Sermon on Isaiah 1:2-20, John 8:2-11 for the Confessional Service for Holy Week, March 27, 2018
- A long time ago—I must have been about nine years old—I had my first experience with Novocain at the dentist. It made my lip feel like rubber, like it wasn’t a part of me, so what did I do? I started to chew on my lip. It was the dumbest thing to do, I know. Dumber things were yet to come. So I had this sore on my lip from chewing on it when it was numb. How do you get a wound like that to heal? Rinse well after every meal. Keep it clean and leave it alone, right? Well, I just couldn’t do that. I had to lick it. I had to touch it. I had to look in the mirror to see what it looked like. Because I couldn’t leave the wound alone, it took about a month and a half to heal. I still have a lump of scar tissue where it was.
- In the first chapter of Isaiah, God himself speaks to the people of Judah about their sins—how their sins are like wounds they have inflicted on themselves. “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.” It is pretty obvious that our sins can and do hurt and harm other people. If your anger moves you to violence, you are going to hurt somebody. If you don’t keep a tight reign on your tongue, you’ll say something hurtful to someone, or your words will travel through the grapevine and cause widespread damage to someone’s reputation. Yes, our sins hurt others. Today, I want to focus on how our sins hurt us—your individual sins hurt you.
- So, let’s say you have a problem with anger, only you are not moved to violence, you’re not even moved to say angry words. Is it a matter of mere thought, nothing more? God’s law addresses our thoughts, doesn’t it? “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is still in the darkness. …[he] walks in the darkness and doesn’t not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. … Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him” (1 John 2:9, 11, 3:15). Your anger may not affect the person you are angry with, but it affects you. It affects your connection with your God. Keep anger in your heart and mind long enough and you get cemented into that way of thinking. It is a self-inflicted wound on your soul.
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about lust and desire—sins of thought. “I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). No—it may not physically hurt anyone else. It does do something to you. St. Paul wrote about how people become less and less sensitive when they get obsessed with desire: “Do not walk any longer as the Gentiles walk, in their futile way of thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of their hearts. Because they have no sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality, with an ever-increasing desire to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19). We think of hardening of the heart with the King of Egypt or of the Pharisees, hardening their hearts when the truth was right in front of their noses–but hardening the heart happens when we lose sensitivity to sin. Paul talked about it as “searing the conscience” (1 Timothy 4:2), burning or scarring the conscience so that it isn’t aware or sensitive to sin anymore.
- What happened to King David’s desire as he looked out and saw Bathsheba on her rooftop? It didn’t just remain a desire. He acted on it. And then the way he dealt with his guilt led to deception, murder and a cover-up. And then the guilt ate away at him. Refusing to deal with the guilt, refusing to acknowledge and confess sin were killing him. In Psalm 32 he wrote something that sounds a lot like the self-inflicted wounds we heard about in Isaiah 1, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away as I groaned all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me. My moisture was dried up by the droughts of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover up my guilt. I said, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5).
- We wound ourselves with sin—the sins that are only inward, sins of thought and desire—and the sins that are outward. We wound ourselves by carrying the guilt ourselves—pretending that there is no problem at all when the truth is, there are many problems, and we’ve done it all to ourselves. It’s like me, biting my lip, picking at it, licking at it, re-opening the wound and making healing impossible. Our God wants something better for us. He wants healing. He wants us to repent so that he can forgive. He wants us to repent, turn, change our thoughts and actions so that we can heal. Again we read in Isaiah 1: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
- In John chapter 8, we see a woman who had a problem. We know only one thing about her past—that she was caught committing adultery. Was this a one-time fling? Was this a habit? We don’t know. Jesus’ enemies wanted to frame him by asking him a no-win question. “The Law of Moses said such a woman should be stoned to death. What do you say?” If Jesus would have said, “Yes, stone her,” Jesus’ enemies would have taken him to the Romans who made it illegal for the Jews to execute anyone (John 18:31). If he would have said, “No, don’t stone her,” they would have made it known that Jesus was encouraging people to abandon the Law of Moses. This woman is there, thinking she’s about to die, and Jesus enemies are asking trick questions, and Jesus is drawing something in the dirt with his finger. As he always does—Jesus isn’t going to play the game with the trick question. Instead, he goes to the heart of the matter. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” What did Jesus just do? He held up a mirror. “You’re concentrating on this woman’s sin—something she was caught doing—think about your own sin. Look in the depths of your hearts.” So they dropped their rocks and walked away.
- Now look at what happens next: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Does this mean that since everyone sins, sin is not really a problem, so there’s no use condemning it? No. God gave the commandments, didn’t he. God is concerned about sin—what it does to society, what our sins do to others, and what our sins do to ourselves. Jesus is concerned about repentance. He wants healing to happen. In Ezekiel, God says, “‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” That’s why the One who was without sin did not cast the first stone. Instead he said, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (ESV). “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV2011). He wanted her to have forgiveness and healing. To heal, she had to stop sinning—in her case, stop the adultery.
- Now how do we stop sinning? We are broken human beings with a broken human nature, and we won’t stop sinning until the day we die. We pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Keep temptations away. Give us strength to withstand temptation. We study God’s commands to sharpen the consciences we have dulled and to soften the hearts we have hardened. We also look to Jesus, who said, “Go, and sin no more.” We look to him for guidance and for strength—because we know we don’t have it in us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that our merciful and faithful High priest suffered when he was tempted, and he is able to help those who are being tempted.
- Giving in to sin, or thinking sin is no big deal only wounds us more. That kind of thinking doesn’t take God’s law seriously—the law that tells us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. That kind of thinking doesn’t take God’s gospel seriously either. If we don’t think we need forgiveness or don’t desire it, we really reject it. Confessing our sins to God and receiving his forgiveness should be like breathing in the Christian’s life. Out with the old, in with the new. Out with the sin. In with the forgiveness, pardon, peace and healing. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Constantly relying on God for forgiveness… and healing.
 I read an article last week about how people who view pornography on a regular basis actually cause brain damage to themselves—change to the structure and reasoning power of the brain. (http://bit.ly/2IKK6F9, see also https://bit.ly/2FWJheM which quotes JAMA Psychiatry) There are contrary articles that refute the brain damage claim (https://bit.ly/2IIxSNx) , but do confirm a change in sensitivity and desire.