St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

What Did I Do To Deserve This?

New Year’s Eve Sermon on Genesis 32:10

Text: I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.

“What did I do to deserve this?” What thoughts went through your mind as I asked that question? It is possible that you pictured someone asking that question in despair. Something just went wrong, and that person throws his hands into the air and asks, in disgust, “What did I do to deserve this?”. It is also possible that this question could be asked when someone gets an unexpected gift. As that person looks at the gift, he asks, in wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?”. This evening, as we stand on the threshold of a new year, we want to take a moment and look back over the past year and ask the question, “WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?”. We shall see that 1. I Did Everything and that 2. I Did Nothing.

As we look over this past year, we would do well to examine our lives in the light of God’s Law. Let us review the God’s Law briefly and measure our lives against it. The First Commandment tells us that absolutely nothing is to take precedence over God. He is to always be in first place in our lives. The Second Commandment deals with God’s name and its usage. God gave us his name so that we might know about him, pray to him, and give thanks to him. Any misuse of God’s name by cursing, false or needless swearing, or by any other means is forbidden. God’s Third Commandment deals with the use of God’s Word. We are to make every effort to use God’s Word to build up our faith. We are to be immersed in God’s word, through faithful usage.

Commandments Four through Ten deal with our relationships with those around us. In the Fourth Commandment we are told to obey our parents. That is expanded to anyone who has authority over us. For example, we are to follow the government’s laws, and not just those that we like. The Fifth Commandment tells us not to murder. This also includes any hateful or hurtful thought, word, or action. In the Sixth Commandment, we are told not to commit adultery. God is protecting his precious gift of marriage in this commandment. Any breakdown in the harmony of marriage is sinful, as well as any impure thoughts or words. We are told not to steal in the Seventh Commandment. This includes anytime that we do not help others keep their things. The Eighth Commandment tells us that we are to do everything to keep others’ reputations intact. We are not to gossip or listen to gossip. We are not to lie. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments teach us to be content with everything that God has given us.

So, as we have looked in the mirror of God’s Law, how did you fare? If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we haven’t even come close to fulfilling God’s law. God demands perfection from each of us, but we cannot do so. God says that those who sin, even once, are guilty and are deserving of eternal punishment in hell. You and I deserve this. What did we do to deserve God’s sentence of eternal punishment in hell? As we have seen in God’s Law, we have done everything.

However, thanks be to God, that, though we did everything to deserve God’s punishment, we have received his salvation. We thank our God that our salvation does not depend on us. For, if it did, we would surely be lost. God stepped in, however, already at the first sin in the Garden of Eden and announced that he would do something for the world.

What God did we celebrated one week ago. He sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world to save us from what we deserved. He came to this earth to be our Savior. Jesus, alone, was able to keep God’s law perfectly. He did what we were unable to do. He, also, sacrificed, his perfect life on the cross for you and me. While on the cross, he uttered some of the most beautiful words ever recorded. He said, “It is finished.” How wonderful that word is: “FINISHED.” That means that it was completely done. There is nothing that needs to be added to it. There is nothing more that needs to be done. We did nothing to deserve the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus did it all. Because our sins have been forgiven, we can look forward to spending an eternity in heaven, even though we did nothing to deserve it.

We also did nothing to deserve the faith that was created in us. It was not that we were such good people that we deserved to be brought to faith. To the contrary, as we have seen, we did not deserve any good from God. We received our faith purely out of God’s grace. Again, although we do not deserve our faith, God gave it to us.

God has also been gracious to us this year by pouring out his blessings upon us. As we think over the past year, it is not hard to see how God has provided for all our needs. He opened his gracious hand and gave us all that we needed to maintain our bodies. Often God gave us even more. This, too, was not because God owed it to us anyway. This was purely out of God’s grace and not because we deserved it. Even if there were times this past year, when things didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped or we suffered a setback, it doesn’t mean that God is getting back at us for a particular sin. We know that all our sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake. God may allow certain things into our lives that he wishes to use for our benefit. Again, we are not getting what we deserve.

When Jacob spoke the words of our text, he was returning home after twenty years. Remember how he had fled because he had tricked his brother Esau out of the blessing. Jacob faced an uncertain future. After a servant was sent to Esau to tell him that Jacob was returning, it was reported to Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. Was Esau coming carry out his threat to kill Jacob? Was he coming to exact his revenge? Jacob turned to God in prayer and starts by confessing, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.” God had greatly blessed him in the past, and Jacob realized that he was unworthy of any of God’s blessings.

This evening we face an uncertain future, as well. Before us lies another year. What will it hold for us? No one can tell. Before we step into the new year, we look back over 2023 and say, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.” We say, ‘Lord, I know what I deserve because of my sins, but I thank and praise you that you did not give me what I deserve.’ As we face this year, we see that God has been gracious to us in the past year. If we have any uncertainty about the new year, we do well to look at the past and then think about such passages as we find in Hebrews 13:8, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We also can turn to verses like Deuteronomy 31:6, where we read this promise, “The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Armed with these promises, we can face the new year with confidence. As we look back over 2023, we thank God that we have not been given what we have deserved and have been given what we did not deserve. How blessed and comforting it is to know that God will be with us in the future as he has been in the past. Amen.