The word SIN is a good religious word isn’t it. We christians bandy it around liberally, “You sinner” – “Our sins” “My sin”.
You may already know that the word SIN means to ‘miss the mark’. We miss the mark of the standard God set – which was His law. If we break just ONE law, we have missed the mark and we are unable to have fellowship with God – James 2:10 says For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of |breaking it| all.
Of course, we know that we have the evangelon – the good news – the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ did not miss the mark – he kept the law perfectly and through his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God – we no longer miss the mark because of Jesus.
And yet we also know that we still sin – we still, daily miss the mark. We are not yet perfected and each day we do, think, say and act in ways which miss the mark.
We also know that we have the wonderful privilege of being able to confess our sins. 1 John 1 – if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!
But here is my point this morning – we must hold two things in equal balance – we must realize, accept and rejoice that we are forgive and set free from sin – but equally we must have a realization of the horror and the evilness of sin of our sin and not be blasé about it.
All too often, when we think about ‘serious’ sin, we think of the big ones – murder, lying, stealing – all the ‘thou shalt nots’. And we say to ourselves “Phew! I do not do that”. But then, even subconsciously, we tend to minimize, or think little of our besetting sins – the white lies, the gossip, the speaking badly of someone, the temper tantrum.
Now, please, I am not trying to make you all feel guilty this morning – we are cleansed people today because of the blood of Christ – we are forgiven. We are loved of God. he is our Father in heaven. However, we must understand the seriousness of sin. You have heard the old cliche that if you were the only person on earth Jesus would have died for you. It’s wonderful, but think about what it is saying! Our sin was SO bad, SO serious, SO destructive that it cost the life of Jesus Christ, the living God. And when we minimize it, we minimize the cost Jesus paid.
The Old Testament uses three words in conjunction with sin. Leviticus 16:21 says Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts—all their sins.a He is to put them on the goat’s head and send |it| away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task.
This passage calls sin rebellion.
The second word is found in 1 kings 13:21: He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.
This passage calls sin defiance.
The third passage is 2 Sam 12:9: Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife—you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword.
So, the Bible says that sin is to rebel against, defy and despise God.
Every single sin – whether of the smallest to the largest is to rebel, defy and despise God.
Now our readings this morning give us two examples of missing the mark and it’s seriousness.
We see the first example in our Old Testament reading. Despite the incredible miracle of being rescued from the greatest military power on the earth, and had seen the visible manifestation of the pillar of fire going before them and protecting them from behind – and even then, the people of Israel start to complain. They are complaining about God.
They are complaining about and despising the provision God has given them. They want meat – and the manna which is being provided for them every day – the manna which was feeding them, keeping them healthy and being provided for without their toiling or working for it – this manna they are fed up with!
They rebel, defy and despise God in their complaint. They even compare slavery in Egypt MORE favorably than the grace of God who brought them out of Egypt.
Let’s be clear. The Israelites have absolutely nothing to complain to God about. Nothing! And notice where the complaining began. The mixed multitude, i.e. the non Jews, who came out of Egypt with the Jews were the ones who started to complain and the complaining spreads into the people of God. So often that happens with us – with those in the Church. We get caught up in the grumblings and complaining of the world and we bring in into the church and then sometimes even direct it to God himself.
And as a leader Moses is utterly frustrated!
Now, the sections which the lectionary leaves out of Numbers 11 is important. God hears their complaining and says they will have meat – meat for a month – so much meat, God says, that it will come out of their nostrils. And as they ate the meet, v33 tells that While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague.
To miss the mark, to defy, rebel or despise God and provision is a very serious thing.
Our second example is found in the Gospel reading and it hits a little more close to home.
John comes to Jesus and tells him that he had found a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name and had forbidden him to do this.
Now, notice the reason he gives for forbidding him – we forbade him, because he was not following us. Not because this man was doing something wrong, or saying anything bad, or because he was misusing Jesus’ name.
John forbids him because the man was not part of the inner group – he was not part of the ‘in’ crowd – he was not a member of the privileged ones.
Now, look at Jesus’ reply. He tells John that he should not do that – that ANYONE who helps them because they are Jesus’ disciples will be rewarded and then that ANYONE who causes one of these little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble, it would be better if a millstone where tied around his neck and thrown into the sea.
Jesus was referring to John. John, if you by your attitude of exclusiveness or superiority causes one who believes in me to stumble – that is to stop doing something of God and therefore to sin – you should be drowned.
Hey, Jesus, over-reaction buddy!
But no! John had made a mistake. He had missed the mark. He had sinned in his action. And we may look at this and think, “Wow, not the worst sin you might have committed” but it was sin.
Why was it sin. John had despised God. He had assumed that God was not working outside of the 12. That they only were the purveyors of the truth. John was doing exactly what the pharisees were doing – excluding any possible work of God which was not authorized out of their own group. And yet truth is truth – and God is working in the world.
Jesus’ message is very clear – sin is so serious that you should cut it out!!
Now, the imagery, you would be glad to know, is only imagery. Of course He is not telling you to cut parts of your body off. His point is that sin is so dangerous, so bad, so infecting that you must get rid of it at all costs – at all costs.
We must not entertain it, we must not play with it, we must not dabble in it. Because if we do, it will be nasty.
In fact the image Jesus uses of Gehenna – hell – was so vivid everyone knew it.
I am sure many of you know that next to Jerusalem was the valley of Hinnom. It was in Jesus’ day the garbage dump of the city – the place of refuse. It was the location of Israel’s most terrible lapses into pagan worship. It was were Ahaz instituted fire-worship to Baal and the sacrifice of little children into the fire – (2 Chron 28:3). And it was were Josiah, in 2 Kings 23:10 declared it to be an unclean place . In Jesus’ day this valley was constantly smoldering with fire and huge, gross worms bred in the refuse.
When Jesus talks of sin and Gehenna – he is linking the word with a visual example – sin is gross and it is unclean and everyone would do whatever it took to make sure they did not get thrown into the Valley of Hinnom.
Sin is very, very serious and we must realize this.
Remember we must hold the grace of our forgiveness on the one hand, and the realization of the terribleness of sin and it’s power and consequence.
Which is why James exhorts us to Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
As we begin to submit ourselves to God – and to consciously resist the devil – the two go together; when we submit to God we will automatically resist the devil – as we begin to do this we will start to know the power of God lifting us up. We will start to be set free from some of the sins we have struggled with.
When we depart from the Lordship of God, when we begin to sin, even a ‘little’ sin – we begin to walk on very dangerous ground – we walk outside the protection of God – we leave the safety of God’s provision.
When we realize the seriousness of sin, it should drive us harder into the arms of God. It should spur us to keep short accounts with God – to confess our sins regularly and as this happens we begin to keep our distance from the dangerous ground of sin.
I want to end with a quotation from Charles Spurgeon. I found this a wonderful illustration and succinctly encompasses my message this morning. He says:
Have you heard of the minister who complained to the devil for running off with one of his church members? The fiend replied, “I found him on my premises and therefore I claimed him.” I may say “Stop” to the arch-deciever but it will be of no use if he finds you on his territory. Every fowler claims the bird which he finds in his own net. This is the argument, “I caught him in my net and therefore he is mine.” We shall in vain try to dispute this right of property with the arch-deceiver, for possession is 9 points of the law.