Here’s the C. S. Lewis quote from Sunday’s sermon on the Christian practice of confession. Confessing our sins to a trusted friend breaks the trajectory of self-centeredness, and restores to us a winsome humility. Self-centeredness ruins us all until and unless we own up to what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone.
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. — from Mere Christianity
The Gospels do not record exactly what Jesus was doing on Wednesday of that last week of his life — the life before his death before his resurrection. Luke 19, however, reports that every day he was teaching in the temple. Another excerpt, then:
Keeping a close watch on him, [the teachers of the law and the chief priests] sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20–26)
They fell silent because they tried to fool Jesus but could not. He sensed their duplicity and called them on it, and neatly avoided their intended dilemma. There was nothing left to say. They should have kept silent to begin with!
Earlier in Jesus ministry he had compassion and healed many in a large crowd. Matthew recorded this in his chapter 12, and cited Isaiah:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matthew 12:20)
Jesus had compassion, but he was not soft. As we see in the episode of Caesar’s coin above, Jesus had no compassion on those who sought to be deceitful, and so here are our lessons:
Do not be afraid to come to Jesus when you are in need, whether that need is to be healed, or to be freed from your own sin, or from the effect of someone else’s sin. A bruised reed he will not break.
Do be afraid of trying to deceive Jesus. Do not whitewash, manipulate, or lie to him. He will see through it, and leave you behind. You will find yourself on the wrong end of justice. Jesus is the truth.
Lord, silence my lying tongue, quiet my foolish mind, and let me feel the depth of my need for you. Be merciful to me, a sinner. Then by the mercy of your life and death and life again set me free to follow you. Amen.
While in Jerusalem that final week Jesus taught against the chief priests and the elders, both of whom had vested interests in maintaining the status quo in the Temple. Jesus opposed them in public in the Temple courts. Here is one example:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:28–32)
Jesus’ pointed story shows up the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders. Apparently they were content to resist what God was clearly doing through Jesus even though they should have been among the first to recognize it. John the Baptist pointed out their spiritual idolatry, and they should have responded with humility and contrition when he did.
This of course does not mean that “tax collectors and prostitutes” were given a pass by John the Baptist or Jesus. Not at all. Both obvious sinners and subtle sinners alike must repent. The way to life and love and peace is through repentance — admitting our self-centeredness and turning to follow Jesus.
Good thing your sins are not obvious, right? Or your would need to repent, too.
Lord, save us from self-centeredness and sin. Free us from the self-deception that allows us to rationalize away our need to repent and turn to you daily. Amen.
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.