How Easter Changes People (John 20:1-10)

This semester I’ve had the privilege of teaching some preaching students. The past couple of weeks they’ve preached. After they are done preaching, I get up and ask the other students, “What was the main idea, the one thing that the preacher was trying to say?” Sometimes they get it word for word. Other times they shrug their shoulders and look at each other. Sometimes I ask the preachers and they don’t know their big idea. Then you know we’re in real trouble.Easter Sunday is too important to waste, so let me give you my big idea for the sake of clarity. As we look at this text, I want to take the next few minutes to say one thing. If you walk away this morning forgetting everything else I’ve said, I want you to get this: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. Again: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever.Let me explain.

Unlikely and Quirky People

In the passage we have before us, we have three main characters. What I love about these characters is that they are so unlikely and so quirky. These are not heroic figures. These people are about as real as they get.First, you have Mary Magdalene. She is the first person to see the empty tomb. This makes her the first witness of what happened on that Easter morning. She’s the most unlikely person for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she’s female at a time when people didn’t accept the testimony of women. In Israel no woman could be a witness in a court of law. A woman's testimony was inadmissible and worthless. And yet in John 20 it is a woman who is entrusted with the most crucial testimony the world can ever hear.But there’s something else that makes Mary Magdalene the most unlikely person to be a witness to what happens. In Luke 8 and Mark 16 we learn a little bit more about who she is. Luke 8:2 identifies her as “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” We don’t know much more about her, but this is enough to tell you that she had a past. Philip Yancey comments on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how we his followers often do:Jesus appointed the Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume: "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." And Mary Magdalene, she of the seven demons, he honored as the very first witness of the Resurrection—a testimony at first discounted by his more prestigious followers. Where we shame, he elevates.So Mary’s the unlikely one, but then we have two quirky characters. In verses 4 to 10 you have the somewhat comical picture of two of the disciples who hear the report of the empty tomb and go to investigate. One is Peter. If you read the gospels, you understand a little about Peter’s character. He’s impetuous. He’s the first to open his mouth, even when he shouldn’t. In this passage you have him rushing to the tomb. He’s not as fast a runner as the other disciple, but when he catches up he doesn’t hesitate to go in and investigate. Then there’s the other disciple - probably John, who wrote this book - who gets there first but hesitates to go in, as you would probably do before you came to an open grave.Here’s the picture you get. These are people who are completely unexpected, and somewhat quirky. The good news of Easter is that it’s for ordinary people in all of our ordinariness and in all of our quirkiness. It’s not for airbrushed and heroic people. It’s for people like Mary Magdalene, people like John and Peter, people like you and me. Easter is about unlikely and quirky people. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”But that’s not all. They’re not just unlikely and quirky.

Who Don't Get It

They're not just unlikely and quirky. They also don't get it. This is great news for those of us who also don’t get it. All through his ministry, Jesus had predicted that he would die. He also predicted what would take place afterwards. He predicted that he would rise again from the dead. We read, for instance, in John 2:Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)If the disciples had understood, they would have been there waiting. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t get it. I think John is making this point even in how he introduces this chapter: “Now on the first day of the week…” Not “on the third day…” That would assume that we were keeping track, that we were counting down in anticipation of his resurrection. No, it’s the first day of the week. They show up not expecting anything but a dead body. They simply don’t get it.You see this by the confusion that takes place. They seem at first to think that maybe a grave robber has been there. This wouldn’t have been completely surprising. Grave robbery was so common that the Emperor Claudius eventually ordered capital punishment for those convicted of destroying tombs, removing bodies, or even displacing the sealing stones. If you want proof that they didn’t get it, though, then you just have to look at verse 9: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”This is comforting for me. Have you ever been to a movie that’s so confusing that you can’t figure it out? You have to ask others all kinds of questions or go online when you get home to figure out what happened. I’ve seen a bunch of movies that seemed brilliant, and that I didn’t understand at all. It was like that in school as well. There were some subjects that I just got. There were other subjects that I just couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried.It turns out that Easter is for those of us who just don’t get it. In Luke 24, Jesus said this to a couple of people who should have understood Easter but just didn’t get it: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Easter is not for those who are spiritually advanced. The Gospel of John is telling us that it’s for people who don’t get it, people like you and me.Remember that I only want you to remember one thing this morning. Let’s review so far and then add the next building block.

Encounter Easter and are changed forever.

We’ve already covered the first two parts of this: that this passage is about unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it. But this is the next part: they encounter Easter and are changed forever.It’s here that we see something that you have to face as you look at the biblical accounts of Easter. One biblical scholar notes that there is a pattern that takes place in all the resurrection narratives:
  1. The beneficiaries of the appearance are engulfed in a human emotion (Mary, grief; the disciples, fear; and Thomas, doubt).
  2. The risen Christ appears to them in the midst of their condition.
  3. As a result, their condition is transformed
We won’t look at the whole of chapter 20 this morning, but that’s exactly what happens here. These witnesses encounter an empty tomb. They’re befuddled. They don’t know how to account for what they discover. In particular, they account something that they can’t explain. Look at verses 6 and 7:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
It’s easy to explain an empty tomb: grave robbers. If that is all that happened, then we would not be celebrating Easter. But Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John did not just discover an empty tomb. They discovered the linen cloths that had been used to wrap Jesus’ body as they buried him. In John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we read, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” That’s not what happened with Jesus. Nobody had to unbind his burial clothes. It appears that he was able to pass through them with his resurrected body, just as he was able to later appear in a locked room in verse 19. Not only that, but the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, was folded up by itself. Jesus had taken it off and folded it neatly, as if to say, “I won’t be needing this anymore.”You can account for an empty tomb. It’s very hard to account for graveclothes that have been left behind as if they’re not needed anymore. It’s even harder to account for Jesus’ appearing to the other disciples in the rest of this chapter.But even here in verse 8 you begin to sense the beginning of the change that’s taking place. “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” What they encountered on Easter morning changed them, and changed them forever.There are three facts about the resurrection that even critical scholars accept.
  1. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ.
  3. As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew.
In other words, even critical scholars accept that the disciples encountered something at Easter that changed them. These three things - the empty tomb, the encounters with the risen Christ, and the new boldness of the disciples, form a threefold strand of evidence. Matt Perman writes:
Virtually all scholars who deal with the resurrection, whatever their school of thought, assent to these three truths. We will see that the resurrection of Christ is the best explanation for each of them individually. But then we will see, even more significantly, that when these facts are taken together we have an even more powerful case for the resurrection--because the skeptic will not have to explain away just one historical fact, but three. These three truths create a strongly woven, three chord rope that cannot be broken.
It’s hard to describe how profoundly Easter changed these people. It changed everything about them. The rest of the New Testament is evidence of the effects of what happened on Easter morning.Sometimes something happens that is so profound that it changes everything. Easter is that. The Big Bang theory in science says that something happened 13.7 billion years ago that has continuing, profound effects today. This is as big a bang as anything scientists could imagine. The continuing effects of Easter still continue today. Ralph Stockman writes:Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for nineteen centuries, producing generations of the race's finest characters.So let’s put all of this together. Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. That’s the one thing I want you to take away today. We see this in the passage before us. But we also see it continuing today.Three things before we’re done:First, if you’re an unlikely or quirky person, you may be here for a reason. Jesus seems to be drawn to those who aren’t what you’d expect. The good news of Easter is that Easter is for people like you. You don’t have to be heroic or spiritual. God chooses the most unlikely people, the people you would never expect.Second, if you don’t get it, then you’re welcome as well. I love that there was no one waiting at the tomb expecting Jesus to rise. Even the women, who were last at the cross and first at the tomb, weren’t expecting Jesus to be raised. It reminds me of art class when I was in school. I did pretty well in school, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to draw. The only thing that I could eventually do is to give up. Easter is for people like this. You need to realize that Easter is not for those who are naturally at the top of the spiritual class. There’s nobody, actually, who is. Easter is for those of us who don’t get it, who are spiritual failures. Easter is for people like you and me.Finally, Easter can change you. It’s been changing people throughout the centuries.Once upon a time I had a young friend named Philip. Philip was born with Downs Syndrome. He wasn’t easily accepted by other children, but he went to Sunday school and attended the third-grade class.The teacher idea for his class the Sunday after Easter. You know those things that pantyhose come in—the containers that look like great big eggs—my friend had collected ten of them. The children loved it when he brought them into the room. Each child was to get one. It was a beautiful spring day, and the assignment was for each child to go outside, find a symbol for new life, put it into the egg, and bring it back to the classroom. They would then open and share their new life symbols and surprises one by one.The kids ran all around the church grounds, gathered their symbols, and returned to the classroom. They put all the eggs on a table, and then the teacher began to open them. All the children stood around the table. There was a flower. Then there was a butterfly. Then some kid - a joker - put in a rock just to be different. Eventually they opened one of the eggs and there was nothing. They were all confused. One of the kids said, “That's not fair—that's stupid!—somebody didn't do right."The teacher felt a tug on his shirt, and he looked down. Philip was standing beside him. "It's mine," Philip said. "It's mine." And the children said, "You don't ever do things right, Philip. There's nothing there!" "I did so do it," Philip said. "I did do it. It's empty. The tomb is empty!"There was silence, a very full silence. Philip got something that the rest of the kids didn’t. And when Phillip died, the kids remembered this empty egg and the empty tomb. At the funeral, nine eight-year-old children marched up to the altar, not with flowers to cover over the stark reality of death. Nine eight-year-olds, with their Sunday school teacher, marched right up to that altar, and laid on it an empty egg—an empty, old, discarded pantyhose egg.Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever - people like Philip, and people just like you and me.

It Is Finished (John 19:28-30)

Most deaths, when they occur, come as a surprise. This past week, Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and photographer, was killed in Misrata, Libya. His last tweet is chilling: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.” He was killed the very next day, a victim of a rocket-propelled grenade in that war-torn country.

It would be easy to see the death of Jesus as a surprise. It was Passover. Tensions in Jerusalem were running high. We’ve seen recently what happens when massive crowds gather, especially when there’s political unrest and suspicion. It’s a tinderbox. I’m sure that many back then thought that Jesus was caught up, arrested and killed, by events that were swirling out of control.

But the text we have in front of us says something very important. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” This morning, I’m preaching a sermon on one word, the last word that Jesus spoke before dying. In our English versions it’s three words: “It is finished.” It’s Jesus’ last teaching before he dies, the last thing that he has to say. In Greek, it’s one word: tetelestai. It means that all has now been completed. It’s not the cry of a victim who’s caught up in events that are out of control. It’s the triumphant announcement of someone who is fulfilling his mission, who sees that all the necessary steps have been taken and fulfilled.

Here’s what we need to see: Jesus was not a victim. At the cross, he fulfilled his obligations and did what he set out to do. Earlier, Jesus had said:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)

Still later he said this as he looked forward to the cross:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

And here, even as he’s being killed, you see him in complete control of what’s happening. This is so much so that when he dies, John says that he “gave up his spirit.”

Here’s the one thing I want you to hear this morning as we look at the final teaching from Jesus as he hung on the cross: At the cross, Jesus completed his work. At the cross, Jesus finished what he set out to do.

And specifically (and briefly) I want to look at two things that Jesus finished at the cross: he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; and he completed the plan of redemption.

First: Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

Verses 28 and 29 say:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

At first glance the Bible looks like a huge book of many different types of stories. If you’ve attended church for a while, you’ve heard many of them. But then there are huge parts of Scripture that you don’t hear a lot about, that are sometimes more difficult to understand. When you pick up this book, it’s easy to think that it’s a mishmash of loosely related stories and themes that go in every direction.

But when Jesus lived, he kept picking up threads from the stories that we thought were unrelated. Genesis 28 tells the story of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. In John 1, Jesus says that this story is about him. Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses placing a bronze serpent on a pole. In John 3, Jesus says that this story is all about him. In John 8, Jesus claims to be the God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. When one of the disciples turns against him, Jesus points to this as a fulfillment of Scripture. Over and over again, both John and Jesus take the Old Testament Scriptures and say that it’s not an unrelated series of stories. It’s all about him.

Here John alludes to what seems at first to be an obscure verse from Psalm 69:21. The psalmist is writing as a faithful person who is suffering. In the middle of the psalm, the psalmist says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” We would probably never read that and think that this is a prophesy about Jesus. But on the cross, Jesus says that this too is about him. Crucifixion used thirst as part of the process of torture. As Jesus hung on the cross, though, his primary concern was not for his own thirst. His mind was on the relevance of what David wrote and how it applied to Jesus. And so Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that we could compete, and fulfill, all that was written in the Old Testament about him.

David Greenglass was a World War II traitor. He gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and then fled to Mexico after the war. His conspirators arranged to help him by planning a meeting with the secretary of the Soviet ambassador in Mexico City. Proper identification for both parties became vital. Greenglass was to identify himself with six prearranged signs. These instructions had been given to both the secretary and Greenglass so there would be no possibility of making a mistake. The signs were:

  1. once in Mexico City, Greenglass was to write a note to the secretary, signing his name as ‘‘I. Jackson'';
  2. after three days he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City, and
  3. stand before the statue of Columbus,
  4. with his middle finger placed in a guide book. In addition,
  5. when he was approached, he was to say it was a magnificent statue and that he was from Oklahoma.
  6. The secretary was to then give him a passport.

The six prearranged signs worked. Why? With six identifying characteristics, it was impossible for the secretary not to identify Greenglass as the proper contact. How true, then, it must be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah if he had 456 identifying characteristics well in advance and fulfilled them all. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he was stating that all of Scripture is about him, and that he has fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and signs that point to him. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” As Spurgeon put it, “He meant, first of all, that all the types, promises, and prophecies were now fully accomplished in him.”

Secondly: Jesus completed the plan of redemption.

Not only did Jesus fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies; he also completed the plan of redemption. Think again about what Jesus prayed the night before he said these words. In John 17:4 he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” You may want to ask, what is the work that God gave him to do? It’s a good question. Jesus had hinted a few times throughout John that he was sent by his Father to do something. In John 4:34 he said, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” In John 9:4 he said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

So we get a sense that Jesus was up to something. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose. Surprisingly, Jesus announces that he has finished his work at a surprising moment. His work involves his death. On the cross, he can say that he has completed the assignment that God has given him.

We need to ask what it is that Jesus finished or completed on the cross. And the answer is this: he completed the plan of redemption. We have a problem: we have sinned against God. All throughout Scripture, God gives us hints as to how he will deal with this problem. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sin, God covers their nakedness with the skins of animals. Death had to take place in order for shame to be covered. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he commanded them to celebrate Passover. At Passover they would sacrifice the Passover lamb. They would mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. God said that when he saw the blood, he would pass over them. He would spare their lives. Blood had to be shed so that they could live. Then God instituted a sacrificial system. At the temple, priests would sacrifice the blood of goats and calves. You had this sense that our sin demands justice, and that justice must be paid. The killing of animals pointed to what was necessary. But you’d also have the sense that it wasn’t enough. The blood of animals is not enough to meet the demands of justice. Besides, the sacrifices were ongoing. Tomorrow there would be more sin, and more sacrifices would have to be shed. If you’ve ever seen what a sacrifice is like - they have a video on YouTube - you would realize that it’s a messy thing, and one that you wish could end.

Then Jesus comes along. In John 1, John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you know what John is saying? Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to. At this death, he pays the ultimate price for sin. On the cross Jesus sheds his blood to deal once and for all with sin. He bears the judgment as the sacrifice for our sins. On the cross, Jesus could say, “It is finished,” and say that the plan of redemption has finally and fully been completed. The word that Jesus uses for “It is finished” is one that people would write on a bill once it had been paid. Jesus is saying here that the bill has been finally paid. His work is now complete. Hebrews says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

I love how Spurgeon puts it:

The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesu’s body on the tree. There was the cup, hell was in it, the Savior drank it — not a sip and then a pause; not a draught and then a ceasing, but he drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of his people. The great ten-thonged whip of the law was worn out upon his back, there is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition, there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God. Sheathed is thy sword, O Justice! Silenced is thy thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs, and pains, and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for his own beloved, and “it is finished.”

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant that he had fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies that pointed to him. He also meant that he had completed the work that God had sent him to do, of offering his life as a sacrifice for our sins.

So let’s think for a minute of what this means for us.

I don’t know that there could be any better news than this one word that Jesus proclaimed from the cross: It is finished. It means that the work is finally and fully complete. There is nothing left to do other than to receive the benefits of this work, to put our faith in the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. Christ came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves. He finished the work that God sent him to do.

Author James Herriot tells of an unforgettable wedding anniversary he and his wife celebrated early in their marriage. His boss had encouraged him to take his wife to a fancy restaurant, but Herriot balked. He was a young veterinarian and couldn't really afford it. "Oh, do it!" the boss insisted. "It's a special day!" Herriot reluctantly agreed and surprised his wife with the news.

En route to the restaurant, Herriot and his wife stopped at a farm to examine a farmer's horse. Having finished the routine exam, he returned to his car and drove to the restaurant, unaware that his checkbook had fallen in the mud. After a wonderful meal, Herriot reached for his checkbook and discovered it was gone. Quite embarrassed, he tried to offer a way of making it up. He had no way to pay the bill that he had incurred.

"Not to worry," the waiter replied. "Your dinner has been taken care of!" As it was, Herriot's employer had paid for the dinner in advance.

God has done the same for us. Jesus' utterance on the cross, "It is finished," is a Greek term meaning "paid in full."

One more story. A girl signed up for a class on English literature. She found it far more difficult than she had expected, and she desperately wanted to drop it. She went in to see the teacher to see if she could drop out and switch to a regular English class as well. The head of the department said to her, “I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?”

The girl said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.” The teacher took the threat of a bad grade away so that she could be freed to do her best without fear of punishment.

That is what God has done for us. At the cross, Jesus dealt with our sins. He finished the work. The course is complete. We’ve been given an A, not because we earned it, but because Jesus did. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. It is finished; everything has been done. We only have to receive what Christ has done for us at the cross in offering his life for us.

At the cross, Jesus completed his work. You can stake your life on it.

Let Marriage Be Held in Honor (Hebrews 13:4)

Every year the Queen gives a speech around Christmas. I’m just waiting for the day that they come out with a movie called The Queen’s Speech. In any case, the speeches are fascinating. If you listen to all these speeches, you’d learn a lot about history. You’d also learn a lot about the Queen, just like you would about yourself if you made a recording of yourself speaking once very year for fifty years. Surprisingly, you can learn a lot about accents. A scholar has completed an acoustic analysis of fifty years of the Queen’s Royal Christmas messages for the Journal of Phonetics - you may not subscribe - and has concluded that even the Queen’s accent has changed along with that of the nation over these years. All of this to say: even the Queen is a product of her times. You can’t help but change along with the world as it changes.

Accents are a funny thing. When I visit Boston, someone always eventually mentions my accent. I’m not aware that I have an accent, but neither are they. When you live in a certain location, that becomes normal to you. You adapt and blend in and even begin to speak like those around you.

The passage we’re looking at this morning touches on this issue. We’re looking at the book of Hebrews this morning. It’s written to Christians who are struggling in their devotion to Christ. We don’t know what situation these Christians were facing, but it appears that they were wavering in their faith. Hebrews encourages them to hold on, to endure throughout trials and to grasp the uniqueness of their faith in Christ.

The passage we’re reading is found at the end of the book in what’s sometimes called the “concluding exhortations and remarks.” The writer touches on five areas in which these Christians may have picked up an accent, so to speak, from the surrounding culture. They may have been so influenced by the culture in these areas that they needed a correction. This would actually make a great series someday, because all five are actually issues that I think we struggle with today as well.

The fourth area that the writer tackles is found in verse 4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Think about this. Why would he write this? The author is addressing the fact that these Christians had probably picked up an attitude about marriage from the culture that was less than what it should be.

When Hebrews was written, marriage was under attack from two sides. One group felt that marriage was too restrictive. They believed that chastity in marriage was an unreasonable standard. In some corners of society, men were expected to take on mistresses and confidantes and as sexual partners. Their beliefs line up very well with the CEO of a website that’s designed to facilitate extramarital affairs. Log on and you have immediate access to thousands of men and women willing to kick their vows to the curb for a no-strings-attached sexual tryst. The CEO said, “People cheat because their lives aren't working for them." He went on to insist "humans aren't meant to be monogamous." That’s exactly what many people believed back then. And it’s possible that the recipients of this letter were beginning to be influenced by this mentality.

But marriage was also under attach from another side. There were others who were into asceticism. This one seems a little unusual to us today. There were some who devalued marriage because they say marriage as too indulgent. They believed that it’s better to deny oneself.

Whatever the thinking, the recipients of this letter were in danger of being influenced by a low view of marriage within society. It’s the same danger that we face today. A 2005 study found that 1 in 5 married Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 wish that they could go to bed married and wake up single. One in ten would cheat on their partner if there was no chance of getting caught. Love is highly valued in our culture, but marriage is not. Listen to the plot of a recent movie: “A married man is granted the opportunity to have an affair by his wife. Joined in the fun by his best pal, things get a little out of control when both wives start engaging in extramarital activities as well.”

Here’s the danger: just like you can pick up an accent without knowing it, you can also pick up a low view of marriage. So the writer to the Hebrews says that this is one of the key issues that we need to deal with. What can we do about this? The writer says that there are three things that we can do. They’re just as important today as they were back then. One: honor marriage. Two: keep the sexual relationship pure. Three: remember that God will judge.

Let’s look at each of these.

First: Honor marriage.

You’ve probably heard a few marriage jokes. A man bragged on his marriage once and said, “In our marriage, my wife and I have decided to never go to bed angry. We haven’t been to sleep in three weeks!” I know, not very good. There are lots like that. I think I’ve heard them all.

There’s nothing wrong with telling a good joke. But the writer to the Hebrews cautions us against crossing a line and treating marriage as commonplace, of treating it flippantly. You can joke about marriage - but be careful that you don’t slip across the line and begin to treat it with contempt.

Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.”

When these words were written - as today - many people weren’t holding marriage in honor. You’ve heard already that some thought of marriage as too restrictive. They looked for pleasure and intimacy outside of marriage. Others went to the other extreme and dismissed marriage as indulgent. When society dishonors marriage, it’s possible for us to begin to dishonor marriage without even realizing it.

Hebrews confronts us. It calls us to buck the trend in society and to honor marriage when others are not.

I want you to notice what he says. “Let marriage be held in honor.” What does it mean to hold something in honor? The word honor connotes respect. It attributes preciousness and value to someone or something. Occasionally I’ll go home and find that someone has accidentally left the door open. Sometimes when this happens I’ll go and check to see if certain things are missing. I never go and check to see if someone’s stolen the pots in the kitchen cupboard, because frankly, they’re not valuable to me. You could say that I don’t honor my pots. But I do honor things like our old photo albums. They’re the things I’d pull out of the house in case of fire.

Hebrews tells us that this is how we should think of marriage. John Piper puts it this way:

The Bible is telling us: Let marriage always be thought of as precious. Let it be treasured like gold and silver and rare jewels. Let it be revered and respected like the noblest, most virtuous person you have ever known. Let it be esteemed and valued as something terribly costly…In other words, when you think of marriage, let yourself be gripped by emotions of tremendous respect and sanctity. In relation to marriage cultivate the feeling that this not to be touched quickly or handled casually or treated commonly. In God's eyes marriage is precious and therefore he says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all."

Honoring marriage means that we see marriage as precious. If you’re married, it means seeing your marriage as precious. But it also means that you see other people’s marriages as valuable as well. It means that we speak well of the institution of marriage.

Honoring marriage means that we don’t take the easy road when our marriages get into trouble. Every marriage - every one - is a marriage of two sinners. I’m no prophet, but I know that when two people marry each other, problems are inevitable. There will be times when it’s easier to pack it in. Honoring marriage means that we pay the cost to preserve what’s valuable, even when the cost is high.

Honoring marriage means that we’re careful how we speak of marriage. It means that we don’t trash-talk marriage - our own, or about marriage in general. Personally, I don’t ever want to joke about divorce. When I joke about divorce, I feel like I am making light of something that isn’t funny at all. I want the way I speak to show that I am holding marriage in honor.

Notice also that he says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” I usually struggle a little when I’m preaching on marriage, because I realize that not everyone here is married. Usually when I’m preaching on marriage, I’m not talking to everyone. But this is one message on marriage that applies to all of us. Whether you’re single or married, young or old, let marriage be held in honor by all. This command applies to everyone. One of the people in my life who’s been the most supportive of our marriage is someone who’s single. This command applies to all of us.

If you travel down the road about an hour, you’ll reach the vineyards of Niagara. In order for a vine of grapes to become fruitful, the branches of the vine must be elevated. The branches are tied to a post for support. As grapes develop and grow, the vine will become too heavy and begin to droop and drag on the ground. Elevation not only keeps the fruit off of the ground but also helps them to get the full benefit of the sun. After a time the branches begin to spread along this post to which they have been tied. Having been made stable, they are then free to climb or to spread.

In the same way, marriages cannot grow until marriage itself is elevated and respected. Honoring marriage allows our marriages to be lifted off the ground. Our marriages are then free to flourish, to climb, and to be fruitful.

So honor marriage. Let marriage be held in honor among all. We are to highly value this divinely ordained union and to support those who are married in every way that’s possible. But that’s not all. There’s a second thing that the writer tells us we should do:

Second: Keep the sexual relationship pure.

Verse 4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

If there is any area in which we can be guilty of treating the marriage relationship with dishonor, it’s in the area of sex. Sex is one of the greatest trouble spots in marriage. We’re bombarded with sexual temptation. Sex is one of God’s gifts to us, but sin is eager to take this gift and turn it against us.

I love what the writer to the Hebrews says here. One of the ways that we can go against the cultural grain, and one of the ways we can hold marriage in honor, is to pursue sexual purity. He gives us both the positive and the negative side of this. First, the positive: “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.” He’s saying here that the integrity of the sexual relationship in marriage must be kept. The implication is that sex within marriage is acceptable to God. It’s a good thing. One person I read this week put it well:

Surely it was God’s full intention for the physical joining together of a man and woman to be one of the mountaintop experiences of life, one of those summit points of both physical and mystical rapture in which He Himself might overshadow his people in love, might come down among them and be most intimately and powerfully revealed. How horribly tragic, therefore, that it is here at this very point, here at this precious male-female encounter which ought to be overflowing with holiness, that godless people have succeeded in descending to some of the most abysmal levels of human degradation…Sex is sacred ground. (Mike Mason)

The call to “let the marriage bed be undefiled” is really a positive one. There’s a negative side - what not to do, which we’ll see in a minute. But it’s a call to joy. It’s a call to receive one of God’s greatest gifts to us. All through Scripture you see a call to delight in sexual pleasure within marriage. It’s a good thing. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings, once wrote to C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, and said, “Christian marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance–in fact probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure…” It is a gift. It’s the best and most satisfying way to enjoy the sexual relationship. “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.”

But there’s a negative part to this command as well. There are a couple of things we need to avoid in verse 4: sexual immorality and adultery. The first is a more general term for those sexual acts outside of marriage, while adultery is used of those who are unfaithful to their marriage. Together the two terms cover all who engage in illicit sexual behavior. Taken together, you have things that destroy sexual intimacy in marriage.

We need to be clear about this. These things distort a good gift from God and turn it into something harmful that can be used against us. The Inuit used to kill wolves in a strange way. They’d put out a knife in the ice, blade up. They’d take animal blood, put it all over the knife, and freeze it. A wolf would smell the blood and come and begin to lick the knife. It tasted good to the wolf so the wolf would lick faster and faster and harder and harder, not realizing that the knife had now cut its own tongue. It would keep licking. The next day the wolf would be dead. It had eaten its own blood because it just couldn’t get enough. Commenting on this, Tony Evans says:

We are eating ourselves alive today with sex. We can’t get enough. We can’t get enough on the TV. We can’t get enough on cable. We can’t get enough on Playboy channels. We can’t get enough on HBO. We can’t get enough of the magazines. We can’t get enough of Victoria’s Secrets. We can’t get enough. So, since we can’t get enough, we keep licking harder and faster…We can’t get enough and the judgment for this sin is built in to the disobedience.

What we need to realize today is that there are a lot of us who are licking the knife. What we don’t realize is that every time we lick the knife, we’re hurting ourselves. We’re killing the joy that could be ours in this area. To use the phrase from Hebrews, we’ll be defiling the marriage bed, the very bed that’s supposed to be a place of intimacy and guilt-free joy.

I realize this morning that there are a lot of people who have already failed in this area. There are a lot of people who are struggling. In just a few minutes I want to talk to you. I don’t want to leave you struggling. I want to give you some hope. But please understand how serious this is. A council studied the effects of pornography and concluded that pornography "corrodes the conscience, promotes distrust between husbands and wives and debases untold thousands of young women." They conclude that that pornography is "a quiet family killer."

So honor marriage. If you’re married, keep the sexual relationship pure. There’s one more thing:

Third: Realize that God will judge.

This is sobering. Verse 4 concludes, “...for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” This is sobering. We may get away with something here and now. Not everyone gets caught. We’re licking the knife and damaging ourselves, it’s true, but the writer says that’s not all. God is also watching. God takes notice. And God takes this very seriously. We live our marriages before God, and God cares very much about this area.

At this point you may be thinking that God is a great spoilsport. Who is God to judge? The answer, of course, is that God is God. He has every right to judge. But we also need to realize that God is not judging because he’s a spoilsport. We need a God who is wrathful. N.T. Wright explains:

The biblical doctrine of God's wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates—yes, hates, and hates implacably—anything that spoils, defaces, distorts, or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.

If God did not judge adultery, he would not be holy. If God did not hate pornography and the destruction that it brings, then he would not be good. We need God to act as judge in this matter - but it also terrifies us, because we know we’re in trouble. We know that if God opened our hearts, he would find lots there that isn’t right. If God examined our actions, we know that we would fail his judgment.

So What?

That’s where I want to end this morning. I want to close by considering what exactly it is that we need to do as a response to this very short verse.

Three things:

First, some of you have been dishonoring marriage. You may be doing it because you’ve picked it up like a bad accent. You may be doing it out of hurt. It has to stop. It may be that God is calling you this morning to honor marriage like never before. This is going to be costly for some of you. Honoring marriage vows, for instance, is incredibly costly. But Scripture is calling you to go against the flow and to take this seriously, starting today.

Second, some of us here need to stop defiling the marriage bed. Tim Chester's new book, Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, offers up five key ingredients that must be present and in place for someone to win the battle with pornography.

  1. An abhorrence of porn. You have to hate porn itself (not just the shame it brings), and long for change.
  2. You must adore God. Why? Because we can be confident that He offers more than porn.
  3. You must be assured of God's grace. You are loved by God and are right with Go through faith in the work of Jesus.
  4. You must avoid temptation. Be committed to do all you in your power to avoid temptation, starting with the controls on your computer.
  5. You must be accountable to others. You need a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

Tim Chester never claims it's easy. This isn't a "take these five steps and everything will be just fine" treatment. No, life is messy. And this is a messy battle. It's a battle we must understand, engage in, and fight with long-suffering intensity. We need to take this seriously so that we stop polluting what is meant to be holy and joyful.

Finally: some of us need the cleansing that can come only from God. Paul writes some very harsh words in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Harsh words indeed. But then he says:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

I love how John Piper puts it: “Lay hold on your forgiveness, and take it with you to the marriage bed. Christ died for your sin that in him you might have guilt-free sexual relations in marriage.”

We’re coming to the communion table this morning. Today is a great day to receive the forgiveness and cleansing that Christ can offer, to receive the forgiveness that we can take with us into our marriages.

Think about this. Think about a group of people who don’t pick up the accent of our day. Think about a group of Christians who hold marriage in high honor - not in a political crusader type of way, but in their behavior and in their respect. Think of people who are washed and cleansed and sanctified from their past, and who are living lives of purity and joy in their marriages. That’s the invitation that’s open to us this morning. Let’s pray.

Father, thank you for this invitation to go against the grain of culture. We pray that as we come to the table today that you would meet us where we are. Please change us so that we are transformed and cleansed to do what is written here. Change us and cleanse us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wisdom and Some Warnings (Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20)

Just when you think you’re out of the tough passages in Ecclesiastes, you come along another one. One of the books I’m reading on Ecclesiastes says this about today’s passage: “Out of all the passages in Ecclesiastes, this one is probably the most difficult to interpret and preach” (Sidney Greidanus). It seems to lack coherence. It’s hard to tell what the overarching theme of this passage is. One commentator says, “The topics of rulers and speech, wise and foolish, recur throughout 9:13-10:20, but there is no overall design or movement of thought, and the topical clusterings seem merely associative.”

To which I say: Great! Bring it on! I think we need to be honest and to say that we sometimes find the Bible challenging to us. This is not the first passage that I’ve encountered that is tough. But sometimes those passages are the most rewarding as well. We give up far too easily sometimes. I don’t want to settle for what’s easy, because I believe that this passage has something important to say to us.

So I’ve wrestled this week with this passage. And I believe it has a message for us today. I also believe that it’s a crucial message that we need to hear.

So let’s set the scene. The Teacher is taking a look at life and asking how to make sense of life in a fallen world in which nothing seems to make sense. He’s looking at life from every angle to see where he can find meaning. So far the prognosis has been pretty bleak. Overall, the Teacher has told us, apart from God, life is meaningless. Here and there he’s slipped in an optimistic note, and he has yet to reach his final conclusion, but overall he’s concluded that life is out of our control, and that it’s hard to find meaning in the places that we normally look: pleasure, accomplishment, and fame.

But we still have to live. In this passage the Teacher is going to tell us that there is one quality that we need to pursue if we are going to live well in this crazy world. Every single person here needs this quality. It’s absolutely essential. But then he’s going to give us two warnings about the use of this quality that we also need to hear.

So let’s look at what the Teacher says. What one quality do we need? And what two warnings do we need to hear as we build this quality into our lives?

The One Quality We Need

So first: what is the one quality that we really need if we are going to live well in this world that’s often frustrating and ultimately meaningless apart from God?

If you look at this passage, there is a theme that comes up over and over again. So, in chapter 9, the Teacher talks about a little city with few men that’s saved by the wisdom of a poor, wise man. That’s our first clue. The Teacher goes on in verse 16 to say that “wisdom is better than might.” You then begin to see this theme unfold in the rest of the passage in a number of contexts:

  • You see examples of people who lack wisdom and who make complete fools of themselves (10:2-3). They can’t hide that they’re fools. They show their foolishness just by the way they walk down the street.
  • You see what happens when people are put in positions of power when they lack wisdom (10:5-7). It does not go well. Fools do great damage when they’re put in positions of power.
  • You see illustrations of what happens when people don’t use wisdom (10:8-11): digging a hole as a trap and falling into it yourself; breaking through a wall in haste and not looking for the snake that may be hiding there; doing dangerous work without taking the proper care; not maintaining the equipment you use in your work.
  • You see the necessity of wisdom in our words (10:12-15). Wise words win favor; foolish words destroy.
  • Finally, you see the necessity of wisdom in government (10:16-20). We need wise rulers who know when to feast and when to get to work.

You can see that the passage jumps all over the place, but there is a unifying theme. We need wisdom in our lives. The Teacher is showing us what happens when we let foolishness run rampant. It destroys societies. It destroys our workplaces. It destroys lives. In contrast, he’s saying that we need wisdom. Wisdom saves cities. Wisdom facilitates good work and wise government. In this frustrating and meaningless world, the one ingredient that we really need to live well is wisdom.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. The Teacher has said that life is brief and unpredictable and meaningless. You’d expect him to throw up his hands, then, and say, “What’s the use? Live however you please!” But note: the Teacher does not do that at all. He says the opposite. Life is brief and unpredictable. Because of this, we need wisdom!

Let’s be clear about this:

  • We want might - brute strength and power. The Teacher says that wisdom is better (9:16).
  • We want a voice. We want to be heard, and our views to be respected. The Teacher says that it’s better to speak quietly with wisdom than to shout from a position of power (9:17).
  • We want power. Some people have access to armies and weapons. Others have access to other resources that we wish we had. The Teacher says that wisdom is better (9:18).

Wisdom, the Teacher says, can save cities. Wisdom can teach us what to say and what not to say. Wisdom can help us cope with bad political leadership. Wisdom is the one quality we need to survive in this world.

You may be wondering how to get wisdom. I’ll give you a hint: you’re doing it right now. Wisdom comes from understanding who made this world and how he made it to function. The book of Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It begins with understanding who God is and who we are. If you are going to live well in this world, as messed up as it is, you need wisdom. You need to access what God has said in this book about who he is, who we are, and how to live.

That, by the way, is why we spend so much time studying Scripture every week. We want to understand what God has revealed about this world and how to live, and then live in light of that truth.

So that’s the one indispensable quality that we need. If we are going to live well in this often meaningless world, we need wisdom.

Some Warnings

So that’s what he’s saying in this passage. We need wisdom. Application: pursue wisdom in every area of your life by living in light of what God has revealed, because wisdom is indispensable.

But the passage doesn’t end there. In this passage, the Teacher gives us two warnings that we need to hear. So let me give you the first warning:

Warning 1: Wisdom is limited.

This is important. Wisdom is essential, but wisdom is limited. Wisdom is not a panacea that will solve everything. You see this in the story that the Teacher tells at the end of chapter 9:

I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

It really seems that this is not a fictional story told to make a point. This probably happened. The Teacher retells the story. We don’t have a lot of details. We don’t know what this “poor, wise man” did to save the city. Whatever he did, his wisdom had a big impact. Even though the city had few men, even though the siegeworks were great, even though this man was not in a position of influence, his wisdom was enough to save the city. It’s a story that underlines the importance of wisdom. After reading a story like that, who wouldn’t want wisdom?

But it’s not all good news. “Yet no one remembered that poor man.” As soon as the danger passed, he was forgotten. Even worse, “the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.” It’s a pretty important note. This man’s wisdom was crucial and it made a real difference. Wisdom is valuable, but it can often go unnoticed, unappreciated, and unrewarded. The Teacher is telling us to pursue wisdom. It’s essential. But don’t assume that just because you build wisdom in your life that everyone will appreciate you, and that everything will go well. Pursue wisdom, but understand its limits.

Warning 2: A Little Folly Undoes Lots of Wisdom

There’s a second warning, and it’s where I want to spend a bit of time this morning. The second warning is this: Understand that it only takes a little folly to undo a massive amount of wisdom. You see this all throughout the passage, but most clearly in 10:1: “Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” This is so important. The image is so strong that if you close your eyes you can almost smell it. The perfumer has used all of his skill to create an ointment that smells wonderful. There was nothing wrong with the fragrance. In fact, there was a lot to like about it. But the fragrance also attracted a swarm of flies. Some of the insects had died, and the stench of their carcasses had turned the perfume rancid. It doesn’t take many dead flies to ruin all the work of the apothecary.

So it is with wisdom. All the benefits of wisdom can be undone by just a little bit of evil. A single mistake can do lots of damage and nullify the work of much wisdom. Or, as somebody’s put it, “It is easier to make a stink than to create sweetness” (Derek Kidner). Philip Ryken puts it well:

Wisdom is sweet, like fragrant perfume. But it does not take much foolishness to turn things sour because folly stinks. All it takes is one rash word, one rude remark, one hasty decision, one foolish pleasure, or one angry outburst to spoil everything.

This is true. I’ve seen it. Years of wisdom can be undone by one unguarded moment of folly. I’ve seen friends undo years of work and ministry with one bad decision. A small amount of folly is enough to undo a massive amount of wisdom.

I want to close here and ask you what flies are buzzing around in your life right now that could die any minute and undo all the benefits of wisdom in your life. A few years ago I was heading to a retreat. One of my friends was going to be there. He pastored in Toronto. God seemed to be blessing his ministry. He moved to the States. He pastored some bigger churches there. Things seemed to be going well for him.

On the way to the retreat I got an email asking if I had heard the news about him. There had been a fly in his life. The fly had died, so to speak. As a result of one moment of folly, he did great damage to his marriage, his reputation, and his ministry. One moment of folly undid massive amounts of wisdom. To this day he’s never recovered.

One of the scariest things to realize is that it takes years to build something valuable. It only takes one minute to destroy something that’s taken years to build. It only takes a moment of folly to undo massive amounts of wisdom.

Let me describe some of the follies that could destroy all the benefits of wisdom in your life:

  • Nobody knows it, but you regularly visit websites. It’s a habit now that you can’t seem to break.
  • It’s not physical - yet - but you are developing an emotional attachment to someone who isn’t your spouse.
  • You’re drunk in private but never when anybody important is around.
  • Your financial dealings aren’t above board, but you haven’t been caught, and you’re hoping you never will be.

What we’re talking about here are secret sins. Right now these may be flies that aren’t yet dead and stinking up the place. Give it enough time, and they’re going to start to smell. Give them enough time, and they’ll outweigh any wisdom and honor you gain in your life. Spurgeon said:

Thou art a fool to think of harbouring a secret sin; and thou art a fool for this one reason, that thy sin is not a secret sin; it is known, and shall one day be revealed; perhaps very soon. Thy sin is not a secret; the eye of God hath seen it; thou hast sinned before his face…A man cannot commit a little sin in secret, without being by-and-by betrayed into a public sin. You cannot, sir, though you may think you can preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps; the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the cairn to-day, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid…You will go there every day, such is the bewitching character of it; you cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws: neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed.

Take this seriously! A lifetime of wisdom can be undone in a moment of folly.

The Teacher is telling us that we need wisdom. But he’s giving us some warnings: wisdom has some weaknesses. And massive amounts of wisdom can be done in a moment of weakness.

So what do we do with all of this?

First off, would you commit to pursuing wisdom? Particularly, would you commit in your life to reading God’s Word and allowing it to shape your life? Let’s do this together. Let’s commit to not just preaching it on Sundays but digging through it all week long, in small groups, in our families, and on our own. I want Scripture to reverberate in our church and in our lives. There is no other source of wisdom that comes close in helping us understand who God is, who we are, and how to live in this world. It’s not unimportant. It’s not kind of important. It’s very important that we know and understand God’s Word.

Second, most of us are aware of an area of folly in our lives that has the potential to do major damage in our lives. I don’t know what the area is in your life, but I know that all of us have at least one. I don’t want to see your life destroyed. Here’s what I’m going to ask you: bring your secret sin into the open. Secret sins are like mushrooms: they grow best in the dark. Don’t harbor secret sins. Don’t struggle alone. Spurgeon said:

Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbour traitors; it is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light, and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin; therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it; and God give thee grace to overcome it!

Finally, look to Jesus. The solution is not to look more to ourselves and our own wisdom. The solution is actually to look more at Christ. Tullian Tchividjian put it best:

The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my effort over God’s effort for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.

You could state it this way: Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification–receiving Christ’s words, “It is finished” into new and deeper parts of our being every day, into our rebellious regions of unbelief. It’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day. Or, as Martin Luther so aptly put it in his Lectures on Romans, “To progress is always to begin again.” Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.

The way forward is actually the way back to the cross. Daily return to what Christ has done. Revel in his wisdom. Work his work into your life. “Preach that to yourself everyday,” Tullian says, “and you’ll increasingly experience the scandalous freedom that Jesus paid so dearly to secure for you.”