(From a sermon given at Christ Community Church on May 5-6, 2018)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series in the late 19th century, played a practical joke on some of his friends. He sent a telegram to them that said only these words: “All is discovered. Flee at once.” Within 24-hours ALL of them had fled the country! Those were men with guilty consciences. They fled because they knew that they deserved punishment for something.
Here are two questions:
- How many people do you think suffer from a chronic guilty conscience in our world?
- How many people do you think suffer from a chronic guilty conscience in this room? [I’ve had bouts with this myself…]
Whether it’s chronic guilt or shame — our contemporary Western culture tries to account for this restlessness gnawing in our soul without taking into consideration the biblical doctrine of sin.
We will be considering the line in the Apostles’ Creed that reads: I believe in the…forgiveness of sins. But before we can talk about God’s forgiveness, we will need to talk about sin.
We will consider just one verse…It’s located in the narrative where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper:
“For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” –Matthew 26:28 (ESV)
If you are new to reading the Bible, the words covenant and testament are very similar (a covenant is also a contract). The Bible has an Old Covenant/Testament and a New Covenant/Testament.
What Jesus is doing in THIS verse is initiating the New Covenant (from Law to grace). Jesus, fully God and fully Man, has completed His miraculous ministry and perfect obedience and He’s having a final dinner and saying some final words to His disciples before He goes to the passion of the cross – and then the resurrection, where the New Covenant (or Government/Kingdom) will be established.
Takeaway: The shed blood and broken body of Jesus establishes a new covenant between God and His people, with the central focus being the forgiveness of sins and access to a right relationship with God (see also Luke 22:20 and Jeremiah 31:31–34).
Today, I would like us to briefly consider two points…
- The Problem of Sin (It’s a problem, right??)
- God’s Provision for the Problem
We’ll look at them one at a time…
The Problem of Sin
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23
Let’s begin with some definitions of sin…Probably, the most common definition (or description) of sin that most of us in the room are familiar with is: “missing the mark.” Think of a target or bull’s eye – and to miss the mark by even a millimeter is still to have missed the mark. And let’s be clear, none of us even comes close to the perfection, the majesty, the holiness, the wonder, the beauty of God.
The most succinct biblical definition comes from:
“Sin is lawlessness.” –1 John 3:4b
This is similar to the theological concept of the Doctrine of Total Depravity. It’s fairly easy to read words like lawless and total depravity and think, “Well, I’m not that bad!” (i.e., Hitler or Manson). Yet, the theological concepts of lawlessness and total depravity, are NOT saying that we are as lawless or depraved as we CAN be, it’s saying that we cannot reach the righteousness or perfection necessary to be in the presence of God. We’re lawless ENOUGH to miss the mark, we depraved ENOUGH to miss the mark.
Here’s another way to think about it:
We have a total INABILITY to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, as God requires. All humankind is inclined to serve our own interests more than the law of God, apart from the empowering grace of God. (Original sin)
Here’s an example that became VERY real to me in a new way at the pastor’s conference the four of us attended last month in Memphis…to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK…
Most of us have seen video clips of people turning firehoses on marchers in the Civil rights movement – or turning police dogs on them and we think, now THAT’s racism. But I’ve never done anything like that, so I must not be a racist. And we distance ourselves from the problem…
- But have I ever told a racist joke – or laughed at one?
- Or heard racist talk and remained silent?
- Have I ever stopped to think that an African American father has to have a whole different conversation with his adolescent and teenage sons than I had to have with my son?
- I have ever sat and listened to a person of color describe what it was like to grow-up in America?
Here’s how Dr. King said it:
“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.” ― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There are sins of commission AND there are sins of omission. And I have to admit I have been part of the racist problem in America.
I’m not as RACIST as I could be, I’m not as LAWLESS as I could be, I’m not as DEPRAVED as I could be, — but I’ve missed the mark in every area and I am desperately in need of God’s forgiveness.
God’s Provision for the Problem
The New Covenant Jesus speaks about in Matthew 26:28 concerns an inner transformation that forgives us and cleanses us from ALL sin:
“‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” –Jeremiah 31:33-34
We can say that the spilled and spattered blood of Jesus made the New Covenant possible, and it also made it sure and reliable. It is confirmed, it is guaranteed with the life of God Himself. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have can have a new covenant relationship with God. In our contemporary culture, it is typical for non-Christians to say that the cross of Jesus Christ makes no sense.
Why did Jesus have to die?
Why couldn’t God just forgive us?’
But think about this: No one who has been deeply hurt or wronged “just forgives”! (Keller)
When someone deeply offends or wrongs us, we only have two options:
- Either we seek revenge and retribution — finding ways to make them suffer, or
- We can refuse revenge and forgive them. But to do THAT, we must suffer. We must suffer through the emotional and spiritual (and maybe physical) trauma.
Do you see that? We can’t truly forgive a deep wound, a deep wrong without us absorbing the suffering. How much more must have God suffered in order to forgive us? How much more did God experience the obligation and debt and of every injustice and sin that was ever committed – past, present, and future??
I will close with this:
Unless we come to grips with the doctrine of sin, we will not be able to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. And therefore, we will not understand forgiveness in a way that will truly liberate us.
On the cross, God’s love satisfied His own justice by suffering and bearing the penalty for your sin. There is never forgiveness without suffering.
You are more sinful than you ever dared believe and simultaneously you are more forgiven and more loved than you ever dared imagine. –Adapted from Tim Keller
And when we see that with the eyes of our heart – we become both humble and bold at the same time. We are humbled by our having missed the mark by a mile – and we are emboldened the sacrificial love of God that changes us from the inside out.