Tag Archives: forgiveness

The Dark Places

From a sermon preached at First Reformed Church in Yuba City

Text

John 8:1-12

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not .

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(Jn. 8:1-12 KJV)

Sermon

In the house of our life we have attic with dark corners. In those dark corners there are boxes that hold our dark things.

One box is called pride. One is lust. One is called fear. There is trauma, guilt, pain, secrets that we hide from even ourselves…all the things we keep carefully hidden.

We keep hidden in our attics those things that cause us shame –  the things we try to get rid of but can’t.

The tears that we shed and then swallow, and bury. The shame that we will never, ever talk about. The feelings of being unwanted, alone – the emptiness of life.

Other boxes are filled with our pet sins. These are the things we don’t want to be rid of: The grudges that we nurse. The lusts that we hide. We keep those grudges carefully hidden and keep the outside of our house clean and smiling. But we keep records. We carry every offense up to the box in our attic and hide it carefully. Then we go up in secret and go through the boxes – reminding ourselves of all the ways that someone hurt us while the hatred grows into murder and rage.

 

Sometimes those boxes are filled with lusts. CS Lewis speaks of this.

Lust “sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself”

We keep a place in the attic of our minds for our imaginary harem, our grudges, our “if onlys”, our regrets, our desire for pre-eminence, our hurts, our loneliness, our ignorance, our shame and guilt. All of these and more hide in the dark corners. And in the dark, they grow. The darkness creeps about and takes over.

I think that these boxes of dark things are carefully stored away because of our fear of death – when death entered the world it brought a lot of ugliness with it. The ultimate uselessness of life – the insignificance. That in the end, nothing matters. We are only fit for the grave and no one will even remember my name.

But that is unbearable, so we hide away our treasures – those things we think will bring meaning and hope and significance and power and control to our lives. Even if that hope is in fantasy, we carefully store it away. At least we can control our fantasy. At least we can pretend we are powerful, wise, desirable, worthy of love…

But the ugliest box of all is the box of records that we hold on to – all of the proof that we give ourselves that we are really just a little bit better than Abel.

It’s a trophy room of our own accomplishments – those things that we think add up to make us just a little purer, holier, wiser, stronger, smarter, than our neighbor…

It is called pride, and it is the ugliest dark thing of all. Every moment of self-righteousness, every moment of cutting insight, every biting remark, taking someone down to size. I may not be perfect, but at least I am______, and the blank is filled with as many answers as there are people. Nice. Tall. Good (deep down), pretty, wise, handsome, not that guy… And the darkness grows.

It overcomes everything, it overwhelms everything. Eventually, there can be no pretense of light – for darkness devours all – except one thing – the light that God sent into the world.

In the introduction to his gospel, John says this:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

(Jn. 1:4-5 KJV)

Why Jesus has to go

This is a story of darkness and a story of light.

The scribes and Pharisees had already determined that Jesus must die. They had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The problem was this – they believed that if the nation sinned, God would destroy them. God sent them into exile once before because of sin. They didn’t keep the Sabbath. Now, if they wanted to stay in the land and have victory over the Romans, they had to do their part – obey God. Keep the Sabbath. Bring back moral fortitude.

When Messiah comes, he will straighten people out. He will bring back law and order and usher in the kingdom of God, where everyone knows what right and wrong is, and everyone does what they are supposed to do, and everyone is righteous and pure. The foreigners are over there where they belong, and there is morality in the land, just like it is supposed to be…

And now – here is the problem. Jesus is here, and everyone is wondering if he is the messiah. The reason that they are wondering is that he is doing miracles that only the messiah can do. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, demons are cast out. But he also eats and drinks with sinners. He also “breaks the Sabbath”. If only he validated our desire to be better than the other guy, if only he validated my fig leaves and hiding places, if only he validated my own system of what is right and what is wrong, there would be no problem. But he won’t play along.

This was where their darkness was revealed by the light. If Jesus eats with sinners and he is messiah, then that means that he fellowships with sinners. But that can’t be. Everyone knows that we are the righteous ones. Everyone knows that God only blesses and heals righteous ones. But if Jesus blesses and heals sinners, that means that everything I think I know about righteousness is wrong…

And this, Paul says, is the offense of the cross.

Nothing will make a man angrier than one who takes away the box that proves he is a little better than everyone around him.

In chapter 5, a man is lame. Jesus says, “Take up your bed and walk.”

He picks up his bed. That was when the Jews decided that Jesus needs to go. Because it is the Sabbath day. If Jesus is the Christ, then he blessed and healed someone who had the bad manners to be sick to begin with. Furthermore, he healed a man who was the kind of man who would carry a bed on the sabbath.

If a man who would carry a bed on the Sabbath, and who was sinful enough to be a cripple, could be healed by Messiah – then what is the point of good works at all??

And that would mean that there is nothing that makes me any better than that guy – that beggar, the cripple, that man who works on the sabbath. There are only two options for me. One, change everything I think I know about purity, morality, righteousness. Or 2, get rid of Jesus. Change is intolerable. If I change my view, I have to view myself as needing salvation, as one who needs a savior as much as this adulterer. So Jesus must be destroyed.

And every new thing that Jesus did, they wrapped it up in the paper of their hatred and stored it carefully away in the box in the attic. And they got angrier and angrier.

But the problem was even deeper than that. The Pharisees weren’t allowed to just murder someone. They had the pesky job of proving that the person was in the wrong and deserved to die. And they had to prove it to two groups – Romans, and the common people. The Romans, because they alone had the power of death; and the people, for they could cause problems. If they went after Jesus now the way they wanted to, there would have been rioting. Everyone knew that Jesus was righteous, a healer, a prophet sent from God.

And if they went to Pilate and accused him of breaking the Sabbath, Pilate would ask one question: What did he do on the Sabbath? And there was no way that they wanted to answer that question. To answer that question would be to prove in a Roman Court that Jesus was the Christ. They didn’t even want to go there.

So they needed an opportunity. And now there is one right in front of them: a woman taken in adultery.

Another child lost in the darkness. We don’t know the circumstances. We know that it was the Feast of the Tabernacles – This was a time similar to Mardi Gras – in Jerusalem. It was celebration time and the streets crammed full of people partying. Hundreds of thousands of celebrants from all over.

It would have been a simple matter to find someone committing adultery.

It was perfect. They needed to test Jesus with someone that everyone would despise – and who is despised more than a woman committing adultery…Homewrecker! And every other name one could think of. It is part of our fallen human nature. A man is excused – just carried away by hormones. But a woman! She is a seductress, a Jezebel! Away with her!

She’s the perfect test.

The story

And so they bring her to Jesus. The put on a great front of respect. Master. Rabbi. This woman was taken in the very act!!

They are sure that this will get him. There is no question as to her guilt. They caught her actually at it! The man, of course, is excused. There was wine, she seduced him, blah, blah, blah…

But her! Look at her! Surely you can see how society will fall apart if we allow this sort of thing. We can’t have women walking around naked and seducing men. We can’t have this sort of thing happening or God will certainly destroy us. Surely, Jesus, you can see how important it is that you denounce this immoral behavior, or the demise of our society will be on YOUR HEAD!!

“Moses said she must be stoned. What do you say?”

We got him – they think to themselves. If he says, “Stone her”, we tell Pilate and all the people that he is acting like a king, trying to take the place of Rome as judge, jury and executioner.

If he says, “None of my business” we will say, Look at this pretender. Acting like a teacher, a Rabbi, and he isn’t concerned about the decay of society at all.

If he says, “Be merciful” then we will denounce him to the people. He eats with sinners and adulterers. You know, he is probably sleeping with her himself. You know how these people are. You know, come to think of it – he does have a lot of women following him around everywhere. They even sit at his feet like disciples. Something hinky there…

“So. Rabbi. What do you say”

And he goes right on with what he was doing. He ignores them completely as if he didn’t even hear them.

He gives them an opportunity to think about what they are doing. You are, right now, plotting murder. You are liars, pretending something that is not true. You are planning to destroy this woman, and while you are at it you will deliver me to Pilate for crucifixion…And you DARE think that you are one step above this woman, whom you despise as a sinner?

In the darkness of their hearts, the light is working – exposing their corners, exposing their pride

While the longsuffering of God is waiting, as it did in the days of Noah.

And he keeps writing on the ground. The beat goes on.

And they ask again.

We don’t know how many times they asked. He gave them chance after chance to change direction. But they were set.

If Jesus will not denounce adultery, then everything we think about ourselves is wrong. If adulterers can be saved by God and healed by the Christ, then that means there is no point to my law-keeping. If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

And finally Jesus stands up and points his finger right at their dark place – “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…”

And the light shines.

What happens next is the supernatural power of God. If the light of Jesus Christ did not shine in their dark places, exposing, convicting and rebuking, they would have formed a line with stones. But Jesus’s words have power.

The same God who said, “Let there be light” also shone in the hearts of these wicked men. John says of them:

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

(Jn. 3:19-20 KJV)

He speaks. And then stoops back down to write on the ground – letting the light do its work.

And one by one, convicted by conscience, they all begin to slink away.

Until only one is left.

She also has a dark spot. She is a sinner. It seems to be clear that she was indeed caught in the act. Adultery. No excuse. She is exposed before everyone.

What dark places were in her heart? The longing to feel something? Guilt? Shame? Perhaps as a young girl she was attacked, and felt herself no longer pure. Perhaps she figured, “Why not have fun. This is all I’m worth anyway.” Perhaps she had her own trauma and hurt and helplessness. Being helpless and out of control is intolerable to the human spirit. At least, she thinks, I can have my control back.

Or perhaps it was a fear of discovery? Falling in love with the wrong man? Or perhaps she felt as if she had no choice for whatever reason.

Or she just got beguiled. We don’t know. But here is what we know. She was a sinner.

And she stayed. She stayed right there as all of her accusers, one by one, left.

And Jesus looks up and sees her.

Is anyone left?

No.

Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.

Because sin entered into the world, we love our darkness and fear the light. We have nightmares of being caught naked, unclothed. Exposed to the world.

We nurse our secret sins; bear our grudges.

Bury our trauma, our hurt, our pain. We cry out, like Tamar, “Where will I take my shame?” – and we hear no answer. So we wrap it up, carry it up to the attic and box it. And try to convince it to stay put.

But it doesn’t. Those dark places make us fearful. We don’t trust. We don’t open up. We don’ t love.

We commit adultery, but we can’t love. We cannot protect ourselves from the hurt that others do us, so we put on our happy faces and smile, and keep careful track of our grudges. And then we find ourselves picking up stones to kill and destroy.

The dark places overtake everything until goodness and beauty are gone, and all that is left is pain and isolation, destruction and sorrow.

 

And we will take comfort in the fact that at least we aren’t adulterers – like this Jezebel here.

At least we aren’t those people. That guy over there needs Jesus just a little bit more than I do.

And then comes Jesus with the light. He shines in our dark places. Right there.

He who is without sin…

  • Adam, where are you?
  • Cain, where is your brother?
  • Abraham, Sarah – leave your country, your safety zone, your refuge and go to a place that I will show you.
  • Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one that you love…
  • Moses, take off your shoes. The ground you are on is holy ground.
  • Samuel, Samuel

We pray for the presence of God. We long for him to smile upon us. To dwell with us. To be near to us. And when God answers that prayer for his presence, the darkness will be exposed. That is what light does, and God is light. All of our pain and hurt, all of our grudges and lusts, all of our sin and shame, will be exposed before the Lord and Judge of all. You have no options. The light will come.

And when that happens, you have only two options:

The first option – you can do what the scribes and Pharisees did: slink away. But that option always ends the same way: with death. With your darkness growing until you find yourself shouting “Crucify him, crucify him” because you cannot bear to look at the darkness of your own heart. But you cannot destroy it. Darkness never stays the same. It consumes everything else. Except the light…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it.

The second option. Stand still and wait before the Lord. Lord, here am I.

Be silent. No excuses, no blame shifting, no denying. Silent. You did it. You were caught in the act. You cannot fool God.

He knows all of the dark places, and either you stand before him naked and exposed or you continue to slink away, continue to sew fig leaves together.

But if you come out of hiding and stand before him, naked and exposed; When you bring to him all of your sins and your lusts and your grudges and your pain and your grief and guilt and shame; you will always hear his voice: “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. Make an excuse. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it isn’t so dark. Maybe he didn’t mean it. Maybe I was just tired, or just afraid, or just….

And all of those things that we do to justify it only shut us away farther and farther from the light. The light exposes. Notice this woman. She didn’t say, “Look, here’s the deal. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I haven’t had a date in a long time, and I just got carried away with the moment…”

Or whatever her story was. She waited silently for the judgment of the Son of Man.

Neither do I condemn thee…

Aren’t you tired of the war?

Isn’t it time to lay down your weapons?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

(Rom. 8:33-34 KJV)

When you come to the light, there is no room for darkness. When you come to light the shadows flee away. When you come to the light the corners are opened and cleaned and filled with light.

There are no dark places in the temple of God – and you are a living temple, made up of living stones – Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone.

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Light, Repentance

I believe in the life everlasting

In the heartache of life, when day blurs into day and night finds you staring in the dark remembering your sins

When the ugliness of the curse and the filth of sin cover everything

When you plod from place to place in pain, when every step hurts and your heart hurts and the tears won’t come because big boys don’t do that

When the miry pit grabs the legs and drags you down, it is easy to forget…

And so you remember, and you say…

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…”

As you stood under the waters of your baptism, and the clean, cold, clear water flowed down your head, so also you are washed. You are clean. You are dressed in the finest robes you can imagine, the righteousness of Christ. A crown is on your head and your skin has been anointed with the finest perfume. You have an invitation to the supper. It was bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. But you are not just there, you are welcomed there. You belong there. You were reserved a place from before the foundation of the world, because God loved you in Christ.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

And the day will come when the gulf between heaven and earth will be no more. The curse will be taken away. The last war will be fought, the last argument heard, the last illness, the last death, and then the voice of the Son of God will be heard and the dead will be raised incorruptible.

I believe in the resurrection of the body. Wherever my ashes are scattered, wherever my bones end up, every speck is accounted for, preserved in death by the One who went there before. And when he speaks, the dead are raised incorruptible.

And we will walk in the new heavens and the new earth where the lion and lamb lie down together, where the leviathan and behemoth dwell in peace with man and man is at peace with man and God and all pain is gone. The thorns and thistles are no more, the uselessness and drudgery of this earth are no more.

And we will stand in the presence of our God forever.

I believe in the life everlasting.

I cannot imagine life without pain in my legs, and ache in my heart. I cannot imagine life without sin and death and pain and misery.

But I get a glimpse ever now and then. I taste the apricot and the apple, so I know what tastes good and fresh and wholesome. I hold my wife close and I know what intimacy and love should look like. And I get a glimpse in the scripture of who Jesus is, and long to see him face to face.

For then beauty will be perfect, and life and holiness and righteousness will be  complete. Then we will know what we only taste now. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. When God says to “think on these things” he would have our affections in heaven, where Christ is seated. There is our treasure, there is our hope, there is our end.

We are driven by the future. We are not determined by our past, we are not forever locked in the drudgery of the present. We are not defined by what we have done or what has been done to us.

We are defined by where we are going, who we are in Christ, and where we end up. The grave is not the end. Yesterday will pass away. Today will fade. Tomorrow brings “bright hope” for the place in heaven has already been prepared for us.

And when I finally reach the River, I will pass through to the Promised Land. My sins will be left behind. My filthy garments. My hopelessness and vanity, as well as my aches and pains, my sleepless nights, my pain-filled days – I will leave all of that behind in the River of Death, and victory will be mine at last.

That is where we are going. Jesus is already there. He is the way, the truth and the life. How do you get there? Only by trusting in him. You have to have his garments and his invitation, which only come by faith.

Look beyond this present world, with its loves and hates and fears and terrors. Look beyond the brokenness and hatred and rage and sorrow. Raise your head up and see where you are going. Jesus stands there at God’s right hand, ready to receive you…

I believe in the life everlasting…

7 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Hope

God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

10 Comments

Filed under Gospel, Repentance, Sin and Grace