WHAT ARE YOU WORTH?
Text: Romans 8:32
What are you worth? When you hear that question, does your mind turn to your finances? Like many other Americans, maybe your savings took a pretty big hit over the last several months. The stock market went down, taxes appear to be going up, and whatever you’re worth is bound to drop — at least if your worth is defined by your finances.
What are you worth? When you hear that question, does your mind turn to your value to others? We can get a strong sense of personal satisfaction knowing that others find us valuable. Your employer considers you an indispensible asset to the company. That can give you a strong feeling of self-worth. But then the economy tanks, and previously indispensible employees are collecting unemployment checks. Your young children rely on you for everything that’s important — food, clothing, housing, education, wellbeing. That can give you a strong feeling of self-worth. But then young children become teenagers, and previously appreciated parents aren’t so cool anymore.
What are you worth? That’s a pretty difficult question to answer, whether you’re talking about finances or self-esteem or something else. But there’s another factor that makes this a difficult question. When you are asked, “What are you worth?” inevitably you must look at yourself. What choices have I made? How have I contributed to others in my lifetime? What sorts of stories will be written in my biography? And unless we deliberately choose to ignore a good chunk of our lives, there will be scenarios and statements from the past that we would be more than happy to forget. There will be thoughts and words and actions that would make any decent person blush with embarrassment if this became widespread, public knowledge. This is reality for people who not only sin, but have an inbred sinful condition from conception.
I once had a conversation with a Roman Catholic theologian about the way Christians view sin. This theologian said that the Catholic view was that sin was a tendency that developed within people to turn away from God. In other words, we do have inclinations to do the wrong thing, but we also have forces within us that want to do the right thing. I responded by saying that Lutherans taught that we are utterly, completely, totally sinful and rotten to the core before we even come out of the womb. I said that there is nothing naturally good within us, and even the outwardly good things we do are stained by sin. The man’s response was quite reasonable. “Well, then, how do you view yourself?” That’s a fair enough question. If we believe that we are totally corrupt and sinful before we breathe our first breath, one would think that our self-esteem and self-worth would be at the bottom of the barrel.
I’m going to come back to the discussion I had with the other theologian a little bit later, but I want you to think about this question, “What are you worth?” from a different angle. What is anything worth? How you do determine the value of anything? Let’s take an example that hits close to home. What is a gallon of gasoline worth? When we first moved to Belmont almost eight years ago, a gallon of gas cost around $1.30. Within the last year, gas skyrocketed to around $4.50 here in the Bay Area. Now we’re back down to about half of that high, about $2.25 a gallon.
Why did the price drop? I’m not an economics major, and I know there are multiple factors that affect the price of fuel, but one of the reasons the price dropped is that people just weren’t willing to pay that price anymore. Commuters changed their driving habits. People took mass transit, carpooled, worked from home, combined trips, went on vacation closer to home, worked four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days, and did a host of other things to reduce gasoline consumption because they weren’t willing to pay the price. And the price dropped. The real value of a gallon of gas is whatever people are willing to pay for it.
If the value of something is whatever someone is willing to pay for it, what are you worth? How do you determine that? Is your value determined by your monthly pay? Is your value determined by the cost of the wedding ring that your spouse gave you? Is your value determined by the total cost of all presents you have received from family and friends in your lifetime? Is there another way to calculate your worth? And no matter which method you choose, how can a price tag address the matter of our sinfulness before God which makes us spiritually worthless to God?
What are you worth? What price tag can be placed on you? What is someone willing to pay for you? Maybe those questions sound a bit odd and a little crass, but those questions and this whole matter is addressed squarely in a single verse in today’s Second Lesson. Today’s Second Lesson came from Romans chapter eight, known among many as the “greatest chapter of the Bible.” There are all sorts of gems in Romans eight. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
There is a verse near the beginning of today’s Second Lesson belongs in this group of memorable verses from Romans chapter eight, and this verse answers the question we’ve been thinking about for several minutes now: What are you worth? If your worth is determined by what someone is willing to pay, then listen to this gem from Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
My wife has a cousin whose family has adopted a little girl from Ethiopia. The story of her adoption just pulls at your heartstrings. The girl’s birth mother decided to give her daughter up for adoption because she just couldn’t support her little girl and give her the kind of life she deserved. The angst that must go through a parent who has to do that! The angst — but the love! If you are willing to give up your little son or daughter so that they can have a better life, a better life that you are not able to provide for them — well, that’s about the most giving, loving, selfless act I could imagine.
“He…did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” God gave you and me his one and only Son! God did not hold on to his Son in heaven but sent him among us to be one of us in our world. But what is so remarkable is that God did not give up his Son to make his Son’s life better. God the Father gave up his only Son to make our lives better. This was not an act of love from God to his Son. This was an act of love from God to us! To us — who have trampled on his law, who have ignored his will when it was convenient, who find the repeated gospel a boring offense, who by nature are not God’s friends but his enemies! “He…did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”
What I find especially interesting about this little gem from Romans eight is the word in Greek that is translated, “gave up.” This is a term that was often used to refer to handing over a criminal to the authorities for punishment. It is also the term that was used to refer to the way Judas gave Jesus over to his enemies. This is not merely an adoption into another family! This was an arrest that led to a death sentence! “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.“ And this is the price tag that God has placed on you!
What are you worth? What was God willing to pay for you? His own Son! Think about it! What could be more valuable than the holy blood of our holy God? What could be more precious than the very life of the Son of God? Could there be a higher price than God himself? And what does this tremendous sacrifice say about your value to God?
“He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” When it came time to defeat the devil’s temptations, God did not send an angelic stunt double. He sent his own Son who fasted and prayed and defeated Satan in the wilderness in the Gospel for today (Mark 1:12-15). When it came time to offer the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world, God did not leave you and bound on the altar heading for hellfire. Like the ram that became the substitute and sacrifice for Isaac in today’s First Lesson (Genesis 22:1-18), Jesus became the Substitute and Sacrifice for us as he hung on the altar of the cross. When it came time to declare the ultimate victor of the cosmic battle for souls, God did not leave us hopeless, but filled us with the hope and joy of his Son’s physical and phenomenal resurrection from the dead. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”
Remember the conversation I mentioned between the Catholic theologian and me? After I explained the Lutheran view of our sinful condition, he asked, “So what do you think of yourself.” And here’s (approximately) what I said. “I know that such a pessimistic view of the human condition sounds like it would lead people into depression and despair. But I see it differently. My value and my worth are not within me, but outside of me. My value and worth come from God. God was willing to give his own Son to rescue me. God was willing to send his Son to hell and back so that I could have eternal life in heaven. God was willing to give Jesus to bail me out of hell and to wash away my sin and guilt in Jesus’ blood. And that’s where my worth comes from.”
Sometimes our sinful nature needs a good kick in the pants. Ash Wednesday was a good day for that! If you were here on Ash Wednesday, the confession of sins, the imposition of ashes and the strong message from God’s law in the Scriptures and the sermon did just that! And quite honestly, our sinful nature needs that kick on a very regular basis.
But then we also need to hear what Paul has told us today. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” When your portfolio tanks, your value to God is still proven in the precious blood of Jesus. When despair and darkness overtake your soul, your soul’s worth to God is still seen in the wounds of Jesus. When life throws everything but the kitchen sink at you and you’re left feeling worthless, you are still worth the world to God who sent his Son into this world to win your eternal life. No matter what happens today, tomorrow, or the next, this one, beautiful, comforting, precious truth will never change: “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” That is what you are worth. That is what you are worth to God! Amen.