Last week, while I was studying about Jesus’ death and resurrection, I was really drawn to something Jesus said to Cleopas and his friend. If you will remember, they were walking along the road with no idea who it was that was walking with them…until Jesus “opened their minds” so they could understand. Then, we read in Luke 24:46-47,
46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47 NIVO)
There’s a phrase that reached out and grabbed me. It’s the phrase, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The most basic, fundamental reason Jesus came to earth was not to make us better, but instead, to make possible the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now, I can assure you that won’t excite most people, but it is the most needed of all messages today.
I’ve spent the whole week taking a look at repentance and forgiveness of sin, but before we delve into these topics we first need to understand what “sin” is because for many people “sin” has faded from our memory. The Greek word for “sin” is “???????” (hamartia) and it literally means “to miss the mark.” I know, you are wondering, “To miss what mark?” Let me try to help us get the picture. Picture a target with concentric circles going out from the center. What’s situated in the very center of the target is the bullseye. To hit the mark is to hit the very center of the target and anything outside of the bullseye is missing the mark. So, what does it mean to live in the bullseye of God’s will for you and me? That’s a great question.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism was written in 1646 and was originally used by the Church of Scotland to disciple the young, as well as new converts, to the faith. There are 107 questions included in the curriculum and the very first question is: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our lives are best lived, most fully lived out when our aim is to glorify Him in all we do. That’s why Jesus said, in Matthew 5:16,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIVO)
We are to live in such a way that our lives, everything we do, causes those around us to praise our Father in heaven. Paul expressed the same idea, but with different words, in his letter to the people in Corinth. He wrote,
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIVO)
So, to hit the mark is to live in such a way that our heart’s desire is to glorify and honor God. This is not a burden for the followers of Jesus, it is our greatest joy, our most glorious delight. Let me just give you two examples by reading what David wrote in his journal, what you and I know as Psalms. David wrote in Psalm 16:11.
11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11 NIVO)
David said, “You fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The joy, happiness, and peace that we long for in life, David says, are found “in” relationship with God. Jesus said the only way to be “in” relationship with God is through Him. He said, “…no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). You get a sense of the unbridled joy David felt and experienced when you read Psalm 63. Turn there with me and let’s read together beginning in verse 2.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:2-4 NIVO)
If we understand what it means to hit the mark then we can understand that to miss the mark means to fall short of living in God’s will for us. Our fundamental problem from birth is that we replace the bullseye. At the heart of sin is the desire to live in the bullseye of our own will, to glorify ourselves, and to enjoy what we desire most, each and every day of our lives. Desiring what we want more than what God wants for us is sin. Seeking our own glory is sin. Seeking to find our ultimate joy, pleasure, or enjoyment in something or someone other than God is sin. The Westminster Shorter Catechism describes the chief end of people, but James describes for us the end result of sin. Turn to James 1:13-15 with me and let’s read together.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15 NIVO)
We are reminded of this truth often, but just this week it made national headlines. Let’s go back in time to August 27, 2012 where Greg Bedard announced to the world, on Boston.com, “Aaron Hernandez Deal Worth Up To $40 Million.” The first sentence of Mr. Bedard’s article read,
The Patriots are going to have the tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at least through the 2018 season. (Greg Bedard, Boston.com)
What Mr. Bedard, nor anyone else knew was that Aaron Hernandez would be arrested ten months later, on June 26, 2013, for the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd. What Mr. Bedard, nor anyone else could know, was that this past Tuesday, the day his former teammates were to be celebrated at the White House for winning the Super Bowl, Aaron would end his own life. He wrote John 3:16 on his forehead, twisted his bedsheet to make a noose, and hung himself. He was 27 years old.
What killed Aaron Hernandez? Why did he die? Did the guilt and shame overwhelm him? Was he making sure his daughter would be financially taken care of? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll guarantee you his daughter would trade all the money in the world to have her dad. What killed Aaron Hernandez was his sin. A desire, an evil desire, dragged him away. It lured him, enticed him. Eventually it gave birth to sin, horrific sin, when he took the life of his friend. Aaron took the life of his friend Odin and then Aaron took his own life.
We’ve done everything in our power as a society to eliminate the word “sin” from our vocabulary, but we are suffering each and every day from sin’s effects. Psychologists will try and convince us that it’s our religious ideas of sin that cause us to suffer from shame and guilt, but as religious conviction continues to diminish in our society, guilt and shame continue to rise up in our hearts and minds.
Dr. Orval Mowrer had a resume that was more than impressive. He was a professor at Johns Hopkins University as well as Harvard and Yale. In 1954 he was the President of the American Psychological Association. After working with people for many years he wrote an article for American Psychologist magazine titled, “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils.” He wrote,
For several decades we psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and we have acclaimed our freedom from it as epic making. But at length we have discovered to be free in this sense to have the excuse of being sick rather than being sinful is to also court the danger of becoming lost. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity. And with neurotics themselves, asking, “Who am I? What is my deepest destiny? And what does living really mean?” (Orval Mowrer, “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils,” American Psychologist, 15 (1960): 301-304)
Dr. Mowrer was on the right track, he found some of the teachings of Jesus intriguing, but he rejected Jesus. He struggled with what he saw in society and in himself for the next twenty-two years before he took his own life at the age of 75. Thirty-five years have come and gone since Dr. Mowrer took his life and his words are more true now than they were the day he wrote them.
We know something is wrong and yet we are told that nothing we do is wrong. We may be told that nothing we do is wrong, that we can live by our own morality, but I can tell you, as someone who has the opportunity to talk with lots of people–we have not escaped guilt. We may have alleviated the word “sin,” but we cannot escape the weight of our own shame.
What is the answer? What is the remedy to the guilt and shame we know all too well regardless of whether we acknowledge our sin or not? The good news is this: Jesus said He suffered and rose on the third day so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be preached to all nations, all people.
There is a prerequisite to repentance and that is acknowledgement, or confession. The Greek word “homologeo” means, “to say the same thing as another, to agree with,” or “to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of.” God has something to say about our sin and to “confess” means that we agree with God about what we’ve done, thought, or failed to do.” James gives us something to think about in James 5:16. He writes,
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIVO)
Sin is debilitating. Our minds can become so twisted because of persistent sin. We can suffer physical sickness if we cling to our sin instead of confessing it to God and allowing Him to heal our sin-sickness. James says we are to confess our sins to one another so that we might pray for one another and “be healed.”
Following confession we are taught by Jesus to repent of our sin. The Greek word for “repent” is “metanoeo” and it means, “to change one’s mind, to turn around.” If we’ve been living in the land of lies then we are to turn around and seek the truth. If we’ve been walking in the way of sexual immorality then we are to turn around and walk in sexual purity. If we’ve been seeking what we want most in life then we are to turn around and passionately pursue what God wants for us.
It is interesting how Jesus’ ministry unfolded. After Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness we are told that He went to live in Capernaum. Right after that, we read in Matthew 4:17,
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17 NIVO)
Repentance and the forgiveness of sins were on the lips of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry and they were still on His lips following His resurrection. During Jesus’ ministry He continued to teach the message of repentance. There’s a story that we find in Luke’s Gospel that gives us insight into who needs to repent. We’ve talked about Pontius Pilate and the things he did to stir up the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus must have known about a time when Pilate killed some Galileans and He used that incident to teach those who were listening. Read along with me from Luke 13:1-5.
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them– do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 NIVO)
Were the Galileans worse sinners or more guilty than those whose lives were spared? Was Aaron Hernandez, Karim Cheurfi, the man who gunned down police officers in Paris this week, Bill O’Reilly, or Timothy McVeigh worse sinners than the rest of us. Jesus said, “But unless you repent, you too will perish.” He wasn’t thinking about perishing at the hands of Pilate or some governmental power.
Repentance is of utmost importance for you and me my friend. We can make New Year’s resolutions to try and deal with our sinful behaviors, we can go to counseling to try to gain some kind of solace, but our greatest hope, our deepest need, is to come before God and repent of our sin.
Our problem, most often, is that we deal with symptoms and fail to address the root of what ails us. It’s like going to the doctor and being told that we have cancer. We say, “Doc, I don’t think that’s it. I’m just really tired. I’ve been having massive headaches lately. Can you give me something for my headaches and maybe a B12 shot to boost my energy?” The doctor can write you a prescription and give you a shot, but you’re going to eventually die because you are unwilling to address your greatest ailment. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
…The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way– centred on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As he said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short; but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown. (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. pg. 171-172)
By being so concerned with the symptoms, but failing to address the root of our sin, owning our sin, rather than blaming others or dismissing our sin, we will only continue to be mired in the shame and guilt that plague us. Something marvelous, nothing short of miraculous, takes place when we confess our sin to God. David wrote about this miraculous transformation in Psalm 32. Read along with me.
Of David. A maskil. Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:1-5 NIVO)
While David was covering up his sin, refusing to acknowledge his sin, did you notice what he was experiencing? David felt like his bones were wasting away within him. His strength was sapped. He groaned with the heaviness of it all. David stopped covering up his sin, he acknowledged his sin, and did you see what happened? God forgave the guilt of David’s sin. When David confessed his sin and knew the forgiveness of God, the weight of his guilt lifted and his strength returned. How do we find this forgiveness? John wrote,
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9 NIVO)
I can’t stress enough the beauty, grandeur, and depth of mercy that is contained within the forgiveness of God accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf. I have to talk about this because we lack an understanding of God’s Word and are therefore trapped in our definition of forgiveness which is based on our relationships with others. Rare is the friend who will genuinely forgive us and never mention our sin again. Some are willing to forgive us, but they’ll never let us forget what we’ve done. Most simply won’t forgive us. Worse yet, they will hold our sin over our heads until our dying day. God’s forgiveness is nothing like that my friends. The prophet Micah wrote,
18 Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19 Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19 NLT)
For those who will agree with God about what He already knows about us, that we not only sin, but are sinners to the core of our being, and in turn repent of what we’ve done, turn around, we will receive the forgiveness of our gracious God. He will take whatever we’ve done, all that we’ve thought, those things we’ve failed to do, and cast them into the depths of the ocean never to be brought up again. And in the place where guilt and shame once rotted our bones and sapped our strength, forgiveness will heal what sin sought to destroy.
The question that is before us this morning is this: What will you do now that you know? Like Aaron Hernandez, we have all been found guilty. You can serve your sentence or you can have your sentence pardoned by the King. It’s up to you. You might think that’s a ridiculous question. Afterall, who wouldn’t receive a pardon, forgiveness, if it was offered to them. You might be surprised.
In 1829 two men, George Wilson and James Porter, robbed a United States mail carrier. Both men were captured and found guilty of six charges and ordered to be executed by hanging on July 2, 1830. James Porter was executed on the appointed day, but Wilson had influential friends who pled for his life to President Andrew Jackson. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges, but George Wilson refused the pardon. The report read that Mr. Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon.” The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where they ruled. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote,
A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him. (United States v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 7 Pet. 150 150 (1833)
We hear the story and think, “What a fool! George Wilson could have walked away from what he had done and lived a full life. How could anyone refuse a pardon?” Yet, there are people here this morning who have been offered a much greater pardon than that offered by President Jackson, but you refuse to accept it. God doesn’t wink at our sin. Jesus paid the price, He suffered the sentence of death, so you and I could receive a pardon for our sin. Won’t you confess your sin to God this morning and receive the gift of forgiveness?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 23, 2017