Judges 01: What went wrong?

Judges 1:1-2:5

Judges 2:1-5 – Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the Lord.

The book of Judges. How many of you are excited to begin our 15 sermons series on the book of Judges? I read about an interesting experiment on the internet that I want to try tonight. Why don’t we stand on our feet? If you never heard a single sermon on the book of Judges, take a seat. And by sermon, I mean a proper sermon, not a Sunday school story. If you heard a sermon on Judges only on the story of Gideon, take a seat. If you heard a sermon on Judges only on the story of Samson, take a seat. If you heard a sermon on Judges only on the story of Gideon and Samson, take a seat. Let’s see how many people heard a sermon from Judges other than those on Gideon or Samson. Okay, this is the last one. If you never heard an entire sermon series on the book of Judges, take a seat. There should be no one left standing if the experiment is successful. If there are, they will remain standing for the rest of the sermon. The book of Judges is not a popular book to preach on, except for the story of Gideon and Samson, and possibly Deborah. And there are good reasons for it. The book of Judges is bizarre. Many scholars call it the worst book in the Bible. And I agree. It is extremely dark. It is filled with toxic events such as genocide, holy war, slavery, oppression of women, rape, child sacrifice, etc. It is like the G.O.T. in the OT. When I posted on Instagram that we will do a series on the book of Judges, some people messaged me saying that Judges is their favourite book in the Bible. And I thought, “These people must have a really dark personality to have Judges as their favourite book in the Bible.” Either that or they have never read the entire book of Judges.

Let me show you the first and last verses in the book of Judges. Judges 1:1 – After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The book begins with the people of Israel seeking the Lord for direction. This is good, right? But look at the last verse in the book of Judges. Judges 21:25 – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The book begins with the people of Israel seeking the Lord for direction, and it ends with everyone doing what is right in his own eyes. God is no longer in the picture. It starts with the story of Israel fighting against God’s enemies, and it ends with the story of a Levite who cuts her concubine to pieces and sends them to different tribes of Israel. It is a very disturbing story. Edrick, you have been assigned to preach the concubine story. The book of Judges starts well, and it ends in such a way that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look pale in comparison. To which we ask, what happened? What went wrong? This is the reason why I believe it is very important for us to study the book of Judges. The theme of the book of Judges is the canaanization of Israel. It is the story of Israel’s self-destruction. And we really need to hear the message of Judges today. Because we live in a day and age where the world is trying to make us like the world. We live in a time where being Christian is not only considered not cool, but offensive. And we are tempted to conform to the pattern of this world every single day. That is why we need to study the book of Judges. Because those who fail to learn from history are doomed to relive it. And in order not to repeat the same mistake as them, we need to ask the question, what went wrong? Or maybe Israel’s story is your story. There were times when you were excited about God. God was at the heart of everything you did. But now God is no longer in the picture. Maybe you still acknowledge His existence but you have no relationship with Him. And you wonder, what went wrong?

Let me give you the context of the book first. The first two chapters of Judges are long introductions that set the stage for the rest of the book. Today we are just going to cover the first part of the introduction and next week we will cover the second part. The book of Judges begins after the death of Joshua. Joshua was the man who led Israel into the Promised Land. He was a great military leader and he led by example. And throughout the life of Joshua, the people of Israel served the Lord. But although Israel was already in the Promised Land, the conquest is not yet complete. There are still many areas in the land that need to be conquered. At the beginning of the book of Judges, Joshua had just died. The great commander is no more. The war has been won. But there are still many battles to be fought. The Canaanites still lived in their territories, and they need to get rid of them. And the purpose of driving out the Canaanites is not vengeful or economic, but spiritual. They are to be removed so that Israel will not fall under their religious influence and worship their gods. Israel is to build a home country to serve the Lord so that the surrounding nations will be able to know the Lord through them. And what God wants from Israel is for them to trust God and obey God.

So, let’s get into the text. I have three points for this sermon. The blessing of obedience; The crack of disobedience; The verdict of God.

The blessing of obedience

Judges 1:1-3 – After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him.

The story starts off very well. The people of Israel know they need to drive out the Canaanites, and they seek the Lord’s guidance for it. We don’t know how they inquired of the Lord and how the Lord speaks to them. Maybe they say, “Hey God”, and God replies from heaven, “Hey you.” We don’t know. But one thing is for sure, they seek God and God answers them. They know they can’t defeat the enemy on their own. They need God’s help. So, they ask, “Who shall fight first against the Canaanites?” God replies, “Judah shall go first. I have given the land into his hand.” So, there is a divine direction (Judah shall go first), and divine assurance, and divine power from God (I have given the land into his hand). All they have to do is to trust and obey God. But then something strange happens. Rather than trusting God and being the first to fight, the tribe of Judah goes to the tribe of Simeon and says, “Hey bro, do you want to come with me? Let’s fight together against the enemy in my territory. If you help me, I will help you get rid of the enemy in your territory later.”

From the outside, it looks like there is nothing wrong with what Judah is doing. It is common sense to seek others’ help in a battle. Some commentators said that this is a sign of unity and God blesses the unity among His people. I also have heard people spiritualise this story. They said, “The name Judah means praise. And the name Simeon means to hear. So, when we fight a battle against our enemy, the first thing we need to do is to praise God and hear from God.” Okay, I can see the importance of praising God and hearing from God, but is it really what’s happening in the story? I don’t think so. Listen. What Judah does is common sense, militarily. But it is faithlessness, spiritually. Because God is very clear that Judah shall go first. But Judah fails to fully obey. They go, but they do not go alone. Their obedience is half-hearted obedience. So, from the very beginning of the book, we already go, “Hmmm…” But God still blesses their conquest. Look at what happens.

Judges 1:4-10 – Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes. And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there. And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.

Judah is victorious against all their enemies. But here is where I want to draw your attention. One of the most common problems people have with the conquest of Canaan is they ask, “How can God allow genocide? How can God allow the murder of many innocent people in Canaan? This is very cruel and unjust.” It is a very good question. But did you hear what Adobi-bezek say? When they capture him and cuts off his thumbs and big toes, he does not say, “This is not fair. What have I done to deserve such a cruel punishment?” No. Instead, he says, “I have done the same to seventy other kings. So, God has repaid me for my wickedness.” In other words, the Canaanites are not innocent people. They are wicked people. In the book of Deuteronomy, we learned that they burned children as sacrifices, they listened to fortune tellers, and the land was filled with orgies, incest, and homosexuality. God made it clear to Israel that God is driving the Canaanites out because of their extreme wickedness. So, Israel is not at war against innocent people. They are fighting against cruel and wicked people. And God is bringing His judgement upon them through Israel. This conquest is God’s judgement upon them and Adoni-bezek accepts it. And having won against Adoni-bezek, Judah continues to march to drive out the rest of the Canaanites from their territory. And while recording these victories, the author of Judges decides to zoom in on one faithful family, the family of Caleb.

Judges 1:11-18 – 11 From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. The name of Debir was formerly Kiriath-sepher. 12 And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter for a wife.” 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. 14 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 15 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. 16 And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people. 17 And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they defeated the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath and devoted it to destruction. So the name of the city was called Hormah. 18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory.

In the middle of Judah’s conquest, we have a wonderful story of romance. This story is a miniature of what all Israel should be like. Caleb offers his daughter to a man who dares to trust God and attacks Kiriath-sepher. And Othniel responds with courageous obedience to God’s word. He captures the city and marries Achsah, Caleb’s daughter. And Othniel’s marriage with Achsah is flourishing. Achsah is doing her role as a wife who takes initiative to support her husband. They are doing their best to settle in the promised land and enjoy God’s blessings. So, what we have is a picture of a blessed marriage in fertile land. This is what God has in mind for all of Israel when they trust and obey God.

So, what’s the lesson for us? The lesson is simple. God wants our trust and obedience; Trust and obedience to God bring Godly success. Judah experienced tremendous success in their conquest because they seek divine direction, they receive divine assurance, and they move in divine power. Even before the conquest began, they already won. God said, “I have given the land into Judah’s hand.” Sure, there are many battles to come. But before a single battle breaks out, God assures Judah that the land is already theirs. This is God-talk. Only God can talk about something that has yet to happen and put it in the perfect tense. So, don’t miss this. The real reason behind their success is not a good battle strategy or military might; It is the presence and the promises of God. It is also true for us. If we have the presence and the promises of God, we have no reason to fear. Whatever it is that we face, we can have courage because the God who makes the promises is the God who can be trusted. This is the God who looked at nothingness and made the creation dance at His words. This is the God who looks at the future and speaks as if it already happened. This is the God who holds the universe in the palm of His hand.

Church, when is the last time we dare ourselves to trust God’s promises? When is the last time we choose danger over safety? Or have we become those who trust the promises of God with our minds but not with our lives? For some of us, we know the promises of God, but we do not obey His words. It’s like this. Let’s say someone gives you a cheque for $1 million. You are very happy and excited. So, you go home, you laminate that cheque, put it in a frame and place it in your living room for all to see. And every day you talk about that cheque to everyone around you and you dream about what you would do with that money. Here is the thing though. It does not matter how often you talk and think about that cheque, that cheque is useless. That cheque is useless unless you go to a bank and deposit that cheque into your account. And this is what we often do with the promises of God. We talk about it. We think about it. But we do not obey it. It is useless. What we must do is trust the promises of God and walk in obedience to the commands of God. When we trust and obey God’s word, God is with us and He blesses our obedience. Obedience to God brings Godly success.

The crack of disobedience

Judges 1:19 – 19 And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.

This is a strange verse. Can you see what’s strange about it? On one hand, the Lord is with Judah. The Lord brings success to their conquest. But on the other hand, they are not able to drive out some of the Canaanites because they have iron chariots. “Wait. What? Are you telling me that God is with Judah and gives victories to Judah, but God is like, ‘I’m sorry guys. But I can’t do anything about those iron chariots. They are beyond me. We are so close. Tough luck.’” Is that what’s happening? I don’t think so. What’s happening here is not that Judah could not, but Judah would not. Judah fails to trust God completely. So, they measure their strength against the enemy’s iron chariots and decide that the enemy is too strong for them. Judah does not trust in God’s strength. And rather than risking their lives to get rid of the enemy so they can worship God without compromise, they compromise with the enemy. I love the way Timothy Keller puts it. “It is not our lack of strength that prevents us from enjoying God’s blessings, or from worshipping God wholeheartedly; it is our lack of faith in His strength.” Listen. When we rely on ourselves and our own calculations instead of simply obeying God, we are making the same mistake as Judah. Rather than obeying God wholeheartedly, we are making compromises. And those compromises might look small and insignificant at first. But the consequences are massive. Look at what happens next. It’s a long passage. But try to see a pattern that develops in this passage.

Judges 1:20-36 – 20 And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak. 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. 22 The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. (Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.) 24 And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.” 25 And he showed them the way into the city. And they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go. 26 And the man went to the land of the Hittites and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day. 27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely. 29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. 30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor. 31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. 33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them. 34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. 35 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. 36 And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.

Now, let’s be honest. How many of you lost track of what’s happening in the story? What’s happening here is the author is giving us a geography lesson. And I’m really bad at geography. When one of you told me that you were from Cilegon, I thought Cilegon was some island near Sumatra. True story. So, when I first read these verses, my mind went blurry. But there is a vital teaching that we must not miss in this geography lesson. Can anyone see what happened? The little compromise that Judah made begin to spread like a wildfire. The tribe of Benjamin fails to drive out the Jebusites. The house Joseph makes a covenant with a Canaanite man who ends up re-creating the city of Luz. Manasseh fails to drive out various inhabitants. Ephraim allows Canaanites to live among them. Zebulun opts for forced labour. The people of Asher and Naphtali live among Canaanites. And the tribe of Dan is confined to the hill country because the Amorites are determined to hold out to their land.

So, notice the downward progression of the conquest:
Canaanites are spared (v.25-26).
Canaanites are allowed to live at a distance (v.25-26).
Canaanites are allowed to live among Israelites (v.27-30).
Israelites are allowed to live among Canaanites (v.31-33).
Israelites are allowed to live a distance from Canaanites (v.34).

So, what we have is a downward progression. It is a disappointing end to the campaign. What started as a small compromise leads to progressive failure. And some might reason, “Well, it’s not really their fault. It is because the enemy is too strong for them. There is nothing they can do about it.” But look at verse 28. We might miss it because it is surrounded by geography, but it is very important. Judges 1:28 – 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely. The author of Judges makes it explicit that the reason Israel does not drive out Canaanites is not that they are too weak. Even after they become strong, they do not do it. Instead, they make Canaanites work for them. So, the reason implied is it makes more economic sense and requires less effort to enslave them than to drive them out. Convenience trumps obedience. Don’t miss it. The issue is never about they could not; the issue is they would not. Rather than obeying God’s command wholeheartedly, they choose successful disobedience. They experienced pragmatic success but spiritual failure. Dale Ralph Davies puts it nicely. “It is possible for the believer’s life to display the marks of success and yet be a failure in the eyes of God. Christian success (whether personal or in the form of a glossy evangelical enterprise) is not necessarily the same as pleasing God.” Worldly success does not equate to pleasing God. What started off as a great conquest become co-existence. Israelites now live alongside idol-worshipping Canaanites. This is the beginning of the canaanization of Israel. And Israel is like a ticking bomb. It is only a matter of time before the bomb explodes.

Here is an important lesson from this passage. Destruction always starts with a small compromise; It begins with a small crack of disobedience. Living with Canaanites leads to worshipping with Canaanites. Destructive sin does not happen overnight. You don’t fall into the sin of adultery overnight. Do you know how adultery often begins? It often begins with one inappropriate text message. So, what we must not do is fool ourselves into thinking that we can compromise here and there and not be affected by it. Every time we disobey God, every time we make a small compromise with the enemy, the crack in our lives is getting bigger and bigger. And it will eventually lead to our destruction. Do not believe the lies of the enemy that we can co-exist with sin. Sin is not something we should compromise. Sin is an enemy we must drive out of our lives at all costs.

There is a story that came out in October 2017. A woman bought a pet python and slept with it every night. She loved her pet python. Every single night, this woman would sleep with her pet python sprawled around her body. It was a bonding moment with her snake that she cherished. Until she noticed something was wrong. She got concerned because after weeks of sleeping with her, her python suddenly stopped eating. And after a few weeks of not eating, she took her python to the vet and told the vet that her python had not eaten for weeks. After hearing that the woman and the python sleep together every night, the vet was alarmed. He asked the woman, “Since the python had not been eating, has it been sleeping in a circular pattern around you, or has it stretched out from end to end on top of you?” The woman replied, “It is weird. When we first started sleeping in bed together, it was in a circular pattern around me. But since it hasn’t been eating, it stretched out from my head to my feet.” Then the vet got very alarmed. He said, “Mam, the reason why your python is stretching out across you is it is sizing you up. The reason why it’s been starving itself is because it is preparing for a very large meal. You are next on the menu.” Can you see what happened? What started as cute and cuddly was about to turn deadly. Let me give you a how not to be eaten by python 101. Are you ready? This is mind-blowing. Do not have a python as your pet. It does not matter how cute it is, it will eventually eat you. And that is the exact picture of sin. Sin is not a pet for us to live with. Sin is an enemy we must drive out before it eats us.

So, here is a question that we must ask ourselves. Where am I saying, “I can’t” but God is saying, “You won’t”? Because those areas in our lives are the crack of disobedience. God will never put us in a position where we cannot obey Him. There is never a real “I can’t” moment. It’s not that we can’t, but we won’t. Businesspeople, are you doing your business with integrity? Or are you cutting corners here and there to make more profit? Students, are you doing your best with your assessment? Or are you cheating and stealing other people’s work? Singles, are you living in sexual purity? Or are you rationalizing your porn addiction and sexual lifestyle because everyone around you is doing it? Hurting people, are you extending forgiveness to those who hurt you? Or are you holding on to that bitterness because you think it is unfair for them to receive your forgiveness? Christians, are you being generous and putting God first in your finances? Or are you keeping most of it for your self-indulgence and future security? Where are the areas where we say, “I can’t” but God says, “You won’t”? Heed the warning of the text. A small area of compromise can become a large area of disaster.

The verdict of God

Judges 2:1-5 – Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the Lord.

So, here is God’s verdict on Israel. It is crystal clear. The angel of the Lord comes from Gilgal to Bochim. And this angel is not an ordinary angel. Because when he speaks, God speaks. He will show up a few times in the book of Judges. And this time he comes to bring God’s verdict. When we read Israel’s conquest of Canaan, and we are told that they could not drive out the Canaanites, we tend to agree. “They did their best, but their best was not good enough. It’s not their fault.” But God strongly disagrees. Chapter 1 gives us the facts. And in chapter 2, we have God’s explanation of chapter 1. God says, “Israel, you have disobeyed me.” Period. So, it is never about they could not, but they would not. It is not the superior might of Canaanites that defeated Israel but Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Israel disobeyed God. How has Israel disobeyed God? They disobeyed God by making a covenant with the people of Canaan. Instead of breaking their altars, they live together with them. Remember. The motivation for driving out Canaanites is always spiritual. God warned Israel not to let Canaanites live in their country because if they do, they will make Israel sin against God. Israel will worship their gods and it will destroy them from the inside. So, it is either Israel drives out the Canaanites or the Canaanites will destroy Israel. But Israel did not obey God and they spared the Canaanites. And the result is they no longer worship the Lord alone. The result is idols are being worshipped among the Israelites. And because of it, the Canaanites will become thorns in their sides and their idols will be a snare to them. What started off as a compromise becomes a rejection of God.

So, after the angel of the Lord rebukes the people of Israel, they weep. They cry out to the Lord, and they make sacrifices to the Lord. But that’s it. They have a deep emotional experience and a wonderful worship service, but they don’t change. They have a good cry, but they do not repent. And this is what often happens in church on Sunday. “Oh, wow Yos, that’s a good sermon. God touched me through your sermon. Thank you.” “That’s awesome. Did you repent of your sin?” “No, I felt guilty about what I did, but that’s about it. I did have a good cry though. It felt good.” But that’s not what God is after. Listen. It is good to respond to God’s word with tears. In fact, I kind of like it when I hear people sob at the end of my sermon. It makes me feel like I am doing a good job as a preacher. But understand this. God is not after our tears; He is after our repentance. He is not after emotional experience; He is after heart transformation. God wants more than our wet eyes. He wants our broken hearts. Tears without repentance are meaningless. And with this, the stage is set for the book of Judges. Where the people of God are living unfaithful to God in the middle of an idolatrous culture. It is a very dark time.

But it does not mean that there is no hope. Because even though the people of God are unfaithful, God is faithful. How? There is tension between verse 1 and verse 3. In verse 1, God said, “I will never break my covenant with you.” And in verse 3, He said, “I will not drive them out before you.” It is as though God is saying, “I have sworn to give you the whole land, yet I have also sworn not to give it to a disobedient people.” God is in a dilemma. That’s why He said in verse 2, “What is this you have done?” God is saying to His people, “You have put me in an impossible situation. I have sworn to bless you as my beloved people, and I have sworn not to bless you as disobedient people. How am I to solve this dilemma?” Another way to say it is this. God is holy. He cannot tolerate or bless evil. But God is also faithful. He cannot break His promises with His people. This is the tension that we will see throughout the book of Judges. Will God finally give up on His people and break His promises? Or will God finally give in to His people and break His holiness?

And today, we know the answer. The answer is neither. At the cross of Jesus Christ, God reveals Himself to be both holy and faithful at the same time and resolves the tension. God is holy and He cannot tolerate sin. Every sin must be paid for. The justice of God requires infinite payment for every sin against the infinite God. The cross reveals the severity of sin. It shows us that God is the God of justice. But that is not the only thing the cross shows us. The cross also reveals God’s faithfulness to His people. Rather than making His people take the punishment for sins, He took the punishment upon Himself. At the cross, our sins are imputed to Jesus. Jesus took the infinite wrath of God toward sin upon himself. At the cross, the justice of God is satisfied, and the faithfulness of God is manifested. The cross reveals to us the length that God is willing to go to remain faithful to us. God did not set aside His justice and ignored His holiness. But Jesus endured the wrath of God so that we don’t have to. He became the ultimate sacrifice and satisfied the wrath of God. So that when we put our faith in Jesus, Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us. And we are fully loved, forgiven, and accepted by God because of Jesus. So today we can have the confidence that God will never ever break His promises to His people because the consequence of sin is already paid for. This is the only way the tension of Judges can be resolved. The cross of Jesus Christ is the only way God can be both holy and faithful at the same time. This is the gospel.

And we must get this. Without the gospel, we will always either compromise with sin because we know God’s unconditional love for us or live under the burden of guilt because we know we deserved God’s condemnation for our sins. The cross is where the tension is resolved once and for all. So today, we can live forgiven-obedient lives despite also living sinful-disobedient lives. The gospel enables us to constantly pursue obedient lives without being crushed by our disobedience. And this is the only way we can live a Christian life. The gospel is our only hope. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. Explain why trust without obedience is useless. Can you see this tendency in your own life? Why?
  3. Why do you think it is so much easier for us to make compromises rather than obey God’s word?
  4. Are there any areas in your life where you say, “I can’t” but God says, “You won’t”?
  5. How can God remain faithful to unfaithful people?
  6. How does the gospel enable us to live a Christian life in this sinful world?
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