St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Lent Midweek IV

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14

March 13, 2024

As we consider our reading from 2 Samual this evening, we discover that sin most often leads to two types of consequence. The first is the eternal consequence or eternal death, and the second is the temporal consequence.

For King David who had committed adultery and murder, God sent the prophet Nathan to preach and draw David to repentance. And after Nathan says those famous words, “You are the man,” David recognizes that he sinned grievously against the Lord, Nathan pronounces the Absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and David’s sins of adultery and murder are laid upon Christ Jesus who is to come and the eternal consequence for his sins is removed.

But, because David sinned, God lays a temporal consequence on David; his firstborn son with Bathsheba shall die and he will have a kingship of constant conflict.

Two types of consequence, the eternal consequence is taken away, but a temporal remains.

What we learn from this event in history is that the forgiveness of sins does not necessarily remove immediate, earthly consequences. Just because a murderer repents and is forgiven of his sins in heaven doesn’t mean he is released from spending life in prison. But I think it’s more. Because when we confuse eternal consequence with temporal consequence, we also tend to make sin’s severity about earthly consequence at the expense of the eternal. Allow me to explain:

Since adultery is so highly prevalent in our society today and the fact that, even as God’s holy church, we have sorely, sorely compromised in matters of sexual relationships, consider the following…

Let’s say that you are thinking about engaging in an adulterous relationship, you are thinking about moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and engaging with each other sexually even though you’re not married. You know the commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery” because you’ve been taught this from childhood. Let’s say that as you and your significant other, as you’re contemplating this…move…focus on the temporal consequences with no thought to the eternal consequences.

For sure there is a faith issue here. It’s not to say there is no faith…maybe such is the case, but at most it’s a very shallow, unkindled faith, and if not fed it could very well become a dead faith and you fall into apostasy or the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Well, what you’ll quickly discover is that, in the temporal sense, there is little to no apparent consequence and in fact, there may be some benefit to cohabitation. People will say things like, “You should test the waters,” or “You should find out if your compatible,” or “See if you really love each other before you tie the knot,” and living as if you’re married but without the life-long commitment seems reasonable and the consequence seems, maybe even good.

It doesn’t take a theologian with a Ph.D. to see what’s really going on here, does it? The rationalization of basing your decision on the earthly consequences alone is no different, NO different than what Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden, is it? The serpent offered seemingly positive earthy and immediate consequence for eating from the forbidden tree, such that the eternal consequence became entirely moot. And ultimately even the earthly consequence promised in the temptation to sin ended up being a bill of goods.

What was the result of the sin of our first parents? Thorns and thistles, difficult pregnancies, natural disasters, struggle, pain, disorder…death. These are the temporal consequences for sin being born into God’s perfect creation.

Another example from the Scripture is the consequence Moses faced for sinning against the Lord concerning the water from the rock. Moses was told to speak to the rock that it would produce water, but he instead, in his anger, struck the rock. God forgave Moses sure enough because Moses had faith in the promise, but God also placed on Moses and earthly consequence: he was not allowed to enter the land of promise. We know Moses died a forgiven and free and heaven bound man because we see Moses again on the Mount of Transfiguration, but God chose to exact an earthly consequence.

And oftentimes the earthly consequences we face, even for sins forgiven, affect more than just ourselves, don’t they? The disobedience of a father who committed crimes in the city, he may end up in prison and his wife and children left to fend for themselves and to face the shame and dishonor of those around them. An adulterous teenager may face the unplanned consequence of teenage pregnancy which brings two entire families into turmoil. A woman who suffers from alcoholism and repents daily, she may still struggle but the consequence of even one drink may lead to abused or neglected children.

But why does the Lord allow the temporal consequences even if the eternal consequence is forgiven in Christ?

It’s first important to understand that sometimes God DOES remove or protect us from the earthly consequences. We may sin and repent and in this life no trouble comes. We most certainly need to be careful that we do not fall into sin on account of God’s mercy, to become enslaved to sin and end up facing the eternal consequence for our sins. But God shows us mercy in our temporal consequences…sometimes.

But sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes He lays upon us very weighty temporal consequence even if He absolves us of our sins. And He may do this for several reasons.

First, it may be as simple as restitution. We must make amends in this life for sin. And it may very well happen that we desire to make amends out of thankfulness to Christ. Zacchaeus was so thankful that Christ came to his home to dine with him that he promised he would pay back everything to those from whom he stole, and even more, and he did this thankfully. Restitution, making amends, is a proper temporal consequence for many sins. It’s not about merit for we cannot merit salvation, but it is about thankfulness and temporal justice.

Second, the Lord may use earthly consequences as a form of discipline. Discipline is nothing more than the Lord’s instruction or training us as His children to live righteous and holy lives. Earthly consequences for our forgiven sins may occur as a form of discipline whereby the Lord teaches us to fend against such sinning.

Third, our temporal consequences might very well be given as a way for the Lord to warn others against sinning. An example might be the loss of a limb on account of “living on the edge” or using our bodies in ways not intended. A pregnancy outside of the bonds of marriage may be a way by which the Lord warns others not to engage in adulterous living.

Fourth, the Lord may lay upon us temporal consequences in order to keep us from sinning or falling further from temptation. When we are forced by temporal consequence to give up a well-paying career because we embezzled funds and contend with a job where the salary is small but embezzlement is impossible, the Lord may do this to keep us from such temptation again.

Finally, the Lord may allow temporal consequences so that others are not harmed by our repeated sinning. A person will lose his license for repeated driving under the influence. He may repent with sincerity, but the sin has got ahold of him. Losing his license and his car and maybe spending some time in jail or in rehab may be God’s way of saving someone’s life from a horrible accident the person would have otherwise caused.

So yes, God may lay temporal consequences upon us even if our sins are forgiven eternally. And He does this because He loves us. See, our best life isn’t now but in the life to come, and if we must face some temporal consequence for our sins, or even because of the sins of others, so be it, because in heaven there will be no sin.

Should you, therefore, require consequence from those who sin against you, or should you simply show mercy and indifference to whatever the person may do? Good question, right?

Well, this is where church discipline finds its purpose. Most importantly, as God’s people, we must NEVER seek revenge. Retribution has no place in the church of God. If the church, the congregation, the pastor, or even you as individuals, is going to apply a consequence on account of someone’s sin, forgiven or otherwise, it must be done with loving care and it must be done for the same reasons God deals consequence: Restitution, discipline, keeping temptation at bay, to warn others of sin, or to protect others from sin.

If, for example, a member of the church abuses a child, there will be consequences, even if the person repents and this may include excommunication if repentance isn’t shown. If a member of the church commits adultery, consequences may come, even if the person repents. If the pastor embezzles funds, he may lose his call or take a salary cut, even if he repents. But it should never be from revenge, and any temporal consequences we apply must be from true love and care for the individual who sinned and for the congregation, because this is how our Lord uses temporal consequence for us.

And we must be careful not to think that temporal consequences are excluded in the Christian faith and in the church. We are still sinners in this place, every one of us, so we should never think that, because we are Christian, we can sin without consequence or that the Lord will not lay discipline or even some degree of behavior curbing on us, for such foolish thinking defiles the faith.

So, by God’s grace and Spirit, never forget that your eternal consequence for sin is paid; Jesus has died and your sins are forgiven and no one can take this salvation away from you. Even so, do not begrudge the temporal consequences that may come, because the Lord is using them for your good, to train you up and make you strong and enduring, humble and reliant, discerning and wise to salvation. Amen.