A little earlier in the service we read from Isaiah chapter 53. I just want to remind you of what it says in verse 4 and 5. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.” The reason we come to the Lord’s table - the reason we come to this occasion in our church - can be summed up in one word, and that one word is sin.
It is sin that brings us here. It is sin that brought us to the cross. It is sin that took Christ to the cross. And any understanding of or any presentation of the gospel - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - must begin with an understanding of sin. In fact, I don’t think it’s pushing the point to say the most important element in the gospel is sin, for until we recognize the sinfulness of sin, we have no comprehension of the remedy.
The problem is sin; that is the reason we are all here. It is sin - transgression, iniquity, by any term - that has devastated every relationship; the relationship between God and man, between man and man, between man and nature, and even between man and angelic beings. Sin has generated chaos throughout the universe. Sin waits to attack every baby born into the world and begins its attack at conception. David acknowledged that from his very conception he was a sinner.
Sin rules every heart, and sin intends to damn every soul. Sin has turned beauty into ugliness, perfection into deformity, and the sinner, sad to say, is more concerned to deny the reality of that and to cover his sin than to have it cured. He is more ready to excuse his sin than he is to admit it. He is more eager to find a justification for it than a solution for it. Jesus summed that up by saying, “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.”
They are by nature wicked. They choose therefore to do wicked deeds, and rather than love the light, they love the wicked deeds they do and therefore seek to justify them, and they will find labels that excuse their sin. Those labels may be philosophical, sociological, psychological, pathological, but they will find ways to excuse their sin, and ways to continue in it, because they love it.
The Bible calls sin, however, according to Joshua 7:13, “that accursed thing”; that accursed thing. Scripture compares it to the venom of snakes and the stench of rotting death. Perhaps as prosaically as any other writer, Thomas Guthrie pulled the painted mask off the death face of sin to reveal what it really looked like in these words: “Who is the undertaker that digs man a grave? Who is the painted temptress that steals his virtue? Who is the murderess that destroys his life? Who is the sorceress that first deceives and then damns his soul? Sin.
“Who, with icy breath, blights the fair blossom of youth? Who breaks the hearts of parents? Who brings old men with sorrow to the grave? Sin. Who, by a more hideous metamorphosis than Ovid ever fancied, changes gentle children into vipers, tender mothers into monsters, and their fathers into worse than Herods, the murderers of their own innocents? Sin. Who casts the pain of discord on household hearts? Who lights the torch of war and bears it blazing over trembling lands? Who, by division in the church, rends Christ’s seamless robe? Sin.
“Who is the Delilah that sings the Nazarite asleep and delivers up the strength of God into the hands of the uncircumcised? Who, winning smiles on her face, honeyed flattery on her tongue, stands in the door to offer the sacred rites of hospitality, and when suspicion sleeps, treacherously pierces our temples with a nail? What fair siren is this, who, seated on a rock by the deadly pool, smiles to deceive, sings to allure, kisses to betray, and flings her arm around our neck to leap with us into hell? Sin.
“Who turns the soft and gentlest hearts to stone? Who hurls reason from her lofty throne, and impels sinners, like the Gadarene swine, down the precipice into the lake of fire? Sin.” So says Thomas Guthrie. The truth of the matter is, that only begins to describe it. We can’t begin to deal with salvation until we have dealt with sin. We can’t begin to understand grace until we understand sin. We can’t begin to comprehend mercy until we understand sin. And to understand why we’re here is to understand sin.
Let me answer just a few questions. The first question: what is sin? What is it? 1 John 3:4 gives us the simplest and most comprehensive definition. 1 John 3:4 says, “Sin is transgression of the law.” In fact, it literally says, “Everyone doing sin is doing lawlessness.” Sin is violating God’s law. You have a holy God, who establishes a holy standard of conduct, and every time you violate that, that is sin. Sin and lawlessness are identical.
Sin is living as if there were no God, as if there were no law, and as if there were no consequences to violating law. Sin, then, is a form of practical atheism, which says there’s no God, and there’s no law, and there’s no consequences. Truth is, there is a God - infinitely holy - who gave the law - infinitely holy - and with that law has designed consequences to its violation. But sin is lawlessness; it lives as if there was no law, no God, no consequence.
In 1 John 5:17, John further describes sin in these words; he says, “All unrighteousness is sin.” Sin is lawlessness or unrighteousness; instead of doing right it is doing wrong, and that doing wrong is violating God’s law. Any act, any word, any thought, any motive, or any absence of a right thought, motive, act, or word is sin, because it violates God’s holy, just, and perfect law. God is holy, and He set a holy standard. “I am holy,” He said, “Be ye holy.”
The second question is: what is sin’s nature? What is it like? What is its character? And I suppose we could characterize it in several ways. First of all, it is defiling; it is defiling. It is not only a deviation from the law of God, it is not only a defection from what is right, but it is a pollution. It is to the soul what rust is to precious metal. It is to the soul what scars are to a beautiful face. It is to the soul what black ink is to white silk.
Isaiah, describing the best that men can do - which falls short of righteousness and is a form of lawlessness - the best that men can do their own righteous deeds is no more than filthy rags - the Hebrew term refers to menstrual rags - that’s the best that man can do. In 1 Kings 8:38, the Bible says, “Sin is like an oozing sore from a deadly plague.” If we were speaking in contemporary terms, we would say sin is AIDS. Zechariah 3 characterizes sin like a filthy, rotten garment that clings to the body.
Sin stains the soul. It degrades men’s nobility. It darkens his mind. It makes him worse than an animal, for animals cannot sin. When the sinner really sees sin for what it is, he hates it. Ezekiel 20 and verse 43 says, “And you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done.” When the time comes that you see what sin is, you will loathe yourself.
Sin pollutes, defiles, stains. Paul calls it “the filthiness of the flesh.” Sin is called poison; sinners, serpents. Sin is called vomit; sinners, the dogs who lick it up. Sin is called the stench of graves; sinners are the rotted sepulchers that hold the stench. Sin is called mire; sinners are the wallowing pigs. Sin has made man a deformed monster; it has polluted, stained and defiled him.
Secondly, sin is rebellious. It is a form of rebellion. In Psalm 12:4, the Scripture quotes the sinners, and the sinners say, “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?” What that means is, I will say whatever I want to say, and nobody will tell me different. “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?” Every time you sin with your mouth, you’re saying, “Move over, God. I’ll say exactly what I want to say - I could care less what you think.”
That’s sin. It is blatant, it is flagrant rebellion. In Jeremiah 2:31, the prophet writes again of the sinners who say, “We are lords. We will come no more to You.” “We are lords. We are our own masters; we’re not going to come to You anymore. We really don’t care what You want. We will do whatever we want, we will say whatever we want.” That’s sin. Every time you do what you want, you are saying to God, “You’re not Lord over me.” Every time you do whatever you want, you are saying to God, “Out of the way, God; You are not Lord over me.”
In fact, the Hebrew term for sin – pesha - basically means rebellion. In Jeremiah 44:17 we read the sinners again say, “But we will certainly do whatever thing goes forth out of our own mouth.” “We will say what we want to say, we will do what we want to do, and we will follow through whatever we say we’re going to do. We’ll fulfill our plans; get out of the way, God.” Understand sin for what it is. Sin would dethrone God. Sin would un-God God.
And by the way, sin would replace God with the sinner - that’s what it does. Sin is the ultimate act of pride because it says, “Move over, God; I’m in charge. I will say what I want to say. I will do what I want to do. I will plan what I want to plan. Get out of the way.” Sin is a form of deicide. Sin is God’s would-be murderer. Sin would kill God if it had its way. That is why sin is blasphemy against God; it is defiling, and it is rebellious.
Thirdly, sin is ungrateful; ungrateful. “The rain” - says the Scripture - “falls on the just and the unjust.” And God has given to all of us as human beings everything that we possess, life and breath. He’s given to us food and drink. He’s given to us beauty and joy. He’s given to us love and laughter. He’s given to us work and leisure. He’s given to us adventure. He’s given us knowledge and wisdom. He’s given us skills. He’s given us affections. He’s given us everything that we have.
The sinner literally exists within the environment of God’s great grace. But man abuses his privileges, and he is like Absalom; Absalom, who as soon as David, his father, had kissed him and pulled him to his heart, went immediately out and plotted treason against his father; so it is with a sinner. He is very glad to indulge in the beneficent goodness of God, in the graces and mercies of God that fill his existence; and then he will betray the God who has given him everything, and align himself with Satan, God’s enemy.
That’s ungrateful; that’s sin. Sin is gross, disgusting, revolting ingratitude. It says, “I take all You give. I align myself with Your enemy.” It pulls God’s goodness to the heart, and then moves out to commit treason against Him. No wonder in Deuteronomy 32:6 Scripture says, “Do you repay the Lord, O foolish people, in that way?” “Is that how you’re going to repay God?” Sin is defiling. Sin is rebellious. Sin is ungrateful.
Fourthly, sin is incurable; sin is incurable. In Isaiah chapter 1, the prophet describes the extent of sin. He says of the sinful nation - verse 4 - that they were “weighed down with iniquity”. The problem, of course, they were offspring of evildoers, sons who acted corruptly, because their fathers acted corruptly, because they were corrupt. He describes the degree of their corruption in verse 5, in the middle of the verse: “The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint.
“From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil.” You’re sick with sin from the top of your head to the sole of your feet; you’re laden, you’re burdened with it. The incurable leprosy of the soul, and it can’t be altered. Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good that are accustomed to doing evil.”
You can no more cure your sin than a leopard can think away his spots or an Ethiopian can think away his skin color. It’s incurable. John Flavel wrote about good works - even good deeds can’t cure sin - he said this, “All the tears of a penitent sinner, should he shed as many tears as there have fallen drops of rain since the creation, couldn’t wash away one sin. The everlasting burnings in hell cannot purify the flaming conscience from the least sin.”
There is no cure - not in time or eternity - within the human realm for sin; no human cure. Not good works, not reformation, not sorrow, not education; no cure. Fifthly, sin is not only defiling, rebellious, ungrateful, incurable, but it is deadly; sin is deadly. The Old Testament says in Ezekiel, “The soul that sins, it will die.” The New Testament says - Paul’s letter to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death.” Sin kills. In fact, way back in the garden, God said to Adam, “The day you eat you die.”
Sin brings death. Does anybody have to debate that? The Earth is pockmarked with graves. Everyone who’s ever lived is very much aware that death is inevitable, but what they will not admit is that death is a result of sin: spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death. In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, in graphic terms Paul writes that God’s going to repay sinners.
How’s He going to do it? He’s going to do it “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
And in that potent little epistle of Jude, we read that the Lord is going to come and He’s going “to execute judgment, and convict all of the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” - four times using the word ungodly. God is going to punish the ungodly - those who don’t obey the gospel of Christ - with eternal death. It is a deadly activity.
Now, you take a look at that, and you say, “Sin is defiling. Sin is rebellious. Sin is ungrateful. Sin is incurable. Sin is deadly, even damning. You’d think people would work very hard to avoid it, right?” No. They work hard at it. People work hard. Most people go to hell sweating - they work hard at their sin. You say, what do I mean by that? Listen to Jeremiah 9:5: “They weary themselves committing iniquity.” They’re all worn out; from doing what? Sinning.
People literally wear themselves out sinning. Psalm 7:14 - very graphic: “He travails with iniquity.” Travail means birth pains - excruciating pain to produce iniquity. I’m amazed what people go through to sin. Proverbs 4:16 says, “They can’t sleep unless they do evil.” There are people who don’t want to go to bed unless they’ve sinned; it hasn’t been a good day - or a good night. Isaiah 5:18 says, “They drag sin around like beasts of burden hooked up to a wagon.”
They haul a cartload of sin around. It’s a lot of work. You load your life with sin, and you got a lot of cart weight to yank around, a burden of guilt and pain. It was said of the people of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 24:12 that they had wearied themselves with lies; they were worn out with their sin. People work very hard to sin. Most of the world around us - all the unredeemed - are pursuing a sinful path, and they’re working hard at it instead of running from it.
When you think about what people do to plot their crimes, to plot their immoralities, and their indiscretions, and their lies, and their cheating, and their stealing; when you see how they work to wreak vengeance on someone; when you see how much effort they have to put into hating someone; how much they’ll put into finding the right words to destroy someone if they can with their lips, they work hard at it. It is their way of life.
Another question comes to mind: how many people are affected by sin? Aren’t there a few that aren’t affected? No. Romans 5:12 says, “For as in Adam, all died.” Everybody; everybody. And Job says it - from a sort of a, I guess, a progression viewpoint - in Job 14:4 when he says, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” If you’ve got an unclean Adam, you’ve got an unclean product; isn’t going to change. Romans 3, though, is most definitive.
Romans 3 in verse 10 says, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God’” - none. “‘All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’” That’s why verse 19 says, “every mouth is closed and all the world is guilty before God.” And verse 23 sums it up: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Everybody.
Everybody, then, is defiled, rebellious, ungrateful, incurable, and damned. That’s sin, and they’re working hard at it. Another question comes to mind: what are sins’ results? What does it do to someone? First of all, it causes evil to overpower you; it causes evil to overpower you. It dominates your mind; your mind is darkened. It dominates your will; you can’t make right choices. It dominates your affections; you love the world and the things that are in the world.
It totally overpowers a person’s behavior. Sin dominates. It is never the servant of man; man is always the servant of sin. Secondly, it brings you under Satan’s control. Since you are dominated by sin, it is easy for him to move you into sin of various kinds, because he can use the system to tempt you. That’s why it says in Ephesians 2:2 that those people who are sinners - under domination of sin - are moving “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience.”
It is overpowering, and it brings you under Satan’s control, so that - as Paul says in Romans 6 - you become the slaves of sin, and the slaves of Satan. The devil rules the sinner, there’s no freedom. There’s no freedom in being a sinner. Furthermore, it subjects the sinner to all of the miseries of life. As Job said, “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward.” In other words, just as much as sparks go up - as inevitable as that is - so is man’s misery.
“The whole creation” - Romans 8:20 says - “is subjected to futility” - nothingness. Isaiah says, “there is no peace for the wicked.” They don’t know peace, they have a nothing kind of existence, they got trouble upon trouble upon trouble - that’s the legacy of sin. No wonder Solomon said - even after he had everything the world had to offer - “Vanity of vanities.” No wonder Jesus said, “What good does it do to gain the world and lose your soul?”
And one other effect: sin will bring the soul to eternal hell. It has those effects. It overpowers us, brings us under Satan’s control, subjects us to the miseries of life, and brings us to eternal hell. “Sinners are children of wrath” - Ephesians 2:3. Jesus, by the way, said more about hell than everybody else combined. We owe our doctrine of hell to the words of Jesus. He is responsible for it.
And some day He will come, and He will establish the judgment of the great white throne - Revelation chapter 20 - and sinners will go to an eternal hell with Satan and his fallen angels. That is the deadly evil of sin. If you understand sin, then you understand the tremendous significance of John 3:16 - “For God so loved” - why would God love a sinner like me? God not only loved you, but He loved the world - why would God love a whole world of sinners?
Well, He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”. Why would God give His own Son for such wretched, vile sinners, people like this, so described? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him” - why would God make it so simple, when we were so wicked, as only calling on us to believe? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish” - why would God want to excuse us from judgment? Why would He want to rescue us from hell?
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” - why would God want to give everlasting life in His presence to people like this? And the answer is, now you’re beginning to understand His grace; His grace. “The wages of sin is death” - but Romans 6:23 says - “the gift of God is eternal life.” The one who knew no sin became sin for us, that we who knew no righteousness might be made righteous in Him.
He bore our sins in His own body. Is it any wonder that the psalmist said - and the apostle Paul reiterated - “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” As we come to this table today, we come here fully aware of our wretched sin, and very much aware that the only reason we are on our way to heaven is because God is merciful and gracious, and He loved us, and though we were enemies, He made us His own.
We were defiled, polluted, and He cleansed us. We were rebellious, and He forgave our rebellion and made us His own. My, marvelous truths. We were ungrateful, and still He forgave us our ingratitude, and now heaps upon us mercy and kindness eternally. We were incurable, and He cured us. We were damned, and He delivered us. And it’s all because of His grace, and it all happened in the death of Christ, where our sin was borne, carried, away.
Jesus dying on the cross took our sins away. For those who put their faith in Him, there is complete forgiveness. When we think about what we were and where we were headed, and what we are in Christ and where we’re headed, and that this sacrifice of Christ is the focal point of our redemptive history, is it any wonder we come to this table to celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let’s bow in prayer. Our Father, as we think about the horror of our sinfulness, we are reminded of the greatness of Your grace. Lord, we know what our sin was like because we remember how we were and see how we still are, because the flesh hangs on and we still see sin, even though it’s forgiven. Lord, when we think about the sinfulness of our lives, and the fact that You are a perfectly holy, sinless God, it is inexplicable, inconceivable, that You would come and redeem us at such a high price of making Your own Son bear our sins in His own body on a cross.
Oh Lord, we thank You so much. We’ve come to say again, we don’t want our sin. Whatever vestiges of the old are remaining, we want it gone, to renew our covenant of obedience, to confess the sins we’ve committed, and to plead for holiness. Even as we remember the death of Christ in the cup and the bread, we remember the covenant of blood which was sprinkled on us, as we, having received the free salvation in Christ, committed ourselves to follow Him. Forgive us, Lord, our sins. Cleanse us. May we renew that covenant of obedience, even as we partake. Amen.
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