Sin and the good news
Introduction to Sermon Series
We have just spent considerable time in the gospel of John. I preached somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 sermons based on John’s account of the good news of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus Christ is the central story of all the bible. In the witness of the scriptures everything points to Jesus, the Old Testament pointing forward to the coming Messiah, the gospels pointing to the life and ministry of Jesus as He walked this earth, and the remainder of the New Testament pointing both backwards to the life of Jesus and forward to His future coming in glory.
If you’re reading the New Testament in chronological order the next thing you will want to read after the gospels is the book of Acts. In a nutshell the book of Acts chronicles the story of what the apostles and the early Christians did with their knowledge of the risen Christ. It details the coming of the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus some 50 days after His crucifixion, and it describes how the apostles of Jesus, now full of the Holy Spirit, are empowered to continue to carry out the mission of Jesus in their world. By implication then, we in studying and reading the book of Acts find an indispensable tool to understanding what living for Jesus really means. We will over the next months spend considerable time in the book of Acts but this series will not be a chapter by chapter study through the book.
The gospel of John concludes with Jesus’ call for Peter to follow Him. He calls us all to follow Him. There is no more important question to ask than what it means to follow Jesus. In John’s account of this good news story we have witnessed the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The questions that we ought to be asking today are, “How does this affect my life? How should it affect my life? Given the fact that I have heard about Jesus, now what? What does He want from me?”
Over this next series of sermons I want to answer the question, “What does it mean in my life to truly follow Jesus? What does it mean in our lives as a church to truly follow Jesus?” I think the book of Acts serves as a stepping stone in answering such questions. In the larger context of asking and answering these questions we will explore some related questions such as, “What exactly is involved in becoming a Christian? What is the church? Who is the church? What is worship?” We’ll deal with some questions related to the origin and structure of those churches like us who refer to ourselves as Churches of Christ. We’ll discuss what the essentials of the Christian faith are and ask serious questions about how we balance the search for doctrinal truth with actually living out the truth in our lives.
We’ll talk about some of those things that are peculiar to us such as why we sing a capella, and why we take communion every week. In all of these questions though I will seek to answer them in terms of the priority that scripture gives these questions. In other words if the scripture gives a high priority to a particular issue I intend to give it the same priority. On the other hand if scripture only answers these questions indirectly or by implication or fails to address them at all, I will give them a lesser priority. In the scriptures, the bible, we are given the revelation from God through His prophets. Some of the teachings or commandments of God contained in the bible are greater than others. I intend to honor the fact that all of God’s teachings are to be obeyed and yet not all of God’s teachings are of equal importance. Jesus Himself said so.
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I intend to major on the majors and minor on the minors.
Sin and the Good News
We have four books in our New Testaments called gospels. The gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. The Greek word that is translated into the word gospel in our bibles means ‘good news’. The good news, biblically speaking, is that good news that pertains to Jesus Christ. If the story of Jesus Christ claims to be good news it’s fair for us to ask why it’s good news? Why is the story of Jesus good news? What makes it good news?
There is a tendency in our world to say, “I like Jesus. He said some really cool things. He sure knew how to put those Pharisees in their place. If everyone just lived like Jesus what a peaceful world we would live in.” Although those are good things to recognize about Jesus, is that really an accurate summation of the good news of Jesus? “There was a really neat guy named Jesus who lived a long time ago and said some profound things and encouraged us to all get along.” Is that an accurate summary of the biblical good news? When Matthew, Mark, Luke or John sat down to write their account of Jesus is that what they intended to say?
Well no, not at all. Jesus Himself said according to them that, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Who are the lost and what was Jesus going to save them from? The angels declared at the birth of Christ that the Savior had been born. Savior of what? Medicare? The Canadian way of life? The economy? The Afghan people? Broken marriages? Savior of what?
An angel spoke to Joseph before Jesus was born and said,
Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
John 8:34-36 (NIV)
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus,
John 1:29 (NIV)
29 “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
In order for us to have an appreciation for the good news message of Jesus Christ we must first understand what sin is and how it affects our relationship with God. Jesus has come, after all, to save us from our sins. Only when we realize the full implications of sin in our lives and how our sins separate us from God does the story of Jesus Christ really become good news. Sin is a word in our society that has very heavy spiritual overtones. Non religious folk almost never use the word. It’s not part of our popular vocabulary. And yet when we read the New Testament and the words of Jesus it is assumed that we know what sin is. Jesus’ Jewish community understood what sin was. I’m not sure that our society does.
One modern English dictionary (Encarta) defines sin as
“a transgression of theological principles. An act, thought, or way of behaving that goes against the law or teachings of a religion…”
I think that’s a fairly accurate definition that would fit most non religious people’s concept of sin. It’s a religious thing. If you don’t do what your religion says then you sin against that religion or against that god.
From a biblical perspective however sin takes on a broader meaning. You can sin against your neighbour by doing some evil against him. You can sin against your wife or your children. Your children can sin against you. And of course any act or desire to act that is contrary to God’s will is a sin against God. Consequently a sin against your neighbour is also a sin against God for God has taught us to love our neighbours.
From a biblical perspective sin has been defined as
“Lawlessness or transgression of God’s will, either by omitting to do what God’s law requires or by doing what it forbids. The transgression can occur in thought, word, or deed.” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary 
1 John 3:4 (NIV)
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:15 (NIV)
15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
Matthew 5:22 (NIV)
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Romans 1:32 (NIV)
32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Thinking, saying, or doing anything contrary to God’s will then constitutes sin. Even if we understand that much though we can still miss the importance of sin or the consequence of sin. We can tend to take our sin and the sin of others rather lightly. If my neighbour swore at one of my kids I think I could forgive him. Life goes on. We could continue to be neighbours. Sometimes even, people are capable of forgiving others for horrific crimes without demanding restitution… the rape or murder of a child or a spouse for example. Some very noble people actually have extended forgiveness to the offenders in such cases.
Given that this is true, that people can forgive one another without demanding absolute justice how is it that God seems incapable of doing the same? Why can’t God just forgive us without demanding a sacrifice? Why can’t God forgive us like we at times forgive one another? Well He does, doesn’t He? Well not exactly, there’s more to it than that, if we believe the story of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t say, “No payment is required, I just forgive you.” Jesus would tell us and so would all of scripture that God demands a payment for sin. God demands justice. Jesus took our place on the cross and paid the price for us. He stepped in and paid our debt. He paid what we owed. In fact the Christian story is that the only way to forgiveness before God is through Jesus’ atoning death.
Acts 4:12 (NIV)
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
So God certainly forgives us. But He does so only in and through Jesus Christ. It’s not like God simply says, “It’s no big deal, don’t worry about it,” like you might say to your neighbour or a good friend when they wrong you. Why is that?
Hebrews 9:22 (NIV)
22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Has God got some morbid fascination with blood? And it’s not just any blood is it? According to the Old Testament it must be the blood of the innocent. It must be the blood of a pure and spotless and flawless lamb that is to be offered on the altar. Why the lamb? Was it guilty? No certainly not. And in fact even the perfect and flawless lamb offered on God’s altar was only accepted by God in that it was a type or pattern of His own perfect and flawless Son, Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:4 (NIV)
4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
It is immediately evident from a very brief reading of scripture that God takes our sin very, very seriously. And it’s not because God is like some sheltered grandmother that has never heard a foul word. No, God has heard all our words. He knows all our secret sins. God takes sin so very seriously because of the harm that it brings to His children, the human race.
Romans 6:23 (NIV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sin kills God’s children. It’s a terrible and wasting plague on the human race and God in mercy seeks to bring a remedy for this plague. As the master physician God knows the cure. And here’s the part that will blow your mind. God Himself chooses to pay for our sins. Jesus being in very nature God took the form of human flesh and offered Himself in our place on the cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
For us then to take our sins lightly, as if they are a trivial thing is to take lightly the death of Jesus Christ. For us to cease to struggle against sin in our own lives confesses that we do not understand or appreciate the work of the cross. When we sin we separate ourselves from God. There are only two options when we are separated from God if we want to be reunited with Him. Either He must become like us or we must become like Him. Sin and those who sin, that includes all who have ever done anything wrong by God’s standard, cannot survive in the presence of our Holy and Perfect God. Seeking forgiveness from God is not like seeking forgiveness from grandpa. God is not a man. We are not equals. He is absolutely by His very nature unapproachable. We would be destroyed if we even saw Him. The only way for us to come into the presence of God is if we are absolutely pure and spotless and without sin whatsoever. I mean think about it. We are talking about the being that simple spoke and the universe and all life came into existence.
1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV)
15 God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
Exodus 33:20 (NIV)
20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Exodus 24:15-17 (NIV)
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.
We cannot come into the presence of this Holy God as sinners. His perfect righteousness and holiness would destroy us. He lives in unapproachable light. We as sinners can no more endure the presence of God and live than dry grass can stand in the presence of fire. And because this is so by the grace of God all of us are offered mercy and compassion and forgiveness through Jesus Christ who gives us His righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness.
Romans 3:22-24 (NIV)
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21 (NIV)
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!! That’s good news. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s what brought Jesus to this world and that’s what compelled Him to go to the cross.
John 3:16 (NIV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus came to this world so that we would not perish. For in our sinfulness we are destined to perish because as sinners we are unable to come into the presence of a holy and righteous God. The wonderful love of God for the world is un-see-able to the one who does not understand sin for what it is. It doesn’t matter how you or I might view our transgressions of God’s standard in our lives. What matters is how God views it. And I urge you to take a good long look at the biblical picture of how God views sin. When we understand God’s view of sin and then understand what He seeks to do on our behalf in and through Jesus we are forced to the conclusion that what God is all about, what He is all about is loving this whole world.
The way He demonstrates that love to us is in and through Jesus who came to seek and save those who are lost in sin. God so loved the world that He was willing to take on human flesh in Jesus Christ and offer Himself in our place on the cross to pay that awful price for our sins that we could be reconciled to Him. The world is a disease ridden place in desperate need of medical attention. Jesus the great Physician is the cure for the disease of sin.
THAT’S GOOD NEWS!!! The reality is that we are lost and without hope. The good news is that God so loves us that He sent His unique Son Jesus to save us from our sins.
Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary. Rev. ed. of: Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.; Includes index. Nashville: T. Nelson.