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I Inherited the Guilt of Adam; Man, I’m in Deep

Question 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism states that God is not only displeased with my actual sin (that is a no-brainer) but that he is also displeased with my inherited sin. Wait one cotton-picking minute! Look, I get that I am guilty of the things I have done, but does that mean that I am also guilty of the sins of my father? Yes, it does…and more so than that! You and I are guilty of the sins of our father’s father and of our father’s father’s father before him…all of the way back to the first sin of Adam. Oh boy, we are in deep!

Here’s the thing, folks, God says that he will visit the iniquity (another word for sin) on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9)…and, well, we have already talked about our natural inclination to hate God and fellow man…even as Christians! What a mess we are in.

The implication is that even if it were possible for one person to live perfectly according to God’s law and never to sin in thought, word, deed, or intention, that person could still not earn his way into heaven because of the inherited debt from his forefathers. Jesus told a parable about forgiveness that Matthew records at the end of chapter 18. In the case of this parable, the man owed 10,000 Talents to the King. When people today come to terms with the quantity of money that 10,000 Talents represented, the natural response is “How did he accumulate such a large debt?” And that would have been one of the first questions the people of Jesus’ day would have been asking themselves, too. The only logical answer is that he inherited it from the mismanagement of his father and of his father and of his father…you get the point.

But, wait a minute, Jesus had no sin and lived a perfect life. What about him? Who is Jesus’ Father? God the Father himself is! That means that Jesus entered into this world with no inherited guilt of sin from his Father before him. 

But how is that fair? I have very little control over the sins of my father or of my grandfather and I never met my great-grandfather. How can I be held accountable for their sins? Okay, I am waiting for it, “That’s not fair!” Perhaps it is not “fair” by human standards, but grace is not fair, either — though it is just. And justice is far more important than fairness — the first is objective and the second is purely subjective.

The fairness, then, is not relative to the conversation, but the justness is. Adam was our covenant head — our first representative and our mediator with God. When Adam fell, all of us fell. That’s the bad news, because Adam’s sin was really, really bad and ours has followed suit. The good news is that Jesus Christ entered into humanity and sacrificed himself to satisfy the demands of the law (justice!) for all of God’s elect…every single one.That means, in Christ, the sinless one becomes our Mediator and Covenantal Head and that means that inherited debt (remember the 10,000 Talents!) is forgiven along with our actual sins…in and because of Christ. That is good news indeed and while not fair, it is just and again, that is far more important.

The Necessity of Guilt

Guilt is a funny thing. Even when we know that we are guilty, we don’t like to admit to it.  As children, we try and pass off the blame on our younger siblings…or maybe onto the dog. As we grow older we get a little more sophisticated and direct the blame at those who are not present in the home; hence, they cannot defend themselves. How many times have you said, “What officer, I didn’t know that I was speeding,” or “But I thought I did come to a complete stop at that sign”? As a pastor, I do a fair amount of counseling and it always fascinates me how two different people can describe the same event and in each case, make the other person look like the guilty party.

We don’t like guilt nor do we like the feeling that goes along with being guilty of some great crime or error. And so, many people flee from places and contexts where they will be made to feel guilty of wrong-doing. Even many churches are catering to this perceived need and are only preaching the loving-kindness of God and not the wrath and punishment of sin. Yet, the Heidelberg Catechism says that our guilt is one of the things that we must know in life — it is an essential thing in the life of the Christian. Why is that?

The answer lies in an essential truth: if you do not come face to face with your sin and the vile and wretched state of your soul, you will never understand the grace of God in salvation. Or, to word it another way, the more you understand your guilt as you stand before God, the more you will appreciate the grace found in Christ’s work. In many ways, Christian faith starts with the old Greek maxim: γνῶθι σεαuτόν (gnothi seauton) — “know thyself.” Until you know yourself, you will not feel guilty regarding your sin and until you feel guilty over it, you will not repent and until you repent, you will never know the grace of God. 

Some modern critics of the contemporary mega-church movement call the messages at such services “therapeutic, moralistic, deism.” But, if you refuse to deal with sin and the guilt of sin, just making people feel good about themselves — get a spiritual “recharge” for the week to come — then what more do you expect? Truly, the life-changing Gospel is meaningless in contexts such as these — how could it be? The Gospel begins with an acknowledgment of the greatness of God and the wretchedness of our human condition — they are being taught that God likes them just the way they are. Until you are crushed under the weight of sin, you will not understand your desperate need for grace and the greatness of the one who purchased it.

So no, guilt feels terrible, but it is a good gift of God that is designed to drive us to Christ in a spirit of brokenness and repentance. And that is a good thing…more than that, it is a necessary thing.

“For the sake of your name, Yahweh, forgive my iniquity, for it is great. Who is this man who is fearful of Yahweh? He will teach him in the way he chooses. His soul shall lodge in goodness and his seed shall possess the earth. The counsel of Yahweh is for those who fear him and his covenant he makes known to them. My eyes are continually on Yahweh for he will pull my feet from the net.”

(Psalm 25:11-15)

See No Evil…

 

1/20/14

“And Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After this he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no grounds for a charge in him.’”

(John 18:38)

 

“Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leaders and the people, saying to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people, but behold, I have examined him before you and I found no guilt in this man with respect to your charges against him. And neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving of death has been done by him. Thus I will punish and release him.’”

(Luke 23:13-16)

 

There is some overlap here, but Luke is really just providing us with a little more detail on the content of the conversation being had between Pilate and the Jewish authorities. Frankly, Pilate wants nothing to do with this Jesus. The offer to release is an interesting one that we will reflect on further when we approach the tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover, but one can speculate what was going through Pilate’s mind. Here is an angry mob desiring Jesus’ death, if he releases this man to the mob, what else would he expect apart from the mob’s angry murder of the man? Essentially, he must know that Jesus’ blood will be spilled, the question will be, by whose hands and Pilate wants nothing of it — and neither did Herod, which is (on a human level) why they are passing Jesus back and forth like a hot potato. Of course, in hindsight, we recognize that each player in this account is culpable and the passing back and forth is divinely designed to ensure that all the wicked had a part in this man’s death.

And when speaking of “all the wicked,” that finger needs to be pointed at us as well. It is because of sin that Jesus was sent to die — and it is because of our sin that we need that sacrificial death of our Lord. That means we too are part of that guilty group that would condemn Jesus. We stand guilty with the crowd of shouting, “Crucify!” if only by our actions.

How often, too, we stand with Pilate in wanting to turn a blind eye toward sin and unrighteousness. It is easy to fall into that trap. Somehow we get it in our heads that if we don’t see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, or hear about it (like those five monkeys) we won’t be guilty of it. But what if we know about it? Washing our hands of the act, as Pilate did, does not excuse our guilt. God regularly calls his people to seek to work justice in this world, especially for the poor and outcast — and Jesus qualifies on both levels at this point! So, the sin of omission is just as damning as the sin of commission.

Loved ones, examine your lives and reflect on how God calls you to take a stand in this world. It might not be in a murder trial, but God might be calling you to take a stand against injustice in your local community and not remain silent even if remaining silent is the popular thing to do. Ultimately it is God’s design that our sins would be wiped clean by this work of Christ and the cross to come, but we must understand that we all stand guilty of Jesus’ death because of our sins. Let us live in a way that reflects that knowledge and does not follow the pattern of Pilate and Herod.

No Basis for a Charge…

“And Pilate said to the chief priests and to the crowds, ‘I find no basis for a charge in this man.’”

(Luke 23:4)

As I read this, I can almost envision Pilate in his frustration kind of thinking to himself, “What now? Here I am, woken up early, trying to get some breakfast, and I have to deal with this. It’s bad enough having Jerusalem so swollen with people due to their Passover celebration, but now I have to deal with this? Can’t these people give me even a little peace?” Perhaps I am reading a bit too much into Pilate’s thought here, but as a pastor, I know that I have had this kind of thought at times… “You guys are angry at each other over what? Did you listen to any of my sermon last week on Philippians 2?” When grown adults who know what the Word of God teaches on matters of dispute can’t seem to act upon the Scripture’s teaching and choose to behave more like Kindergarteners…well, you get the picture.

This is a little different as Pilate is a pagan and much more interested in pragmatic solutions that will preserve the peace in this very turbulent region of the world. Though the Jews were not a mighty military force, their region of the world was historically a difficult one to hold for long periods of time and the Jewish people were notorious for overthrowing larger and more highly trained armies through the use of guerrilla tactics. Pilate had no intention of having such happen on his watch. Even so, he begins at least, with integrity.

Some of our Bibles will render the term ai¡tioß (aitios) as “guilt.” Yet, the term is better translated as “basis for a charge.” Pilate has not examined the man, Jesus, as of yet, so he could not know anything of actual guilt. What he is doing, based on the ramblings of the priests and the shouts of the crowds, is making a kind of preliminary ruling — “you don’t have a basis for a capital case against him” — is essentially what Pilate is saying here. More will develop as the dialogue continues, but for now, Pilate is still insisting that this is a local case to be decided according to local laws. The bottom line is that this is an answer that the Priests could not accept because they wanted to put Jesus to death. If last night was a height of wickedness; this day would see new peaks by its end.

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

Oh, Oh, Oh, Sometimes it makes me want to Tremble

Tremble, Tremble…

Were you there when they falsely tried my Lord?

 

The Rooster’s Second Crow, the Look, and the Tears

“And Peter remembered Jesus’ word when he said, ‘Before the rooster crows, three times you will disown me.’ And he went out and he wept bitterly.”

(Matthew 26:75)

 

“And at once the rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, three times you will deny me.’ And he fell down and wept.”

(Mark 14:72)

 

“And the Lord shifted position to look directly at Peter and Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him that before the rooster crowed today, three times you will renounce me.’” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

(Luke 22:61-62)

 

Three of the four Gospel writers remind us of Jesus’ prophetic statement to Peter about the rooster crowing, but only Luke adds that at the point that Peter made his third denial, Jesus shifted his position to look in Peter’s direction. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Peter, is this how you wish to leave me?” It is an act of discipline, but an act of grace as well reminding Peter of the forgiveness that is to come on the other side of this very dark night. We are told nothing about the look — good or bad — it is simply left to us as a reminder of Jesus’ care for his disciples. Some have struggled with the idea of Jesus, on the other side of an angry mob of people, being aware of Peter’s location, let alone his denials, but that criticism forgets that Jesus is also God as well as man, with a perfect knowledge of all that must come to pass.

During what we refer to as Jesus’ Passion Week — the week between the Triumphal Entry and his Glorious Resurrection — Jesus told an interesting parable. He was giving what we refer to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a sermon largely looking toward both the fall of Jerusalem and the end of times when Jesus would return. As Jesus closes the sermon he does so with a parable about not knowing the day or the hour of his return (Mark 13:32-36) — that he might come during the evening, midnight, or when the rooster crows. Now, it must be stated that the context is a little different given that Jesus is speaking of his own return, but given that this is the only other time in the Bible that Jesus (or any Biblical writer) mentions a rooster (let alone a rooster crowing), it is worth drawing the connection — a connection based simply on the principle importance of being aware.

How important it is for us to keep alert and keep up our guard when sin comes crouching at our door (Genesis 4:7). How quick we are to drop that guard either when we are comfortable or when we, like Peter, feel threatened. The question that the parable asks, though, is what will we be found doing when the Master returns? In Peter’s case, when the Master gazed over in his direction, he was found denying and disowning his Lord. In our case, when our Lord looks down on our lives from his royal throne, what does he see us doing? And when he returns again, what will He find us engaged in? May the crowing of the rooster always be a reminder to us to be engaged in our Master’s business. When Peter heard the rooster crow this second time, he came to his senses and fled — doing the only thing humanly conceivable — he wept bitterly. Holy grief overwhelmed him, but in God’s grace, it did not consume him. There is a difference. May we recognize our sin for what it is and grieve accordingly, yet not end there, but turn to our God for grace. Beloved, he will give it.

By the Way, She is my Sister…Well, Sort of…: Genesis 20:12-13

And indeed, she is also my sister; she is daughter of my father only, not the daughter of my mother. And she is my wife. It was at the time which God caused me to wander from the house of my father, I said to her, “This is your loving-kindness which you shall do for me: in all the places which we enter, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”

(Genesis 20:12-13)

 

A former pastor of mine used to tell me, “Win, the devil can justify anything.” Indeed, how often it is that we fall into the trap of justifying what we want even though it may not be the right thing to do. Abraham is trying to get away with doing just that here and it seems that God will allow him to do so; in his grace, sometimes God chooses not to punish every sin in this life, choosing instead to pass over them while at the same time, ultimately laying them upon the shoulders of his Son, Jesus Christ. In addition, while in a technical sense Abraham is telling the truth, the statement that Abraham makes is designed to mislead and thus is a lie regardless of his bride’s bloodline.

How often we are guilty of not only justifying our actions as if that would make them less sinful in God’s eyes, but also of telling lies and manufacturing “truth” to fit your situation. How often we tell lies without thinking about them or go to great ends to construct lies to suit the ends that they want to achieve. Even in the church, lies often abound and justification quickly follows for the purpose of minimizing the guilt of breaking God’s law.

Loved ones, sin is sin. Let us be honest in that principle and not make light that which God has commanded of us. Let us commit to the truth and commit to God’s command. Let us make the decision not to justify what we do when it is contrary to God, but let our yes be yes and our no be no with no “in-betweens.”

 

Save Me From Bloodguilt: Psalm 51 (part 15)

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God,

God of my salvation;

My tongue will exult in your righteousness!”

(Psalm 51:16 {Psalm 51:14 in English Bibles})

 

What an amazing picture David paints for us in this verse!  Yet, to understand what he is showing us, we must understand the concept of “bloodguilt” in the Old Testament.  To begin with, blood represented life—it was seen as the life of a man and as the life of a beast (Genesis 9:4); hence the restriction against eating any flesh that still has the blood in it (Deuteronomy 12:23, Acts 15:20).  And, so that we do not end up being smug in our scientific advances, let it be said that there is great truth in this idea that life is in the blood, for when blood is lost, life ebbs away.  If you lose a little, say from a cut, it may be of little consequence, but when a pint is lost, one tends to get a little weak in the knees and light-headed.  And if too much is lost, one will die.  You can commit many crimes against another person, but the shedding of his blood is the most destructive, for it is one he may never recover from.

Hence the idea of “bloodguilt.”  If you are guilty of shedding the blood of another, you are guilty of his blood.  To take this idea one step further, in ancient Jewish practice, there was a member of the family who was seen as the “avenger of blood” (Numbers 35:19).  Were one of his relatives murdered, it was his role to put the murderer to death.  Note that this is not meant as a means of revenge, but as a means of exacting justice.  The blood avenger had rules and restrictions that he had to abide by, and this was simply one means by which capital punishment was carried forth in ancient Israel.  At the same time, God established places in Israel called “Cities of Refuge” where the guilty could flee if the murder committed was not premeditated (Numbers 35:11).  If you made it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood could kill you, you were given sanctuary.  In turn, you were required to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; when the high priest died, you would be free to return without fear of retribution.

And in this ancient practice, we have a wonderful picture of Christ.  Beloved, our sin makes us guilty of blood—not just the blood of bulls and goats through the generation, but of the blood of one another, and most importantly, of the blood of Christ.  It was Christ, whose sacrifice was planned and set since before the beginning of creation (1 Peter 1:20), who shed his own blood as atonement for our sins.  The penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17)—thus sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).  Our own blood, being tainted by sin, both inherited and actual, is tainted and ineffectual in atoning even for our own sins, let alone for the sins of another, and thus, the necessity for another to provide a sacrifice for us.

Yet, the picture does not end there in terms of the idea of bloodguilt, for it is in Christ that we have our city of refuge—it is in Christ and in Christ alone that we who bear the bloodguilt of sin can flee for refuge.  And what is even more glorious is that is that Christ, the great High Priest, went to his death so that we might be forgiven, no longer convicted criminals hiding for their lives, but forgiven men and women forgiven and adopted as sons and daughters.  Oh, beloved, what a picture of Christ we have in the Old Testament laws of bloodguilt, and here, King David is crying out to God in faith that he would be delivered from the bloodguilt that his sin has brought him—forgiveness that only comes from God through Christ.  This is something that David understood well and looked forward in hopes for the day of seeing the Messiah come.

And as a result of the salvation that is given by God, David rejoices and exults in the righteousness of God.  The verb that David uses to describe his praise is !n:r” (ranan), which means, “to sing,” yet the verb is in the Piel construct, which, in Hebrew, intensifies the verb and gives it a sense of ongoing repetition.  Hence, the idea that David is conveying is of an exuberant, ongoing praise of God, rejoicing in song over and over again in praise.  Oh, were this to describe the praise that we give to God in the salvation that he offers us!

Beloved, in the wake of the forgiveness that God offers us, let us rejoice loudly and with every fiber of our soul.  Let praise flow from our tongues and let joy fill our countenance!  We are redeemed of God!  Christ has provided both a city of refuge and a sacrifice for our sins.  He has done for us what we could never dream of doing for ourselves.  And in Christ we are free and able to proclaim the good news to all that would hear.  And when those around us ask us why it is that we are filled with such joy, let us simply respond, “because Christ is my salvation!”

O worship the King all glorious above,

O gratefully sing his power and his love;

Our shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

-Robert Grant