Posts Tagged ‘Sin’

On Little Sins and Big Sins


Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2nd Sunday in Lent-HL, February 21st, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

People often find it easy to make a distinction between little sins and great sins.  I suppose that is to be expected because we all know that there are some sins that are pure scandal.  There’s always particularly bad people that all respectable people avoid and condemn.  It has always been this way; even in the time of Jesus.  Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, “There are little sins and big sins.  Your sins are big and mine are little.”  As humorous as that is, there is a degree of truth to that saying; truth that is, in how we like to judge our own sins.

Speaking of truth, here’s one, Jesus never classified sins.  Instead, He stressed that all sins were evil and enough to disqualify sinners from entering the Kingdom of God, and yet He showed His love for sinners by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; by answering the prayer of a Canaanite woman, who in the eyes of the Jews, was the equivalent of a wild feral dog.

In our message this morning, we must remember three things: 1. People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. 2. There are no sins so great that they can’t be forgiven by grace and through faith in Christ. 3. There are no sins so little that they don’t need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

People who seem to be living pure and decent lives may not be as pure in God’s eyes as you think. That is to say, just because someone seems to be living a blameless life according to a moral code, doesn’t mean that they have that same standing before God.  You see, God looks within the heart of sinners.  Those things that seem perfectly fine in the sight of men can many times be offensive to God.

When we say that God looks within the hearts of sinners, what we mean is that He looks to see if a sinner is in agony, sorrowing over their sins, any and all sins.  To bring sorrow to sinners, God determined long ago to use that portion of His Word we call the Law of God, which demands that men and women live holy and perfect lives as God is holy and perfect.  When the Law shows us how we fail to do that, then the Law of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit to become as a mirror to sinners.  This mirror of God shows sinners how utterly hideous they are on account of their sins, and then it shows them how lost within the grasp of the devil they are.  At this point, the point of despair, the Word of God then becomes like a brutal hammer that deliberately crushes all of the self reliance out of sinners.  When this happens, it is God’s will that the sinner would cry out to Him for mercy.

This cry for mercy then, is the only prayer that God will hear from a sinner who is not one of Jesus little lambs; it is a prayer that catches the ear of God so to speak, and through this cry of mercy, the heart of the sinner is being prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel, that is the sinful heart has become fertile soil to receive a gospel seed that will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit.  This is then a picture of a sinner who has been prepared to hear the good news of a Champion, the Savior of the world Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is willing to be their Savior as well.

So the truth is that there can be no acknowledgment of sin by a sinner out side of the convicting power of God’s Law, and there can be no forgiveness out side of the Gospel Word, which is the message about forgiveness of sins completely through Jesus Christ alone.  But here is another truth worth remembering…

There are no sins so great that they cannot be forgiven by faith in Jesus. The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is a classic example of this, and also the Canaanite woman in our gospel lesson. [Matthew 15:21–28]

Sins are a mysterious thing, even for Christian folks.  Sins have a tendency of clinging to us.  Even after we’ve heard the gospel, and received the sweet absolution of our Lord, many times those sins still seem to hound us.  Why do you suppose that is?  Could it be that we lack faith in God’s promise to forgive?  Or could it be that the devil or someone controlled by the devil has convinced us that some particular sin that we’ve committed just might be to big for grace to pardon; to terrible to be forgiven?  The truth is, even those great sins that seem to linger in our minds like the smell of death, they have to be released when this Gospel message is declared, “Believe in Jesus Christ, and all will be forgiven.”

All sinners, even baptized and redeemed sinners like you and me, we have this sinful tendency to want to do something, anything that will pay for our sins; like I said, that too is a sin.  It’s a sin because it sets aside the blood of Christ that was poured out to cover our sins, and treats it as if it’s nothing.  It sets aside the gift of God’s love that was poured out into our hearts in Holy Baptism, and calls that insufficient.

But God’s Word gives each of us the ability to put to death these sinful thoughts and desires, listen: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.  Through Christ Jesus we have access to the Father.” [Romans 5:1-2]  You see, God wants you to believe in the work of Jesus, that is He desires that you receive that work as a certainty that your sins, all of them are forgiven on account of Christ, the atoning sacrifice, “who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for YOU. [Romans 3:25]  And even more amazing, this promise of forgiveness from God becomes effective for you, when you place all of your faith in the mercy of God as poured out for you through Christ.  In other words, this atoning sacrifice for sin, was and is done for you by Christ who is your Great High Priest, simply so that you can approach God in prayer with great confidence.  Not confidence in your own works, but confidence in the work of Christ alone! [Hebrews 4:14-16]

In other words, God works to empty our hearts of all self righteousness, so that He can enlarge them and fill them with faith and love that can come only through the ministry and work of Christ alone.  So, I hope by now you can see that…

There are no sins so little that they do not need to be forgiven in the name of Jesus.

The truth is, each idle word that we speak in anger, jealousy, or pride, is liable for God’s judgment, and it has to be accounted for.  [Matthew 5:22-28]  Our “little” stinging remarks, our lustful looks, our eagerness to be noticed when we do something good, our stubborn unwillingness to forgive—all these things are under the judgment of God until they are included in the forgiveness which we find in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him alone.  That forgiveness includes small and great sins, conscious and unconscious sins, those sins that have tortured us for years, and those that we have forgotten long ago.

Like Jacob in our Old Testament lesson, God wants us to be grieved by these sins, because they separate us from His love.  And then God wants those sins, all of them, to move our hearts to call out to Him in prayer, in Jesus name seeking the forgiveness and change that only He can bring.  Jacob was struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involved a spiritual striving with God for his blessing, which is God’s gift of grace, but it also involved a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, referred to as “the man,” later identified himself as actually being God.

Jacob’s wrestling with God continued all night long, until with merely a touch, God threw Jacob’s hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob couldn’t continue the painful struggle any longer; so God was telling Jacob to cease striving and simply trust Him and surrendered to His will.  And what did Jacob do?  He threw his arms around God and held on to him. And when God said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak” He was delighted to hear Jacob’s answer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You see, God didn’t want Jacob (and he doesn’t want us either) to be timid with him. He wants to give us great victories, especially over things like sin.  Like Jacob, we are simply to be humble and call out to God in prayer.

Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired.  Listen: “What is your name?” the Lord asked him, not because he had forgotten but because he wanted to remind Jacob that his name meant “heal grabber” or cheater.  Jacob was known as a sinner who took unfair advantage of his rival. But that old name no longer fit this man, and so God gave him a new one. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

No longer would Jacob rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposed him. Instead, he would put his trust in God’s promises of blessing and forgiveness. He had learned to lean on God; to trust Him.

Each of us needs to learn and remember this as well.  We so often need to be reminded that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in our holding firmly to what God has promised.  When we desire to live out that truth, God reminds us that in our baptism, like Jacob, we too were blessed with a new name; we were called Christian.

You know the truth is, sometimes it can feel like God’s angry with us; as if He were our opponent. Each of us has known times in our lives when we were unable to feel God’s mercy, as if He was only showing us His angry face. Jacob felt that way, but he held on to God even when God seemed like his enemy, and because of his tenacity, Jacob won a blessing. We will have that same experience too, when by faith we learn to say, “My Savior Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me and teach me to live out your sweet gift of forgiveness, which you won for me upon your cross and then gave to me in my baptism.”  And wonders upon wonders, He does that very thing as He daily reinforces our faith when we hear and study His Word, and receive His Holy meal at His altar.”

May God continue to forgive all of our sins, big and small, in Jesus name… AMEN!

Don’t Be Afraid!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

8th Sunday of Pentecost, July 26, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 

INTRODUCTION: Do you ever feel like life is one big test, and you keep failing?  That must have been how the apostles felt after a couple of years with Jesus.  No matter how hard they tried to anticipate the right response to Jesus questions, statements, and actions, it must have seemed to them that they were continually missing the mark!  Why they simply had to remember back a couple weeks and they were confronted with memories and experiences that proved that true.  There was the time on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus was asleep on the boat.  When that terrible storm came upon them they panicked and woke up Jesus asking Him if He even cared that they were all about to die.  And what did Jesus do?  He stretched and commanded the sea to be still, and it did.  Oh yes, and He scolded them for their lack of faith!

 

Then there was the preaching tour that Jesus sent them out on.  “O.K.  This will be pretty simple” they must have thought.  “All we have to do is preach that people should turn from their sinful lives and we’re done!  We don’t know why He wants us to do that without Him, but will do it to please Him.  After all, He’s the Master!”  And what happened while they were out?  Was it that simple?  No. In fact, God moved in a mighty way.  They were amazed, even dumfounded when people were healed by the droves and multiple demons were cast back into the pits of hell!  Who could have figured that one out?!

 

Oh yes, then there was their logical demand that Jesus send the thousands of people away from the deserted place so they could buy food.  No, that was wrong too!  He fed the masses Himself with just a few loaves and a couple of fish.  And now, in our gospel reading this morning we read of yet one more failure on the part of the apostles.

 

Jesus had sent them out onto the Sea of Galilee once again, but this time without Him.  Back to the same body of water that almost claimed their lives.  “Why?” they must have thought, “Doesn’t He know this is storm season?”  But off they went, and sure enough, just as they got about midway across the sea (about three miles), another nasty storm broke out.  They fought the waves for hours and they seemed to be frozen in the same spot; not able to go forward or even back to Jesus.  Here we go again!  Why does He keep letting us get into these situations?

 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you been there before?  If you have lived any amount of time then you know exactly how the apostles felt.  We’ve got trouble all around us, and the cause of all these troubles is sin!

 

I. Sin?  Yes friends, one way or another all of our troubles are related to our sin or someone else’s!  Illness, disease, premature death, and the weakness and chronic pain of old age are all signs that God’s perfect creation is broken because of sin.  Broken relationships, hunger, crime, tragic accidents, and heart aches of every kind are here slapping us in the face each day because of our own sinful choices or someone else’s.  Oh we try to protect ourselves the best we can, but no matter how hard we try avoid pain and tragedy, it seems to find us!

 

Friends, no matter what a politician or preacher tells you, life won’t get any better by following their plan for the future or a few simple biblical rules…it won’t!  Why?  Because this is a broken and sinful world.  Jesus Himself said that “In (this) world you will have troubles.”  But He also said that we should “take heart” because He has overcome the world. [Jn. 16:33]  He said that He came so that you may have life and have it abundantly! [Jn. 10:10]  But how?  How can this be true when we are smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  How can we feel God’s goodness and love when we are out in the middle of an angry sea amidst a storm?

 

Friends, this is the question of a hard heart; this is the question of a sinful heart;  this is the question of our hearts.  Our hearts forget that the one we call master and Savior is also the creator of the world.  He is the one who see’s all things.  Remember the 12 apostles out on the boat on that stormy sea?  It was 3:00 in the morning and its pitch black out.  The winds are howling, the rain is coming down in sheets, and Jesus sees their trouble.  He sees that they’re trapped and in danger so He goes out to them.  Jesus saw what was impossible to see because He’s God!  Jesus did what no one else could do, He not only calmed the sea, but He walked on water to get to them.  And when He got to them, He didn’t jump right in and make everything better; no, but what did He do?  He veered slightly away from them.  Why?  Doesn’t He care?  Sure He does, but may I suggest to you that He wanted them to call out to Him; He wanted them to invite Him into the boat, into their dilemma.  And did they do that?  No, instead they let their sinful superstitions grounded in fear take over.  “Ahhh!  It’s a ghost!”  Did Jesus walk away from them in disgust for their lack of faith?  No.  Instead He said, “Take heart; it’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”  In the boat He goes and before they can even ask Him about the walking on water thing, the storm died down, the sea became peaceful and as John’s gospel tells of the same account, they were immediately docked on shore!

 

II. Friends, many times we find the truth hiding in plain sight.  God’s grace and His comforting presence in our lives are always there but we find ourselves living as if it isn’t.  Like the apostles we too can think back on the many hard and even tragic times in our lives and see that somehow things turned out O.K.  We made it through even stronger perhaps then when we went in.  We chalk it up to luck, the help of a friend or family or even our own resourcefulness, completely dismissing the presence of Jesus.  We do this because of our sin; we do this because of our hard hearts.  But God will not let this type of hard heart remain with us; He can’t because you see, He has claimed you as His own just as He claimed His disciples of old.  In your baptism, you’ve been allowed to see that which is hiding in plain sight.  Through your baptism, God has shown you what the 12 apostles in the boat would have to wait and see…Jesus Christ the Savior of the world who was crucified and resurrected for you!  Through your baptism God has put to death the old sinful you; you know that person don’t you?  It’s the one who has a hard heart and can’t seem to accept the truth of God’s divine presence for every moment of your life.  It’s the old you that tries to rationally explain away every mystery and miracle that is God.  But that isn’t the real you.  You see, that old person that you were has been put to death, drowned in the holy waters of your baptism.  Through simple water and God’s creative Word, you have been reborn in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You have been born again as a person of faith…faith in the miraculous presence of Jesus Christ in every aspect of your life.

 

Through the Holy Spirit God is leading you to look back in your life and see that it was always Him protecting and guiding you.  It wasn’t the ghost of blind luck, rational thinking, government intervention, or your own resourcefulness; it was He who knew you in your mother’s womb.

ILLUS: There was once a boy who rode in an elevator for the first time with his father.  When he got home he was dying to tell his mother about the experience.  “Mom” he said excitedly.  “You should have seen it!  Dad took me into this little room and when he shut the door, he made the upstairs come down to me!”  Friends, God wants us to be that little boy.  He wants us to be amazed at His miraculous presence in our lives.  He wants us to know for certain that He has made the upstairs come down to us.  He has brought heaven and His love to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  He wants us to know that because He loves us and we love Him, all things, even the darkest storms of life will work together for our own good because He has called us according to His purpose!

 

Friends, life isn’t a test.  We don’t have to be afraid of getting it wrong, for you see through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always right there beside you.  Through your baptism God has given you all that you need to experience His real presence in your lives.  Through your baptism you have been given His Holy Spirit to guide you through His Word.  Through the Holy Spirit you have been given the eyes of faith to see that which to others remains hidden in plain sight.  Through the gift of grace you have been brought into the body of Christ, His holy Church as a true son and daughter of God the Father.   

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, it is my practice each day, before I begin my work here at church, I come into this sanctuary and like St. Paul, I pray for you.  I pray that Christ’s presence in your life will grow stronger each day so that you too maybe rooted and grounded so firmly in His love that you will always know the immensity of that love; a love so vast that even the world’s most sophisticated computers can not measure it.  I also ask God to allow you to know even greater, the love of Christ and that you would hear His voice speaking to you in whatever life storms might come your way.  Listen friends, He is speaking to you and saying, “Take heart; it is I.  I am with you.  Do not be afraid.”

 

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within you, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  AMEN! [Eph. 3:20-21]