A FRANK DISCUSSION ABOUT SIN
Dear Friends in Christ,
After World War II, a conference was held between American theologians and American scientists. They discussed the status of the world. They were afraid. Two atomic bombs had been dropped on two Japanese cities killing thousands and thousands of people. The world had not seen anything like that before. Some thought it to be important to talk and do everything possible so that it would not happen again. One of the scientists said at the beginning of the meeting, “Gentlemen, we are frankly frightened. In finally achieving nuclear fission, we have discovered something that will either greatly bless our culture or blast it. But the threat is not the explosive power of the atom that we are concerned about. We can control that. What we cannot control is the explosive power of human nature. In God’s name – if you still believe in God – tell us what you can do to help us. Otherwise we perish.”
That was said about sixty years ago. It seems to be quite prophetic too. More countries have nuclear capability, but it isn’t the nuclear part that is scary but the crazy minds of people who are willing to push the buttons to set off the incomprehensible destruction.
Every season of the church year has a theme. Lent is one of looking at our sin that Jesus came to forgive and pay for. As Paul writes to the Romans, he gives us an opportunity to have “A Frank Discussion About Sin” 1) Its Origin; 2) Its Web; 3) Its Cure.
Sin is a tough subject to talk about. It is kind of like bad breath – you just don’t want to tell anyone that he or she has it. It is like the elephant in the room. You know it is there but want to ignore it. In the religious world that is so true too. One of the most popular TV preachers was asked if he ever speaks about sin. His reply way, “I don’t get deep and theological.” Some say that sin is distasteful and would rather ignore its reality. I didn’t put my sermon theme out on the sign this week. It wasn’t for the reasons I just mentioned. I didn’t do so because it was cold and wet. Frankly, visitors might be sitting in the congregation and saying, Just our luck! We visit and the pastor is going to condemn me.
To be perfectly honest I would be sinning if I denied it. I don’t particularly like to devote a whole sermon on the subject “A Frank Discussion About Sin” either. Yet I would not be faithful to the Word of God and to preaching the whole counsel of God if I ignored it. I would be despising Jesus because he came to save sinners. And sinners are what we are.
Wishing sin to go away doesn’t work. Go to a mall. Watch people. See the selfishness and impatience. Watch the lack of consideration. Listen to the evil and rebellious words. Observe your own families. Observe yourself. We are in this together kind of attitude isn’t there. “What’s in it for me?” is what we most often say. That’s selfishness. That’s sin. It is not only seen in prisons and battlefields. We see it in our own homes at dinner and in front of the TV – even in church. There is sin inside of us; there is sin that shows on the outside by us.
Where did sin come from? A softball question for anyone who reads the Bible! “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Just a couple of weeks ago protests began in the Ukraine over the government and the prime minister was exiled as we found out. All of this has led to tension between Russia and the United States. Some are comparing this to the Cuban Missile crises of the 1960’s. During the violent protests a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church who is a doctor was shot attempting to help someone else who was hurt. It got me thinking how blessed my life has been. I thank God that I haven’t been in the middle of a war or some other disaster. I’ve been a pastor to people who lived in Germany during World War II. I know people who were in the middle of violent hurricanes and tornadoes. I have known people whose homes were burned to the ground. I thank God that hasn’t happened to my family. I pray that the Lord would not view that necessary for our futures.
Yet Paul tells us here that there was a disaster that has affected our lives like no other. If it hadn’t our lives would be so incomprehensibly different and incomprehensibly better.
What happened in Eden doesn’t appear to anywhere near as disastrous as an earthquake, or a tsunami or a hurricane or even an atomic bomb. After all, it was a bite of a piece of fruit! But think about it! It was deliberate, intentional and premeditated rebellion against the Creator. Adam and Eve were in essence saying to God, “Yeah, we know what you want, but I don’t care. We are doing it our way!” Parents, how do you feel when your children do that to you? How do you feel if an employee does that to you? How do you feel when your spouse does that to you?
What a mess was created! What a web! As Sir Walter Scott said when Adam and Eve fell for the lie of Satan, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” When Adam sinned, all sinned. When sin came all die. That’s a fact of life. “The soul that sins is the one who will die.” There are accidents and illnesses along with all the other problems the world has. People are in the wrong place at the right time or should I say people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s all part of the web sin weaves.
Paul makes an interesting observation. “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”
If someone asks how can you know what is right and wrong, the answer is simple – The Commandments! That’s what Paul is talking about here when he refers to the Law. The Law, the Commandments, weren’t given to the world until Moses came along about 1450 years before Christ. Even though there were no commandments before that, nevertheless there was sin. Why? People died.
But there is more to the web. While we are having a frank discussion about sin this morning, as I said before, I didn’t put this sermon theme on the board outside. People would probably have thought that they didn’t want to get beat up at Messiah this morning. I will say this there is probably another theme that would drive people even further away – “You deserve to go to hell.” That is really what Paul says when he writes, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.” Hell is an eternal separation from God. Isaiah said, “Your sins have separated you from your God.” People need to remember that this is what Jesus said. In the same discourse of John where he says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him has eternal life” is the same conversation where he says just two verses later “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” If I asked you who said this famous quote, “He will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Those words came from the mouth of Jesus. The ultimate destiny where sin is punished is not some warm and fuzzy place but hell.
There is still more to the web of sin. It is woven so that all have it. People often ask where our son Ben got all his height. He towers over Mom and Dad. I once bought a suit once and the man who measured my legs noted that I am bowlegged. He had a hard time measuring because he had to measure the curve. He said flippantly, “Sir, if your legs were straight, you would be six foot five.” Hey, that’s the height of Ben. There are a lot of things we inherit from family who went before us. Go to the doctor and the doctor will tell you that you might be inclined to get certain illnesses because it seems to be in the genes. The coarse human nature is also a gift from Mom and Dad and Mom Eve and Daddy Adam. And all the other awful things that goes with sin. Denial does no good. Doing something about it – we can’t.
But now the best is saved to last. The apostle Paul makes comparisons in this section of Scripture. He says that there are similarities between the first man and the God man whom we needed Jesus Christ. “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” The similarity is that what each did affected all but affected all much differently.
Adam brought death and condemnation to all; Jesus brought grace to all. Grace is such an important word. We have come to know it by this definition – God’s undeserved love. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements - that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway--that is a good picture of God's grace. “Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling,” says the hymn writer.
Adam brings condemnation to all but Jesus brings justification to all. How can that be? We are as guilty as sin! As Christians, as Christian parents, as Sunday school teachers we need to teach so clearly “the LORD laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.”
But there is more. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” By the grace of God we receive the gift of righteousness. Jesus lived on this earth for thirty three years. If he was only to die, he could have slid down the fireman’s pole to this earth on Palm Sunday instead of riding the donkey into Jerusalem after thirty three years of life. The point is he came as a little child to live perfectly for every little child who threw a temper tantrum. Jesus went to the temple to worship at twelve so that he could obey for every child who has gone to church kicking and screaming and couldn’t wait for church to be over. He did the Father’s will for all the times we botched doing the Father’s will. He gave us the gift of righteousness. We gave him our sin and he gave us his perfect life.
So speaking frankly about sin is indeed a tough subject as we remember its origins and its web. How grateful we are that we have a cure that works 100% of the time – that’s Jesus.