A Song Of Stone And Fire
A Song of Stone and Fire Joshua 7:16-26 Achan confesses to his sin, and he and his household are destroyed with stone and fire. This sentence feels extreme, and yet this is the true wages of sin. Achan pays for his sin with his life and all those he is responsible for. Jesus paid my debt of stone and fire… the Son of God crucified. Having received God’s mercy, we can move forward in His grace as Israel did: repenting of our sin, removing it from our midst with stone and fire, and moving forward into victory. Repent and be saved. The Cost of Sin Mrs. Miklowitz lived next door. An older woman, an award winning children’s author. Her house was right next to the sideyard of the Mackintosh boys. What could go wrong? The sideyard was the only flat bit of grass we had, so that’s where we played baseball. And Mrs. Miklowitz had windows. I did it. I hit the ball that broke Mrs. Miklowitz’s window. But I didn’t confess right away. The ball went crashing through the window, landed inside her bedroom. And Jono and I looked at eachother… and ran inside. Hoping no one would notice. Turns out… she noticed. And, in addition to being a children’s author, she also must have been a detective. Somehow, she figured out that it was us. And my Dad launched the inquisition and… I confessed the whole thing. Under torture! Last week we talked about sin and how sin always leads to disaster. Was hitting the baseball into her window sinful? The running away probably was, but maybe the hitting the baseball into the window was just stupid. Certainly it was a foul ball. Stupid usually leads to disaster. The consequence was the broken window… and mostly Mrs. Miklowitz was affected by that. But sin also has a cost. Justice demands a cost. My Dad had long ago taught me how to replace windows because I had broken so many. So the cost was replacing the window out of my own pocket, with my own hands. As I look back, that was a fitting punishment. And I could move on, I wasn’t ashamed to look Mrs. Miklowitz in the eye. I could put the broken window behind me. Achan Recall Achan. (I checked and it’s definitely not pronounced achin’). In the sack of Jericho, one guy, Achan, breaks the ban and takes some loot for himself. A cloak from Babylon, some silver and a bar of gold. He hides them. Sin leads to disaster. The Israelites are routed from a scouting mission to the next city, Ai. Achan knows what he has done. I wonder if he linked his sin to the military loss. Maybe. But I really wonder if the sin is eating at him. If he is feeling guilty. I suspect that he is. I suspect that he is panicked someone is going to find the goods. Someone is going to find the baseball. The guilt is mounting within him. Joshua and the elders of Israel tear their clothes and fall down before God asking “WHY?” And God, this is miraculous grace, God answers. It’s because you have sinned. Israel has sinned. All of Israel is blamed for the sin of one among them. God gives the command to Joshua to search for the transgressor. 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. The mounting guilt as Joshua narrows down the search. And then Joshua finally arrives at Achan. And we get the full confession. This is why I think the guilt had been building and building within him, and when Joshua finally stops in front of him, it kind of bursts out. Joshua 7: 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” What a beautiful parallelism. In these pairs “give glory and give praise” and “tell me and do not hide”… and really saying the same things four times: confess. Confession would do all these things. But Achan doesn’t care for poetic beauty, I think it just bursts out of him: I DID IT! 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Full confession. All the details. Opportunity. I saw them. Motive. I coveted them. Evidence. Buried under my tent. 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. Guilt is undeniable. The confession was complete, Achan is guilty of sin. The mysterious consequence was Israel losing against Ai, God withdrawing his favor from the nation of Israel. But now Achan and his whole household will pay the cost. Sin always has a cost. The Sentence 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor. Achor means trouble, so this is the “Valley of Trouble”. You have trouble my friends. Excessive Punishment? Trouble indeed! Does anyone’s stomach feel queasy at this punishment? Seems ludicrously excessive! Shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? I have a little internal scale, this seems like a MASSIVE punishment to a small crime. This is a misdemeanor, not a felony. If he stole, maybe he should pay back double or triple the value. Instead the burn him and his wife and his children and his livestock and his tent. They stone them all, then they burn them all, then they heap up stones on top of that. It feels excessive to me… but this is the cost God commanded. The cost God demanded. And therefore, really by definition, this is justice. And it doesn’t “feel” right to me, but that’s because my “feeler” is broken. I don’t really get what a big deal this is to God. I don’t understand, I can’t count the cost, but the cost is still the cost. And you can’t really move on until the cost is paid. Your Sin Has a Cost We talked a lot about sin last week. Sin always leads to disaster. We think our little bit is okay, we talk ourselves into it, but it isn’t and it always leads to disaster. I believe some of you heard God talking last week. Convicting you of a sin, an area of sin, an ongoing sin in your life. Something you had talked yourself into. And really all that we said last week is that it’s a problem. Okay, it’s a problem. How do I fix it? You have to stop it. You have to move on. But you can never real move on from sin. That burning guilt remains. The burden of it remains. The conscience shouts at you. You may even get that spirit of shame whispering in your ear “Not only did you do something bad, you ARE bad.” You can’t move on until the cost is paid. Achan paid his cost. Death. His and everyone belonging to him. That’s the pay scale here. Your sin has a cost. You can’t move on until it’s paid. That’s the bad news. I have been saying cost, but let’s use another Scriptural word: wages. For Paul writes in Romans 6: “The wages of sin is death but (the biggest but in the Bible) but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In our place. He paid our wages, he paid the cost, he paid the price of stone and fire, of sin, death and darkness. So your sin still has a cost. Salvation isn’t free… it’s just free to you. Jesus paid the price of Achan. Jesus paid the price of stone and fire, he paid the price of the cross, he paid it for you. And when you really see that. When you really get it… when you understand and receive that fully, you can let go of all the guilt, all the pain, all the shame. You can “turn away” from what you did, knowing that it is truly done. We have a word for that: repentance. I grew up thinking that meant “feel bad for your sin…” but it doesn’t. It carries this idea of turning around. It is what happened after the Israelites stoned and burned and stoned Achan. Israel’s Repentance – a Song of Stone and Fire This is what Israel did. I don’t think it was easy for the people of Israel to do this. It doesn’t say, but I imagine this was pretty gruesome. And Achan’s family is in that crowd. His cousins. His siblings. His friends. They didn’t hate Achan. But only by paying the cost could the rest of Israel move on. And they did. They turned away from both the sin of Achan, and the guilt, and they turned into God’s victory. They go on to defeat Ai. More about that later! Is it horrible that Achan had to pay that? Yes. I’ll tell you, God hated that too. He hated it so much, wanted to rescue us from it so badly, that He sent His only begotten son to pay the price for us so that no one ever has to do that or go through that again! But with great determination. With great obedience. With firm resolve, Israel removed the sin from among them so that they could move forward into victory… and they turned away from the sin and towards life. Into His Kingdom. Sometimes we get stuck here. Emotionally staring at the sin in our lives. Feeling really, really sorry. We get stuck on our sin. Trapped in the guilt. Sin has a cost, but Jesus paid that cost, he pays that cost, he wants you to know that your cost is paid. Your debt is settled. You are forgiven. It is that beautiful moment when someone else reaches over and picks up the check at a restaurant. It is paid in full. And then you get to get up and leave. You don’t live in the restaurant. Jesus paid the cost of your sin. You need to hear it, you need to see it by faith. To know it! And now you can turn away from the sin. You can be truly free. Truly whole. Truly with God and God with you. In Jesus, you are saved. Grace Upon Grace We are “saved” all along the way. We are saved as he convicts us of sin. That is grace. We are “saved” as he brings us to Confession. That is grace. We are “saved” as he leads us through repentance. Even if it means removing things from our lives with stone and fire… he gives us the target, he gives us the power, he leads us to repentance. That is grace. And we are “saved” unto a more preferable future. We can have freedom from sin… and the mess and failure that comes with it. (He doesn’t say it’s easy, just that He has secured the victory.) You are Achan and you are Israel. Like Achan you know you did wrong. There is Conviction which leads to Confession which leads to the Cost. But the Cross intercedes, the Cross intercepts, the Cross pays the Cost. And so you get to join with Israel, in the company of God’s people, all sinners saved by grace, the Kingdom of God. And the whole Kingdom turns away from the site of sin and shame, and with renewed righteousness, with renewed connection with God, they are refreshed and walk forward into His victory. Acts 3:19-20 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. May we repent… and so may we be refreshed!