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Why Some and Not Others

Jeremiah 17:13-14

Pastor Robin Fish

14th Sunday after Trinity
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Sun, Sep 13, 2009 

Jeremiah 17:13-14

O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.  Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For Thou art my praise.

Why Some and Not Others

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Cur alii non alii? It is an ancient question.  Why some and not others?  Why are some people saved and others are lost.  It plays into the question of theodicy that we talked about a couple of weeks ago - why there is pain and suffering if God is almighty.  One might also ask why God doesn't just save everyone, if He is almighty and He wants everyone to be saved, as He tells us He does in Scripture. 

Of course, some people answer this question with the answer of universalism.  Everyone is saved.  No one goes to hell. 

Some say that there is no hell.  Others say that there is a hell, but there will be no one in it. 

Another approach to this question is to deny the existence of God - and the existence of life beyond the death we observe in this world.  People like Carl Sagan, the astronomer who was famous for saying "Billions and billions . . .", is just such a person.  He was confident that once you die, it is over.  There is no life, no consciousness, nothing beyond death.

But the Scriptures say that there is, and so does our faith.  The question, then, is what does the Bible teach?  Why are some saved and not others?  What distinguishes the two?  And our Old Testament lesson actually addresses the answer.  Our theme, this morning, is Why Some and Not Others?.

The answer probably won't surprise you, because you have listened to me on this topic before, but it would surprise most people, even those who call themselves Christians.  The answer is simple: no one goes to hell except those that choose to.  The question that has haunted theological discourse for thousands of years is really not one question, but two.  The first is, "Why does anyone go to heaven?" The answer to that is simple: the grace of God.  God saves us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second question is, "Why does anyone go to hell?".  The answer to that one is simple to say, although it is more complex to consider: the damned reject the gift of God in Christ Jesus.  They will not believe, will not be saved, will not accept something they have no control over or part in earning or deserving.  The 'why' of their refusal and rejection of the grace of God is often complex, but it is that rejection and refusal that determines their eternal destination.

The two questions are put together into the one conundrum, but they are really two separate questions.  The attempt to answer them as one question with one answer is as futile as trying to answer the question of the color of peaches and the price of oranges in January with just one answer.  It cannot be done, and to do so inevitably leads to false doctrine.  If there were one answer, it would be the grace of God.  But that would lead someone to think that God's grace includes the condemnation of the reprobate (that is, those who are ultimately condemned) as part of grace, and not as part of God permitting those who refuse to be saved the freedom of the choice of their own eternal condemnation.

So, to avoid an answer that would be easily and immediately misunderstood, I divide the traditional one question into the two question that it actually represents, and those two questions can be answered.  Jeremiah addresses the answer, even if he does not repeat the question, in our Old Testament lesson today.  O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake Thee will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.  Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For Thou art my praise.

Did you notice it?  Jeremiah places the responsibility for the shame of those who suffer shame, or condemnation, squarely upon their own shoulders.  It is those who forsake God that are put to shame.  Those who turn away . . . will be written down.  Damnation requires an affirmative act - or at least it requires doing something to be damned.  Their condemnation is Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD.  That goes right along with the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches us that Christ has redeemed us from sin, death, and hell.  Nothing remains for us to do or accomplish.  It is the gift of God.  Your sins are forgiven!  God is pouring out life and salvation like water.  In order to miss out, you have to do something to get away.  You need to reject it, or refuse God and His gift.  It isn't something you need to work at receiving - you need to work at avoiding it.

That isn't the way it seems to most people because that rejection is so very natural to them.  People simply run from God reflexively.  On the face of it, it seems utterly insane.  Why would anyone flee from salvation?  Why would anyone reject resurrection and eternal life and peace and joy?  Everyone says that they want it!

That is where human nature steps in.  We sin.  Sin makes us every bit as frightened of God - and actually angry with Him - as it did Adam and Eve.  We know we are guilty.  We feel the rightness of the judgement of God against our sins, and it frightens us.  Like the child who is angry when his or her parent discovers them doing what they know they ought not to do, we get angry toward God because we know we deserve death and hell, but we don't want it.  The righteous wrath of God against sin causes us to flee from God and expect no good thing from Him - plus, our nature has been so twisted in sin that we puff ourselves up and strut around as though we deserve better than God - and more than He gives us.  And so we parade around as injured parties, and find ourselves natural enemies of God, who loves us.

We know He loves us because He has rescued us and redeemed us, sending Christ to suffer and die for us and in our place.  That wrath and judgment that we feel so acutely fell on Jesus, on the cross.  Sin has been dealt with.  Judgment has been dispensed.  God has saved us, just as Jeremiah wrote.  Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For Thou art my praise.  Our healing is forgiveness.  Our salvation is all that is proclaimed in Jesus Christ.

It feels like we need to do something in order to be saved, but it has already been done.  We need to know about it, and take God at His Word, and trust Him to do what He has promised, but we don't make our salvation happen.  We receive it through faith - not by faith or because of faith, but through faith, just as pipes in the house do not cause or create water at the faucet, but serve merely as the conduit, so our faith is the conduit for the grace and salvation of God, but not the cause, and not "our part in our salvation".  It is not our part, because we cannot make even that happen - faith is the gift of God, created by hearing His Gospel, and by the Holy Spirit at work in us through that Word of God.

Save me, and I am saved.  That is the truth of it.  Those who turn away, those who forsake God are the ones who suffer the shame of eternal condemnation.  The action on our part that makes any difference at all is always the action of turning away, of rejecting God and refusing His grace and salvation, or being certain that we know better, or that we can do something of our own of value and worth before God in the scales of eternal justice.  We cannot.  Salvation is His gift through Jesus Christ, and no other way - and we need to know that, and believe it - and trust in Him.

But that need is not the need 'to do' - it is our need.  Anything short of faith is actually the active rejection of God.  It just doesn't feel that way because the active rejection of God is our natural state without His gracious influence in us.  Look at our Gospel lesson: the Ten Lepers.  All ten were healed.  The nine did not lose their healing by walking away from Jesus and doing what He had instructed them to do.  They simply rejected the greater healing of salvation.  They stood in the presence of God Himself, and all they wanted was a cure for the physical ailment they suffered from.  When they had it, they hung on to it and ignored - or forgot - who it was that gave it to them.  Just the one, and that one a hated Samaritan, understood, and turned to praise God and thank Jesus, and cling to the greater healing of life and salvation because he believed.  He believed in Jesus, not in his cure.  The cure was right there and required no further faith.  But understanding and believing in Jesus and who He is did!  All ten were cleansed, but only one heard Jesus say, "Your faith has saved you."

Now, he did nothing special, he simply received as a gift from Jesus Christ.  He simply did not walk away from the miracle and the miracle Giver.  The others were cured of their leprosy of the flesh, but not the leprosy of the heart - sin.  They walked away from God, forsaking the One who had rescued them - and that is their shame, or at least, that is the beginning of it.

Of course, that can't happen today, right?  Of course it can.  It does.  It happens every time someone decides that family or friends or the opinions of those that they respect are more important than doctrine - than the truth.  It happens when we go along with the crowd rather than stand up for our confession of Christ.  It happens when we accept the cheap and temporary comfort of the notion that everyone is pretty much the same, and that all those we love are going to heaven too just because we feel all warm and squishy about them, rather than holding fast to the truth that in Christ alone is life and salvation, and that it is the truth - and nothing else- that set us free.  It happens when we or anyone forsakes God or turns away.  And we see churches full of people, and denominations full of churches doing just that today.

Why some and not others?  Those who are saved are saved by the grace of God and His work in Jesus Christ.  Those who are not saved are not saved because they forsook God and turned away from their Savior and His salvation.  Ultimately, the only people who go to hell are those that choose to go to hell, even if they do not understand that that is the choice that they are making at the time.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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