St Andrew, Glencairn
Glencairn Methodist Church
Sin and Redemption
There was some discussion in the media recently about speed limits and the level of discretion given to the police in deciding whether to issue a speeding ticket or not. It was rumoured that if a motorist was clocked exceeding the designated speed limit, but within the margin of plus 10% plus 2 mph, then they might "get away with it." This disquieted a caller who was ticketed at 34 mph which is within the discretion band of 31 to 35. "Unfair" he shouted!
It seems to me that a speed limit is a speed limit and must be adhered to. Anyone who breaks it is worthy of a ticket, along with a fine and "points" on their licence. Speed limits are set for a purpose - the make travel on our roads safer. They are, if you like, a compromise between what society considers to be reasonable values and the rule that applied in the beginning that a motorist was allowed only to go at the speed of a man walking in front carrying a red flag.
Now there could be good reasons why a motorist would exceed a speed limit. The first is that the speedometer in the car and/or the speed gun of the police officer might be slightly inaccurate causing both you and the officer to come to the wrong conclusion. Or it might be that the motorist inadvertently speeded up a little due to a road starting to go down hill. These are due to either machine fallibility or human fallibility. Hence the idea of discretion.
But look at the consequences of this. Speed limits instead of being for example, 30, 50 or 70 would become, de facto, 35, 57 and 79. Motorists would drive at these discretionary levels with impunity, and thus would be a greater danger to themselves and others. And there are others who recklessly disregard all speed limits and drive as fast as they think they can get away with. [From such as these good Lord deliver us.]
So if you get a ticket, please pay the fine, learn from the experience and resolve to speed no more. You get, I think, four chances of breaking speeding laws (12 points) before you loose your licence. On the other hand if you have a clean record for a set number of years your conviction is expunged, and you have once again a clean licence.
Now, you might ask, "What has this to do with sin and redemption?". Well, it is a parable of sorts, illustrating some of the theology but not an exact Model.
God has given laws which he expects, demands even that men and women should live by. If we fail to do this, then we have sinned and are not “at one” with God. God loves his creation and his human creatures and he wants us to love him and one another. But if we were simply programmed to do this, what sort of love would that be? No, love is much more fulfilling when we choose to love, rather than having no choice at all. The point of the Garden of Eden story is that we have been given free will and can choose not to eat the fruit of the tree of life, or to fall to the temptation to eat it because it looks good to eat. We can choose to sin or not to sin, to love God or not to love God.
We today know perfectly well what God’s laws are and we know that they are there for the good ordering of society and for the wellbeing of every person. We have the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ summary – Love God and Love your Neighbour - which he says are the basis for the whole of the Law and the Prophets. And remember that Jesus said that no aspect of Law, not even even the smallest letter or pen stroke, will be set aside, not one “jot or tittle” will be altered. as the KJV puts it. (Matthew 5: 18)
And we have all the dietary laws and hygiene laws of Leviticus, and of course the nit pickers, the lawyers, the Pharisees and the accountants made a good living at interpreting and expanding these laws in fine detail, trying to set limits and devising ways of “getting round” the Law. People found ways of evading their responsibility to look after their elderly parents. Peter asked, “Well, is it enough if I forgive a person seven times?” And we ask, "Will a person ‘get away with it’ if they are caught driving at 33 in a 30 zone.
The besetting sin of the Israelites was Idolatry. They neglected to worship their God, Jehovah, and worshipped instead the Canaanite gods of Baal and Asherah. And even though they went through the ritual of worshipping in the Temple offering their animal sacrifices, their hearts were elsewhere, and their actions were unjust and uncaring for others. Tax Collectors were corrupt, and society worshipped the false gods of Money and Power. Many of the Kings of Israel and Judah did what was “evil in the sight of the Lord”.
The prophets despaired for the people, because they knew that God was going to punish them, big time. - seventy years in exile and their Temple destroyed.
The prophets knew that the problem was with the human heart. Not the organ in our chests that pumps blood round our bodies, but the focus of our emotions, the centre of our desires and thoughts.
Micah gave this instruction that would help to remedy the situation: “Man, what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)
And Jeremiah had these words from the Lord to give to the people: "The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the people. I will put my law in their minds and write it in their hearts. I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31; 31-34)
And God had a plan to bring this about. Jesus, God's Son, would be the agent.
Sin is a serious business, and God deplores it. It is so serious that he simply cannot ignore it. It demands punishment, even the death of the sinner. But, the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only son to die upon a cross that we might be saved. And since we believe that Jesus is not just Son of God, but is God the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, then it is God himself paying his price for our sin.
By this selfless act, we are redeemed, bought back from the death of sin to new life in God. We are excused the penalty by the grace of God. On our part we have to confess our sins in repentance and in faith. We have to be "heart sorry" and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God.
Through the evening of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Jesus shared last things with his disciples – the example of servant leadership by the washing of feet; the last supper, a remembrance meal for us to repeat until he comes again; the agony of anticipation in the Garden; his betrayal and arrest; the mockery of the soldiers; the injustice of the rigged trial by the Jewish Council; the merciless sentence handed down by Pontius Pilate; the excruciating pain of the crucifixion; the slow and agonising death on the cross. All for us so that the penalty for our sin was paid, leaving room for God’s grace and mercy to let us live.
Let us not presume on God's grace by continuing in sin after repentance. Let us carry God's laws in our hearts and try to live accordingly.
This was our redemption and Jesus' vindication was on Easter Day when he rose from the dead. Far from the crucifixion being the triumph of Bad over Good, it was the other way round. It was the triumph of Life over Death and the Resurrection gives us the Hope of eternal life with our Saviour.
"Christ is Risen, Alleluia."
Ken (14 April 2017)
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm