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Sin, part 1: Juliet’s Death Broke my Heart (Desperation and Salvation)

Sacrifice is not an intellectual act. Sacrifice born only of decision and contemplation is merely shifting baggage around. “I’m too fat, so I will skip a meal.” That is not sacrifice. “Their family has no food, therefore I will give them half of what I own.” That decision is sacrifice and, intellectually, it makes no sense. It will bring you grief and pain. Emotionally, you know that joy will come from your sacrifice, but you cannot say, “Intellectually, I know I will experience joy.” That is an oxymoron.

For years I hated the story of Romeo and Juliet. To me, intellectually, it was stupid. However, I had only ever tried to consume it intellectually. One day that all changed. I went to the Shakespeare’s Tavern and saw the play performed in the proper context. Juliet was portrayed as a young moon-eyed teenage girl. And Romeo was portrayed to be roughly the same age. All of the actors worked hard to encourage suspension of disbelief and the production was fabulous, but it was Juliet who made the play so breathtaking.

If you have ever had the fortune to deal with young teenage girls, then you will be familiar with the traits that make them so entertaining:

  1. Oxygen is not necessary for communication. They have the unique ability to talk for hours at a prestissimo pace without the need to take a breath.
  2. Reason is subjective and intricate though it is not always formally required (and may not follow any particular convention known to science).
  3. Everything is more interesting when they are at the center of it.

No I am not a misogynist and yes, I have a daughter.

Juliet convinced everyone in the building that she was around 13 years old and that she was passionately (for a 13 year old) in love with Romeo. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. I was so wrapped up in the story of juvenile silliness that I completely forgot the ending. And then it happened, some clue, I don’t remember exactly. Something warned me that it was all truly about to be over and I started to cry (shut up, you would’ve too).

This young silly girl had become so real. This young stuffed peacock of a boy had become real. And, they were both about to die. They loved so completely and so passionately that they were willing to die for one another.

Being the smart guy that I am, I sat there in the dark of the theater contemplating the ways they could have worked through this and avoided dying. I consider elaborate methods of communication and eloping and sacrificing honor and damning everything around them…all so they might be together. It was absurd. I realized that in those few moments, I needed them to be alive and together so bad that I had become completely irrational and was attempting to rewrite a 400 year old work of art in my mind.

That performance was 10 years ago. I wish that everyone I have ever met, and will ever meet, could have been in that theater that night. If only you could have seen the love that was so intense and known the sacrifice that was so crushing and complete.

It is in this context that I want to study Romans 7. I spent not a few years reading this passage in my deep ‘theologian voice’ and missing most of the meaning. At some point it occurred to me that the way to pull out the content and context was to read it with a plaintive and desperate “Juliet like” voice. Now, I know there are scholars out their rolling over in their grave and weirdo “KJV only” types who’d like to see me hung, but let’s ignore them because they don’t understand this passage anyway. Read this passage out loud with all of the agony, desperation and drama that most certainly sits inside you:

For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

I think, I can honestly say, I break almost every Commandment every day. God (Jesus) said if you hate your brother, you have committed murder. God said if you look at someone who is not your spouse with “indelicate” thoughts, you are fornicating or committing adultery. God said that you are a thief if you desire your neighbors stuff.

Night is night and day is day. We use flowery language to blur reality and create pretty word pictures, “Day fades into night.” And “Night became day.” The reality is that night IS night and day IS day. They do not blur. They have strict definition. If you have stolen, you are a thief. If you have hated (or really murdered), you are a murderer. You cannot make that go away. So, I am a murderer, a thief, an adulterer, a monster and a hypocrite.

According to Galatians 5 everyone is going to hell – every pastor, every believer, everyone who has ever walked the earth:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Once the deed is done, it is done. If I have had “fits of anger” (and I have), I am wrecked and worthless by the standard that I must uphold. Over and over the Bible makes it clear that we have no ability to keep the Law in ourselves, ever. That means no, never, ever. We can pretend in public, but God knows what is inside.

How do you define yourself? Are you a thief? Are you a drunkard? What is the vice that you claim as your own? What is the name that you give yourself? You know where you have been. I know, too well, where I have been.

Here is the essence of following Jesus:

Jesus invites us to give up the name we have made/earned for ourselves and take his name. Out of love and with no condemnation He comes to us and says, “I know everything about you. Nothing you have ever done, nothing that has ever been done to you, and nothing you will ever do has any power to change how much I love you. Will you live for eternity with me?”

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

*****

Dignified Limp

I used to choke on that word, “J-e-s-u-s.” I wrestled all night with Jesus – years actually. Then He touched my hip and I realized He had granted me the ability to struggle in the first place. I felt foolish. His touch broke me and I became His – I acquired a very dignified limp. As such, I still had a hard time getting His name to pass my lips. Though I knew I was His and that I could no longer struggle, I brought a lot of baggage with me. If you want to know the truth, I was still full of misconceptions and completely confused. And, in my mind, it was just as important not to sound like a fool in front of my friends.

Again, I wrestled all night with Jesus – years actually. I would hold on to my intellectual prowess by invoking the name “Lord God.” And, because I was enlightened, I would talk about the “the Messiah” and “the Christ” because “Jesus” (as a name) was oh so provincial…reserved for the plebeian masses. I wrestled. I knew the Bible and I could nakedly invoke the Bible with accuracy and intensity. I thought I had won.

Then He touched my hip again, and there was no dignity left in my limp. He showed me that I was tiny and He was great. I had won nothing. I wasn’t capable of winning anything. It was then that I could see even more clearly the distance between usefulness and myself. The majesty of the One who created me became real and I knew beyond knowing that He also saved me.  The One, He, that is THE great King Jesus. His is the name that stands above every name.

I love Jesus.

I’ve read whole books written by respected Biblical scholars or experienced pastors where the pages were a-sprawl with “the Messiah” and “the Christ.” I know what they were up to. I was like them so I recognize exactly what was occurring. I told myself that I sounded more intellectual by invoking higher names, titles, for Jesus or that it was important to avoid redundancy or any other excuse.

I can hear the cadence of written material sing and then when the sentence should crescendo with majesty and a word that should bring me to my knees: Jesus! I find the author going spineless and trying to prop up the merit of his material on his own intellect by intoning “the Messiah!” or “the Christ!”

I know without a shadow of doubt that Jesus is THE Messiah and THE Christ. But (and that is a very big butt), I also know that my ego craves its own position – I know that all of our egos crave position! I know that when we rise before a world that disregards Him and we try to hide behind our intellect and our dignity by avoiding the name that others despise, the name Jesus, and instead we invoke one of His titles we neuter our proclamation.

Where do we stand…or are we kneeling? Are we standing tall with our messiah holding us up? Or are we kneeling at the feet of Jesus? Is our heart laid bare for all to see our submission to Jesus – the one in whom we place our full faith and confidence? Or is our heart hidden and our ego held high by the cross of the messiah? 

I’ve listened to many wonderful men in the service of Jesus deliver messages and only once invoke His name. The delivery of those precious two syllables coming only at the very end: “In the name of Jesus, Amen.” At the risk of offending many of my friends in and out of the pulpit, do you not know that those who place Jesus first in their lives thirst to hear His name? We are poised, waiting, parched, yearning to hear about Him and His sovereignty, His grace, His majesty, His beauty and His gift of salvation to us. History lessons are great. Funny stories break the tension and bind us together in our desperation to hear about Him. Biblical proofs and long expositions that carry us from Genesis to Revelation build anticipation and puff up our egos as we nod our approval and understanding. The thirst builds until…until…until we hear His name, Jesus.  

I believe I can safely argue that billions have known God. I believe I can safely argue that billions have wound their ego and dignity around their perception of knowing God. I believe I can safely argue that billions of people have placed their faith in the certainty of their own knowledge and perception of God. That is nothing more than faith in yourself, faith in your own understanding, faith in your own ego.

Faith in Jesus is faith in knowing that the One who made you is the One who saved you. Faith in Jesus is carrying the certainty that we are without ability to lift ourselves from the mire of our own weird and broken lives. Faith in Jesus is knowing that the gift of freedom, granted by our faith, is equally for every person we have ever looked upon and every person we will ever look upon.

I still struggle with Jesus. Night and day I struggle to make my own significants. Gently, ever so gently, again He touches me and my ego is shattered. I am nothing while He is everything. There is no dignity in my limp anymore, but the infinite dignity of Jesus covers me because I am His.

In Jesus, there is no condemnation. In Jesus, perfect love lives. In Jesus the certainty of forgiveness and salvation reigns eternally.

May Jesus bring us peace. May we find Him waiting for us. Amen.