e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re headed into tough times – it’s in all our newspapers, it’s on TV; it’s everywhere.
And I know that a lot of you are quite concerned. You ask yourselves, “Am I ready to face it all?” “Will I be able to get through it?”
But that’s not all. For some of you, it’s not the threat of war in the Middle East that concerns you or the threat of a sniper taking aim at you while you’re pumping gas at a service station. It’s more existential – more nitty-gritty – than that. It’s your job; it’s your marriage; it’s your children. And, yes, for some of you, it’s even Christmas.
Did you know that more people are afflicted with depression during the Christmas season than any other time of the year? Did you know that? A lot of older people are plagued with regrets over what might have been had their priorities been different when they were younger – had they spent more time with their family and less time pursuing a career or their own self-centered interests. And a lot of younger people find that they can’t live up to the expectations that Christmas imposes: the presents they can’t afford for their children; marriages that are unraveling at the very moment they should be celebrating their marriages.
Tough times! Both the tough times we see foretold in the media – the uncertainty that a random, faceless terror produces – the anxiety it spawns; and the tough times we face on a more down-to-earth level: trying to make ends meet; trying to hold our families together and maintain our friendships; trying to get through the Christmas season without plummeting into depression.
Tough times! What does the Bible tell us about tough times? What kind of advice does the Bible give for getting through tough times? Actually, the Bible provides good advice – advice that will help you get through tough times not just by the skin of your teeth, but gloriously – with your heart filled with joy and confidence.
Turn with me to Hebrews 12:1.
… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
Here we have some down-to-earth advice – advice that we can actually put to use – advice that’s not esoteric or academic, but useful and sensible – advice that anyone can understand and apply – and, most importantly, advice that works.
We’re told here that facing tough times is like a runner facing a long distance race. That’s what the word “endurance” implies. The Bible, in other words, doesn’t liken tough times to a quick sprint that’s over in ten or twenty seconds. It’s not just once around the track; it’s twenty, thirty, forty, sometimes fifty times around the track. And isn’t that true? Do you see how down-to-earth the Bible is – how it doesn’t pull any punches?
A bad marriage, for example, isn’t going to be turned around quickly; it’s going to take lots of time and effort to pull together a bad marriage and transform it into all you’d hoped for on your wedding day. Don’t we all wish that a bad marriage could be recovered by simply attending a weekend seminar. But that’s nonsense; and it breeds false expectations that, in the end, only exacerbate our pain and disappointment. No, recovering a bad marriage is like running a long-distance race: it’s going to take time and lots of effort. But if you make the decision to spend the necessary time and effort, there’s hope for a genuine turn around.
Isolation and loneliness can’t be overcome in one or two days – or by downloading a list of names off the internet – or hopping from one singles bar to the next. Isolation and loneliness are rooted in deep-seated character flaws – and it takes lots of time and effort to overcome those flaws. But if you make the decision to spend the necessary time and effort, there’s hope for a genuine turn around.
The growing threat in the Middle East won’t disappear overnight – nor will America’s war against terror. And the fear and anxiety it generates can’t be overcome by just keeping busy or by moving to a mountain redoubt in Idaho. But there’s hope for allaying all that fear and anxiety – and for establishing peace in your own heart if you make the decision to spend the necessary time and effort.
Time and effort – that’s the first bit of advice the Bible provides. Prepare yourself to invest lots of time and effort.
The next bit of advice is just as down-to-earth and nitty-gritty.
That’s the meaning of the phrase “…let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us…”
Trim down and buy a good pair of track shoes. Weights slow us down and sins trip us up.
Today’s sermon is the first of a five part series designed to show you…
And why? So you can grapple effectively and confidently with the tough times that lie ahead. So you can face those tough times with joy and confidence instead of fear and apprehension. So you can say to yourself “Bring on the future: I’m ready for it.”
The weights and sins mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 are not two distinct items; in a very real sense, they’re flip sides of the same coin: a weight is a sin; and a sin is a weight. But one is an attitude; the other is a concrete offense the attitude produces.
So we can retranslate Hebrews 12:1 to read
… let us lay aside every deep seated attitude that slows us down and all the specific offenses those attitudes produce – the offenses that trip us up and ensnare us – and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
The Bible tells us that there are five very destructive sets of attitudes that sin produces – attitudes that can so twist and pervert us that we’re left incapacitated…
What’s important to note is that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re the person committing the sin or the person against whom the sin is committed; whether you’re the perp or the victim; whether, for example,
What matters is that you’ve been touched by sin. That and that alone is sufficient to produce those debilitating attitudes and the actual, concrete offenses those attitudes spawn.
Furthermore, those attitudes can be passed down from one generation to the next – devastating each successive generation with the offenses they cause.
I know of one woman – I’ll call her Sally – whose great-grandmother suffered through a heart-rending divorce when her grandmother was no more than just five years old. Her great grandfather ran off with another woman – leaving his wife and children to fend pretty much for themselves – and that was back in an era when there was no safety net for the needy. The trauma of that divorce left her grandmother suspicious of all men. After all, isn’t your father the prototypical man? And if he’s not worthy of your trust, what man is?
Eventually, however, her grandmother fell in love and married. But the distrust and suspicion her father’s betrayal had produced in her poisoned the marriage almost from the start; and shortly after Sally’s mother was born, the marriage was terminated – leaving her, like her mother before her, without a father. Two generations touched by divorce – now with a third about to be affected.
Sally remembers vividly her grandmother’s scathing criticism of her grandfather and her great grandfather – and of men in general.
Is it any wonder, then, that her own mother and father’s marriage ended in divorce as well – leaving Sally, like her mother and grandmother before her, without a father? And is it any wonder that Sally grew to harbor a deep-seated suspicion of men – a suspicion that bordered on outright resentment? “Men can’t be trusted. You can’t depend on ‘em – either as husbands or fathers.”
Nevertheless, Sally fell in love and several years ago she got married. But – surprise! surprise! – her marriage isn’t working out. The reassurances she demands of her husband are unbearable. The slightest hint of betrayal is enough to send her reeling into panic and fits of rage –
Her husband, beset with his own fears and anxieties, is breaking under the strain – and has begun to distance himself emotionally from her – which is serving only to send her reeling into more fits of panic and more outbursts of rage.
There it is: four generations of women burdened with the weight of distrust and suspicion – attitudes passed down from one generation of women to the next. And unless Sally is able to lay aside all that weight, she, like her mother, her grandmother, and her great grandmother before her, will lose the marriage race – and miss out on the companionship it’s meant to provide.
Life is a race – actually it’s composed of a whole series of races – and we won’t win if we don’t shed the weights that slow us down – the devastating attitudes we drag around – sometimes without knowing it – attitudes that produce offenses that trip us up and leave us broken and twisted.
There are five sets of attitudes that the Bible tells us sin produces – five different weights that can slow us down and keep us from winning the race that has been set before us.
Each set is described in detail throughout the scriptures, but very pointedly in the Book of Leviticus – the third book of the Old Testament following Genesis and Exodus. There, in the first six chapters, each set is linked to a specific ritualistic sacrifice that’s meant to describe how healing and restoration can be secured.
What I want to examine with you this morning is the first set – guilt and condemnation – what it is and how you can be healed of it.
You can’t carry guilt and condemnation into the race that’s set before you and expect to be a winner – whatever that race might be –
What is guilt? Guilt doesn’t arise from mere failure. An emotionally healthy individual can fail at a task without being plagued by guilt; or without succumbing to shame; or without feeling that he’s worthless. Thomas Edison suffered through hundreds of failures before inventing the incandescent light bulb. Not once did those failures arouse in him any guilt or shame. Instead, each failure served only to stiffen his resolve to succeed.
No, guilt doesn’t arise from failure alone; it arises from a sense of moral failure. Guilt is prompted whenever I’m convicted of unrighteousness; and that, in turn, leaves me feeling condemned – feeling that I am deserving of punishment. That’s why guilt and condemnation are always linked. Guilt – real guilt – persuades me that I deserve to be punished.
You can walk away from failure – and begin afresh when a new day dawns – if that’s all it is: mere failure. Failure may prompt frustration – and that frustration may cling to you for a few days – perhaps longer. But eventually you’ll break its grip on your life and begin moving forward again.
But not so with guilt. You can’t break free from guilt – because your conscience sides with it. Your own conscience is what lends guilt its dreadful power. Your conscience takes up arms in its behalf.
How can you be a winner if you’re convinced that you deserve to be a loser? Not just that you’re a loser, but that you deserve to be a loser?
It’s relatively easy to turn around someone who thinks he’s a loser – if that’s all there is to it. You can help him acquire the skills and amass the resources that will turn him into a winner. But it’s awfully hard to turn around someone who feels he deserves to be a loser. In his case, it’s not a simple matter of helping him acquire the skills and amass the resources to be a winner – because skills and resources aren’t the issue. It’s his conscience that’s the issue. And no amount of skill acquisition is going to help him.
Let me put if a little differently:
Do you see the point I’m making? You can’t simply open a jail door for a person who’s convinced he belongs in jail – regardless of the pain and humiliation he’s suffering. He will close the jail door on himself. He’s his own jailer. That’s what guilt and condemnation do to you.
Do you suffer from guilt and condemnation? If you do, the jail door that has closed behind you – you have closed on yourself.
Have you ever considered the possibility that you can’t extricate yourself from the mess you’ve made of your life because – down deep inside – that’s what you’re convinced you deserve? Have you ever thought about that?
Regardless of how fervently you pursue happiness – how much you try to abandon yourself to it, it will slip through your fingers. And why? Because, at the end of the day, you don’t really believe you deserve to be happy.
A lot of people are on their way to hell because they’re convinced they don’t deserve heaven. That’s the whole point C. S. Lewis makes in so many of the stories he tells. What is hell? Hell is where the guilt-ridden go because they’re convinced it’s what they deserve. It’s not that God sends them to hell; it’s that they send themselves to hell. Their own guilt drives them there. Even if somehow you were able to bring them up from hell to heaven, they’d turn right around, and, on their own, go back down to hell.
What’s the answer? How can you shed the guilt and condemnation that weigh upon you so heavily and keep you from winning the races that are set before you? Turn back again to Hebrews 12:1
… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
Go on now to verse 2
…looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…
We’re told to “look unto Jesus…” “How,” you ask, “can that enable me to shed the weight of guilt and condemnation?” Because God has made Jesus your sin-bearer. That’s the meaning of Hebrews 9:28…
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many...
It’s also what John the Baptist meant when he first met Jesus along the shores of the River Jordan…
The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
What John is saying is that Jesus is the sacrifice the Whole Burnt Offering symbolizes in the Book of Leviticus. The order of that sacrifice was meant to teach the Jews an important lesson concerning how God delivers us from guilt, condemnation, and the fear of judgment.
The order of the sacrifice was very simple: the sinner – called a supplicant – would bring a lamb before the priest standing to the right of the altar. The sinner would then lay his hands on the lamb’s head and confess his sins over it – and, in so doing, his sins were transferred from the supplicant to the lamb. The lamb would then be killed and laid upon the altar – where fire from the altar would wholly consume it. That’s why it was called a Whole Burnt Offering.
The lamb was the supplicant’s sin bearer; and the righteous punishment of God, symbolized by the fire, instead of consuming the supplicant, would consume the lamb. And the supplicant would walk away free of his sins – and the guilt and condemnation his sins provoked.
Clearly, the sacrificial lamb used in the Whole Burnt Offering was merely symbolic. It was pointing to Jesus Christ – who is God’s Sin-Bearer for all mankind – to deliver mankind from the sins that weigh him down with guilt and condemnation.
That, then, is the meaning of John the Baptist’s declaration…
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
God has made Christ your sin-bearer. That’s how God intends to deliver you from guilt and condemnation. When you look unto Jesus – which is what Hebrews 12:2 tells you to do – the weight of guilt and condemnation is stripped away from you – and you are set free to run the race set before you with the joy and confidence that you can now win.
I know that some of you have some pretty tough races to run: addictions that need to be overcome; marriages that need to be restored; fears that need to be mastered.
All kinds of races – different races for each one of you. But you can’t win those races if you’re weighed down with guilt and condemnation – and if you’re constantly tripping over the offenses that guilt and condemnation inevitably produce.
Have you let Jesus become your sin bearer? You can do that this morning. Make the choice to lay your sins at the feet of Jesus; confess them one and all; and he will pick them and carry each one to the Cross – bearing their shame and iniquity in your place. And there on the Cross, they will be forever done away with.
Occasionally, you may hear your heart whispering to you that old refrain, “You’re guilty.” But you know that’s not true – because Jesus has carried your sins to the Cross – where they have been forever put away.
But you need more than mere knowledge; you need to hear Jesus himself speak it to you: “You’re forgiven. I’ve freed you from all guilt and condemnation.” That’s why you’re told in Hebrews 12:2 – to keep looking unto Jesus – stay at his side – stay in his presence. And keep listening for his words of encouragement, “You’re forgiven. I’ve carried all your sins to the Cross – where they’ve been put away; so let go of your guilt and condemnation. I’ve set you free.”
You’re now positioned to win whatever race that’s set before you. It’s a long distance race – meaning it will take time and effort to run it; but you can now win. Run with joy in your heart – in the sure and certain hope that Jesus is running alongside you.