The Wounds of Stealing
By His Wounds We Are Healed • Sermon • Submitted
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For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David. Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down— this leaning wall, this tottering fence? Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them. One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and, “You reward everyone according to what they have done.”
“You shall not steal.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
I can be a “little” bit mischievous. It really can come out when I am playing games. I remember my brother and I were playing a card game with my dad one night. He left the table for a moment and while he was gone, my brother and I took all our low cards and replaced them with all dads high cards. When he returned, he was sorting through his cards making all kinds of comments about how he couldn’t believe what a lousy hand of cards he had. Of course, my brother and I are not professional thieves and the moment he saw our faces, he knew we had pulled a fast one on him.
Such times are funny, but real thieves are no so much. When we were in the process of moving from Idaho to Montana I quickly learned how unfunny theft is. My mom and us kids had relocated to Montana ahead of dad. We had brought mostly our personal items. Dad remained in Idaho to finish the packing and sale details. One Wednesday night, he returned home from church to find that we had been robbed. Someone, knowing we would be moving and that dad would be at church that night, came into our home and robbed us of items they could sell quickly for drug money. It was a really difficult time for us to realized that someone would do that to us. Especially since the police suspected a teen acquainted with our family who knew our routines.
We are fast to recognize professional thieves, but is it possible that we could be accused of stealing from God and others? Today, as we take up where we left off last week, we find Jesus is falsely accused of stealing from Rome in an attempt by the Sanhedrin to procure a death sentence.
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.
The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Today’s event takes place during passion week. We know that just prior to this week, the Sanhedrin have made the decision that Jesus must die. Caiaphas in a most diplomat plea puts before the council that if Jesus does not die, then the Roman’s will feel a need to kill the entire nation. However, these men, though they do have some judicial authority, have no authority to declare a sentence of death. So they have to find grounds to accuse Jesus of treason as that is the only means to assure Rome will call for a death sentence.
These leaders begin to watch Jesus very closely seeking some sign of teaching on Jesus part that they can ruin His popularity with the people and hopefully secure a witness to take before the Roman government. During the week we call Passion week, that being Jesus final week and the week of His crucifixion, things are definitely escalating. Jesus has cleared the Temple of its vendors. When the Sanhedrin made inquiry into Jesus authority in doing so, Jesus response leaves them really looking bad before the people. These leaders know it is just a matter of time before the people accept Jesus’ authority over theirs. So, they are desperate. So desperate in fact, that they employ spies to try to navigate a discussion that will hopefully provide them the event they need to discredit Him before the people and allow them to bring charges of treason.
These men were slick dealers. Judging Jesus by the same standard as they saw others, they croon their way into the conversation Jesus is in.
So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
They may not have pegged Jesus right, but they are probably not far off the mark with the people. What is the one thing that gets people’s blood boiling faster than other things? Taxes! That is one subject that probably provokes equal emotion for us as it did them. How appropriate it is for us to have this lesson this part of our year? :-)
If Jesus says it is right to pay taxes, many, especially the zealots who are probably the loudest and most out-spoken of the crowd, will be upset with Jesus. If Jesus loses the favor of the majority of the people, they can quietly sneak in and do away with Jesus by some other means. However, better yet, if Jesus says it is wrong to pay taxes, they can make a justified charge of treason against Rome making their job a lot easier.
You would think they would start figuring things out by now. Jesus always puts them on the spot by not doing what they expect. This situation is no different. Jesus is the ultimate teacher. He always turns their attempts into teaching moments. Here again, He does just that. Instead of answering outright, Jesus sets a principle by placing God in the midst of it.
“Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus answer was so profound that it shut them down immediately. They were dumbfounded, unable to make any smart reply so they left knowing they had failed. Of course, their failure did not deter them. Later they gave false testimony to Pilate accusing Jesus of stating that they should not pay taxes, in order to make him look like a insurrectionist.
Taxes are a man-made contrivance. When Israel demanded a king, God warned them that with a king would come demands for taxes. Men by nature, always require more. Solomon was known for his wealth, yet Solomon had continued to raise taxes to support his building projects. In King David’s day, there was the tithe (10%) that went to the Tabernacle/Temple. There was not an official tax per se. The kingdom was supported through war bounty and freewill offerings of the people. However, Solomon lived in peace times and was doing a lot of building. He set up a tax system. It continued to grow and by the time his son took over, the people were frustrated with the financial struggle of keeping up with the taxes. When the people pleaded to Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam for relief, this young upstart only demanded more. It provided an open door for a disenfranchised Jeroboam to revolt and split the kingdom. By Jesus day, Roman taxation took 1/3 of the people’s income. Think about that a moment. All God ever required was 10 %. That has not changed from day one of creation to our current day. However, men/politics/governments constantly seek to increase taxes.
No wonder taxes are such a hot subject. No wonder that is probably the number one place where even good people are most likely to be tempted to steal. Yes, steal. When we do not abide by the laws of the land, we are stealing. Paul in his letter to Rome (ch 13) lays out for us our responsibility to follow the laws of the land.
Jesus did not address stealing in the sermon on the mount like he did murder and adultery, however, Jesus did address our concerns over finances. Look at Matthew 6:25-30.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
If we trust God to provide for our needs, then we need not worry about what taxes we are charged. God can provide for us just as well whether we are taxed or not.
But just like the case of murder and adultery, Jesus takes this a step further. We are not to worry about our finances today or tomorrow. We have no need to horde to provide for tomorrow. Even more than that, we are to live generously for other people. When someone has a need, if we have the funds we are to give freely and happily.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Jesus accepted the Old Testament. He quoted from it, taught from it and never rebuked it. Generosity was taught even in the Old Testament.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;
I do not believe in what is called the “prosperity gospel.” It is grounded in our setting the terms. I give and just expect that God will be generous back. This can be dangerous teaching because if God does not give back in the way people expect, they can become disillusioned. They expect to prosper financially, but sometimes God’s blessings come in ways other than finances. Things like a job I enjoy more or a better relationship with wife, children, or friend. Such blessings are missed if we are focused solely on finances.
However, I do believe that God always blesses us when we are faithful in our finances. I cannot think of a single person I know who gave faithfully and generously that did not seem to prosper as time went on. Now I know you are probably thinking, “back the truck up! You just said…!”. I think it is a difference of perspective. Satan is good at taking truth and twisting it and I think this is one of those areas. Let me give you two examples from my own life, though there are many others.
When I chose to go into ministry, I was making close to $28,000 or just a little under that. When I told my company I was going to quit and go to college, they offered me $65,000 to stay. That was more money then I ever expected to make (nor have I ever made that much). I was moving to Colorado Springs where cost of living is high and wages low. I currently owned a single wide mobile home in Yakima, but expected to have to begin renting again in Colorado. However, I turned down the raise. When I got to Colorado, I was shocked to find a job that paid around $25,000 and had just enough money left from my mobile home to buy a town home providing a mortgage well under what I would have paid in rent. The corporate job I turned down ended up being sold a couple years later and chances are I would not have been able to retain my increased salary.
Later in Colorado Springs, I moved from the corporate job taking a large salary decrease to work for the church. A year after that change, but son and I realized that we had lost nothing in the decrease in salary. We seemed to be financially the same. God had allowed us to live the same on less.
If I thought I would give God $20 and expect Him to give me $40 back, I would probably be disappointed. But when I trust God to bless me in the way He sees fit, I come out blessed and satisfied every time! God never disappoints when we are focused on Him and not ourselves.
So how do we steal from others and God?
When we ignore the Spirit impressing upon us to give of our time, talents, or finances to someone or something.
When we cheat on our taxes or take advantage of an employer financially or with our time on the job.
When we choose priorities that take away quality time from our spouse and children.
When we wheel and deal to take advantage of a workman or woman.
When we use our talents to suit our purpose and pleasure rather than serve God’s intent and kingdom.
And of course, when we ignore our tithes.
The ladies read from Malachi earlier. This is the one and only time that God says it is okay to test Him. He challenges us to test Him with our tithes and see if He doesn’t provide. This is a lesson in faith. As we test God and sees how He provides for our needs, we grow in our confidence of Him.
Now allow me to caution you:
If you begin tithing for the sake of getting God to give back to you, you will probably fail because if God doesn’t respond as fast as you wish Him to, you will be ready to bail.
However, if you begin tithing because you truly want to honor God and be obedient to Him, you will succeed and be not only blessed through His provision, but you will be blessed within your spirit also. You will grow in your relationship with God. You will draw closer to Him and you will feel Him draw closer to you as James says in 4:8.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
The list of ways we steal may not be exhaustive. There may be things in your life that God has illuminated as I have spoken. Whatever the case may be, it is not too late to submit it to God.
One of my favorite Old Testament promises is found in Joel 2. God calls for His people to repent and then shares His response to their repentance in Joel 2:18-27. My favorite verse is verse 25.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you.
God restores what was lost in our disobedience. But He cannot do so until we choose to obey. Even better is that the restoration God is talking about is now, here on earth today! But then it gets better because in Joel 2:28-32 He continues to share our coming restoration come judgement day.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.
Today, we nail the next commandment to the cross. Jesus never stole anything. However, the Jewish leaders stole His good name when they lied before Pilate accusing Him of treason.
(Nail next command to cross)
Jesus never once complained. He never tried to defend Himself. He was resolved to let the process complete itself so He could stand in our place, taking upon Himself all the times we have stolen from Him and others, whether it be time, money, or talents.