Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unwelcome wages

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 65:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold it is written before Me: I will not keep silent but repay -- even repay into their bosom -- your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,' says the Lord, 'who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.'" Isaiah 65:6-7

What is it about us humans that we so readily tend toward breaking rules? Wherever there is a posted speed limit, for example, you can guarantee that more people will be driving over than under it (at least where I live). My husband is currently on the council of our townhouse strata. Suddenly he's more aware than ever of owners parking in visitor spots (something our rules forbid) -- an awareness that's uncomfortable because, as a council member, he has some responsibility to see that those rules are enforced.

Our penchant to break human-made rules is not lessened when it comes to rules God sets. Our reading today is God's response to Isaiah's sermon-prayer of 63:7-64:12. God answers Isaiah's impassioned questions about why Israel is in the state she's in (64:10-12) by detailing what He sees.

There is worship in unauthorized places (Isaiah 65:3). The people are spending time in the company of and sating their hunger with things God calls an abomination (65:4). And they are proud of it (65:5). So, God says, they are getting their just wages (65:6-7, our focus verses for today).

There is a word for breaking God's rules. It is sin. The idea that sin has wages goes through scripture. These wages are not desirable:

- Sinning is called a futile thing, which will be rewarded with futility (Job 15:31).
- The wicked person will be condemned; he will be destroyed by evil (Psalm 34:21).
- Those who make a lifestyle of breaking God's rules are called fools and are "afflicted" (made ill)  by their sins (Psalm 107:17).
- Their "revenue" (income) is trouble (Proverbs 15:6).
- The sinner spends his life amassing wealth "that he may give to him who is good before God" (Ecclesiastes 2:26).
- Sinners bring evil upon themselves (Isaiah 3:9).
- Evil deeds are repaid in kind (Isaiah 59:18).
- Sinning leads to bitter consequences (Jeremiah 8:14).
- It also leads to a harvest of uselessness and irritation (Jeremiah 12:13).
- It results in calamity (evil, disaster, doom) (Jeremiah 44:23).
- Every transgression and disobedience receives a just reward (Hebrews 2:2).
- Its wages are death (Romans 6:23).

This uncomfortable list of sin's consequences makes one ask: what exactly is the attractiveness of sin again?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me remember, when tempted to sin, that there are consequences. And thank You for the gospel, which counteracts these wages with Your gift of forgiveness and life. Amen.

MORE: "Sin's Wages and God's Gift"

J. Gresham Machen (1991-1937) was a Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His excellent short essay "Sin's Wages and God's Gift" -- first published in God Transcendent (1949)-- begins:

Some time ago I heard a sermon on this text by a preacher who has now retired. The sermon was not one that I agreed with altogether, but the beginning of it, I thought, was interesting. The preacher said that during the preceding summer he had met in a chance sort of way, on one of the steamers of the Great Lakes, a gentleman who turned out to be a man of large affairs, but a man who had little to do with the church. Incidentally the conversation turned to religious matters, and the man of business gave to the preacher the benefit of a little criticism. The criticism was perhaps not unworthy of attention. "You preachers," the outsider said, "don't preach hell enough."

Read the whole thing and you will not only be impressed with the dreadfulness of sin's wages, but reminded of the wonderful good news of the second part of Romans 6:23: "...the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."



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