In 1960, Israeli undercover agents orchestrated the daring kidnapping of one of the worst of the Holocaust’s masterminds, Adolf Eichmann. After capturing him in his South American hideout, they transported him to Israel to stand trial.
There, prosecutors called a string of former concentration camp prisoners as witnesses. One was a small man named Yehiel Dinur, who had miraculously escaped death in Auschwitz.
On his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man in the bulletproof glass booth – the man who had murdered Dinur’s friends, personally executed a number of Jews, and presided over the slaughter of millions more. As the eyes of the two men met – victim and murderous tyrant – the courtroom fell silent, filled with the tension of the confrontation. But no one was prepared for what happened next.
Yehiel Dinur began to shout and sob, collapsing to the floor.
Was he overcome by hatred? By the horrifying memories? By the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face?
No. As he later explained in a riveting 60 Minutes interview, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic personification of evil that Dinur had expected. Rather, he was an ordinary man, just like anyone else. And in that one instant, Dinur came to a stunning realization that sin and evil are the human condition. “I was afraid about myself,” Dinur said. “I saw that I am capable to do this … exactly like he.”
Dinur’s remarkable statements caused Mike Wallace to turn to the camera and ask the audience the most painful of all questions: “How was it possible for a man to act as
Eichmann acted? Was he a monster? A madman? Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying? Was he normal?
Yehiel Dinur’s shocking conclusion? “Euchmann is in all of us.”
The language of sin and evil is a lost language in society today and even in the church. Our culture is uncomfortable with the words. We don’t like to place labels on anyone and are quick to rationalize behavior by pointing to a broken home or an abusive relationship. We’ve found a new way of identifying what we used to call sin. Today we call it being broken, or wounded, or unhealthy. Why? Because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s self esteem. We want everyone to feel good about themselves. And telling someone that they are sinful doesn’t build them up. The language of evil and sin has been toned down so much that today in the church, the words are seldom spoken. When was the last time you heard a sermon on it? And I’m just as guilty of it as the next preacher. Why? Because I want you to go away from here feeling good about your relationship with God, not feeling badly about yourselves. But in our attempt to make each other feel good we’ve lost something very important. We’ve lost track of the fact that if there is no darkness, no evil, and no sin, then there can be no light, no goodness and no love.
If you take a brief survey of the Scriptures you’ll discover that the Biblical writers had no problem reflecting upon sin and evil and calling them by name. According to my concordance, the word “evil” is found in the Bible some 600 times and the word “sin” some 500 times. The Gospels alone contain over 50 explicit references to evil and Paul uses the word more than 60 times. The New Testament also has over 100 references to sin. So what conclusion should we draw from this? I would suggest that we cannot simply ignore these words and the need to address them in our walks with God.
Today, I want to begin a series dealing with the problem of evil and the process whereby we can overcome it in our own lives. I want to start today by talking with you about our need to uncover the lie that we tell ourselves and come face to face with the enemy within. Today, my goal is to make you uncomfortable.
You see, I believe that we all are guilty of lying to ourselves. I believe that most of us in this church today are here because we believe that we are doing the right thing in being here. And most of us here today believe that we’re good people, for the most part. I mean I’m preaching to the choir, right? You are the people to whom others look up. You are the ones that others respect. When your neighbors are hung over from the party the night before you’re getting dressed for church. When your friends are spending the morning in bed sleeping in you’re up and giving of your time to God. You put your $10 in the offering or maybe you even give a tenth of what you have to God. You’re a good person right? Aren’t we all? At least we like to think so, don’t we? We like to lie to ourselves and to those around us and say, “Look at me. Look what a great father I am. Look what a great wife I am.” But somewhere deep down inside, where others cannot see, there’s another person hiding in the shadows. There’s a woman with very deep anger and resentment toward the world. There’s a man who cannot control his lust. There’s a teenager or young adult who knows that her abuse of alcohol is going to destroy her life if she doesn’t stop. There’s a tongue which enjoys tearing other people apart with its words. Whatever it is, we all have the same problem. It’s like a virus which has spread to every human being. A virus which sometimes is more subtle than others, but which ultimately is present in each of our bodies. It’s a virus that was taken care of at Calvary some 2000 years ago and yet which we all continue to struggle with on a daily basis.
The book of James talks about it in our reading this morning. He says, “You know those conflicts that you’re having? Do you know where they come from?” They come from deep down inside of you. They come from cravings that you have. They come from desires that the Apostle Paul told us in Romans 5:12 originate from the sin of Adam and now have become a disease which has spread to all human beings. James says the problems that we have that we so frequently blame on each other or our situations ultimately come from within.
Today I want to ask you to uncover the lie that you’ve been living. I believe that most of us in this room tell ourselves at least one if not more of three lies:
The first lie says I’M OK ON MY OWN. The person who thinks this is the one who really believes that they have lived a pretty decent life. Sure they’ve made some mistakes, sure they’ve screwed things up occasionally, but overall, they’ve done a pretty darn good job. Some of these people even go to church every Sunday. They think that in so doing they’re helping the scales to tip that much farther in the right direction. Someone at the end of their life they believe that the good will outweigh the bad and they’ll make it in to heaven, even if by the skin of their teeth, because they’ve done OK on their own. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you are a good person, but hear me, Romans 3:23 tells us that “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ultimately done more good than bad. Because even the smallest of sins is enough to separate us from God. The scales have already been tipped by your sin and there’s no way that you can ever make up for it. Don’t lie to yourself. You’re not OK on your own.
The second lie that we tell ourselves is I’M BETTER THAN THAT. Do you remember the stories that Jesus told about the Pharisees? This past Wednesday evening I shared one of those stories at the Ash Wednesday Service. There were two men who went to church to pray, a religious man and a tax collector. The tax collector knew what a lousy person he was. He was so ashamed of himself that he wouldn’t even walk up to the front of the church but stayed at a distance and beat his breast and cried out “Have mercy on me O God. I am a sinner.” He knew what was wrong with him. The religious man on the other hand, knew that he was religious. He knew that he was doing things right. He was living by the book. He was following the commandments. He had nothing to worry about, because there was nothing wrong with him. He knew that he was better than the tax collector. Sound familiar? Have you ever told yourself that you’re a good person because you don’t cheat on your taxes? Have you ever thanked God that you’re not like your friend who has such severe problems with his temper? Have you ever told yourself that you’re a better person than your neighbor who’s been married four times? Have you ever thanked God that you’re not like that other woman who gossips constantly? Hear me: it’s a lie. Everything’s level at the foot of the cross. No matter how sinful or righteous you are, sin is sin to God. But when you begin to judge others and look down upon others who you think you’re better than, you place yourself in even greater danger of being judged by God. Jesus said that we need to humble ourselves before God and he will exalt us. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re better than others. You’re not. None of us are.
Do you remember the little saying that your mom or dad would say when you dropped a piece of food or candy on the floor, or maybe you’ve even said it to your own children: a little dirt won’t hurt. That’s the third lie that we tell ourselves A LITTLE DIRT WON’T HURT. After we’ve come face to face with our sin and accepted the forgiveness that is offered through Jesus Christ we go on living our lives and often forget that we are called to live differently. I think this is probably the most powerful and prevalent lie in the church today. It’s the lie that says that once you’ve been forgiven by Christ that the coast is clear! You’re in to heaven, so there’s nothing to worry about. It’s the lie that we tell ourselves that says that it’s a downhill ride from this point on. That we don’t need to worry about our sin any longer, because we’re forgiven and free. What this lie does is it precipitates carefree living in which the children of God get caught up in the work of the devil. It’s this lie which is at the base of all problems within the church. It’s this lie that led the author of the book of James to have to write the passage that we read today. Because when we tell ourselves this lie we begin to take advantage of the grace that we have been given. We begin to slack off.
When we tell ourselves this lie we are buying into the evil one’s plan – to trap us and keep us bound by sin even though we have the power to overcome it.
Hear me: a little dirt will hurt! Don’t lie to yourself any longer.
In one way or another we all lie to ourselves and to God. We all want to believe that we’re ok, or that we’re better than the next person, or that a little dirt won’t hurt. But ultimately they’re all lies. God is calling you to uncover the lie that you’ve been telling yourself and to come face to face with the enemy within yourself: the power of sin and evil which we allow to work within us. Only when we can identify the enemy can we take steps towards victory over him!
This week I want to challenge you to pray that God would help you to uncover the lie that you’re telling yourself and come face to face with your sin and with the evil that you are allowing Satan to orchestrate in and through you. It’s the first step that must be taken in the process of overcoming the power of sin in your life.
Today my goal was to make you feel uncomfortable and to help all of us come to the realization that we lie to ourselves and that that we have a disease, the disease of sin which effects every human being. Next week I want to talk to you about the means whereby we receive the victory over that sin, a victory that can only be obtained from one source. Be here next week as we talk about the Great Cover Up.