Experience Complete Forgiveness
Deadly – when you hear that adjective, certain phrases come to mind, like
A deadly weapon,
A deadly attack,
A deadly snake,
A deadly explosive,
A deadly heart attack,
A deadly enemy.
Whatever connection you make with the word “deadly” it probably won’t be a pleasant one.
This morning what I want to talk about is a deadly serious matter. Unfortunately, however, most Americans no longer view what we’re going to deal with today with a sense of fear and trembling. In fact, just the opposite is true.
In September of last year, David Letterman announced in front of a studio audience, “Here I am, 56, and by all rights it shouldn’t be happening. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. And I’m terribly excited about this. I’m scared silly about this. I’m going to be… a father!”
The late night host was informing his massive television audience that his girlfriend, Regina Lasko, was about six months pregnant. “I realize we kind of got the cart before the horse here,” he laughed. “But I’m just seeing how much I can get by with and it’d be nice to have the kid take over the family business!” At that point bandleader Paul Schaeffer joked, “Tonight, David Letterman Jr. and his guests!”
“Oh my God,” Letterman responded, “Does that sound peculiar!”
As long as God’s name was mentioned, what do you think His thoughts are on this pregnancy? I mean, the studio audience applauded and laughed and buzzed when Letterman said, “I’m just seeing how much I can get by with.”
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Come on, reverend, why make a big deal of a baby being born outside of marriage? Wake up and smell the roses! It’s 2004! Times have changed, and besides with all the evil and darkness in the world, it’s hardly worth bringing up such a small matter!”
The reason I use this example is not to pick on David Letterman or to lodge an attack on those who have relationships outside of marriage but to demonstrate the attitude of most Americans regarding sin. Things that were once considered immoral are now acceptable. Actions and lifestyles which fifty years ago were taboos are now viewed with a casual attitude and any one who speaks out against them is viewed as an extremist or worse yet, a bigot.
This morning I want you to understand that the attitude of our culture and that of God concerning sin differ significantly. In fact, the attitude of God, portrayed in the Scriptures, has always been that sin is a serious matter – deadly serious.
Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church of Rome: “The wages of sin is death.” Restated: sins payoff is a deadly serious one.
But no one wants to talk about sin any more. It’s not politically correct. You’re best off avoiding the term or if you do want to deal with it, calling it something else because it sounds outdated, intolerant, judgmental and offensive.
So who’s a no-name preacher like myself to say that a popular entertainer like David Letterman and his girl-friend have sinned? “They probably love each other,” people respond. “The church should applaud them for not having had an abortion.”
Say what you want, but the truth is that down through the centuries the church, following God’s Word, has consistently seen sin as deadly. Certainly you’ve heard terms like the seven deadly sins. Why deadly? Because it’s taught that sins such as anger, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, envy and pride, can damn your soul. And there are more than just seven.
Which sin happens to be your favorite? What we’ve done is we’ve redefined sin as innocent fun, as freeing, as exciting, as modern and especially as “my business and nobody else’s.”
“‘Back off!’ you say. I’m one who enjoys doing what I choose, gambling when I want to, having a little too much to drink when I feel like, sex when I want it and with whom ever I desire, basically the best of the best when I feel I deserve it. I don’t want any one telling me how to live my life. Preacher, don’t get too personal. I’m not as bad as the next guy. Besides, I’m here aren’t I. That got to count for something.”
Ladies and Gentlemen: it’s that attitude of minimization of sin that has brought our culture to where it is today. It’s that attitude which has led to more than 40 million abortions in the past thirty years. It’s that attitude which has resulted in a divorce rate of more than half of all marriages. And it’s that attitude which in part leads to the prediction by one source that 70% of children born since 1980 will spend some time living in a single parent home before their 18th birthday.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of the level of severity with which our culture deals with sin, sin is a force which is destroying our lives, our homes, our community, and our nation.
Our scripture lesson this morning is a powerful story because it deals with the reality of sin and it takes it to a level that many of us have never experienced. You see my aim this morning is not to make you feel guilty about your sin. There are some preachers who believe it’s their job to make you feel like a worm by the time you leave their church. There are churches where you go away from feeling beat up. This morning that’s not my desire. Because while it’s crucial that you understand that sin is a deadly serious matter there’s something that’s even more crucial...
Let’s unpack the scripture lesson together. If you saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ” you know that the Jewish leaders had it out for Jesus. You see, Jesus was a threat to the religious system of the day. He upset the accepted order of things. And the religious leaders were doing everything they could to stop him from teaching. This was one such occasion. He’s in the temple teaching when we’re told the Pharisees and the Scribes, the religious leaders of the day, brought in a woman who was said to have been caught in the act of adultery.
In order to understand the significance of this you have to realize the severity of such a sin in that day and age. The Old Testament Law by which they lived stated that adultery was a sin punishable by death. It was a serious matter.
And in an attempt to trick Jesus into saying something that might be contrary to the law, the religious leaders present this woman as a living case study.
Here’s the question: “Jesus, teacher, the Law (referring to the Old Testament) clearly states that a woman who is caught in adultery should be stoned. What do you say?”
They weren’t at all interested in his response, because you see they had Jesus in between a rock and a hard place. If he denied the law he would be proven incredible as a teacher, but if he upheld the law then his teachings of mercy and grace would be in vain.
He was trapped, or at least the religious leaders thought he was.
The next few verses are some of the most mysterious verses in the Bible. The story tells us that Jesus bends down and begins writing with his finger on the ground. We’re not told what he writes, only that he writes. And while many have speculated about what he was writing what’s significant to understand is that the act of writing on the ground in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ day was an act of refusal and disengagement.
Just imagine the scene. The religious teachers are standing right there surrounded by the crowd whose eyes are transfixed on this woman who’s just been accused of adultery. Can you hear the whispers? You know the kind of jeers I’m talking about. You hear them at the coffee shop or the beauty salon. The kind of conversation that builds you up while tearing another person down. “Look at her.” “She disgusts me.” “She deserves what she’s got coming.” “It’s about time somebody caught her.”
While people are whispering their eyes are shifting between Jesus and this woman because they know that Jesus has to do something. They’ve got him in a corner. He’s got to respond so they stand wait listening closely for Jesus’ response – but what does Jesus do? He bends down and starts drawing in the sand!
There’s been a lot of speculation as to what Jesus drew but here’s the point: in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ day, bending down and writing on the ground when someone asked you a question was an act of refusal and disengagement. Jesus was clearly saying, I’m not going to play your game. And in an act of disengagement he effectually ignores their question all together.
But they keep on pressing and finally he stands up and rather than answering their question moves to the real issue here: sin. He says to them “Fine stone her. But let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” And then he kneels back down and starts drawing again.
Suddenly the scene changes. Something happens because the Scribes and Pharisees begin dropping their stones and walking away, beginning with the oldest members. Could it be that they were reminded of their own past actions and of the fact that none of them were sinless? These great religious teachers were admitting to the fact that even they had broken the law, the very law that they were claiming to build their case against this woman upon.
And then Jesus straightens up, looks at the woman and says to her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” The answer is obvious to the crowd. They’d all taken off hanging their heads. No one was left.
And then come the words that changed her life… “Neither do I condemn you.”
Wait a second! I’ve just been caught in adultery. I’ve sinned. My life is a wreck. The whole community knows it. And you’re a teacher of the Law. You’re not going to condemn me?
But there’s no condemnation. Only this response… “Go and sin no more.” A new beginning. An acquittal. Freedom.
This morning let me ask you this: which person in the story are you like? You see there are basically two people here the religious people who think they’re good who really aren’t so good after all, and the sinner who knows she’s a sinner.
Notice in the story that the religious people are not applauded for their piety or for their goodness, nor is the sinner condemned for her sinfulness.
In both instances sin was present and the question isn’t how big of a sinner are you, but rather, what are you going to do about it?
You see as Jesus stood there speaking to the religious leaders and to this woman he did so in full view of the cross. He knew that it would not be long before he would pay for their sins. He knew that in only a matter of months he would die for this woman’s adultery and for the hidden sins of the religious leaders.
Who do you most resemble? Perhaps you’re one of the religious elite. Maybe you’re a leader in the community and others look up to you. Oh… how easy it is to get on your soap box and judge the lives of those around you without first examining the dark places of your own heart.
Or maybe unlike the religious leaders you’re well aware of your sinfulness as are those around you. You know you’ve blown it and you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame for what you’ve done.
While it’s so important to understand the deadly consequences of our sins… here’s what’s even more important to realize: those consequences have been paid.
Your sins whether public or private have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. But the only way to accept that forgiveness and actually be able to have a fresh start is to understand Jesus’ final words in this story. Notice he didn’t just say, “I forgive you.”
He left the woman with some instructions: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” There’s a word in the Greek language used in the New Testament. The word is metavvnoew and is translated repentance. The significance of the word is found in it’s meaning which refers to a change of direction. Did you notice that when Jesus extended forgiveness to this woman he didn’t say, “Go out and party. Have fun. Live as you please.” No. He said, “There needs to be a change in your life. Don’t keep living this way. I have a new way of living for you – a life with the greatest freedom available but one that has clear parameters for your own protection.”
As a parent I’m trying to teach this concept to my children, and it’s not an easy one to teach. My kids are often sorry that they’ve been caught doing something wrong but I wonder if they’re ever sorry that they did that wrong in the first place. Being sorry that you did the wrong, sorry enough to not do it again is what Jesus is talking about in the story.
I don’t know your heart this morning. I don’t know what you’ve brought with you to this place. Some of you may feel like the woman caught in adultery. Your lives are mess. There’s all this guilt that you’re carrying around. It’s like a heavy load that you just can’t seem to get rid of. The good news is, Jesus can free you from that load. All you need to do is bring it to the foot of the cross.
Or maybe this morning you’re a religious person. You know what’s right and wrong and for the most part you live by what’s right. But if Jesus were to look into your eyes today you would be ashamed of what you’re hiding. It’s time that we stop sinning over and over again. It wouldn’t make sense to pray, “Jesus, forgive me please, but be aware that I want to keep living pretty much as I always have – not paying much attention to you.” Ask yourself the question of the song writer, “Does He still feel the nails every time I sin?”
If there’s one thing the movie “The Passion of the Christ” did for me it was to serve as a painful reminder that sin is a deadly serious matter. I call myself a Christian and yet I continue to find myself living in a way that hurts Jesus.
This morning whether you’re more like the religious leaders who already know the truth but have chosen to hide behind your false righteousness or you’re like the woman caught in adultery, know this: forgiveness and freedom are available for the taking. The price has already been paid.
Let’s stop playing around with sin. Let’s stop pretending that it’s permissible to make light of it. Don’t get sucked into thinking that sin talk is sill or stupid or not scarry anymore.
Sin is a deadly serious matter, so serious that Christ’s life was given to pay the price. How will you respond?