Tag Archives: sin

Ye who think of sin but lightly…

Here is one of my favorite hymns, especially for Good Friday. It is something to think about on this day when we remember our Lord’s passion, death and burial.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God. (Thomas Kelly)

Every scheme designed by humans to take care of sin and suffering will ultimately fail, because the problem is far deeper than we can imagine.

Sin is uglier, deadlier, fouler than we can possibly fathom – and it affects all of us.

It can’t be fixed by purity schemes, modesty balls, virginity pledges. It can’t be fixed with home-schooling, Christian schooling or public schooling. It can’t be solved by patriarchalism, feminism, complementarianism, or egalitarianism. It can’t be fixed by putting all men on the board, or by putting all women on the board, or by having an eclectic mix of everyone.

It can’t be solved by conservatives or liberals. It can’t be solved by moderates. It can’t be solved by good policy or by bad policy.

And it certainly can’t be fixed by the law. Telling people what to do, even if you have a big enough weapon to enforce it, won’t take care of the problem of sin. It is far too ugly and cruel to be fixed that way.

Because sin isn’t fixed by democracy, by republicanism, by representative government or by dictatorship, by law or by compassion, or by anything at all under the sun. If we are to be saved, God must do it. He must come to us, for we cannot go to him.

Where there are men and women, there is sin – and it is far uglier than we think. We won’t even know how ugly it truly is until we see Him Who Is Beauty face to face.

 

I reject all forms of self-righteousness. It is impossible to add any of our works to our righteousness before the judgment throne of God, for the only works that can stand before God are those works that are perfect throughout, and ours are all defiled by sin. Those who try to merit some kind of favor from God don’t understand the power and ugliness of sin.

A little vomit, a little excrement, spoils the whole thing – and our sins are filthier than we can even imagine.

How bad is our sin? Our sin is so bad that the only solution was the death of the Son of God. He who is perfect innocence, infinite love, immaculate beauty, pure and undefiled goodness….the one who cried out with tears in Gethsemane “If you are willing, take this cup away from me”. But the cup would not be taken away, because it is the only way that sinners can stand before God. His compassion and obedience were perfect, for he is true and righteous man. And his power is infinite, for he is true God. “Not my will, but thine be done.”

How ugly is sin? Look at the cross. See the nails in the hands, the thorns on the head. The nakedness and shame and ugliness. He died – not on a bejeweled cross of gold, but a cruel cross of ugly wood surrounded by jeering soldiers and mocking Jews. Held up in the air to be shamed and mocked and outcast – unfit for human kindness and God’s compassion – he was made sin for us. He was counted among the criminals, the slaves, the outcasts. This is how ugly sin is. It is worse than we think.

Don’t miss it. As you fight to make this world a better place, as you give cold water or clothing to the hungry and naked, as you speak with kindness and compassion to your neighbors and friends, as you weep with those who weep, as you fight for justice, don’t forget Friday. As you fight for social justice and expose evil-doers and help untangle the mess that sin leaves behind, don’t mistake your works for righteousness. Sin is uglier than that.

All of these things are good. Food is good. Compassion is good. Justice is good. Love is good. Works that flow from faith are good. But they can never take away sin. They cannot ever reach the heart of the problem. Sin is far too ugly to be cured by advocacy, activism, politics, education, vows, rituals, works of any kind, or even good intentions and sincerity.

Why must he suffer death? Because the justice and truth of God required that satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God (Heidelberg Catechism, 40)

In no other way…

…see who bears the awful load.

If you haven’t heard the hymn, here is my own arrangement.

 

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Filed under Christology, Gospel, Passion

The Death of Death

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:4-6)

Jesus had just spent an agonizing night in Gethsemane. It isn’t just that he knows that he is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp and nailed to a cross to die. It isn’t just that he knows that he is despised and rejected of men. It isn’t just that he knows he is about to be numbered among criminals and reduced to a slave.

It is that he knows that he will bear the sins of the world. He knows that it is the Father’s will that he take the infinite blackness and ugliness and hatred of sin upon himself and be forsaken by God. He will experience in his soul the pains and torments of hell, the forsakenness, the pain, the immense suffering of the wrath of God. He who was righteous was made sin for us. And he willingly bore it.

He knows that God’s wrath against sin is infinite, fixed, unchanging. And he is about to bear the full brunt of it. God will consider Jesus to be worst than the worst. Jesus will take the full weight of God’s wrath against idolatry, murder, blasphemy, rape, torture, adultery, cruelty, oppression, slander, wicked speech and wicked actions, and drink the cup to the very bottom.

And the soldiers come to arrest him.

Jesus says, “Whom do you seek?”

They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says, “I am”. The same answer the God gave Moses when Moses asked his name. The same name that God gave to his covenant people. The name above every name, the name that the Jews considered so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. “I am”.

And then the divine majesty of God shines through the form of the servant. This weak, tired man…Jesus of Nazareth…speaks “I am” and the ray of uncreated light breaks through the dark night and the soldiers fall flat on their faces. This is the majesty of God revealed.

This is not what it seems. It seems as if Satan has won. It seems as if Jesus is about to lose control of everything. It seems as if there are events that are taking place that will carry Jesus along like a tidal wave and end up with his death. It seems as if Judas, the soldiers, the Jews, and the Romans are in charge and Jesus is about to be eliminated.

But then Jesus says, “I am” and God’s majesty shines forth. The Word was made flesh, and for a moment that flesh was pulled back and a tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty, majesty and power of almighty God was revealed.

“And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And with one word, the soldiers could not even stand in His presence.

Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For us and for our salvation he became flesh for this very reason – to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very bottom – so that we might be called the children of the living God. This is why it is not fitting to pity him. He was not an unwilling victim. Instead, we worship and adore, we bow before him in wonder. We fall to our faces in astonished silence and then cry, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him forever and ever!”

This is the great exchange – his righteousness is mine. My sin is his. And he bore it away, he drank the cup wrath to the bottom. The majesty of God is seen in the suffering of Gethsemane, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb.

The majesty of God is revealed in the death of death on the cross of Christ. It was not the soldiers in charge that day. At any moment, Jesus could have put an end to all of it.

The human tendency to flinch at a whip was overridden by the majesty of God and the infinite love of Jesus. He willingly bore every stroke, every nail, every spit, every mocking word. He hung on the cross while the sun refused to give its light and bore God’s wrath. In the darkness, God hid from our eyes his judgment against sin for we could not have borne to even see it. But Jesus bore it.

Every splinter, every thorn, every drop of the wrath of God.

The majesty of God, the infinite beauty of God, the infinite holiness and justice of God, and his infinite love came together that day. Find it there, or not at all.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?”

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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.

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Filed under Gospel, Repentance, Sin and Grace