11/8/2015 5:25:23 PM
The Odds Are Forever in Your Favor
Posted under: Pastor Joel Heckendorf
“What are the odds?” That’s a new game that I recently learned from school kids. I think of it as the modern version of “Truth or Dare,” but maybe not quite as daring. This is how you play. Ask volunteer. Jim, what are the odds you walk over to the piano and play, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” during the offering? One in how many (the max being 120)? “One in 120.” Ok, now on the count of three, we each say a number between 1 and 120. If it’s the same number, you have to do it, okay? 3-2-1, “72.” You’re lucky, you don’t have to do it.
It’s not just kids who like to play, “What are the odds?” Go to the gas station and you have a 1 in 228,000 chance to win $200,000 by scratching off some boxes. Go the doctor and women, they’ll tell you the odds are 1 in 3 that you’ll have heart disease. Actuaries make a living analyzing the odds for insurance companies. Sports is all about playing the odds. Kansas City Royals first-baseman Eric Hosmer batted .310 against righties this year, but only .279 against lefties. So in clutch time, opposing managers play the odds and throw the lefty. We find hope in odds. Even if there’s a one in a million chance that the girl of your dreams will say “yes” to a date, you walk away thinking, “I still have a chance.”
I find it sadly ironic that we readily talk about things where the odds are one in three, one in 120, one in 228,000 or one in a million. Yet, death -- which last time I checked was still 1 in 1 odds – usually makes the “Top Ten Things People Don’t Want to Talk About” list. Why? Why did Moses, that great leader of God’s people in the Old Testament, have to pray, “Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12). Why does the writer to the Hebrews seemingly waste ink and state the obvious, “People are destined to die once?” Why do we sometimes avoid the subject, especially when it’s about us or about our loved ones?
I don’t think there is anyone here who thinks they’re going to avoid death. None of you dressed up like Elijah for Halloween because you think you’re going to be whisked away into heaven on a fiery chariot. It’s what happens after death, that in our heart of hearts, can make us a bit squeamish. What are the odds for us, or what are the odds for our loved ones regarding judgment? The Bible says, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Our question isn’t so much whether or not we’re going to face judgment. The odds of that happening are the same as death: 1 in 1. Even if the Bible didn’t tell us that, our consciences would. Our consciences testify that we are accountable to somebody. The world, even a non-Christian world revolves around this universal truth that there will be some great day of reckoning. Call it karma. Call it kismet. Call it cosmic comeuppance. There is a universal acceptance that good gets reward. Bad gets punishment. So the question’s not what are the odds that we will be judged? Rather, it’s what are the odds of how we’ll be judged? Mathematically, the odds are 1 in 2. Innocent or guilty. Good or bad. Sheep or goats.
Great odds for winning the lottery. Not such great odds when it comes to your final destination. The odds of our eternal destination coming up favorable are the same odds of a coin coming up heads. Imagine the trepidation you’d be experiencing when you toss that coin in the air. Unfortunately, we know the realistic odds are worse than the mathematical ones. Because the wages -- the reward, the payment, the sentence -- for sin is death. One quick glance at our lives reveals that there is no way that coin is going to turn up heads. It might as well be a two-sided coin – tails, tails, tails.
God had a unique way of impressing this truth on his Old Testament people. Once a year, he had the people observe “The Day of Atonement”, some of your calendars may call it Yom Kippur. It was the only day of the year that anyone entered into the Most Holy Place in the temple, the room that housed the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence. Only the high priest could go in and only once a year. But he couldn’t go in empty-handed. First, he had to take the blood of a bull for his sin, stand in front of God and spatter it on the ark of the covenant. Then he had to slaughter a goat, take its blood and sprinkle it on the ark for the sins of the people. It was a very serious, reverent ceremony to teach that the wages of sin is death, to teach that the only way a sinner can stand before God is if blood covers his sins. Literally, that’s what Yom Kippur means – Day of Covering.
But did you notice how many times the high priest had to do it. “The high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year.” Bull after bull. Goat after goat. High priest after high priest. Their sacrifices, even though they were done in accordance with God’s command, were not sufficient. They had to keep on covering their sin. They had to keep on sacrificing. It was never enough. Every year the high priest had to make the special offering in the Most Holy Place. And that was just the special offering before the ark of the covenant. Daily there were many sacrifices. Fail to speak up when asked to testify– sacrifice a lamb. Accidentally touch the carcass of an unclean animal – that’s a lamb. Thoughtlessly take an oath – lamb. What’s that? You can’t afford it. Ok sacrifice two pigeons. Deceived your neighbor, extortion, swore falsely – ram, ram, ram. Skin disease – 2 male lambs and 1 ewe lamb. Mildew in your house – two birds. Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. How sickening! You get sick of doing laundry every day or every week. Imagine how exhilarated you would be if someone said, “Ok, I’ll do the ultimate load of laundry. You never have to put another load in for the rest of your life.” Imagine how sick and tired the Jews must have been of sacrificing. Every sacrifice reminding them of their sin. And the next sacrifice reminding them how insufficient their previous sacrifice was.
Are our sacrifices any better? No, none of your pastors volunteered our services at Meat Block on Yom Kippur in September so we could offer bull’s blood for our sins on this altar. And none of you brought a goat for us to sacrifice for your sins. But we all make sacrifices. We just came out of the long “Sundays after Pentecost” season – a season that emphasizes Christian living. I remember at least two sermons that specifically talked about picking up your cross daily and following Jesus. That’s sacrifice. But was the one time you set aside your Sunday morning for worship instead of fishing, enough of a sacrifice to cover your sin? What if you did it two times, three times, four times? What if you did it every Sunday in summer? Was it enough? Or we’ve been encouraging our members to sacrifice a little bit more of their income for the next three years to support our I-Care ministry plan. If you’re one of the 130 giving units that have pledged to do so, is your “sacrifice” enough to cover your sin? What if you’re one of the 800 giving units that haven’t done so yet and you walk out of here and say, “Today’s the day.” You pick up a form, you pray about it and you write that number down and follow through. Will your sacrifice be enough? It may be enough to help us cover our church’s debt, but cover your debt before God, not a chance.
We know that. Which is why Judgment Day is something we’d rather not talk about or think about. And if we do, we plead with Jesus, “Come not in terror as the King of kings.” Because quite frankly, we don’t like our odds. But before you completely dismiss Judgment Day because you can’t bear the thought of it, let me introduce you to the Judge. There’s Jesus sitting on the bench. Oh, he looks quite different than the first time he came. He’s not a fragile baby wrapped in cloths. He’s that King of kings, ushered in by the royal trumpets and all. You’re standing in his presence. You think about the way you’re living in the present and your head goes down. You think about the things you’ve done in the past and your knees tremble. You hear him inhale as he’s about to read your verdict and he thunders, “Good job.”
What?! Don’t you see everything I did against you? Don’t you see everything I did against others? “See what?” he asks. “All I see when I look at you is perfection.” How can he say that? How can we truly expect Jesus to come back and bring salvation, how can we truly expect him to come back and rescue us from what we deserve instead of lowering the boom of condemnation? Because he didn’t always sit on the bench. Rather he stood in our shoes. He stood in the High Priest shoes, except he didn’t walk into the Most Holy Place so he could stand before the symbol of God’s presence. He walked into the actual presence of God. Like the high priest, he didn’t go in empty-handed. He, too, entered with blood on his hands. But it was his blood. And with that blood that he shed on the cross, he covered your sin before God; and it was enough. That’s Hebrews 9 in a sentence: Jesus covered your sins and it was enough. Look at this picture… that’s Jesus blood covering the Law that stood ready to condemn us. There’s no need to suffer again for any of your sins. There’s no need for you to suffer for them. His one-time sacrifice was enough. The verdict is in. You’re innocent because of Jesus. Now we just get wait for him to come back and make the verdict public. Kinda makes you want to jump around like a calf, huh?
In a few weeks, the popular Hunger Games movie is set to come out. If you’ve ever read the books or seen the movies, you know it’s about a fight to the death. Just before the Games begin, the host gets on the loud speaker and says these words, “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds forever be in your favor.” Our lives aren’t Hollywood. They’re real. Life isn’t a game. But it is a fight. It is a struggle to the point of death. But because of Jesus, I don’t simply have to wish you today, “May the odds forever be in your favor.” Rather, I can assure you, “The odds are in your favor forever.” So you wanna play, “What are the odds?” What are the odds Jesus is coming back to take you home to his side? One in one. Ready? 3-2-1. “One.” One Jesus. One Sacrifice. Won Salvation. AMEN.