Give Glory to the Lord with All You Have!
A Review of the Seventh Commandment
A sermon based on Joshua 7 (select verses)
Sunday, August 3, 2014 – Pentecost 8A
Have you seen the new movie, Pompeii? When Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried that ancient city, countless people were instantly embalmed in ashes and frozen in time for archaeologists to find them exactly as they died. One woman found in the city had her feet turned toward the city gate, but her face was turned backward toward a bag of pearls that lay just beyond her outstretched hands. Even as the sky was falling—literally!—she couldn't resist the temptation to try and grab them for herself. Yet her only reward was death. She ended her life investing it in something temporary and worthless.
We hear of a similar story this morning in one of those lesser known Bible stories of the Old Testament. A man by the name of Achan tried to take what wasn't his, and it also ended in his death; and not only his, but in the death of his family and many of the Israelite troops. Here's what happened…
Joshua had just finished that famous battle at Jericho—you know the one—where they marched around the city once a day for six days and on the seventh day they marched around it seven times. After the seventh time they sounded the trumpets and gave a great shout to watch the walls "come a tumbalin' down." And just like that, the city of Jericho was theirs! Well, technically, it was God's.
All of the people (except Rahab and her family) were killed and all of the silver and gold and plunder was devoted to the Lord. The victory was God's and so were the spoils. They were either devoted to the treasury of the Lord or were to be destroyed as a sacrifice to him. Joshua even warned the people, "Keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury." (Joshua 6:18-19)
But one man didn't listen. Achan, son of Carmi, took some of plunder of Jericho and kept it for himself, burying it in his tent. After all, what was the big deal? The people he stole from were dead. It's not like they were going to miss it! But the items he took were devoted to the Lord. And, so, the results were devastating. When the Israelites went to attack the city of Ai, what seemed to be an easy task, they were routed. 36 of their men were killed in battle and "the hearts of the people melted and became like water." (7:5)
"What went wrong?!" Joshua wondered. And when he cried out to God this is what God said: "Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction." For stealing the devoted things of God, the Israelites themselves would be devoted to destruction.
The next day, when Joshua assembled the Israelites, God revealed which tribe was the guilty party. It was Judah. Next he revealed which clan of Judah, and then which family of that clan. Finally, God revealed which person of that family had taken the devoted things for himself. It was Achan, son of Carmi.
And while he could have spoken up at any time during this lengthy process of revealing who the culprit was, he remained silent—nervously biting his nails and sweating it out, hoping against hope that they wouldn't discover it was him. He could have confessed, but kept quiet until after he was finally found out. Joshua said to Achan, "My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me." And even then, when he finally did confess, "It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel," (7:20) he used the word for sin that means "goofed up" or "made a mistake" rather than the more honest word that means "deliberately sinned" or "chose to rebel." What a fool! Did he really think he could hide what he'd done from God?!
And a swift and thorough justice was soon delivered. "Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan… the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor" (which means "trouble"). "Joshua said, "Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today." Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them… Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger." Boy! Was it worth it Achan? I don't think so. And they made a memorial so that all of Israel would learn from Achan's bad example: "Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day… Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since."
What a vivid lesson for Israel: You shall not steal! And what a vivid lesson for us! But, wait a second! We're not like Achan! Right? I mean, I've never gone into a bank and held it up. I've never robbed a little old lady in some back alley. I've never broken into anybody's home to steal what wasn't mine. And I've never tried to shoplift any items from any store without paying for it—not even a candy bar when I was a kid! I'm no Achan, right? And neither are you, right?
Well, maybe we haven't shoplifted, robbed a little old lady, or held up a bank. But why not? Out of love for God? Or out of fear of getting caught? What if you could get away with it? Maybe you wouldn't steal a DVD or a CD from the store, but if you could download it onto your computer without paying for it? Maybe you wouldn't take petty cash from work, but a few office supplies? After all, no one will notice right? You're not hurting anyone! … Ah, how much like Achan we really are!
In fact, even if you've never actually taken anything that wasn't yours, you and I are still thieves. You see, we break this commandment not only by what we do, but also by what we don't do. Do you always work your hardest at your job? Or do you sometimes take a little extra break? Do you ever take care of personal business while you're on the clock? Then you've stolen from your employer! They're paying you to work, not to be lazy or do your own thing. The money they paid you for the work you didn't do, really belongs to them.
In an article in Parade Magazine from 1990 a company in California estimated that the cost that "time theft" cost U.S. businesses was over $220 billion—that's billion, not million—each year. These "intangible crimes," as they're called by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, consist of fake sick days, getting someone else to punch in your card on the time clock, making personal telephone calls and conducting private business during work hours. Are you guilty of stealing some of that $220 billion?
If not, you still break this commandment when you waste or mismanage the blessings that God has entrusted to you since "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." (Psalm 24:1) You break this commandment when you fail to help others protect and defend their property. And you break this commandment just by your attitudes, even if you do all the right things. You break this commandment by simply being malcontent with the blessings God has given. This commandment, like all the rest, is kept or broken in the heart.
Greed is one of the most dangerous poisons known to man. It tells us that the secret to happiness is having more stuff. If a little is good, then a lot must be better! But like saltwater, money and stuff can't ever really satisfy. They leave us craving more and finally dehydrate and kill—not the body, but the soul. When we refuse to be content with the blessings he's given us, we really steal from God.
Now, we may be able to hide our theft from everyone else, like Achan did, and bury it deep in our hearts where no one else can see it. But don't be a fool like Achan! You know that you can't hide any sin from God! Do you think God doesn't know? Of course he does! He knows your every sin! So give glory to God and confess your sin to him. Don't try to hide it! …And when you do confess your sin to him with a sincere heart, a beautiful thing happens. He takes that sin away!
He takes every one of our sins against the seventh commandment away through Jesus who lived perfectly in our place. Though Jesus had no earthly wealth, no house or home, no land, no donkey or horse, though all he really had was the clothes on his back, he remained perfectly content. When satan tried to tempt him with the riches and wealth of the nations, Jesus said, "No, thanks. I'm not interested." Because he trusted in God and was content with what he would provide. He always remained perfect and he gave that perfection to you and me. And he took our sins of theft and every sin on himself on the cross.
Remember that day—that Good Friday? Remember who was crucified next to him? A thief. And do you remember what Jesus said to that thief? "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 24:43) In other words, "Every one of your sins has been forgiven! Everyone theft, every crime, every attitude of greed or malcontent is erased and gone. You are perfect and therefore, qualify to enter into my paradise of heaven!"
Friends, he's said the same to you and to me! That's why he came: to forgive the sins of thieves like that man on the cross, like me, like you. Now, you and your family won't be stoned to death for your sin! You won't be burned! Not in this life and not in the life to come! You will never experience the hell that you deserve for your sin and for your foolish attempts to cover it up! Paradise is yours!
So, how can we thank Jesus for what he's done for us? Well, first we can learn to be content with what our Savior's given us. When we understand and appreciate the paradise that he gives us when we deserve to be stoned and burned, we can sing with all sincerity, "Take the world, but give me Jesus!" He's given us forgiveness! He's given us salvation! He's given us heaven! And on top of all that he's given us shelter. He's given us clothes. He's given us more than enough food. And he's given us so much more on top of all of that.
So what else do we need? Why bother chasing after more that we can't take with us anyway! It's like Paul said, "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Timothy 6:7) And besides, we could lose it all in this life already anyway. As Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)
And since the Lord has given you so much—especially that inheritance of glory in heaven—you can thank him by giving away the blessings and possessions that he's letting you manage to help and to serve others. Don't hoard it and hide it like Achan, but generously give your time and your offerings to his church to help others hear of his grace. Cheerfully give of your wealth to support your family and those in need. Don't be wasteful, but good managers of God's gifts.
And be content with what you have. Because finally, you know that a hundred years from now it won't matter how much money or stuff you've accumulated. It won't matter how much fun you had or how pleasant your retirement was. It won't matter to you how much you were able to leave to your kids or even the memories that you made with them. It won't matter if you have a bag of pearls. But it will matter that through faith in Jesus, your every sin has been forgiven! It will matter that the riches of heaven are yours! It will matter when he says to you, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 24:43) Rejoice, dear friends in the wealth that you have in Jesus and give glory to the Lord with all you have! Amen.