And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. 16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
We pray in the Easter 4 Collect:
Almighty God, You show those who are in error the light of Your truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness.
God shows us our error (sometimes painfully). He does it so that we might know the crisis we’re in (like someone informing you that you’re in a burning building). It’s for our good. It’s with gracious intent. He wants us to return into the way of righteousness so that we might be saved, and be with Him in His eternal kingdom. The way of righteousness is that we recognize that we have been redeemed in Christ. God’s Commandments show us our unrighteousness that condemns us. His message of salvation in Christ saves us.
This fits very well with all of our lessons.
God’s Old Testament people (one generation beyond Joshua’s time) are in error - adopting for themselves the ways, and the false gods of the peoples around them. They’ve abandoned the LORD, it says. In order to discipline them, like it says in our Collect: that they may return into the way of righteousness, God allows their enemies to overtake them (sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, it says). Then, graciously, one after another, He sends judges to save them from their enemies.
God is different from the world. He is righteous. His people have to be different as well. They are set apart for holiness (led by the power of the Holy Spirit to be so), not conforming to the wickedness of this world, which drives them away from Him (drives us away from Him - our wickedness, our adopting of the world’s ways).
Paul calls his New Testament readers in our epistle lesson sojourners (ones passing through a place, but not really a part of it) and exiles. He encourages them (as temporary visitors to this world) to conduct their lives with that in mind. As ones who are on their way to God’s eternal kingdom, they should be a living demonstration of the true God. God would have others return into the way of righteousness through their example. God wants people who are in error to look to His people and say, “Oh, that’s how God is. He’s merciful. He’s generous. He longs to serve people, and to build them up.”
Jesus tells believers in our Gospel lesson that this life (our time of waiting for His return in glory) is a little while, in which we will weep and lament, and endure scorn that will give way to joy.
Show those who are in error the light of Your truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness (Collect). We studied the book of Judges - it was either a year, or two ago - in our Sunday morning Bible Class. A couple of things come to mind for me immediately from that experience. One is the strangeness of the people. It isn’t Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Moses and Joshua. It is a generation of Israelites that seems far removed from them. It’s an “in between time.” It’s a time in which there is treachery and brutality around every corner. It’s a time in which God is preserving His covenant people despite their best efforts to push Him away, until the day in which the “fullness of time has come,” and the Savior is born amongst them.
Consider this key statement in the narrative of Judges that sets the scene:
3:5 So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. and their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.
The peoples mentioned are the ones who had been in the land before God’s people got there - the various Canaanites.
We said last week that this time of the Old Testament was different from modern times (and even from New Testament times). God had led the Israelites out of Egypt powerfully. He had made a covenant with them to be their God, and to lead them personally, directly, in a way unlike times after that time. Nobody today has God telling them personally to remove people from a certain land; but the Israelites did in that time. God was bringing judgment on the people in the land of Canaan, and He was preparing that land as the birthplace of the Savior, Jesus.
He had given specific instructions to His people. The peoples living in the land of Canaan had been devoted, by Him, to destruction. The Israelites were to bring about that destruction, without any of the current inhabitants of the land still being there when they were done. Again, very serious indication of God’s anger over sin, and His judgment of those who would presume to mock Him. It was like when He sent Jonah to the city of Ninevah with the message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (3:4) In that case, the people repented; not so in this case.
But as we see from that verse (Israel lived among the Canaanites), God’s people had failed in their task. Many of the Canaanites were still among them in the land. And it was a real problem that this was the case. The results of their failure are present in our text: And [the Israelites] abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
It can’t be any worse for a person than to have the LORD against him. That’s as bad as it gets. Woe to us if we would ever become comfortable with situation like that (as they were).
There is a real tension that exists in this corrupted world. It’s a gauntlet to be God’s people in this world. We go through this struggle in order to reach a goal, heaven. We are here in this world surrounded by spiritual danger. The devil, and anyone who is carrying his cause are trying to convince us that seeing ourselves as sojourners, exiles, temporary visitors to this world is a drag. We would enjoy it so much more if we dropped all of that and just threw our lot in with everyone else.
That’s what God’s people were doing in the time of the Judges. They weren’t separate, set apart, holy; they were joiners. They were abandoners of God’s things in favor of the world’s things. There was a recurring pattern: they would go after the false gods of the peoples around them; God would give them over to enemy nations, who would plunder them and oppress them; they would cry out for His mercy; He would send a judge (someone who would save them from their enemies, and sort of act as His merciful presence among them); the judge would eventually die, and it would all begin again, with them going after false gods and so forth.
Think about the things we learn about God in all this, though. He’s angry about sin - that’s for sure. When His people are trapped in it, as we become sometimes, He shows [us] who are in error the light of His truth. Sometimes this is painful for us, like it was for the Israelites in the time of the Judges.
But God is doing it with gracious intent. He wants us to return into the way of righteousness. He wants us to recognize again that we aren’t in our permanent home here; we are sojourners - passing through a place. Look what the writer to the Hebrews (in the New Testament) says about Abraham (who was the father of the Israelites, God’s Old Testament covenant people):
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance [that’s the Land of Canaan long before his descendants were even in Egypt]. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Then the writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham and his wife Sarah saw themselves as strangers and exiles on the earth. He says, If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Dear Fellow Redeemed, as I call you at the beginning of every sermon - that means fellow sojourners, fellow exiles, fellows who recognize the time of this life as a little while: receive with grateful hearts the Lord’s discipline, as He shows you, in your error, the light of His truth. He does so with gracious intent. He longs to restore you into the way of righteousness. He longs to receive you as ones who sorrow over sin, and who cling to Christ’s righteousness for salvation. As He sent judges to His Old Testament people as a witness of Himself in their time of struggle, so He sends to you pastors with His Word and Supper to correct you and to comfort you as you await His return in glory. God be praised. Amen.
Other Lessons for the day:
1 Peter 2:11-20
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
"A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, "What is this that he says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'; and, 'because I am going to the Father'?" 18 So they were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me'? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.