Before understanding Jesus though, we really need to take a hard look at ourselves. As human beings we are under sin from birth. We can't help it. We can't avoid it. Our parents, grandparents and ancestors were all sinners. Every last one. Our pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, TV evangelists, biblical scholars, neighbours, friends and children are all sinners. Every last one. Every politician, every medical professional, every social worker, every businessman, everyone wealthy and every poor, homeless person, all sinners. Surrounded by sins, and people committing them left and right, how can anyone even hope to avoid sin? Why isn't there a set of instructions that we can follow to keep our souls clean?
Oh, right, there is. It's called the Bible. Old Testament books tell us the Law as God wants it. It gives us a complete list of all the things we must do to remain spotless, perfect, pure and worthy of Heaven. It's about as exciting to read as the Criminal Code of Canada, and tends to induce more snores than songs of praise. Yet, it is the only way we can avoid the infernal fires of doom at the end, isn't it? I mean, God isn't exactly accepting animal sacrifices or burnt offerings or drink offerings or wave offerings or grain offerings anymore. In Isaiah 1:13, the Lord says, "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies-- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly." In Isaiah 66:3, He goes further: "But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog's neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine's blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations;" sounds like God giving up hope for us, doesn't it? Stop scrolling and think about this for just a moment.
Before, when God set out the Law, and the various ways we could cleanse ourselves of sin, was it not almost obvious that as humans we would eventually start just sinning and sacrificing under the Law, and not even trying to serve God? Doing whatever we want and paying for it with the blood of animals, or the fruits of our wealth? Having our cake and eating it too? Isn't it natural for many of us to read the rules of anything we do and then try to push our limits as far as they'll stretch? This is OK, but that's not. In the movie "The Devil's Advocate," Al Pacino as the Devil mocks God by saying, "Look, but don't touch; touch, but don't taste; taste, but don't swallow; and while you're jumping from foot to foot, what's God doing? He's laughing His f&!#ing @$$ off!" Please pardon the language, but it's a direct quote, and sometimes a bit of strong offensive language tends to shake people awake. I'll try to keep it clean from here on in.
We are born imperfect and prone to temptation as a result of the Fall. But even before God created Adam and Eve, He knew they would succumb to temptation. He knew they would screw up and already had their punishment in store. Our mere existence today was never meant to take place in the garden of Eden. God knew we'd never see it in our lifetime. He was here, watching over our future selves, even when we were children, even before we were born here on Earth. He is all places at all times. So why write the Law? Why make all these rules? Why if He knows what will happen before it happens does He expect us to follow His instructions? Especially knowing that we will try to do it the easy way, bending the rules a bit to make it easier for us, and then going to church and hiding our shame, all the while pointing fingers at those who've been caught sinning. Here's the truth. In Romans, chapter 3, the apostle Paul illustrates this point with a paraphrase of the focus of Psalms 14, 53 and Ecclesiastes 7. "There is no one righteous, not even one."
What does this mean? What God says to me is that none of us are capable of obediently following the entire Law as set out in the books of Moses. None of us as we are today are worthy of Heaven. And since sacrifices will no longer cleanse our souls of sin, we are walking around the world just reeking of sin every day. As good, godly and righteous as we try to be, the harsh words we said to our peers as children still cling to us. The time we kept the extra change we got as a result of the cashier's mistake, or the time we looked too long at that attractive person on the beach, or the time we struck a deal with the Lord to save our child from illness which we never honoured though He did; these things are stuck to us and we carry them through our lives. The slightest of these is enough to bar us from entering the glorious gates of Heaven, to void our ticket, as it were. And with only sinners as examples to follow through our lives, it is absolutely impossible to remain sinless. In the end, the Law was created by God to serve as a guideline, but also as a reminder that we are unable to follow it completely and that we need Him to save us from ourselves.
My wife and I came into this church as sponges, soaking up as much of God's holiness and Jesus' way as we could. We look to the elders, the pastoral team and the older, more experienced Christians with whom we worship the Lord to help guide our steps in our walk with Jesus, but in essence, is this not the blind leading the blind? Honestly, I love my new friends dearly, and look up to them when I get discouraged in my own journey. They have an understanding of Jesus' way that I can learn much from. Yet, I must also bear in mind that they, too are sinners, and therefore are an imperfect example. Therefore I must line up their advice with the Word of God and ask this question: What would Jesus do? Is he not the literally perfect example?
Why? Because Jesus is the one man who never sinned. That's why. He is the only example I know of who will never lead me into unrighteousness. Now, this further begs the question: Will I follow his example? Is it possible to follow in Jesus' footsteps every step of the way? In this day and age, where sin adorns every street corner and mankind has turned against one another and in general people will do what it takes to "keep up with the Joneses," can the body of Christ actually do it? We who save our worship for Sunday and say the drab little prayer of thanks at mealtimes as long as no one of the world is watching? We who say we aren't ashamed of him, and yet keep quiet when the name of Jesus should be proclaimed loudly. Can we follow him? Not without suffering. I say this not to imply that you need to go out and inflict needless pain upon yourselves to suffer for his sake. But I say that it's not for us to judge whether the world is ready to hear his Word. It's not for us to judge when the time is right. Suddenly, dying to our old lives and becoming a new creation doesn't seem so easy. And it's not. But there is incalculable joy attached to the carrying of our cross. And so I come to the point of this long-winded essay.
Jesus teaches us that whoever believes in him will be cleansed of all sin and have eternal life. If we believe that he was born in human form as the Son of God, that he died on the cross at Calvary and after three days rose again in the flesh and walked among his followers before being bodily taken up into Heaven, then our sins, which we've spent our whole lives accumulating, will be washed away instantly and the Lord will welcome us into His kingdom, pure and unmarked, at the time of our earthly demise. So, by enduring our punishment for us, Jesus set the example, and as the world descends into sin, we find fewer good examples of righteousness. It is imperative that we focus on the cross every day.
Do we have the strength to do that? In order to actually be his disciples, we need to learn to endure the suffering that comes with that. This suffering includes learning his way, not just the parts we like or find exciting. This suffering means graciously smiling while others look disgustedly at you when the name of Jesus falls from your lips. This suffering means sometimes enduring the smell, even the fleas of an unwashed homeless person who desperately needs someone to talk to or just a hug. This suffering includes standing up and saying, "Hey, this isn't right," even when the entire group of people in the conference room groans and grumbles, "Oh, there goes the Christian, making things difficult." Sometimes this suffering includes walking away from wealth and glory when the acquisition of of these will require that we compromise our belief in the one and only Son. Is it not that belief, that simple knowledge that it was Jesus that saved us from the fires of hell, that is our prepaid ticket into eternal life in Heaven in the first place? Can we honestly justify trading that ticket in for comfort when the Christian life gets tough?
What did Jesus do? He never ignored wrongdoing. He never just let things slide. He always led with love, but never compromised God's will. Jesus always gave his all to set things right. Sometimes it was inconvenient for him. Sometimes he put up with hypocrites and nay-sayers mocking him. Sometimes he had to stay after school and help those who were struggling. Sometimes he had to repeat the same lesson over and over until somebody finally got the message. Once, he was tortured and beaten and scourged and forced to carry a big, hulking piece of lumber through the street while people jeered and scorned him and pelted him with rotten vegetables. One time, the bastards hung him on a cross and left him to die. Think about that.
This is what I wanted to talk about today. Is Jesus the center of your life? Are you setting your jaw and walking through the fire for Him every day? I thought I would, too. It's OK. It's a common problem. Mark 8:34-35 says this: "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'" Sometimes the crosses we take up every day in order to follow our Lord are not the big, heavy ones. Sometimes we forget our cross at home, or take the little one and stick it in our pocket on our way out the door in the morning. We come to church and hear the pastor or whoever speak and sing and exchange smiles with our fellow Christians, hiding any hardship we're going through so we don't have to air our dirty laundry. We walk a shorter, easier road on those days. Especially when the Lord sees fit to start changing our lives, often pulling the rug out from under us. See, there comes a point, I think, when we actually think we're suffering enough here on earth. Our earthly lives, so full of stress and heartache, often leave little room for Jesus, or any kind of suffering for him. I wonder if he thought of this kind of indifference in his people as he took up his cross and walked the long road to Calvary? I'm guessing he did. I'm taking it on faith that he did. And he did it anyway! He made that journey to death for us anyway! We who don't deserve it. We who choose when to show his blood on us and when to hide it. We who check our Jesus at the door when we go to work or when we go to the mall. He hung there on that cross, with his body broken and torn, gasping out his last earthly breaths asking God to forgive us all anyway!!
Now, don't feel guilty about that, brothers and sisters. John 8, verses 1-11 tells us why not to be crushed by guilt and shame: "But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
The adulteress was saved by Jesus from stoning, and was then told by him not to feel bad, just change her life. Sin no more. Good luck! Of course Jesus knew we are going to mess it up. Of course he knew we would stumble, fall, and cover it up so we can hide our shame, even from ourselves. Here's what we need to remember in times of struggle: The body of Christ is greater than the sum of its parts. At the head sits our Lord. He also lives in us. So, instead of covering, friends, be honest. Be honest with yourself first. Be honest with God. It's not like He doesn't know when you're covering something anyway, but being open to Him helps us be open to ourselves. And be honest with the body, your fellow followers of the Lord. They are there to stand in the light and fight the darkness with you, in the name of Jesus, but they can't raise you up if they don't know who they're pulling out of the water. As your right hand knows your left, so should the other disciples know you, and you them. And the head of the body knows you all, each and every one. Do you know him? Do you love him? If so, then get that cross on your shoulder and the let the joy of the Lord fill you. And I can guarantee that if you ask nicely, he will even help you carry it.
Heavenly Father, as we make our way in the world, we know you are with us. We know you love us and want us to seek your glory in everything we do. You fill us with joy when we turn our hearts to you. You give us strength when we are oppressed, peace when we are troubled, and protection when the Enemy does his level best to enslave us with guilt or fear. We thank you, Lord, for all these things and for your grace, the greatest gift we who are so undeserving of it could have received. We ask this day that you give us the faith we need to carry our crosses, Lord. We ask that you walk beside us as we drag them through the streets. And we ask that you be there when we reach the end of our journey, that we may forever dwell in heaven with you. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
See you all next time.