"THE ERROR OF THE AGED"
1. Sometime around the mid 1700s a change in the governmentís approach to legal wrongdoing resulted in the passage of what are called statutes of limitations. A statute of limitations is a legislated time frame, beyond which someone suspected of criminal activity cannot legally be prosecuted.
2. Though there are no statutes of limitations for the most serious of crimes, such as murder, many criminal offenses cannot be prosecuted after a certain number of years have passed. For example: A fifty year old man could not be prosecuted for the theft of a car when he was eighteen years old, no matter how convincing the evidence against him happened to be.
3. As well, the Internal Revenue Service is forbidden by law from looking back more than three and in some cases five years for tax violations, depending upon the type of violation. So, the concept of statutes of limitations for various criminal acts and violations of law is now well established in our countryís legal framework.
4. But what do we find when we resort to Godís Word? Does God impose a statute of limitations, beyond which a man or a woman is no longer held responsible for his or her actions, for his wicked thoughts, for her sins? Is there a time after which Godís attitude is to just let bygones be bygones?
5. When the Word of God is studied with the goal of discovering the mind of God on this subject of statutes of limitations, we find an approach to wrongdoing that is radically different than the approach taken by our own countryís legal system.
6. Iíd like to spend just a few minutes, before this morningís sermon, reflecting on three concepts in Scripture that show Godís attitude toward wrongdoing, so you can draw your own conclusions about the existence of a statute of limitations in Godís dealings with sinners.
1A. First, THERE IS THE OLD TESTAMENT CITY OF REFUGE
For rather small crimes there was obviously no statute of limitations under the Mosaic Law economy, since whenever a person discovered a wrong done to his person or property he was authorized to seek satisfaction and restitution for any loss that he suffered. But for extremely serious crimes, such as when a personís death occurred, a place called a city of refuge was used. Turn with me to Numbers 35. In this chapter Moses prescribed what was to be done by the children of Israel when they arrived in the promised land and were established there. Letís read some verses to grasp the basic concept of cities of refuge:
6And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither." Weíll stop here.
10Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
11Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.
12And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
13And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
14Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
15These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.
19The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
24Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
25And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil.
26But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled;
27And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:
28Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.
1B. Hereís How The Mosaic Law Operated With Regard To Cities Of Refuge: If Some Action You Took Resulted In The Death Of Another Person You Were Responsible To Run To The Nearest City Of Refuge As Quickly As You Could. These Cities Were Strategically Located, North, Middle And South, On Both Sides Of The Jordan River, For Easy Access. And You Had To Run, Because If A Relative Of The Dead Person Caught You Before You Got To The City Of Refuge He Was Legally Entitled To Kill You Without Suffering Punishment For It. Such A Relative Was Called The Avenger Of Blood.
2B. So, If You Were Horsing Around With A Friend And Shoved Him So That He Fell Down And Hit His Head And Died, Youíd Better Take Off Running For The Nearest City Of Refuge As Fast As Your Legs Could Carry You, No Matter If The Death Was Caused By Accident Or Was On Purpose, So His Brother Or Dad Wouldnít Have A Chance To Kill You For Revenge.
3B. Once You Got To The City Of Refuge You Would Then Be Legally Protected From The Avenger Of Blood So Long As You Stayed Within The Limits Of The City, Until A Fair Trial Could Be Conducted To Determine Your Guilt Or Innocence In The Fellowís Death.
4B. Of Course, If You Were Found Guilty Of Murder You Would Be Executed In The Legally Prescribed Manner. But If You Were Found Not Guilty Of Murder, But Had Accidentally Caused The Death Of Your Friend, Or Some Other Person, Then You Were Legally Bound To Remain In The City Of Refuge Until The Current High Priest Died, However Long A Time Period That Happened To Be.
5B. Inside That City You Could Live A Normal Life, But You Had To Stay Within The Boundaries Of The City. No Traveling To The Tabernacle For Passover Or Any Other Feast. No Leaving Under Any Circumstances. For If The Avenger Of Blood Ever Caught You Outside The City, While The High Priest Was Still Alive, He Was Entitled To Kill You. And If You Killed Him While Defending Yourself You Would Be Found Guilty Of Murder And Executed Yourself.
6B. If Your Friendís Death Was Ruled An Accident And You Had Carefully Remained Inside The City Limits Until The High Priest Died, Then And Only Then Could You Leave The City And Return To Your Home And Take Up Your Life Where You Had Left It When The Accidental Death Occurred.
7B. So, Though There Could Sometimes Be Great Delays Between A Manslaughter And The Eventual Execution Of That Manslayer By The Avenger Of Blood, Should He Ever Leave The City Of Refuge, There Is No Recognizable Parallel To Our Modern Idea Of Statute Of Limitations In This Plan.
2A. Next, THERE IS THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HUMAN NATURE
Turn, now, to Ecclesiastes 8.11, where we read one of Solomonís observations about the nature of human beings: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
1B. This Observation, Made My Solomon In His Old Age, Recognizes Something About Every Person Who Has Ever Lived, Every Person You Have Ever Known: If There Is A Long Period Of Time Between Crimes And Punishments Peopleís Hearts Will Be Fully Committed To Doing Evil.
2B. Now, I Am Fully Aware That What Is Usually Derived From This Verse Is The Truth That When The Punishment For A Crime Is Delayed Then The Punishment Is No Deterrent At All. That Is, Spanking A Child The Day After His Disobedience Will Have No Impact On His Willingness To Obey. For Punishment To Deter Wrongdoing The Punishment Has To Occur Rather Quickly After The Crime, Or The Wrongdoing. As Punishment For A Crime Is Delayed A Manís Heart Becomes More Committed To Wrongdoing.
3B. Though This Understanding Of The Verse Is Correct, And I Have No Argument With That Take On It At All, There Is Something Else That Must Be True, Given This Verse In The Bible: What Must Be True Given This Verse? It Must Be True That There Is A Long Period Of Time Between Crime And Punishment. Which Is To Say, There Is No Statute Of Limitations For Wrongdoing In Godís Economy.
4B. God Fully Understands That The Longer He Delays In Punishing The Wicked For Their Sins Against Him The Greater Will Be Their Determination To Sin Against Him. So, Why Does He Delay In Punishing The Wicked? He Is Long Suffering, My Friend, Because He Is Merciful. However Long A Time God Waits To Visit The Wicked With Judgment And Punishment Is The Time His Son Jesus Christ Graciously Awaits The Repentant Sinner With His Arms Open And Ready To Save.
5B. But When The Day Of Salvation Is Passed, When The Time Of Judgment Is Come, There Will Be No Hesitancy Whatever To Judge Each And Every Sinner, No Matter How Long Ago The Sins Have Been Committed.
3A. Finally, THERE IS THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT
11And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
1B. This Very Familiar Passage Describing The End Time Judgment Of Those Who Die Without Christ Also Sheds Great Light On Our Consideration Of Statutes Of Limitations.
2B. According To Verse 12, When The Final Judgment Takes Place To Determine The Severity Of The Punishment Of Those Who Have Died Without Christ, The Judgment Will Consist Of An Evaluation Of "those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
3B. In Other Words, Whenever A Person Sins Against God That Sin Is Recorded In Godís Books. Throughout Your Lifetime The Actions That You Take, The Words Which You Speak, The Thoughts That Pass Through Your Mind, And The Affections That Rise Up In Your Heart . . . All Are Recorded In Godís Books With Meticulous Care And Detail.
4B. Thus, Sins Committed When You Are Young As Well As Sins Committed When You Are Older Are All Considered For The Judgment.
1. Now, what are we to conclude from the cities of refuge during the Law of Moses economy, and from the observation Solomon made about the inclinations of the human heart, and finally from the future Great White Throne judgment?
2. We are to conclude that God does not employ anything resembling a statute of limitations. Thus, you are just as responsible at the age of 58 for the sins you committed when you were 18 as you were when you were still 18.
3. In the mind of God there is no diminishing of the seriousness, of the wickedness, of the outrage of a sin with the passing of time, or of the demands of Godís justice and holiness for the punishment of the sin.
4. Thus, you who are 65 are just as obligated and responsible for the you lie told at the age of 10 as you were when you first committed that terrible sin against God.
5. With but a little thought I am sure that you will agree with me that the implications of what we have just considered are staggering to anyone who is middle aged, or older.
6. Now, brother Isenberger will come and lead us in a song before this morningís sermon.
1. Turn in your Bible to Psalm 10.11. When youíve found the 10th Psalm please stand for the reading of my text, the first half of the verse: "He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten."
2. Not every sermon is equally appropriate for everyone in the audience who hears it. When I preach, as I frequently do, to young people, it is with the understanding that such a sermon, though heard by those more mature, will not find such a sermon as compelling as do those who are younger.
3. The reverse is also true. This morningís sermon is directed to those who are no longer young, who are old enough to have your own grown children, or even grandchildren. But even though this sermon is not directed toward you who are young, each young person and young adult here today can still derive benefit from the sermon.
4. I will speak this morning about "The Error Of The Aged." Job mentioned that "the aged are not always wise," though I am convinced they are more often wise than those younger. As well, I am of the opinion that although the mature and the aged are less prone to error than are you who are young, you folks in your forties and beyond are not immune to error.
5. Three considerations as I deal with "The Errors Of The Aged," lumping everyone together who is forty years old or older into this category that I call "aged."
1A. First, THERE ARE THE YOUTHFUL SINS OF THE AGED
1B. You Have Not Always Been As Old As You Are Now. There Was A Time Of Life When You Were Young. And When You Were Young You Were Tempted To Succumb To Youthful Lusts. In Second Timothy 2.22, The Apostle Paul Charged Young Timothy, Who Was Perhaps In His Late 20s At The Time, To Flee Youthful Lusts.
2B. And While We Have Good Reason To Suspect That Timothy Was Not Like A Typical Pastor In The Year 2001, And He Did Not In Fact Succumb To The Temptations Of His Youthful Lusts, You Did Succumb, Didnít You?
3B. What Youthful Lusts Did You Succumb To When You Were A Young Person, Or A Young Adult? Was It Booze? Did You Get Drunk? Was It Fornication? Were You A Dashing Fellow Or A Handsome Looking Gal Back When? How About Pride? The Younger Are So Very Prone To Being Lifted Up With Pride, Thinking They Know Everything.
4B. Think Back, My Experienced Friend. What Were You Likely To Do When You Were 17, When You Were 27? Were You Profane? Did You Swear A Lot, Taking The Name Of The Lord In Vain? Were You Immodest? Were You Immoral? The Passing Of Time Dims The Memories, But What Kinds Of Things Did You Do, My Old Friend, When You Were The Age Of These Young People?
5B. Perhaps You Slept With Only One Man Your Entire Life, But You Slept With Him Before You Married Him. Some Of You Used A Lot Of Drugs. Whatever Particular Decade Was Your Signature Decade Probably Played A Part In The Particular Sins You Committed.
6B. Those Who Came Of Age In The 40s Committed Their Sins In A Certain Fashion. Those Who Came Of Age In The 50s Had Their Signature Style. As Did Those Of The 60s And 70s. It May Have Changed From Romance With A G. I. Or Romance As A G. I., To Romance Between Hippies, But It Was Still Fornication. Amen? It May Have Been Beer And Whiskey In One Era And Drugs In Another Era, But It Was Still Sinful Intoxication. Amen? And Unbelief Is Unbelief, In Any Age.
7B. Now, The Points That I Seek To Make Are Two At This Time: First, Though Some Changes Occur Between Generations, Youthful Lusts Are Youthful Lusts So Long As Human Beings Are Human Beings. Be It Fornication, Pride, Intoxication, Lying, Or Anything Else, Itís Wickedness In The Sight Of God. Thatís First. Second, I Would Like It Established In Your Mind That No Matter How Long Ago Such Events Took Place, They Did Take Place. No Matter When The Sin Was Committed, It Was Committed . . . And It Was Committed By You.
8B. One Woman Excuses Her Sexual Sin Because She Did It With The Man She Ended Up Marrying, The Only Man She Ever Had Sex With. But Sex Before Marriage Is Still Fornication In The Sight Of God, No Matter Who The Sin Is Committed With. Another Man Excuses His Partying And Intoxication By Reassuring Himself That Everyone Did It. But Everyone Was Wrong Who Did It.
9B. Youíre Older Now Than You Once Were. But What Happened When You Were Young? What Did You Do When You Were Young, A Teen, A Young Adult?
2A. Next, THERE ARE THE WRONG CONCLUSIONS OF THE AGED
1B. Though Our Text Applies It To The Wicked In General, Itís Also A Wrong Conclusion Drawn By Those Who Are Aged, Those Who Slowed Down As They Got Older, Who Modified Their Behavior Once They Married. Itís A Wrong Conclusion Thatís Based On The Bromide "Let Bygones Be Bygones." Though The Bromide Is Popular, Itís Completely Wrong.
2B. "He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten." This Is The Psalmistís Insight Into The Heart Of The Wicked. And Itís The Psalmistís Insight Into The Heart Of The Aged, As Well. Itís Been A Long Time Since You Committed The Sins Of Your Youth. Youíve Not Gotten Drunk In Decades, Or Slept With Someone Youíre Not Married To, Or Smoked Weed, Or Stolen From The Cash Drawer Where You Worked So Many Years Ago. And What About Loving God? You Didnít Love God Back Then, Did You? And You Suppose Godís Forgotten The Myriad Of Sins You Committed Against Him When You Were Younger?
3B. The False Conclusion Of You Who Are Aged, Who Forget When You Are Old The Wicked Sins Of Your Youth, Is That Godís Hatred Of Your Sins Against Him Diminishes With Time, That Godís Memory Of Your Crimes Against Him Fades Over The Years, That His Holy Outrage Cools With The Advance Of Your Years. But Your Conclusion, My Friend, Is Based Upon False Premises.
4B. First, Itís Based On The False Premise That With God There Is Such A Thing As The Passage Of Time. Remember, However, What Jesus Said: "Before Abraham was I am." In Other Words, God Is Outside The Boundaries And Limitations Of Time. That Means The Sins You Committed Decades Ago Are As Much A Present Occurrence In The Mind Of God As They Were When You First Committed Them. And As Outrageous As Those Sins Once Were To God They Still Are To God.
5B. As Well, Remember That God Is A Being With Not Only Perfect Foreknowledge Of Things Future, But Also Perfect Memory Of Things Past. So With God Time Does Not Heal All Wounds. With God Bygones Are Not Bygones. The Only Reason God Does Not Execute Judgment Upon You Immediately Is Because He Is Long Suffering And Merciful And He Has Chosen To Give Sinners Like You Space To Repent Of Your Sins And Come To Christ.
6B. And Finally, You Dishonor God If You Imagine Him To Be Anything Less Than Holy, Righteous And Just. Being Holy, Godís Very Nature Demands That Sin And Wickedness Be Punished. Being Righteous And Just, Godís Nature Demands That The Punishment Be Appropriate To Match The Seriousness Of The Sins That Youíve Committed.
7B. So, If You Think There Will Be Any Sort Of Amnesty From God Because Your Sins Were Committed Long Ago, If You Think God Will For Some Reason Treat Differently Those Who Are Old When It Is Established That He Will Not Treat Differently Those Who Are Young, Then You Are Sorely Mistaken. And Your Mistake Puts Your Eternal And Undying Soul At Great Risk.
3A. Last, THE FINAL PUNISHMENT OF THE AGED
1B. Come Judgment Day, My Friend, All Who Die Without Knowing Jesus Christ As Their Personal Savior Will Stand Before The Great White Throne For Final Judgment. But Your Judgment Will Not Be For The Purpose Of Determining Your Guilt Or Innocence. Oh, No. Your Guilt Will Be Established By The Fact That You Rejected Christ And Refused His Offer Of Salvation. The Judgment Will Not Be To Determine Where You Will Spend Eternity, But To Determine The Severity Of Your Punishment Throughout Eternity While You Are There.
2B. Do You Doubt What I Say? Revelation 20.12 Indicates That Both The Small And The Great Will Stand Before God. It Could Just As Easily Have Said The Young And The Old, Since The Only Requirement To Be Judged At The Great White Throne Is To Be Without Christ. And You Are Without Christ.
3B. And What Will Be The Basis Of The Judgment You Will Face? Revelation 20.12 Again: "the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Every Sin You Have Ever Committed, Every Thought Thatís Passed Through Your Mind, Every Utterance Of Your Tongue, Will Be Judged By God.
4B. And What Can This Mean But That God Does Not Forget. When You Thought Or Hoped That "God hath forgotten" You Were Wrong. When You Toned Down Your Sins And Began To Live A Milder Sort Of Life, Perhaps Even Starting To Attend Church In The Hopes Of Placating God . . . You Were Wrong! You Were Wrong! And You Are Wrong!
1. God is not going to overlook any of your sins because you are old. He will not let bygones be bygones because some of your sins were committed a half century or more ago.
2. God does not forget because He cannot forget. He is the all-knowing God, the omniscient One. And the only basis upon which He can and will forget your sins if is they are washed clean in the blood of Christ.
3. You see, Jesus commands sinners to come to Him. But youíve never come to Jesus. Had you come to Jesus, or if you will come to Jesus, He will cleanse your sins away with His Own precious blood, shed on Calvaryís cross so long ago.
4. So, here you sit on a Sunday morning, more than half way to eternity if you live out your life to a ripe old age. Perhaps you are much closer to death than you care to think about. But you have to think about it, because death is in the back of your mind every day.
5. Iíve told you the truth from Godís Word, and you recognize it to be the truth. The question now is what you will do with the truth that you have heard. Will you deal with it, respond to it? Or will you ignore it, die someday, and burn in Hell forever?
6. If you are ready to deal with the truth, if you are willing to own up to your sins and admit your need of a savior, then step into the conference room after the service or contact Mrs. Moyer in the Church office and arrange to meet with me. I want to show you how even old people can become new creatures in Christ with all their sins forgiven.