My Sin Sends Me to Jesus
SEPTEMBER 2, 2015
You may remember that I dedicated my last book (Three Free Sins) to my friend with HIV. My friend continues to ask me to ask you to pray for him and many of you have done that and have asked about him. He’s still clinging to Christ as he faces some dark times and, whenever I hear from him, my friend encourages me with understanding of grace and the fact that he still walks with Christ. When he writes I often think of the song I heard Noel Paul Stookey once sing in a concert:
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them go winging
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?
Not too long ago my friend sent me a prayer:
“Thank you, God, for your mercy. Thank you for hearing the prayers of your people concerning my plight and for helping my body to heal. Thank You for Steve and Key Life and the message that gives sinful ragamuffins like me, hope for living and redemption. Thank you for the prayers of godly people who don’t turn their backs on those who’ve fallen. Thank you, Father, for loving me, and for not being like the god some taught me about…a god who only knows anger and shows only wrath toward your creation. Thank you, Jesus, for looking at my sinful life, seeing my hopeless state, and for coming to save me. Thank you, most of all, for not giving up on me when I had given up on myself. Father, for mercy that is boundless, love that is fathomless, and for grace that is limitless.”
I’m working on a sermon from Luke 22:24-34, right after the Last Supper, where Jesus predicted Peter’s betrayal. That text haunts me for a variety of reasons. One is that I have a close friend who recently fell (sinned bad and publicly) and it’s been quite painful. But that text is also existential. As someone put it, we are all “only two days away from a tabloid headline.”
I don’t have the time and space here to give you the sermon (but do know it will be one of the truly great sermons of Christendom…and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything), but let me show you some things Jesus said in that passage.
Jesus said that the disciples have been with him from the beginning, “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials…” Then—and this is very important—Jesus promised them a kingdom saying, “you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In other words, you haven’t left. You were prideful, rebellious, shallow and obtuse…but you’re still here. Then to make sure the disciples understood the kingdom had nothing to do with their obedience or goodness, he told Peter, whose “peacock feathers were flying in the breeze,” “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me.”
By the way, that’s the key to everything Christian—not leaving. This morning I got an email from a pastor with the subject line “I quit.” He told me about a horrible situation in his church and said that he couldn’t take it anymore. He was going to leave the church and maybe even Jesus. I wrote him back with (hopefully) some encouraging words, but I told the pastor that he couldn’t leave Jesus. In the olden days when I did a lot of pastoral counseling, I wasn’t very good at it, but I did tell couples going through difficult waters and talking about divorce something quite wise: “Whatever you do, don’t leave. You can do everything wrong, hurt each other, be close to murder…but if you don’t leave, God can do something with you and your marriage.”
So my sin sends me to Jesus. I don’t know where else to go. Just so you know, I’m not leaving. I will be bloodied, afraid, lonely, angry, sinful and rebellious but I’m still here because nobody loves me, forgives me and holds me the way Jesus does. If I knew another place, I would probably go there…but I don’t.
And not only that, I get the kingdom for staying.
There is another thing in that passage so good that I can hardly stand it. Jesus told Peter that Satan was out to get him but not to worry. “I have prayed for you,” Jesus said, “that your faith may not fail.” What would you do and think if you knew you were on Jesus’ prayer list? It would be hard to get too discouraged by my sin, too worried that I would never get better, or too depressed because I was so hopeless. I bet Peter thought of Jesus’ words after he sinned and when he felt so ashamed. You and I can have the same comfort Peter had even in the midst of our besetting sins (Hebrews 7:25) because Jesus says the same thing to us.
And then Jesus told Peter not to waste his sin: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” How about that? The way we help one another is not by our obedience, but by our lack of it and our honesty when that’s true. The statement that should be heard in the church more than any other isn’t “How could you?” or “Bless you.” It’s “You too!” AA is right. It takes a drunk to help a drunk and, just so, it takes a sinner to help a sinner. The good, righteous and pure people may make good trophies for us to shine and lift up, and be those about whom we can write truncated biographies; but frankly, that is about as helpful as a “bag of chicken feed.” God knew that when he told us about Peter and gave us the Bible replete with stories of very needy, sinful and weak people he used to build the kingdom.
About the time I got that pastor’s email, I got an email from a Key Life listener who wrote:
“Hello Steve! wanted to send you my question. You guys have always been a huge help to me in my times of need, so thank you.
“I have found myself in the middle of ongoing sin, and I can’t shake the guilt and shame…
“I, of course, repent after I screw up and ask for forgiveness, but I’m overwhelmed with the thoughts that I’m not doing something right, so I think God is waiting for me to figure it out before he forgives me. Every time I seem to be doing good and getting it right, I just fall again. Then I feel as if I have to make up everything I had accomplished before. I know all this isn’t right, and God doesn’t work this way. But I can’t get all this out of my head. I have been learning so much lately, and then I sin and fall, and I think, ‘This is how you thank God for what he’s doing in your life?’ Jesus has been so good to me lately, and I just keep failing. Does he still love me?
“I want nothing more than to just follow Jesus and love him and to know he loves me. But I just can’t keep it up for long. I fail often, and I struggle to get back up.
“Can you help me?”
Of course I can…after all I’m ordained!
Uh…well, maybe not. But I know Jesus. He is never surprised by our sin, always encouraging us and praying for us, will never let us go, and from our sin, build a monument to his glory.
I was kind of depressed when I started this letter to you. I’m feeling better now.
Hope you are too.
He asked me to tell you!