The Ugly Truth
v.31-32 [Jesus said], “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate a pivotal moment in the life of the church—the Reformation. One of my favourite movie quotes is from the 1992 Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson blockbuster hit, “A Few Good Men,” in which Tom Cruise’s character is cross-examining Jack Nicholson’s character (an army colonel). Cruise states, “I want the truth!” To which Nicholson simply and arrogantly retorts, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Such is the case today, dear friends. We claim to want to hear the truth—we as a nation spend millions of dollars every day in the pursuit of “truth” in the justice system. We hire private investigators, buy expensive spy equipment to keep tabs on our neighbours—all so that we can know the truth about what’s going on around us. But when it comes right down to it. When we must turn the powerful microscope upon our own lives and examine our personal motivations behind the things that we think, say, and do—we can’t handle the truth either.
For the truth—the cold hard reality of who we really are—and where we stand before a holy and righteous God—is pretty ugly—and we can’t bear it.
Take for example, the Christian church—we are supposed to be about the truth, right? We are supposed to be upfront and adamant about doing all things openly and in accordance with God’s Word—for we are followers of Him who is Truth incarnate—the Lord Jesus who said of Himself—“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
But when it comes right down to it—when we must face the stark reality of who we are as human beings before a holy and righteous God—the truth...hurts. The truth is...our sin is much, much worse than we want to admit to ourselves—or anyone else for that matter. We come up with clever little mind games to try and trick us into thinking that “we’re not so bad...I’m a good person...After all, nobody’s perfect, right? It’s Ok, God doesn’t mind the bad things we do...as long as we try our best...etc., etc., etc.” Lies all.
The ugly truth is as St. Paul described in our epistle reading, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And our sin is no light matter. It’s not as though sin were no more serious than a common cold—a bad case of the sniffles—no big deal—you’ll feel right as rain in no time! No, the truth is... “the wages of sin is death.” That’s the serious nature of our sin. That’s what we deserve from God for each and every sin we commit—in addition to the fact that we are by very nature fully corrupt and contaminated by sin—with no way to cure or heal ourselves.
This truth is what the Reformers sought to proclaim—the total depravity of the human nature—the total deadly estate of human beings before God Almighty. Did people want to hear it back then? No more than they do today. People flock every which way to hear what their “itching ears want to hear” rather than what they need to hear—the bold-faced truth of God’s clear Word—that we are by nature, sinful and unclean—deserving of nothing but death and eternal damnation.
Of course, you and I know that that isn’t the whole story. There is so much more. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is the Gospel. For though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
You see, dear friends, as awful and ugly as the truth is about our sin, there is yet an even greater truth to bring us comfort and hope and peace. For justification—being made right with God—having our sins forgiven and being restored to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father—is all free gift! Now that sounds too good to be true! That sounds as if it were just a fairy tale. But it is the Truth!
For God’s love knows no bounds. His love moved Him to send Jesus His Son to suffer and die in our place—to shed His blood—die the death that God’s judgement requires for each and every sin—this is what Christ Jesus did for you, for me, for all. Not because He had to—but because He chose to—for such is His love for you that He desired to be lifted up on the cross in weakness—in shame—in humility and suffering—even death—so that you and I might live forever.
The truth is...beloved, as great as your sin may be—as heavy as it is to bear—as large as it looms in your mind—Jesus has taken care of it all. He has borne your guilt in His flesh on the cross—He has removed the crushing burden of your sin from your shoulders and borne it Himself. No matter the size of your sin—Jesus’ blood and redemption is bigger still.
There is no sin too great that the blood of Christ does not wash it away. There is no sinner too far gone that Christ Jesus cannot call them back to repentance and faith through His Word and Sacraments. For He has loved each of you so much—that were you the only person on earth—He still would have come to pay the deadly price for your sin so that He could give you the gift of His life and salvation.
Now, some people today don’t like to hear such talk. They feel like talking about sin is a “downer” and a “dirty” word, even in the church. But if we fail to talk about sin—fail to grasp how serious and deadly our condition truly is—then the Gospel loses all meaning. For what does it matter if Jesus came to save sinners if you and I aren’t really sinners?
But Jesus did come to save sinners—of whom I am foremost. But chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me. And the truth is...there are many lost and hurting people out there in the world—in our community—in our own homes/families perhaps—who need to hear this Good News. Just like we do each and every day.
For the Christian life is one of constant repentance, dear friends. A life lived in constant confession before God and each other that we are poor, miserable sinners. But also a life lived trusting in the promises and mercies of God poured out for us through faith in Jesus Christ. He comes to you this day in bread and wine to give you His very body and blood so that your sins may be forgiven, once again—so that you may be strengthened and upheld by His glorious Word of absolution and healing.
The truth is...you and I are in bondage to our sin and cannot free ourselves. But by God’s grace we have come to hear and know of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, who has died that you and I might live on high. Trusting and believing in Him who is truth—you are set free from all sin, from all death, from all damnation—now and forevermore. And that’s the beautiful Gospel truth! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.