St.

Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church April 10th, 2011

The 5th Sunday in Lent Joshua 20:1-9

“WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY: THE CITIES OF REFUGE” “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Genesis 9:6. In the post-flood world, that was the divine mandate; that whenever a life was taken unjustly, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the punishment was capital. The Creator of all things, having heard the cries of Abel’s blood from the ground at the hand of his brother Cain, having seen the way that Cain’s descendants took pride in the destruction of life...”I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me,” said Lamech...having seen the way that mankind treated the gift of life in the sin-infested world, the Creator and giver of life re-affirmed its sanctity by the command for capital punishment – that if blood is shed, if a life is taken unjustly, the highest price would be required as recompense: death. Capital punishment for murder has been a historically common practice, even though the States of Michigan and Ohio do not have the death penalty for those convicted of capital murder. Some view capital punishment as cruel, as inhumane in our ultra-sensitive 21st century society. But whether you are a proponent of or opponent of the death penalty in this state, (and this isn’t meant to stir up political arguments) it was something that was a part of the civil law among the Israelites, who were not only a nation, but also a congregation. And whenever blood was shed unjustly in Israel, that brought defilement upon the entire congregation, and interrupted their fellowship with God, thus threatening their occupancy of the Land flowing with milk and honey. Now, we’ve spent this Lenten season viewing the many pictures that God gave the Israelites of the glory of Christ, which pointed ahead to the Messianic Work of Jesus. We saw his glory in the role of the high priest, the garments of the high priest, the sin offering, the water from the rock, all glorious portrayals of Christ’s Work, inundating every single aspect of their lives. They could hardly turn around without seeing another Messianic picture right in front of them. The cities of refuge are yet another aspect of Israelite life where they had the chance to see Christ’s glory in tremendously real terms, which emphasize his grace, and his substitution for the guilty, so that they may have freedom. And that is what we’ll meditate upon today, as we continue to see the glory of Christ shining on the Old Testament Christological pictures. The unjust shedding of blood, murder, defiled the people, defiled the entire congregation and disrupted their covenant relationship with their God. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, God said it clearly at Mt. Sinai, “You shall not murder.” It was an affront to the Creator that life, which was a gift from him, should be cut short in any way. It was never his intention that life would ever be interrupted. He created Adam and Eve to live and live and live. But when they fell into sin, already in the first generation of children, life was not regarded with the sanctity that the Lord intended – Cain slaughtering his brother Abel in envy, in anger. Nothing has changed since that first murder! In fact, the level to which life is regarded with sanctity is just plummeting with each new generation of sinful human beings. It has become nothing to speak of abortion, the “rights” of the mother to choose whether or not the baby she carries should live or die, as if she’s a judge and she has the right to order someone to the death sentence. That’s spoken of so lightly, and people complain about how inhumane capital punishment is. Life is a gift! And with his command in Genesis 9, the Lord re-affirms its sanctity. And when blood is shed unjustly, it is an affront to God’s plan for life, a sin against his holiness, a crime against his creation deserving of the ultimate punishment.

But the same God who says in the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder,” and who says in Genesis 9 to the post-flood world, “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed,” says this to the congregation: “Then the LORD said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.” Who is the “avenger of blood”? It was a family member, a relative of the person whose life was unjustly taken. And this wasn’t someone that was just some random vigilante with a grudge who took the law into his own hands. He was an agent of God’s just wrath who carried out the necessary capital punishment for the good of the people, and for the good of the whole society. Because only when the murderer was executed, when he received just punishment, could justice be rectified, and could the defilement that the murder brought, the collective defilement of the entire congregation of Israel be removed before the sight of the giver of life. So, what are these “cities of refuge,” since that is the central Christological picture here? They were cities that the murderer could flee to and be safe from the “avenger of blood,” until it had been determined whether the sin of murder was intentional or unintentional. Here’s how God commanded it: 4 “When he flees to one of these cities, he is to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state his case before the elders of that city. Then they are to admit him into their city and give him a place to live with them. 5 If the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not surrender the one accused, because he killed his neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.” Truly astonishing! God said, “You shall not murder!” He also promised, “He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Intentional or unintentional, the unjust and abrupt interruption of God’s gift of life was murder, and the just punishment was clearly stated: death. Plain and simple. And here, as an act of grace, the Lord of life gives a provision for safety, for refuge for those who murdered their fellow Israelite until it could be determined whether it was done with malice or unintentionally. Already, I hope that you can see how the cities of refuge foreshadow our “Refuge and Strength, our ever-present help in trouble,” the Lord Jesus Christ. But it goes on – and now the picture of Christ just jumps out at us: 6 He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled.” When life was taken, when that crime was committed against God’s holiness, death was required for harmony to be restored between God and his people. That either took place by the execution of judgment upon the murderer, OR, by the death of the high priest, which, in the murderer’s stead restored harmony between God and his people! Light bulb, moment, dear friends! When a murderer would flee to a city of refuge, one of these six cities that ran down the spine of Israel, they found protection there from their just punishment. If they were found by trial to be unintentional in action, they were allowed to live in that safety until the high priest died, and then they could return home to live in freedom from guilt, because their sin of murder had been fully atoned for with the death of the high priest. If the murderer left the city of refuge, they could still receive the just punishment from the avenger of blood. But as long as they remained under the protection of the city of refuge, they were safe, and awaited the time when their crime would be paid for by the death of the high priest. What clear pictures of Christ. Now, you might be asking yourself, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a murderer. I haven’t committed a crime against life that is an affront to God and disrupts my relationship with him as my God and Lord.” Well, just a minute. This somewhat

obscure section of God’s Word from Joshua 20 is for you and me. Remember Jesus’ explanation of the 5th commandment in the Sermon on the Mount: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Sinful anger, hatred, grudge holding...is murder! It is a sin against God’s gift of life, because it does not exhibit Christ-like love toward the neighbor, nor does it seek the eternal well-being of our fellow human beings. It wishes them harm. It curses them. It wishes their destruction, all which are contrary to the sanctity of life that God established at creation, all of which are evidence of the demonic influence that serves as the source of all sin, for the devil “has been a murderer from the beginning,” St. John says. Understand something else, too. Provisions for safety were only provided for UNINTENTIONAL sin. Look through the Old Testament. Look through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and count how many times intentional sin finds safety and refuge in God’s promises. Zero! Anger, flaring tempers, lack of self-control, blowing up at people in hatred, all of those things are honored by the world, “Well, I just speak my mind, I tell it how it is. That’s just how I am!” It’s an affront to the Lord. How embarrassing to him, and dangerous behavior – completely contradictory to God’s command to us to “love one another,” and oh, so intoxicating, because it feeds our pride-hungry hearts that are always looking to feast on the carcass of someone else’s name and character. Catch yourselves, dear friends. For murder is not okay, and thus hatred, perpetual anger, grudge holding, which are also murder, are just as worthy of the Lord’s ultimate punishment as the unjust taking of human life, and certainly destructive to the sanctity of human life. Catch yourself. Watch yourself, and seek refuge in true repentance – in the words of the TLH, “flee for refuge to thy infinite mercy, seeking and imploring thy grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are worthy of the Father’s wrath. But he has provided safety for all people in a demonstration of completely unjust and undeserved love: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more, then, having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved through him from wrath?” The Israelites saw Christ’s glory in the cities of refuge that provided clemency and forgiveness to the obviously guilty, by granting them a way out of the punishment they deserve through the death of the high priest. We too have seen his glory, not in geographical places, by in Biblical truth. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” It’s as plain as day, we have murdered, we have hated, we have held grudges against our fellow Christians and our fellow man and the law says that we deserve to have our lives taken from us, because we have sinned against God’s gift of life. But, today, we have been shown clemency, forgiveness in the refuge of all, the Lord Jesus. He died as the Great High Priest, so that we would be free from the guilt of our sins, and free from their punishment. He died on the cross that we could live. And he is our protection, our refuge in this world of sin and death, who, by grace through faith, protects us and keeps us safe as his child, as a member of his family and his congregation until that time when we hear those words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness.” Amen.