“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Jeremiah 10:24 ESV
This is my cry today. At some level it is the cry of everyone, or should be the cry of everyone, because we are sinners. We are saved only by God’s grace.
Sometimes, like today for me, we are keenly aware of our sinfulness. Some days we aren’t.
Though I gave myself to God as my Lord and Savior many years ago, I still find myself climbing onto that throne in my heart and taking back control. I may be mindful and submissive in the morning. By evening, I have taken back that position I promised to God in the morning.
Like a bird caught in a snare, I find myself entangled by the old, sinful threads of my life that tangle easily around my feet. I gave them to God once for all time. Only I find myself going back to them, like a moth to a flame. Then, I must turn to God… once again… and again… and cede control again.
I am 61 years old. I have been a believer for 40 years. I know better.
Shouldn’t I be further along in the process of personal holiness and sanctification? Why am I so weak to deal with these things that have plagued me since I was young?
How many times will I fail? How many times will I repent? How many times will I fall? How many times will God forgive me?
I have been thinking lately about the phrase, “Do not go on sinning.” These were the words Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery after he rescued her from her accusers. We forget about them, perhaps, because of the force of the rest of the story.
The Pharisees brought her to Jesus one day and challenged him: “’Teacher,’ they said to Jesus [with a hint of affected deference, I imagine], ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’”
They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus was not shaken or disturbed by the dilemma they posed him. He stooped to write in the dust with his finger.
The awkward silence was broken finally by a demand for an answer. Jesus obliged,
“Alright, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Significantly, Jesus didn’t deny what the Law says. His answer implied agreement with the judgment of the Law, but his answer turned the table on the accusers and focused attention on them.
His answer is reminiscent of apportion of the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray and of a segment of the Sermon on the Mount:
“And forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
“[I]n the same way you judge others, you will be judged….”
The pregnant silence continued again, as Jesus returned to writing in the dust with this finger. This time, the demands for an answer slipped away with the accusers, one by one, leaving alone with the accused woman.
The focus of the encounter had shifted dramatically from the adulterous woman to her accusers. Their self-righteous smugness turned to bitter disappointment and shame as Jesus put them in their place.
Now alone with the woman, Jesus asked her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”; “No, Lord,” she replied. “Then, “Neither do I,” Jesus said.
This seems to be the perfect way for Jesus to end the story. The accusers of the adulterous woman were sinners too. When Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, none of them could do it. They knew they would be condemning themselves. What Jesus wrote in the sand must have hit home with them.
The story would be perfect if it ended there, right? Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world, says he doesn’t condemn the adulteress woman either!
But that isn’t the end of the story. The story ends with Jesus adding, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
Those words hang there now for me, as I imagine they did for the woman.
What wisdom and command of the situation Jesus had shown! The pompous self-righteousness of the religious leaders who used this poor woman as a ploy to back Jesus into a corner was deflated. The public humiliation and shame she must have felt was heaped back on her accusers in divine vindication. The gentleness with which he treated her and affirmed her value is beautiful.
But, when the men had left, and she was alone with Jesus, he left her with the instruction, “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus didn’t condemn her, but Jesus didn’t release her to go back to the lifestyle and choices she had made to that point. Why not?
The words, “go and sin no more”, haunt me as I think about myself and how easily I fall into sinful attitudes and stumble. It would so much easier if Jesus hadn’t tagged those five words on to the end of this story!
Kim Phuc is “the girl in the picture”, maybe the most iconic picture of the Vietnam War. It’s one of the most memorable wartime photos ever taken. She is the girl in the picture running from a napalm bomb that dropped on her village.
Kim grew up in a happy family that was well off and lived far from the war, or so they thought. Then, the war came to them. The villagers had taken refuge in the local temple, and the South Vietnamese Army had taken up guard to protect them.
One day, however, planes flew overhead. The first plane dropped a marker at the temple. The soldiers, knowing what that meant, screamed for everyone to run. As Kim reached the exit of the temple, she saw another plane coming in low, fast and loud. She saw the bombs drop, and she froze.
Before she knew what was happening, she was surrounded by flames. When she saw her arm on fire, she ran in panic and fear until she couldn’t run anymore.
When she stopped running, a soldier gave her water. She remembers crying, “Too hot! Too hot!” The soldier poured water on her, thinking it would ease her pain, but the water reacted with the napalm, intensifying the pain, and she passed out.
Kim suffered 3rd degree burns over a third of her body. The photographer who took the photo dropped his camera and took her to the hospital.
The hospital didn’t have enough room for her because of the number of injured from the raid on her village. She was in such bad condition they moved her to a morgue. They left her for dead to tend to the living.
Her mother and brother searched for her, found her, and carried her back to the hospital. When her father arrived, she was transferred to a burn clinic in Saigon. She was saved by her family’s determination to help her, but she would have a long, painful road ahead.
Every morning when the nurse took her to the “burn bath” to soften her dead skin to be removed, she cried through the excruciating pain until she passed out. She had a dozen laser treatments. She had eighteen surgeries. She spent years in physical and emotional pain.
Her father spent all his waking hours tending to her with a broken heart. She was in so much pain, he prayed she would die to end her misery. Her parents feared something would happen to them that would leave her alone in her pain.
She lived of course, but she was ashamed of her scars. Friends stopped wanting to be with her. Her family loved her, but she became lonely. She was no longer the beautiful, young girl she once was. She saw nothing but ugliness when she looked in the mirror.
She also lived with trauma and nightmares from her experience. She was filled with bitterness, hatred and anger. She kept asking, “Why me?!” She despaired of life. She felt like only death would give her an end to the suffering and pain.
The story of the rich young ruler resonates with me today in the seeming impossibility of living without sin. I suspect that I am not alone in the experience of certain sinful inclinations that I just can’t seem to shake. Try as I might, I fall into the same traps of temptation over and over again. I get angry at myself. I ask for forgiveness. I renew my resolve, but I inevitably trip and fall. And sometimes I despair.
“God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Gal. 6:7-8)
I know this, but it doesn’t seem to help. My sinful flesh often overcomes the spirit within me. While the spirit is often willing, the flesh is weak; and sometimes, let’s be honest, my spirit isn’t as willing as it should be.
I think, “If I could just resist more and try harder and find just the right combination of thoughts and habits and resolve, I could lick this thing.” But, days come and go. Things change: busyness, or worry, or distraction, or boredom, or some dryness in my spiritual life, or difficulty, or disappointment or any number of things (or a combination of them) sets in, and when my guard is down, temptation comes and catches me off guard in a moment of weakness.
I truly believe it is possible to overcome the sin within me. Scripture seems to require it of me. What I reap I will sow. Yet I fail. I fully identify with Paul, who said:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15-19)
Imagine being a close friend of Jesus in the 1st Century, reclining at the table with him, eating a meal. It’s been a roller-coaster three years! Your whole world is buzzing about him. He is absolutely the talk of the town.
You are still not quite sure what all he is talking about, but you have come to believe in him. If he is not Messiah your ancestors have talked about for many generations, he is certainly a prophet. Maybe he really is the Messiah?!
Your people have held on to hope for hundreds of years of returning to former glory. This Roman rule is not the way it is supposed to be. God rescued your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and He gave them the promised land. God drove out all the inhabitants of the promised land before them. He could do it again! Certainly, He would do it!
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, it seemed almost so real you could taste it. This really seems to be it! The people are behind him. Everyone is waiting to see what’s next. A new day for Israel seems to be right around the next corner!
But, you never know with Jesus. He is anything but predictable, and he says some really weird things sometimes. Hard things. You don’t completely understand what he is getting at when he talks about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days. What does that have to do with anything? All of those statements about being the Bread, and the Living Water and the Vine….
As you sit at the table, the talk is excited. It is Passover. Expectation in the air. This Passover is particularly poignant with all that has been going on, but Jesus is quiet.
Not that it’s unusual for Jesus to be quiet at times. They had gotten used to it. He often went off by himself, and he would often seem to drift into deep thought, especially lately.
Jesus had left all of you instructions about preparing the Passover meal. No one knew where Jesus was, but everything was left for you as he said it would be. He finally showed up and watched as you finished. You didn’t really notice his silence until he finally spoke as everyone was finally reclining at the table.
Jesus was obviously waiting for just this time. His voice carried a certain weight to it. More than usual. There was a firm, but calm, urgency to his words. The excited tones of the men around the table fell immediately quiet as Jesus opened his mouth to speak. Continue reading “The Cup of the New Covenant Poured Out for Us”→