According to Tom Long [Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology] there was an occasion a few years ago when a biblical scholar was explaining Mark 1 to a group of teenagers. This scholar told the teens that when Jesus was baptized, the skies did not just open up, as some older translations said, but in the original Greek of Mark 1:10 we are told the skies ripped open, split in an almost violent way. This was very dramatic and forceful. “Get the point?” the scholar asked the group. “When Jesus was baptized, the heavens that separate us from God were ripped open so that now we can get to God. Because of Jesus we have access to God–we can get close to him.”
But there was one young man sitting in the front row, arms crossed, making a fairly obvious display of his disinterest. Yet suddenly he perked up and said, “That ain’t what it means.” “What?” the Bible scholar said, startled. “I said that ain’t what that means,” the teenager repeated. “It means that the heavens were ripped open so that now God can get at us anytime he wants. Now nobody’s safe!”
Now nobody’s safe. Well, of course, none of us have ever been safe because God has always been able to get us anytime He wants. After all, He is God. The fact that He hasn’t is a testimony to His patience and forbearance, His making known the riches of His glory for us as objects of His mercy [ROM 9.22-24] Nevertheless we quickly dismiss those Scriptures that remind us of the reality of His absolute holiness and our great sinfulness, and of the utter impossibility of these two realities coexisting together. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [HEB 10.31]. The prophet Malachi asks, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” [MAL 3.2]. Not I, that is, not without the Lord Jesus as my sole advocate.
It is not as if this Holy God is having some kind of hissy fit over my indiscretions [read: sin]. His response to my sin is entirely non-emotional: it is simply a reality, characteristic of His holiness that cannot in any way, endure the presence of sin [or the sinner] in His presence. Fire consumes gasoline and light extinguishes darkness, not for emotional reasons, but because that is simply the way it is. When holiness encounters sin, wrath is the result. That also is simply the way it is.
Our great problem, however, is not the sin itself but rather our propensity to devalue God’s holiness while at the same time redefining our sinfulness making it some minor glitch in an otherwise quite respectable character. We wear rose colored glasses, we opt for comparative analysis of our own condition, and we do anything rather than accept the grim reality of our absolute lostness before the God of the heavens and the earth. Perhaps we just don’t sin big enough to generate the remorse we ought to experience whenever we sin. More to the point, sin is not so much what I do, whether it be termed big or small; sadly it is who I am [a runny nose or a cough is not the cold itself, only indications that I have a cold].
Let’s just be honest: we do not treat sin with the seriousness that God does. For Him it was serious enough to consider a landed assault [we call this the Incarnation] to set the captives free. For Him it was worth the shed blood and death of His Beloved Son, who though He knew no sin, became sin for us in order that sin would no longer have dominion over us. God takes sin – our sin – very seriously.
Lent is upon us once again and along with it our many traditions; no flowers, no Gloria, no chocolate! Traditionally, it is the season when we give serious consideration to giving something up, or perhaps taking something up [much less frequently practiced]. May I presume to suggest that this Lent we give up Jesus [not really, but meditatively, reflectively as a means to an end]? Actually what I would propose is that we use this Lenten opportunity to seriously reflect on the gravity of our situation, to attempt to come to a new appreciation of how incredibly lost and how deep in the pit we actually would be without Jesus. Rather than comparing ourselves with one another, let us spend the season comparing ourselves as over against the awesome, wonderful, grandeur and holiness of God. Let us seek to get in touch with how utterly depraved we truly are, not so as to beat ourselves up [down?], not for the sake of passing judgment on ourselves or heaping up the guilt, certainly not for leading us into a steep downward spiral of all-embracing despair, but solely as a means to prepare our hearts for the incredible news that God ripped open the heavens, not to get us, but to declare the wonderful salvation that is now ours in Jesus.