Old Wisdom
Coaching the Big Questions

The Good News About Sin

Jesus led to the wilderness

It would seem that all we know about sin and the doctrine of sin is bad news.

That would be a reasonable assumption.

Adam and Eve sinned and were banned from the perfect garden and from the tree of life.

Cain sinned and spent the rest of his life on the run.

The City of Sodom sinned and was consumed.

The Children of Israel sinned and wandered in a desert for forty years.

David sinned and suffered great personal loss.

Jesus was tempted to sin and, had he failed, the purpose of redemption would have been consumed in a moment of of desire.

Yet, there is good news about sin. It is found in the concept of choice.

There would be no sin without choice and choice always introduces the possibility of sin.

Transcript (I did some corrections, but not thoroughly):

I want to share with you today an odd topic. Name. The title of this message is The Good News About Sin. And at first glance, that would seem quite an oxymoron, wouldn't it? Good news about sin when everything we read in the Bible about sin appears to be bad news. And often, and most likely it is, the reasonable assumption is that sin is bad news for us, Adam and Eve sinned, and as we read back on that, especially through the eyes of Paul, and they were banned from the perfect garden and from the tree of life, the first time sin is used in the Bible, the word is when Kane is tempted to kill Abel, and later he does.

But God says to Cain, "Sin is crouching at your door."

The city of Sodom sinned, and it was consumed. The children of Israel sinned in the wilderness, and they were condemned to wander there. For 40 years, David sinned, and he suffered great personal loss. Jesus is tempted to sin and to derail the purpose and plan of God and the whole redemption story. But here's the good news about sin, and it's found in the concept of choice.

There would be no sin without choice, and choice always introduces the possibility of sin. I'm posting everything on the blog later today because I want to include what the Bible project calls, “the Bad Words.” There are three videos on these bad words in the Bible, sin, transgression, and iniquity.

And also a quote by Dr. Carl Menninger, the psychiatrist who in 1973, wrote the book, whatever became of sin, a quote from which says,

“In all of the laments and reproaches made by our sears and prophets, one misses any mention of sin a word, which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everybody's mind. But now, rarely, if ever heard, does that mean that no sin is involved in all of our troubles? Sin with a capital I in the middle is no one any longer guilty of anything guilty, perhaps, of a sin that could be repented or repaired or attuned for. Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal or asleep? Wrong things are being done, but no one is responsible. No one answerable for these acts. Anxiety and depression, we all acknowledge and even vague guilt feelings, but no one has committed any sin.”

Well, that's an interesting take on sin, isn't it? From 50 years ago by Dr. Menninger. And it was a quote that even though he wasn't, in the Evangelical Stream though Evangelicals have loved to use, even just the title of his book to make a point.

But I'm going to suggest a point to you today that introduces why I'm using the two words, good news in relationship to sin. Here it is, without a healthy understanding,  a robust concept of sin, we're all condemned to live in a world where no one takes responsibility for anything. And we are all victims of outside forces of determinism, of fate, and chance.

So that the good news about sin is that we are not left in the world without choice. I think this is going to take some prayer. And I believe that the Lord's Prayer sums up the prayers of our hearts today.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For th is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

And while I love doing this talking face thing, and, and looking at you and, and showing you my eyes and you almost like I see your eyes, I think that today for a little while at least, I want to share my screen with you so that I, I can,  zero in on a few scriptures that take us on a biblical journey of the story of sin, the good news and the bad news about it.

We see Jesus in the desert, a wilderness of temptation. Jesus goes to the place of temptation, and we remember it on this first Sunday of Lent traditionally to intentionally be tempted by the accuser, by the liar, by the prosecutor.

And it takes us back, or, and Jesus goes back to that time in the Garden of Eden, where God has made Adam and Eve and set them in this lovely place with so many options. And all they have to do is decide which delicious fruit they want to eat on any particular day or moment. And they can eat except for one, the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

In other words, the very option of evil has not yet entered into their thinking. The choice to do wrong is not one they have had to entertain. And he tells them there is a tree whose fruit represents a choice, a choice to see good and evil, and to enter into a life of making choices. And it is the serpent who appears, the serpent, who appears in the gar, in the desert with Jesus to dangle the choice and lies to the woman and says, you won't die if you eat this fruit as God told you, God lied to you.

He doesn't want you to have the choice. You will not God die. Your eyes will be opened. You will be like God knowing good and evil. You know, one part of that is true, that they would know good and evil. The other part is they would not be God. They would not be just like God, but they would be a little bit like God. You see? Because God knows the difference. He never lies completely. He completely misleads with partial and distorted truth.

He couches his lies in partial truth. So the woman Eve, sees that the tree has some very delicious qualities. It's a delight to the eyes. It, it seems to make her wise. And in some ways you are wiser if you know good and evil. So, she took the fruit and she ate it and gave some to her husband, who made also a choice to eat it. And their eyes were open.

And the first thing they noticed was that they were vulnerable. They were naked, they sewed fig leaves together, and they made loin cloths for themselves. And Paul reflects on this later and says, it's sin in Romans five came into the world through one man. And with that came death, death. Well, I presume that the idea in Genesis is that they would never physically die, and Paul alludes to that. But they don't physically die on that day.

They enter in the process of death. And there is a sense in which the moment we're born, we start to experience, the train that leads to physical death.

But you can read, Romans 5 ,on your own because it is, the theological Christian interpretation of what went on there and what happens in redemption when we are presented with a new choice, that choice to live again, the choice to come out from under the condemnation and the judgment and accept the free gift of eternal life and of forgiveness and of grace and redemption.

In this whole matter as through one man's trespass came condemnation,

… and trespass is stepping over the line ,

… so, through one man's act of righteousness, we come to justification, well, whose act of righteousness? Jesus, the, the drama of redemption, the drama of reconciliation.

 We can be made righteous. I want you to remember these words, iniquity,  trespass and sin., The Hebrew word for trespass means stepping over a line and violated a person or God.

The Hebrew word for sin is “chata” really mean failing, missing a mark.

It's interesting. In the Hebrew, it means the same as the Greek word for sin, which is “harmatia”, it it has to do with trying and failing, missing it, missing it by any amount at all.

Sin in one sense is failure, and you can see the right way. The option, the, the right choice is righteousness. So that would be the right way. , one of the letters in “chata” ,is a picture of a gate that you enter, a way that you enter. And, and, and the wrong way would be kata. And it may not start off as the wrong way. It may be rooted in some right motives.

Now, let me show you this. Jesus was led up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Now, that really meant doesn't make sense on the surface..

He is led by the spirit of God to be tempted. He is led to the place that represents choice. , would Adam and Eve actually have had a choice if God had not planted the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil? And would they have entertained the choice if,God had not said, don't eat of it?

What if I said this to you?

“Whatever you do today, do not think about ice cream.”

What's the first thing that comes to your mind? Did God want Adam and Eve to have a choice? Did God intend in the beginning for us to have at least the choice whether to take human responsibility? I'm not saying that God gave Satan the message to say to Eve or to Jesus, eat this fruit and start, having the continual moment by moment option of sinning, but without at least the open, initial broad choice, we could not be feel fully human.

God planted the tree and the spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. It was a part of his humanity. Had he never been tempted before, I'm sure he had, it's just the Bible is silent about that and gives us this instance from his life for a time of intense choice. Why is that? Because it's the beginning of his ministry. And if he fails at that ministry, the consequences for humanity, the consequences for you and for me, the consequences in the kingdom of God would have  been dire.

It was the choice between the right way and the wrong way. It would be the choice between redemption and not. It would be the choice between the kingdom coming in its fullness in our lives, in the church, in the world, in inhumanity and not, and really in the garden of Eden, the choice between our complete humanity, the fulfillment of all of the potential that God has for us as human beings and as members of his family.

Jesus gets himself in a weakened condition, a spiritually strong condition for a physically weak condition. He fasts for 40 days and for 40 nights, and he was famished. Do you ever use that term? I'm vanished. I must eat. The tempter came to him and said, if you're the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. Well, in, in Jesus’ ministry, he multiplies the fishes and the loaves into, more fishes and loaves.

Working miracles is not a bad thing, but in this moment, in this moment, the shortcut would have been missing the mark and going through the wrong gate.  He said,

It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

In other words, I'm not here to eat. What are you here for? Anything can get you off track.

Anything can divert you. Even a good thing like eating. Is eating a bad thing? No. In the garden, they had lots of trees, lots of fruit, lots of availability of food. Food's a great thing. It's a great gift of God. But Jesus understands that any diversion from true purpose is a form of trespass and is a form of  missing the mark.

Then Satan tries something else. He, he takes Jesus up to the holy city and places him on the pinnacle of the temple saying to him, if you're the son of God, throw yourself down for it's written.

He will command his angels concerning you and on their hands, they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against the stone.

Is glory, is salvation, is miraculous, deliverance a bad thing. It could be a glorious thing. You see instances of it in the Bible, God delivering his people. But Satan just wants to do a cheap trick. And again, it's a diversion from purpose. It's a distraction.

Jesus says again, it's written, do not put the Lord your God to a test.

In other words, this is not ma about magic.

This is not about chief tricks. The kingdom of God isn't about putting on a good show again.

The devil took him up to a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to him, all these things I will give you if you fall down and worship me.

But Paul says that as a, as a result of the act of God in the Christ event, God has exalted him and given him a name which is above every name in Philippians. He says, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So, is the end result the sin?

 No, but going the wrong way. Getting it the wrong way, stopping short of the plan and the purpose.

See, the devil wants to keep Jesus off the cross out of the tomb. He doesn't want to see the resurrection. He doesn't want to see the ascension. He doesn't want to see the, the passion. He doesn't want to see Jesus ministry. He doesn't want to see the world experience, what it's like for God to manifest himself as a suffering servant. Satan doesn't want anything about the Jesus event to take place. He's fine with everything else taking place, but he wants it done not God's way.

And Jesus says, away with you, Satan for its written worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

He has  gone through these three temptations. You could spend all day meditating upon their meaning, but then the devil left him and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Always a wonderful picture of Jesus there. But I want to show you a couple of graphs, okay? There's a way, ah, you could say it should be pointed up.

That doesn't matter. I just want to say this is a way, right? It's a straight line. Let's let this represent the righteous way. Now, what happens when we make a choice? Remember the good news about sin is that we have a choice. The good news is we have a choice, otherwise, we have no responsibility. We have no options. We are left to chance, we are left to our circumstances. On one hand you might see sin represented going the exact opposite way parallel, but in both genesis and in the wilderness temptation, you see a different representation of sin.

Satan’s attempt Jesus at the point of, what he believes are Jesus true motives. And they are, you know, they, they represent, at least elements of Jesus motive. And you will look at certain temptations in your life and say, well, that's not far off the path. And it's not far off The path is there's just a click off. I mean, if you miss the bullseye, you miss the bullseye, right? But you might be very, very close.

You might be very close. And some people sin. They, they start off with a big gap and other people that you know, they start off in the right way. So some sin is pretty unintentional other sin that is represented in the Bible. For instance, when the word is transgression, it's often intentional. And so even the day of atonement distinguishes between intentional sin and unintentional sin. But what happens as you go down the road, this is the same trajectory.

At least I tried to make it the same trajectory. What happens? You get farther and farther off the path, farther and farther off the path. And I'll come back to that prayer, that psalm in a moment or two. I want to just look in the light eye for a moment and say that sin is, is really not our friend. Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights he was famished. The tempter came and said, if you're the son of God, command these stones to be loaves of bread.

He said it, it's written. One doesn't live by bread alone. He goes to the holy city. , if you're the son of God, throw yourself down. And Jesus said, just worshiping God. That's the test. That's that is serving God. That's what we are after. This isn't an incidental report of something that happened to Jesus. When he just happened to be somewhere. He entered into the wilderness with a clear intention to face everything we face and to represent us at every point.

He was baptized, declaring his intention and commitment to the Father’s will and the Father’s commission and his mission on earth. Now he goes off alone in isolation, utter isolation into this period of deprivation. He allows his body to be weakened so that all he had was spiritual strength. His intention was to be tempted. It could be said of him that he was tempted in every way like us, yet without sin.

In fact, Hebrews, the book of Hebrews says that he was tempted at the point of the highest and holiest desires to usher in the kingdom of God, to draw people to himself, to save humanity. The devil tried to make his strength into a weakness. He knows how we are tempted. We are sometimes tempted in the area of our best intentions. He knows how the tempter can take our best intentions and dangle shortcuts before us, and easy answers before our eyes.

But he kept coming back to his grounding in scripture and the depths of those scriptures, not just the surface, not just the superficial. He relied on what was real to combat. What was fake. More was at stake than a few missteps when Jesus entered the wilderness. He did so for us that we might see that there is a way to overcome. These are moments no one else witnessed. The only way we know about them is that most likely Jesus was vulnerable and authentic  enough in those private moments to share them with a few of his disciples.

And for that we're very grateful because that helps us to understand not only did Jesus have the choice to sin, but because of his choice and his redemption, because of all that he did to secure our reconciliation to God. Because sin is something that separates us from God and from other people and from our true nature that we're intended and made to be from our humanity. It makes us inhuman. That's why people do inhuman things to other people.

That is why you, you start off with little bad choices and you end up with a holocaust or you end up with a Rwanda or you end up with something just so unbelievable that we don't understand how a human can do that to other people by being inhuman as John Prine, one of my favorite folk singers, said, some humans ain’t human.

And where's the good news? The good news is we have a new place of choice.

We can choose the righteous way by grace, by faith, and by the power of God within us. With God's help with the message and the meaning and the movement of Jesus in this world and in our lives with the redemption story, we are restored to what Paul says in Roman six. We've lost options. The option to choose right, to enter the righteous path. Oh, we do. We never veer. No, we do.

But you see before we get too far off the track, it leads us back. It can put us back on track at any point, no matter how far we've gone, it can put us back on track. That's why I showed you those tracks. And we have hope. Forgiveness brings us hope because it's not just about having our debts canceled, it is also about having our lives and our potential redeemed.

And that's why David looks forward to this. And he says in his prayer,

Happy are , those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, happier, those to whom the Lord imputes, no inequity.

By the way, he uses all three words in Psalm 32,

 ... and in whose spirit there is no deceit. While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long for day and night. Your hand was heavy upon me.

My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer .  Selah!

That's worth repeating.

I think is what it means in the musical notation,

... then I acknowledged my sin to you, my missing the mar my failure, my utter failure at everything at life, at fulfillment, at my purpose, at my mission. And I did not hide my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

In other words, you can say that again.

Therefore, let all who are faithful offer prayer to you at a time of distress. The rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me. You preserve me from trouble. You surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

Now God speaks. See, first David speaks about his life, then he speaks to God.

That's prayer. And now God is speaking to David in prayer.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you. It's the good news about sin. You've got a choice. You can let God teach you. You can let God guide you. Do not be like a horse or a mule without understanding whose temper, temper must be curved with a bit and a bridal else. It will not stay near you.

In other words, don't be a stubborn mule who has far little choice, but who's exercising self will not the kind of choice we have.

Not to ponder it, not to seek the way of faith. Many are the torments of the wicked. But steadfast love surrounds those who trust the Lord. Let's talk about the torments of the wicked. It looks like they're doing great, but look in the soul, the torment of the soul inside. Be glad in the Lord And rejoice, oh, righteous and shout for joy. You upright in heart. I've said it many times in these messages to you, my friend.

There is a prayer that's not difficult to learn and it's not hard to articulate. It is to look God in the eye as best we can in the human face of God being Jesus. Look Jesus in the eye and here his call and hear his message of redemption and hear his offer of forgiveness and hear his offer of grace and say to him one word. And that word is yes. Yes. And I dangle that before you today as your choice.

The good news about sin today. You have a choice to God. You can say yes or no. I urge you to say yes.

And the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and be gracious under you and give you peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

To Poor Bishop Hooper, I wrote:

Again, you bring maturity, sensitivity, sophistication, depth, pathos, truth, and beauty to your interpretation of an old standard that constitutes a unique contribution to the library. I am moved again and I often am, by your work. Keep in coming. Keep digging in.


Small Group Discussion

  1. What new insights into the meaning of sin do today's scriptures afford you?
  2. What is the relationship between choice and sin?
  3. What would life be like with no choices?
  4. Are you facing any critical choices for which you would like to ask prayer?


Bad Words of the Bible from The Bible Project

Dr. Karl Menninger

In 1973, a distinguished psychiatrist examined human morality and the existence and consequences of sin today.

Karl Augustus Menninger (July 22, 1893 – July 18, 1990) was an American psychiatrist and a member of the Menninger family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

"In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of “sin,” a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everybody’s mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles – sin with an “I” in the middle? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented and repaired or atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal – or asleep? Wrong things are being done… But is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge; and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sin?"