A Good Lent…

It’s funny how when our 4 year old Jacob does something wrong he tries to cover it up, or fix it, but usually it is totally inadequate. So for example he might spill his drink and then get only small tiny piece of kitchen paper to clean the spill up with. Or he will suddenly get the vacuum cleaner out to try and get rid of a mess hoping that we do not see, or notice it. And if we do see him and ask him what he is doing he often just looks at us innocently and says “Nothing.”

We are all like that really, aren’t we. We try to cover up our mistakes or sins. But usually our response is utterly inadequate compared to what we have done. An orthodox jewish parable illustrates this: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

Adam and Eve do something very similar in Genesis chap 2. We have had the amazing description of God creating the world, and then creating humanity and the garden of Eden, but this is then destroyed by the fall – Adam and Eve eat of the tree which God had forbidden to eat from and the consequences are catastrophic for them, and all humanity.

And what is Adam and Eve’s response to the fall of humanity and all creation? To sew together, and cover themselves with, fig leaves. That was about all they could do. How inadequate. How laughable?

And yet don’t we do the same type of thing? Our attempts to cover up our sins are like sewing some fig leaves together and making an apron for ourselves. It doesn’t work. The fig leaves will wither and die in a week. Aren’t you glad we are not saved by the power of the fig leaf – it can’t last!

No, Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their sin – our attempts to cover and hide our sins are ultimately inadequate. Something far more had to be done. What happened in Eden could not just be forgiven or forgotten, and neither can our sin just be forgiven or forgotten. No, it was way too serious for that.

I don’t know whether you have ever had something happen to you, or to someone you love whereby you wish you could go back in time to that situation and do something differently so that the outcome is reversed. Maybe a decision you made. Or maybe a child had a car accident and you wish you could go back in time and drive that car and avoid the accident and the pain it caused.

This is exactly what happens with Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus’ temptations by the devil is reversing what happened in the garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, the devil comes and he talks Eve into desiring the fruit and Eve gives Adam a piece of the fruit which God had COMMANDED Adam NOT to eat because if he did he would die. The Devil won that battle and he gained supremacy over mankind.

In the wilderness we have another sinless human being face to face with the devil, and again the devil is trying to tempt him into disobeying God. This time it’s Jesus. Jesus has emptied himself of his divinity and has fasted for 40 days – he is as weak as you can get. Surely this will be an easy victory for the devil. But no. Jesus stands firm. He obeys God. He does nothing except what the Father tells him. He is perfectly obedient unlike Adam. This is why 1 Corinthians 15:45 says that Jesus is the ‘last Adam’. The devil tries but he cannot defeat the last adam. What happened in the Garden of Eden is reversed. We have an obedient human being who is sinless – Jesus Christ.

But Jesus is also God incarnate – And having reversed Eden, having dealt with Adams sin, Paul explains in Romans 5 that by going to the cross Jesus deals with all of our sins – he dies for our trespasses. A perfect human being, Jesus Christ, who does not earn death because he has not sinned dies and takes our death upon himself – he takes the judgment of God which should be laid on each of us upon himself so that we might receive grace and the free gift of righteousness. As one commentator writes The disobedience of the first Adam ruined us – the obedience of the last Adam saves us.

If you are here this morning as a Christian then you have been set free from the eternal consequence of your sins. All your sins – past, present and future – cannot condemn you if you are in Christ. You live today free from the claim of death which sin brought in to humanity.

So my question is why are so many of us not living in the joy of this freedom? Why do we still try and cover up our sins ourselves – trying in our own strength and our own power to fix what is not fixable except in the power and knowledge of Christ and him crucified?

Why are our lives not reflecting the result of this joyful freedom of knowing that we are sinners saved by the immense and powerful sacrifice of Christ?

A British comedian once said he found it amazing that the poor black churches in the South are usually places of joy and happiness, their services full of praising God and shouting halleluiahs while the white, wealthy churches, churches whose wealth could make Solomon blush tend to be dreary places with people singing ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ in a dreary dead pan tone!

In the Garden of Eden, the Devil spoke with Eve and beguiled her, deceived her into taking the fruit. In the wilderness the devil spoke to Jesus and attempted to deceive him. And the devil has not stopped talking since then. He still attempts to talk us into doing things that are harmful to us – which will send us on a damaging path – which will hurt us and damage our relationships and most of all lead us further away from God. He is still talking and for some us, even though we have given ourselves to Jesus, we still one ear listening to him and his accusations and his temptations.

We need to stop listening to the lies of the devil. We need to stop entertaining the lies which say that doing our own thing means we are free. We need to stop listening to the devil’s lie that we can control that little sin – that it’s harmless – we can deal with it later, it’s not problem really, everybody does it, God will always forgive me.

For some of us we need to stop listening to the devil whispering to us that we are worthless – that God would not listen to the likes of us – that God is not interested in us.

For others we need to stop listening to devil tell us that that sin we have in our past is too big for God to deal with – that we are just too bad – that as long as I can hide this sin from public I’ll be OK, I can live with the guilt and shame.

We need to stop listening to the devil and begin listening to God.

It’s the first Sunday of Lent.

Lent is not a time for us not to become depressive. Not to wallow in the endless self reflection of sin.

We must hold in tension two truths – first that our sin was so severe that there was and there is nothing we can do about it. All our attempts at trying to patch up our sins are useless and futile. We must acknowledge that. We must spend time examining this truth. This is Lent. We read scripture. We reflect. We meditate. We pray. We repent.

But, secondly, we must do this in the full knowledge of what is coming. Lent must take place in the glow of the light that is to come. We experience Lent in the expectation of the excitement of Easter. Lent is not the place we stay in permanently because Christ has dealt with our sin. Lent is about preparing ourselves for the greatest celebration in our lives and in the world’s history. I don’t want to spoil what the excitement is now for you – you will have to wait until Easter morning!!

Lent should never be a pity me party – it is a real and powerful reflection that is always in the shadow of what is to come and what Christ has accomplished. We reflect on our sin in great hope, knowing that our sin has been dealt with.

As one ancient writer has said Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary but it should not involve endless self-preoccupation. You should dwell also on the glad remembrance of the loving kindness of God

Are we ready for Lent this year. Are we ready to come to Christ fully, openly, honestly, unafraid, laying our sins, past and present to the LORD, refusing to listen to the enemy that our sin is too bad or too big for Jesus to deal with – that Jesus would not want us because of the things we have done. Let us be ready to let Jesus work in our lives – to stop deceiving ourselves and trying to fix ourselves or to hide our sins with a fig leaf.

We can do all this BECAUSE we know that our sins, and we know they are many, can no longer rule over u because of what we wait to celebrate in 40 days time.

Let this be a wonderful lent – a lent in which we realize that in Christ we are set free truly to serve him all our days.