me in my worship and bless my fellow believers and me, for Your mercy’s sake. Teach us, encourage us, strengthen us, and enable us to flee temptation and honor You in all that we say and do. Amen.
As a result of his sin at Meribah (see sermon text), Moses would not enter the Promised Land. As a gift from God’s mercy, Moses was able to see the Promised Land before dying. Moses experienced the consequence for his sin, however, that did not cancel out the great things God had accomplished through him nor did it disqualify him from eternal life because Moses’ sins were forgiven through the coming Christ.
God recorded the ups and downs in the spiritual life of the Israelites as an example for us, so that we learn to stand guard against the sin into which they fell. The Children of Israel drank water from a rock in the wilderness. Those who put their trust in God drank from a greater Rock. Through faith they drank from the Water of Life—Jesus!
When we hear about Moses’ and the Israelites’ sin we can understand how it happened because we face the same kinds of temptations. This is also true for Jesus. He faced the same kinds of temptations as we do. Jesus was just as much tempted as we are, but He did not fall into sin. Jesus’ shows us how to send the Devil away from us.
TEXT: Numbers 20:1-13
Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there. Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: "If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! "Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? "And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink." So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals." So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the Lord, and He was hallowed among them.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
Can you smile during Lent? It may seem like a bit of a strange question, but when we remember the purpose and the thoughts behind Lent, we remember that Lent is a time for repentance. Lent is a time to remember our sins which led Jesus to the suffering and death on the cross.
Some time ago, in the worship of the church, there was a song that was sung in congregations as part of the liturgy at the beginning of Lent. The song was titled, "Farewell to Alleluia." The thought was that as worshippers were entering into this solemn season of repentance and sorrow for sins, they should say farewell to "alleluia" until Easter morning when they could pick up that "alleluia" again and then sing with joy to remember that Christ rose back to life.
It is true that Lent is, in our church year, a time for repentance and sorrow. However, if we look closely at how our church year is organized, we find that the Sundays during the Lenten season are called, "Sundays in Lent" rather than "Sundays of Lent." The Sundays are (in the structure of the church year) set apart as islands of joy in the middle of a season of sorrow. Throughout the days of Lent, sinners recall their many sins and all that Jesus had to endure to redeem them from those sins. But every Sunday—the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection—is a joyful time, a high point, a time of comfort and reassurance in the middle of this penitential season.
The difference between the joy of salvation and the deep sorrow over our sins is something that is highlighted in every Christian’s life. We look at ourselves and we see the sin and at the same time we can smile and rejoice in the salvation Christ brings.
Paul in his first letter to Timothy says, “This is a faithful saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy1:15). Paul found the great joy that is present in the salvation of Christ. He also looked at himself and saw himself as chief of miserable condemned sinners. Paul looked at himself and saw the man who once persecuted the church of God, who pursued the people who followed Christ—pursued them to kill them. As chief of sinners Paul had sorrow indeed, but he also had the joy that Christ came to save him.
So this morning, on this first Sunday in Lent, we use Moses’ and Aaron’s experience in the wilderness of Zin as our example (as we were instructed by Paul in our epistle reading) to remember CHIEF OF SINNERS THOUGH I BE—JESUS SHED HIS BLOOD FOR ME! I. Sinners forget God II. Sinners experience consequences III. Sinners receive mercy.
The people of Israel were among those sinners who forget God. We read in our text that the congregation had come into the Wilderness of Zin. “Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: "If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! "Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? "And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink” [vv.2-5].
The people forgot God. They were in of water. They were going through a troublesome time in the wilderness, but they forgotten where to find help. They forgot all that God had done for them leading up to that time. They had forgotten how He had blessed them in the land of Egypt. They had forgotten how Jacob and his family had come to Egypt with just 70 people, but now they had become a great nation. They were forgetting how God had displayed His power and glory in miraculous ways through the plagues and other signs in Egypt. They had forgotten their joy of leaving Egypt—glad to be free from Pharaoh’s oppression. They forgot how Pharaoh and his army had drowned in the Red Sea. They had forgotten how God had provided for them thus far in their wanderings, how He had provided bread and meat every day, and how He had provided water for them at other times of similar need.
If Israel had remembered God, they would have said, "God we’re in need! We’re out of water! Give us some, PLEASE! By Your grace and mercy. Deliver us by Your almighty hand." But no, they forgot what God had done. They didn’t turn to Him in prayer asking Him to supply their need. Instead they turned to His servant Moses and complained.
The people weren’t the only ones who forgot God. Later on in this same incident, after God had given Moses the command as to how he was to provide water, “Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod…” [vv. 10-11]
Moses and Aaron had been told to speak to the rock and water would come forth and Moses hitit. The full nature of the sin is not just that he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, but is in the approach that he took. Moses did not glorify God as the One who was providing the water. He did not say, "God is now going to provide water for you" and then speak to the rock for the water to come forth thereby glorifying God. Instead, Moses went before the people in a brash way and said, "must we — Aaron and I — bring water to you, you rebels!
The frustration of Moses is understandable. He had been dealing with this rebellious people for quite some time. Moses forgot God. He focused on himself, on his anger, on his frustration and took it out on the people asking, "Must I save you!!?! Moses was forgetting that it was not He in any of the previous cases who had provided help for the people. It was God who was doing this for His people, not Moses.
It is so easy for us as sinners to forget God. King Solomon forgot God. Recall the night when God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him "Ask! What shall I give you?" (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon showed such great wisdom in asking for the ability to lead his people, to rule as a wise king. Solomon did not ask for wealth and fame and other things for which many others would ask. Solomon didn’t forget God then, but he did years later when he not only had wisdom from God but also every other conceivable blessing. Solomon forgot God and pursued the idols of his wives. Solomon forgot the wisdom of seeking God first. Solomon forgot how God had supplied his every need.
We as children of God in the New Testament have so much to remember. We remember that we are sinners, that God sent Jesus to save us. We remember our salvation by grace. We remember all the blessings God gives to us in this life--Luther mentions them in his explanation to the 1st article of the Creed and to the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer--the food, the drink ,the house and home, the wife and children. All these blessings come from God, but how easily we forget.
We forget that all we have are blessings from God and then we don’t treat them as blessings. We forget that everything is a blessing from God and don’t thank Him. We forget God and don’t follow Him in our life’s conduct and day-to-day living. In the Psalms we hear the reminder, “Bless the Lord Oh my soul and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
When we sin, whatever that sin is, we are in some way forgetting our Lord. If pastors forget God and forget that they are to proclaim the Word of God and not their own theories or if they forget that they are serving Christ and the congregation and instead seek to serve themselves, then they are sinning. Then they have forgotten God, just like Moses forgot God when he took things upon himself and chastised the people out of his pride.
Congregations and Christian individuals forget God when we forget that our goal in this life is not to promote ourselves, not to become rich and wealthy in the things of this world and for this life, but rather that we live on this earth to serve our Lord and to spread His powerful Word.
People forget God when they forget what He says is right and true and so turn to their own way. We forget God when we worry, when we complain (like the children of Israel did) when things just aren’t going right, when things that we think we need aren’t there. We forget God when we act as if He isn’t there, as if He isn’t able to help. At times, we leave God behind, check Him at the door, and go on with life, forgetting that He not only is the all-powerful God who controls all things in the earth, but also is the saving God who sent Jesus to be our Savior. In Deuteronomy, God reminds the Children of Israel, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen and lest they depart form your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and to your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Don’t forget all that God has done for you and continues to do for you, and teach the future generations so that do not forget either.
Sinners do forget and fall into all kinds of sin. At times these sins lead to consequences. In the beginning of our text, God notes that Miriam died in the Wilderness of Zin. This was part of the long string of deaths that took place because the people of Israel had not been willing to go into the Promised Land when they first reached its borders. They forgot that God had promised to take them into the Promised Land. They rebelled then too and as a consequence--as a result of their sin--they were judged to wander 40 years in the wilderness. During the 40 years, Miriam and the others (who were 20 years old or older at the time of the rebellion) died.
At the waters of Meribah, Moses and Aaron disobeyed God. They had forgotten Him and thus there would be consequence. “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” [v.12]. As a consequence of their sin, Moses and Aaron would not enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land.
Sin has its consequence. The eternal consequence, the full, ultimate consequence, is condemnation by God and eternal damnation in hell. There are also other consequences. The eternal consequence has been solved by Jesus our Savior/ That eternal punishment has been removed by the work of our Lord. But God allows the consequences in this life to remain as a reminder to us all.
God told Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to redeem them eternally, BUT that they and their descendants would have sorrow in this life, that is a consequence of sin. When Israel complained to God and He sent poisonous snakes to bite the people and many died, that was a consequence of sin. The 40 years of wilderness wandering was a consequence of sin. Moses and Aaron would experience the consequence of their sin. King David experienced the consequence of sin after his adultery. These are not punishment for sin because that is done away with by Christ’s work. However, they are consequences--reminders of our sin and our need for a Savior and lessons we can learn.
There are times when we sin and as a result face consequences. This is the nature of life in this world. Sin brings with it the effect. If I commit a crime I will undoubtedly pay the consequence of jail time. I am forgiven that sin because Christ has come to redeem me, but as a result of what I have done there is a penalty to pay.
So as we go through this world looking at the consequences of sin, either directly connected to things we have done or else in the broad sense--all the lasting effects of sin in this world--they are a reminder of just what kind of sinners we are. Sins’ consequence reminds us of what our sin has done to this life and this earth. When we see the troubles of this world--the murders, all the unspeakable things we read in the daily newspaper--they are a reminder that we are chiefs of sinners. We are corrupted by sin. We live in a sinful world. We need to never forget that. Because as soon as we forget that we are living in a sinful world and that we ourselves are sinners, then we are one step away from forgetting God and turning away from Him.
The consequences and results of sin are a reminder to turn us to look at our sins and to grieve with repentant sorrow that we have sinned against God in what we have said, what we have thought, and what we have done.
Sinners also receive mercy.
The children of Israel crying out for help at the waters of Meribah did receive water. Despite Moses’ sin, God still gave water out of the rock to bless them and to give them what was needed for this life. As we heard in the Old Testament lesson, despite Moses’ sin, he was able to see the promised Land even though he wouldn’t enter into it...another demonstration of God’s mercy.
More importantly than these earthly factors is the truth that although these Children of Israel and Moses and Aaron and Miriam had to suffer and endure consequence on earth because of their sin, they all drank from the true Rock (as Paul called it in our Epistle reading). As believers these all drank from Christ and therefore, their sin and its effect on earth did not diminish their ultimate glory and the salvation won for them by Christ. Moses, didn’t enter the physical Promised Land, but he will enter the eternal Promised Land of heaven.
God in His mercy shows mercy to sinners despite the fact that we forget Him, despite the fact that we don’t perfectly resist the temptations. Despite that we are chiefs of sinners, God showed mercy by sending Jesus to die for our sins. God continues to show mercy by calling us back to Himself, by blessing us richly in this life (despite our unworthiness, despite our constant sinning and forgetting of God). If God were to withhold His blessing every time we sin, how destitute and deprived we would be. But no, sinners receive mercy. They receive mercy from God who showers His blessings upon us despite our wayward ways. He gives us His mercy in the forgiveness of sins which He gives to us in Christ.
The closing of our text states, “This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the Lord, and He was hallowed among them” [vv.12-13]. Moses and Aaron did not glorify God, the people complained against God--they all contended with God. Every time we sin, we contend with God and His name is not hallowed among us. At those times, He may see fit to bring consequences to us. He may use those consequences to instruct us and toward His greater glory.
And so this Lenten season we have both things: a) contention and forgetting of God, our sins, the sorrow, the repentance, the grave realization that we are chief of sinners; b) But on the other hand, God’s great mercy that assures us "your sins are washed away because where you contended I laid those sins on Jesus." When Jesus died a bitter death on Calvary--a bitter death indeed, He rose again on Easter to set you free from all your sins.
In Jesus, name may we this Lenten season repent of our sins but always smile at the resurrection and salvation we have in Christ! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne Eichstadt