God Takes Your Sin Seriously
First Sunday in Lent – Joshua 7:16-26
Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and he took the Zerahites. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was taken. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.
19 Then 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.”
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.
24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, 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. 25 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. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.
It was probably the most successful victory in Jewish history. And if it wasn’t considered the most successful, it was certainly the most memorable. An impenetrable fortress of a city, guarded by giants in a foreign country. When the Israelites came upon the city of Jericho they must have been flabbergasted.
What was even more astonishing was the Lord’s plan for taking the city. The people were to march around it once every day for a week. Then, on the last day, they were to march around it seven times. On the last march around the city the trumpets were to sound and the people were to shout. It was unorthodox to say the least. And yet, it worked. After the last march around the city, after the trumpets blew and the people shouted, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
No siegeworks were assembled. No swords needed to be drawn. Not a single Israelite died. The sights and sounds that took place in the city of Jericho on that victory day would be recounted in Israel for generations. It summarized the conquering of Israel. It was what Joshua would be remembered for. In fact, God’s Word tell us, “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.”
But do you remember what happened next? After conquering the mighty city of Jericho, Joshua led the Israelite army to the small, insignificant city of Ai. The people might not have been giants. The city probably didn’t have any walls. In fact, Joshua says, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai.” And they didn’t. Only about 3,000 went up.
Then the unthinkable happened. Ai had their own “underdog moment.” “[Israel was] routed by the men of Ai…they chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries.” How could such an incredible victory at Jericho be followed by this awful defeat at Ai? All of Israel wondered how this could happen. “The hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.”
As always, the Lord had a very serious reason for allowing this defeat. He had Joshua bring all of Israel before the Lord – tribe by tribe and clan by clan. The culprit was a man by the name of Achan. And with all of Israel looking at him, including those who lost sons in battle at Ai, Achan fessed up. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder [at Jericho]…I coveted them and took them.”
One guy takes some treasure from a city Israel already conquered and God makes Israel lose an entire battle because of it? That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why should the rest of Israel suffer for the sins of one man? Why should mothers and fathers lose sons, or children lose fathers because of Achan? Achan should have been the only one punished!
But Achan’s sin had consequences. He probably thought that no one would notice if he took a few things from Jericho. It seemed like a victim-less crime. Most of our sins seem that way too. My thoughts don’t hurt anyone. My words probably don’t really hurt others, except maybe their feelings. And even my actions don’t seem to send ripples that carry very far. I would like to think that my sins have no real consequences.
But of course, our sins do have consequences: not just the sins we do and say, but even our sinful thoughts. There was another man who took something that no one else seemed to notice. 30 pieces of silver in exchange for the location of Jesus. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders with the hope that Jesus could escape in another miraculous victory over his enemies.
But Judas was wrong. Like Achan’s greed that led to an unlikely defeat for Israel, Judas’ greed led to the unlikely capture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are a lot of similarities between Achan and Judas. Both gave in to greed and took things they should not have. Both betrayed those close to them. Both thought their sins wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Both misunderstood just how serious God takes sin. God took Achan’s sin so seriously that he gave Israel defeat, lined all of Israel up, and picked Achan out so that he could be put to death. Jesus took Judas’ sin so seriously that he gave Judas every opportunity to not betray him. God takes your sin seriously too. That is because God is just. He has to punish sin.
He took your sins so seriously that he did the unthinkable. He sent his one and only Son into this sinful world to be betrayed by those closest to him, beaten, mistreated and crucified. God took your sin so seriously that he punished his Son, Jesus, with the eternal damnation that had your name on it.
The same words that came after Achan’s death also can be used to describe what happened after Jesus’ death. “Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger.” Our beautiful hymn In Christ Alone summarizes it perfectly. “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied.” In that way God took your sin seriously. He took it upon himself. And now we take our sin seriously, too. Your sinful actions have consequences, even when you can’t see them. Your sinful words hurt – not only others, but they hurt Jesus on the cross. And even your sinful thoughts, which don’t seem to harm anyone, were put on Jesus where he suffered and died for them.
Yes, we take sin seriously. We take it seriously enough that we do everything we can to avoid it. Our sinful nature has a lot of wants and desires that it pushes you to chase after. Just ask Achan or Judas – those temptations are real. And yet we have Jesus, “who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” You have the perfect help when the devil comes to you with temptation. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” God takes your salvation seriously. Continue to return to him in prayer and in his Word. Amen.