Saturday, April 18, 2009

Go, and Sin No More

Go, and sin no more.

I'm not sure how many times Jesus said those words to people he met. I remember a few times in the Gospels where he spoke them, or words similar to them. But I consider them to be some of the most beautiful words in Scripture.

We all have our pasts and particularly those moments which are regrettable. As the apostle Paul puts it, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But how beautiful it is that God, rich in mercy, has, through the blood of his Son, washed us clean and made us whole. He has given us a new day, a renewed lease on life, the opportunity to reach new horizons.

Go, and sin no more is not a statement of judgment, but one of encouragement. One of the recorded moments Jesus spoke those words was in John 8 (in a passage with questioned textual authenticity, but likely historical in some measure). You remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. Those who brought her condemned her and sought Jesus' sanction of her stoning. As you know, Jesus ended up turning the situation around to reflect on the character and behavior of the condemners, and the woman was spared. As the scene closes, Jesus tells her to go, and sin no more. I'm sure he had her past in view as he spoke to her, but his main interest was on her present and future. Unlike those who sought only to condemn, Jesus was much more interested in how the woman might progress from that day forward.

How beautiful it is that our Lord is much more interested in our recovery than in our missteps. The whole story of the cross and opened tomb bear testimony to this message of hope. Death leads to life, in Christ. What should result in loss and despair (our sin), is washed away, taken away, remembered no more . . . from the perspective of our loving Father.

But we allow it to linger, don't we? Or, at least we allow the guilt and shame (and the despair created by these) to linger. And these feelings often co-opt our ability to move forward. We get stuck in a rut, because we can't seem to forget our past.

Go, and sin no more.

I am mindful of the words of the writer of Hebrews, who tells us to "run the race with perseverance, laying aside every weight and the sin that so easily encumbers, and keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12.1-2). Among the encumbering weights that must be listed are our guilt, shame, and despair. Throw them aside, we are told, and look not to the past (to yesterday), but to the present (today) and the future (tomorrow) . . . down the road, that is, and toward the one who makes our journey possible and successful, our Lord Jesus.

Go, and sin no more.

Those are words directed not merely to self (and in our self-interests), but to those who surround us they are an appeal for mercy and patience. In other words, we are not merely to consider the new possibilities that are within us because of the mercies of God, but the new promise that rests in every one who is a child of God. Go, and sin no more were words meant as much for the condemners of the woman brought to Jesus, than they were for the woman, herself. The condemners sought Jesus' approval of the stoning of the woman. Instead, Jesus had mercy, and afforded the woman a new day. We must do the same.

The new covenant we find in Christ is all about renewal! It is about burying the past and opening oneself up to a new reality, a new opportunity. Go, and sin no more is an appeal to live a new life and an appeal to encourage a new life being lived.

Ask a marathon runner (which I am certainly NOT), and I imagine he (or she) will tell you that to run a successful race you must keep your eyes forward, toward the goal to be reached, and not backwards on the road already crossed. Chances are good that if you run with your eyes looking backwards you're gonna run into a tree!