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07-19-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

So how valuable are people? How do we know people are important? We know this for several reasons:

1. You could say (as Jeff did last week) that people are made in the image of God.

No other creature in all of creation is singled out like this for special recognition and honor.

2. You could also say that humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation.

As God continued his work of creation, at the end of each day, God saw that it was good. (Gen 1) But after God made people on the sixth day, the Bible says God saw it was all very good! (Gen 1:31)

3. Another thing you could say is that God has a soft spot in his heart for people.

In fact, God has a soft spot in his heart for you! …God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… (John 3:16)

4. That leads us to yet one more indication that people are important—because Jesus died for them.

Jesus died for people—the only creatures in all of creation who somehow carry the image of God. Jesus died for people because they have eternal worth.

Think about it! God did not go to the cross for any other part of his creation. He did not die for dogs or horses or elephants or cats—not even cute, fuzzy little kittens.

But God valued people enough to die for them.

The world doesn’t value people like that. In fact, the world discounts some people—even while it esteems others very highly. The strong and the athletic and the “cool” people are honored and valued by this world. If you can beat the rest of the world in soccer, they will give you a heroes’ ticker-tape parade in NYC. You can appear on talk shows and be interviewed for newscasts and everything. If you’re female, you can get thousands of dollars in salaries and endorsements. If you’re male, you can get millions.

On the other hand, if you’re physically weak or broken or “un-cool,” the world doesn’t really value you, even if it pities you. Often the world looks down on the “losers” of society. The world de-values them.

You’ve heard the word “invalid”?—it simply means “not valid.” The world values the rich and famous and influential—but not the crippled invalids…or the poor, the broken, or the weak.

The world even considers some people “disposable”—not worth keeping, not worth as much as others. If you’re handicapped because you’re not fully developed, for instance—if you’re still in your mother’s womb—then your rights don’t count as much. People who have more power than you do (like your mother) can dispose of you.

God sees people differently than the world sees them.

God considers all people—whether strong (or weak)…talented (or ordinary)…beautiful (or plain)—God considers all people important and valuable enough to die for!

One time Jesus asked a question: “…what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:37) Have you ever thought about that? What is your soul worth?

A couple of years ago, a business magazine offered some thoughts about that. They recalled that Homer Simpson once sold his soul to the devil for a donut. A man named Jabez Stone, in a story called The Devil and Daniel Webster, sold his soul for ten years of prosperity—according to the magazine, about $1,745,926 in today’s money. Then the writer learned that the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency has a standard measure called the VSL—the “Value of a Statistical Life.” The EPA figures your VSL at about $8.8 million (in 2015 dollars). Walter Hickey, “We Calculated How Much Your Soul Is Actually Worth,” Business Insider (9-30-13).

But when it comes to measuring your worth, I wouldn’t rely on TV shows or writers or even the U.S. government to do the calculations. I think instead we should ask: What does God say about the value of a person?

God says those who trust in wealth and boast about riches “7 …cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. 8 Redemption [God says] does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough…” (Ps 49:7-8)

The Bible tells us how much it costs to buy your soul.

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things [… (things) which lose their value (NLT)] such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Pet 1:18-19)

[MSG] …It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end…life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb.

Redemption is much more than a religious concept. Think of it as “buying something back.” Have you ever sold something to a pawn shop?

If you’re short of cash, for example, you might pawn something at a pawn shop. Say it’s your great-grandfather’s pocket watch. It has value as an antique, so you can get some real money for it. But when you give it to the pawn shop, the watch is no longer yours. It is now owned by the pawn shop. It’s not yours. But because it was your grandfather’s watch, it has sentimental value—it’s worth more than just the cash you got. So if you can scrape some money together, you can go back and “redeem” it. You reclaim it by buying it back.

This is redemption. This is what Jesus did for us. We are like that watch; we’re locked inside sin’s pawn shop—wanting to get out but unable to pay the price.

This verse says we were trapped in an “empty way of life.” We were on a dead-end path. We were controlled by sinful habits. We were manipulated by old customs and meaningless traditions, handed down from past generations.

Sin traps us. We’re stuck, unable to get out of our predicament.

  • Good works (random acts of kindness, humanitarian efforts) can’t set you free. You can build 100 houses for Habitat for Humanity and not gain a single 1-bedroom apartment in heaven.
  • Religious rituals can’t set you free. You can light 1,000 candles, you can memorize the entire Bible and still not hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
  • Good morals, upstanding ethics, excellent philosophy and education can’t set you free. You can study 100s of books—you can write dozens more—and still not have your name recorded in the Book of Life.

Why? Because sin puts us deep in debt—a deep moral debt that is impossible to pay. Like a watch stuck in a pawn shop, locked inside a glass case, we’re stuck because the price of redemption is too great for us to pay. Sin cannot be paid for by silver or gold—or any amount of money.

Though we can’t afford to pay the price for sin, God can do what is impossible for us. Redemption is possible because Jesus paid the ultimate price: his own “precious” blood.

You are important enough to God that he gave his life. Jesus died for you! God loved this world so much that he paid to redeem it with his own precious blood!

[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

SIN robs you of the dignity and the worth God put in you from the beginning. SIN wants to stamp out the image of God.

I was talking the other day to Bill Sutter, pastor of Sawyer Chapel out on the reservation. His father, starting back in the 1930s, was a “brand” inspector out in Montana. It was his job to check cattle brands and make sure they were authentic and registered. Cattle rustlers were clever, however. They had what Bill called a “running iron,” which they used to “doctor” a brand. [See picture.]

They would tamper with the original brand to steal the cattle from its rightful owner, changing the character of the original so completely that it was difficult to recognize the legitimate brand within the bad one. (For example, the XIT brand could be changed to “Star Cross” brand. [The Cowboy at Work, by Fay E. Ward, 1958, p 77])

This is what the devil wants to do with you. He wants to steal you away from God. Though we have been branded with God’s image—sin comes along and tries to ruin the brand. Sin tries to cover it up. Sin distorts the image of God. Sin obscures your identity with God—sin wants to disguise the link between you and God who made you. The original image is still there, but sin has hidden it beneath other brands.

So God comes to the “cattle rustler” and buys you back again. He purchases your salvation. And he did it with something more than riches of gold or silver! In Revelations, they sing a song go the Lamb: “You are worthy…because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)

Some people have trouble getting their heads around all this. Either they have trouble accepting this free gift or they don’t really think it’s necessary. Some say things like…

  1. I’m better than most.

Maybe I’m not perfect, but I’m really not that bad either. Others probably need his help, but I’m OK.

God is a loving, compassionate, understanding God. I’m sure God grades on a curve, and I’m way above average. If he has to die for others, fine, but I don’t need him to die for me. I’ll get in on my own.

The Bible disagrees. It says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23); “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Ps 53:3); “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Eccl 7:20); “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isa 64:6)

Others go to the opposite extreme. They say…

  1. I don’t feel worthy. I feel like a piece of dirt.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what you feel like, God says you are valuable and important to him. You are important enough that he sent his Son to die for you!

A minister (Rick Warren) was speaking at a prison to about 5,000 inmates. Nobody was paying attention except a few right up front. They were in the open prison yard, and there was no stage, so most couldn’t see him. But he had a microphone and they could hear, so he pulled out a $50 bill and held it up high. “How many of you would like this $50 bill?” he asked, and 5,000 hands went up. He had everybody’s attention. Then he crumpled it in his hands, tore it a bit, and said, “How many of you would still like this $50 bill?” Again, 5,000 hands went up. [Then] he spit on the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, ground it into the dirt, and held it up, and said, “How many of you would like it now?” Five thousand hands went up again.

Finally the minister said, “For many of you, this is what your father did to you. You’ve been mistreated. …abused. …misused. You were told that you wouldn’t amount to anything. You’ve done a lot of dumb things too. You sinned. You’ve done some crimes, and you’re paying for them. You’ve been beaten. You’ve been torn. You’ve been dirty, but you have not lost one cent of your value to God.Warren Smith, “Pain and Gain,” WORLD (9-20-14).

If you struggle with feelings of shame or embarrassment and inadequacy, if you feel unworthy, crumpled and dirty, ruined—God still wants you. The devil crumples you and stomps on you and drags you through the dirt. He says, “Now who wants this?” And God still puts up his hand for you!

You haven’t lost one cent of your value to God. People are important to God! This is why we want people to know God cares for them. They are valuable to God.

Church, here’s a challenge to you: When someone walks through the doors of this building (or when you see them in your day-to-day activities), no matter what they look like, no matter what they feel like, your goal should be to make them feel like a million bucks.

Not because they’re rich or beautiful or athletic—but because they are made in the image of God, because Jesus died for them. Give them value, make them feel special, so they can discover just how special they are to God.

Another thing some people might say—especially those going through difficult times—is…

  1. If I’m worth so much to God, why does he allow all this trouble in my life?

I loved Jeff’s Agate Days story last weekend—talking about the value of things.

It reminded me of walking down a gravel road with my sister at our family reunion over the Fourth. Every once in a while she would stop, kick at a rock, and then pick it up. “What’s so special about that rock?” I asked her. “It’s an agate,” she said. Well it looked like just a plain, old, ordinary rock to me—and I said so. She said, “Just let me put it in the rock tumbler for three weeks.”

Where I could see only plain and ordinary, my sister could see potential. But to bring out all that potential beauty, she had to put the rock through some tough, harsh conditions.

Three weeks of harsh, abrasive grit, wearing away the plain, dull surface of the rock. Three weeks of grinding and polishing, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And when the process is done, only then does that plain, old, ordinary rock take on a special beauty. That’s when an ordinary rock becomes extraordinary.

Maybe you’ve been going through a tough time. You’ve been worn down by harsh conditions, problems, difficult circumstances, or painful words…

Maybe you’ve felt like you’ve been in a rock tumbler for days or weeks or longer, worn down by the grit of life. Just remember: when you come out the other side, you’ll be polished to bring out your very best.

God sees value in you—and he allows pain to be part of the process that reveals your true worth.

God calls us to see that kind of potential in everyone. Where others see only plain and ordinary, God wants us to see special beauty. God wants us to see with his eyes, to see value and importance in people, no matter who they are or what they’ve been through or where they’ve been.

Finally, there are people who just can’t grasp God’s sacrifice. It just doesn’t make any sense to them. So they wonder…

  1. Why would he want to die in my place?

The answer goes back to God—and who he is—rather than to ourselves. On our own we’re not really that important. On our own, it’s easy to wonder why we’d be worth it for him to sacrifice his life.

It’s like a piece of paper, worth a fraction of a cent. The intrinsic value of the paper is determined by its nature—it’s made of processed wood pulp.

But say that paper is printed with numbers—say $20 or $50 or even $100—and say it was backed by the authority and resources of the U.S. government—then its real value would be worth more than its intrinsic value. It takes the same amount of paper and ink to make $100 as it does a $1 bill—it costs the same to make a $100 bill as a $1 bill. But one is worth 100 times as much as the other!

God is the one who assigns value to you. You’re not important because of your intrinsic value—what you DO or who you ARE! You’re important because God gives you value—he stamped his value on you when he died for you.

Jesus died for you because of who he is. He is the One who loves you. He is the One who made you in his image. He is the One who sees his great potential in you.

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Pet 1:18-19)

Valuable Enough to Die For