Are You Worthy of Eternal Life?
A sermon based on Acts 13:38-49
Sunday, January 19, 2014 – Epiphany 2A
What are you worth? How do you answer that question? Do you look at your assets minus debts to figure your net worth in dollars? Do you look to your accomplishments, achievements, and successes to determine your self-worth? Do you look at the impact you make on the lives of others and try to determine how much you'd be missed to determine how much you're worth to others?
A few years ago U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils tried to determine the worth of a human. So they calculated the amounts of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and all the materials that make up the human body, and found that the going rate for all of these elements was about $1. Yup, that's it. You're worth about as much as a single app downloaded to your phone. You're worth less than a single burger on the value menu. You're worth less than a cup of coffee at the gas station.
What are you worth? Thank God that he views things differently than the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. He thinks you're worth a whole lot more than $1. He thinks you're worth his own Son.
But what do you think? If you think you're worthy of God's love on your own, you're sadly mistaken. Reject Jesus' work for you and you're not worthy of eternal life. But trust in Jesus' work for you and you are worthy of eternal life.
The church in Antioch was struggling with that question of, "What am I worth?" Some thinking they were worth a lot, weren't worthy of eternal life. But those who recognized their worth before God on their own, humbled themselves before God and received the Gospel with joy. And were made worthy of eternal life. Listen now to Acts 13:38-49 as you consider, "Are you worthy of eternal life?"
38 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
"'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
I. Not Worth Much
Tom had a beautiful house. It was a mansion really. It was full of the nicest furniture, decorated with expensive paintings, and he kept remodeling it again and again to keep up with the latest fads. But had to keep up appearances. He loved entertaining and had the rich and the famous over often.
Only one problem. Tom didn't have any money. This is a true story, by the way. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, lived large. But he no money. He was in deep debt. And at his death his estate and all his possessions were auctioned off to repay his debtors, leaving his surviving daughter to rely on the charity of others to find her next meal.
Things aren't always what they seem. Someone might seem worth a lot, but really be worth very little. And someone might seem worth a little and be worth a whole lot. That role reversal took place in Antioch when Paul and Barnabas came to town.
Ironically, the Jews of Antioch thought they were worthy of eternal life on their own. They had a bad estimate of their own worth. They thought they didn't need Jesus. They were good enough on their own. But now, this Gentile rabble was changing things. And no one likes change. For starters, there was no room in church anymore! The synagogue was full! Their favorite seats were taken! Next thing you know, they'd want to change the liturgy! Or even get a new hymnal! And… they smelled like bacon! (And to a Jew that wasn't a good thing.) They were ruining everything!
These Gentiles simply were not worthy of the promises of Jehovah! But they were! (Or so they thought.) They were good Jews who followed the rules! Now these Gentiles were being offered the salvation promised to Israel! No way! And to keep their comfortable little world the same as it always has been, they rejected Jesus. Literally what they NIV translates as "talked abusively" is "speaking blasphemy." They blasphemed God by rejecting the Christ.
But they had a problem. They couldn't be justified by the Law of Moses because they couldn't keep it perfectly. Sin once and you break the bubble of perfection. And they, like everyone, had surely sinned more than just once. But it was too big a blow to their ego to admit they were horrible sinners. It was just too much to take to admit they were as bad as these Gentiles. And they wouldn't confess. But God says in 1 John 1:8, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
They thought they were worthy. But they had a bad estimate of their own worth. They were not worthy of eternal life.
So, what are you worth? $1? "Of course, not!" you say! "I'm worth so much more than that!" And we look at ourselves and estimate our value and think we're very worthy. I'm a good person! I'm not that bad. I'm worth a lot to my family and friends. And I'm worth a lot to God. He's lucky to have me on his team!
Or we're scared because we're not really worth that much and we don't want anyone to find out. Like Thomas Jefferson trying hard to hide his debt under a veneer of extravigance, we do all we can to hide our failures, cover them up, pretend their not there. But God knows the truth. And so do you.
You both know you're true worth. $1? No. You and I are worth far less than that on our own. You are sinful. You cannot be justified by the law of Moses. And when you look down on others as not worthy, you're not worthy of God. You're not worthy of eternal life. The only thing you and I are worthy of is hell. We put the wrong value on others. We put the wrong value on ourselves. But true repentance recognizes that and it confesses before God.
And we can confess openly and honestly. We can stand naked before God, stripped of all we try to hide behind. We can be exposed without fear because we know the blessed results if we do: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9)
II. Worth the Son of God
What are you worth? The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils says $1. But that's just for the elements that make you up. But the arrangement of those elements in the right order is worth a lot more! I recently read that a single gram of bone marrow is worth $23,000. If you've got the right DNA, it could have a market value of 9.7 million dollars. A lung is worth $116,400, a kidney $91,400, and a heart $57,000. When all is said and done, your living body—should you choose to donate the whole thing—is worth about forty-five million dollars!
And believe it or not, you're worth even more to God. You're worth more to him than his own Son. He gave his Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to be killed on a cross. He gave the sacrificial lamb who suffered hell in our place. For everyone! For Jew and Gentile!
For it's, "too small a thing… to restore [just] the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel…" God would "also make [Jesus] a light for the Gentiles, that [he might] bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6) And that's pretty much us in Alaska isn't it? At least from the perspective of an ancient Israelite we are the ends of the earth! That means it's for us too!
"Therefore, [brothers and sisters], I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." And you are appointed to eternal life. You are worthy of eternal life—through Jesus.
You've heard it all before, but imagine that you were hearing it for the first time! A lifetime of guilt and regret forgiven! With no strings attached! How wonderful! These Gentiles in Antioch were hearing it for the first time. They were worth a whole lot to God! They were worth his own Son to him! Now they were forgiven by God! Their sin was erased! They were worthy of God through faith in Jesus! They were worthy of eternal life! "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord... [and] the word of the Lord spread through the whole region."
We too are glad! We're worth a lot! We're worthy of God! We're worthy of eternal life! We too honor the Word! We love it and we love to hear and learn it more! And we too spread the word throughout the whole region just like the Antioch Christians, just like Paul and Barnabas. And sure, people may talk abusively against you. They may speak blasphemy against Jesus. So what? You don't derive your worth from what they think of you, but from what Jesus thinks of you. And who knows, maybe some will invite you to speak further about these things. Maybe some will come back next week to hear more. Maybe the whole city will gather together to hear the good news. So in thanks to Jesus for making you worth so much, share what he has done.
For you know what you're worth without Jesus. And you know what you're worth with him! So even if you don't have much in the bank, in the market, or in home equity, even if you're debts outweigh your assets, even if your accomplishments seem rather paltry, and even if no one were to miss you when you leave this earth, you know that these things don't determine your worth. Jesus does. And through him you are worthy of eternal life. In his name, dear friends, amen!