Summary: Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C - God steps into History to assist those who cannot assist themselves
Fourth Sunday of Lent – We Need Help
I was sitting down with a converted friend of mine who used to be Muslim He told me the story of what he believed was the greatest difference between the teachings of Muhammad and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. [PAUSE] He used the story of the woman caught in adultery to highlight the difference, because the story exists in both the Bible and the Quran.
We probably all know the Christian story. Jesus was teaching a group of disciples when some leaders brought to him a woman caught in the very act of adultery. I always wonder what they did with the man, but that’s a different sermon. In any case, the religious leader rightly claimed that the Law required she be stoned. Instead of condemning her, though, Jesus found a path for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Islam has a similar story (in fact, it has many parallel stories, but let’s focus on this one today). The Quran tells of a woman who was brought to Mohammad after being caught in adultery. She was discovered because she was pregnant and unmarried. Mohammad’s ruling was that because the unborn child had done no wrong, that the woman must be allowed to live long enough to give birth and to bring her back then. After the child was born, she was brought back to Mohammad. He again declared that since the child had done no wrong, the woman must be allowed to nurse the child until it was weaned and could eat on its own.
Now, remember, this was over 1000 years ago. Formula and baby food didn’t exist. The average child in that culture would nurse for two to three years. So, after two to three years had passed and the child was fully weaned, the woman was brought to Mohammad a third time. He declared she could not be stoned to death, and she was immediately executed (pause to let that sink in). [Story in Hadith, Muslim, 17:4206]
My friend explained that it was the difference in reactions of Jesus and Mohammad to the adulterous woman which caused him to first start to seek Christianity. One is a path to death, he explained, while the other is the path to life.
In today’s text, we will see that even through disobedience and distrust, God actively sought to restore His covenant with His people. God actively seeks to restore His covenant with His creation.
II. Presentation of Today’s Text
Joshua 5:9-12 (NET)
9 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have taken away the disgrace of Egypt from you.” So that place is called Gilgal even to this day.
10 So the Israelites camped in Gilgal and celebrated the Passover in the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the plains of Jericho. 11 They ate some of the produce of the land the day after the Passover, including unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped appearing the day they ate some of the produce of the land; the Israelites never ate manna again.
This is the Word of God for the people of God…
III. God Takes Away Our Sins
So, how does God restore covenant relationship with His creation?
First, God acts in our lives by taking away our past sins. Look with me again at the beginning of verse 9:
Joshua 5:9a (NET)
9 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have taken away the disgrace of Egypt from you.”
Now, the Hebrew phrase translated here “taken away” literally means “rolled away”. To modern, American, Christian listeners, what phrase comes to mind, especially in the Easter season, about the phrase “rolled away”? [SMILE] To understand why the author would choose this phrase, we have to go back a couple of verses:
Joshua 5:7-8 (NET)
7 He replaced them with their sons, whom Joshua circumcised. They were uncircumcised; their fathers had not circumcised them along the way. 8 When all the men had been circumcised, they stayed there in the camp until they had healed.
You see, the Israelites had forsaken their covenant with God while they were roaming in the desert. Now, you can argue different reasons for this: sanitation while in the desert, constantly moving not allowing recovery time … but the bottom line was they were in the wrong.
In His infinite wisdom, God wanted His people to be set apart rather than acclimating to the people around them as they wondered in the wilderness. He wanted them to keep their distinct identity, so God had a covenant promise with them. Among other things, all they had to do was cut off a little flap of skin; but they didn’t even get that right, and as a result were living in what God considered disgrace. God chose to step into history, though, and provide a means to enable him to remove their disgrace.