Pastor Sherry’s message for February 26, 2023
Scriptures: Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Ps 32; Ro 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11
Dr. H.A. Ironside (1876-1951) was a famous preacher and Bible teacher in America. One day, he was preaching on verse 3 from Psalm 32 (Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, p.948) When I kept it [my unconfessed sin] all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became a daylong groan, when he said, “There is nothing that so takes the joy out of life like unconfessed sin on the conscience.” He went on to repeat the following story, borrowed from a pastor friend, who had been preaching on the subject of unconfessed sin and the importance of both confession and of providing restitution to anyone we may have injured through that sin:
At the close [of a service] a young man, a member of the church, came up to him with a troubled countenance. “Pastor,” he explained, “you have put me in a sad fix. I have wronged another and I am ashamed to confess it or to try to put it right. You see, I am a boat builder and the man I work for is an infidel. I have talked to him often about his need of Christ and urged him to come and hear you preach, but he scoffs and ridicules it all. Now, I have been guilty of something that, if I should acknowledge it to him, will ruin my testimony forever.”
He then went on to say that sometime ago he started to build a boat for himself in his own yard. In this work copper nails are used because they do not rust in the water. These nails are quite expensive and the young man had been carrying home quantities of them to use on the job. He knew it was stealing, but he tried to salve his conscience be telling himself that the master had so many he would never miss them and besides he was not being paid all that he thought he deserved. But this sermon had brought him to face the fact that he was just a common thief, for whose dishonest actions there was no excuse.
“But,” said he, “I cannot go to my boss and tell him what I have done or offer to pay for those I have used and return the rest. If I do he will think I am just a hypocrite. And yet those copper nails are digging into my conscience and I know I shall never have peace until I put this matter right.” For weeks the struggle went on. Then one night he came…and exclaimed, “Pastor, I’ve settled for the copper nails and my conscience is relieved at last.”
“What happened when you confessed to your employer what you had done?” asked the pastor.
“Oh,” he answered, “he looked queerly at me, then exclaimed, ‘George, I always did think you were just a hypocrite, but now I begin to feel there’s something in this Christianity after all. Any religion that would make a dishonest workman come back and confess that he had been stealing copper nails and offer to settle for them, must be worth having.'”
[The pastor] asked if he might use the story, and was granted permission.
Sometime afterwards, he told it in another city. The next day a lady came up and said, “[Pastor], I have had ‘copper nails’ on my conscience too.” “Why, surely, you are not a boat builder!” “No, but I am a book-lover and I have stolen a number of books from a friend of mine who gets far more than I could ever afford. I decided last night I must get rid of the ‘copper nails,’ so I took them all back to her today and confessed my sin. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. She forgave me, and God has forgiven me. I am so thankful the ‘copper nails’ are not digging into my conscience anymore.”
I have told this story many times and almost invariably people have come to me afterwards telling of “copper nails” in one form or another that they had to get rid of. On one occasion, I told it at a High School chapel service. The next day the principal saw me and said, “As a result of that ‘copper nails’ story, ever so many stolen fountain pens and other things have been returned to their rightful owners.”
Dr. Ironside concluded, “Reformation and restitution do not save. But where one is truly repentant and has come to God in sincere confession, he will want to the best of his ability to put things right with others.” (H.A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth, 1945, Moody Press, pp. 104-106.)
Now this story dates from 1945. We know our culture has changed radically since then. Most Americans then were church-attending Christians; and most had developed strong consciences. You see, following Jesus gives us a standard of morality against which to measure our behavior. Without this standard, we have the sort of mess we see in our culture today. For instance, we have to wonder if children are being taught right from wrong anymore. Or are they being taught, “Don’t do that because it irritates me,” or “Do this because it pleases me.” Such an approach simply teaches our children to be manipulative people-pleasers. Nevertheless, we have to hope that most older Americans’ consciences would bother them if they wronged another; and we should pray for those both young and older whose consciences are underdeveloped.
Regardless, this is what Christ wants from us when we wrong others:
1. Confess the wrong;
2. Then, make it right.
This is the focus of our Scripture passages today:
A. In Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, God makes Adam’s wonderful life situation in the garden dependent upon one, and only one condition: (v.17) But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. The fruit of one tree alone —among many, wonderful other trees–was forbidden. Notice the Lord told them ahead of time what would happen if they disobeyed His command. Obviously, Adam and Eve did not physically die when they sinned, but because they had rebelled, sin and death entered the world. They were severely negatively impacted—physically (they aged, then eventually died), emotionally, and especially spiritually. Their sin separated them from intimacy with God. Because we were all under the headship of Adam, the natural head (patriarch) of the human race, we also suffered the consequences of his actions as they trickled down to us.
B. Paul, in Romans 5:12-19, explains this principle further.
Adam, from whom we are all descended, sinned; because he sinned, we his descendants, are tainted with the same sin. Roman Catholics call this original sin. What was his and Eve’s original sin? It was rebellion, motivated by pride. We didn’t commit their specific sin, but isn’t it true that we too are rebellious and hounded by pride? When we decide to disobey God, aren’t we saying in so many words, “Lord, I choose my will over Yours—even though You are wiser than me, as well as all-knowing and able to see into the future.” Paul makes the case in verses 13-14 that (original) sin had entered the world even before the Law was given to us by God via Moses. Even so, the Law was not able to keep us from sinning!
Fortunately for us, Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross more than corrected for our inherited sin nature. Thanks be to God! To provide an analogy, let’s say that just like a gene for height or for hair color is handed down through generations, we were all born—from Adam down to Christ—physically bent or twisted. Even receiving and abiding by the Law would not remove the warp in us human beings. But for those of us who believe in Jesus, His atoning death for our sakes essentially de- warped or un-warped us. Now can we still sin? Unfortunately, yes. But the difference for believers is that we are covered with or shielded by the right-ness of Christ.
Paul calls this a demonstration of God’s grace. Jesus not only satisfied the penalty for our sin, but he gave us in addition an unmerited, undeserved, but magnanimous gift! Listen to how Peterson paraphrases verses 15-19 in everyday American (The Message, NavPress, 2002, p.2040) Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin [Adam’s] put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There is no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?
Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person [Jesus, the 2nd Adam] did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, He got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.
In other words, from God’s perspective, “…putting humankind to rights is far more important that making up for Adam.” (J. Vernon McGee, Thomas-Nelson, 1991, Romans, p. 92). Thanks be to God, we are no longer under the headship of Adam. Jesus Christ is the head of a new race, the Redeemed. This is our true identity and it supercedes our racial, ethnic, and even gender identities! Those of us who love Jesus are no longer under death sentence of original sin. Jesus Christ has set us free!
Additionally, Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) provides us with the best example of how to proceed when we are tested or tempted to sin. Matthew reports (v.1) that…Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. This occurred right after He had been baptized and the Father had claimed Him as His Son and blessed Him, audibly, from heaven. Matthew then goes on to relate Jesus’ major temptations:
1.) To feed His own hungers—forty days without food had to have been rough!
2.) To win popularity and great power, cheaply and quickly;
3.) And to become famous.
However, to accommodate Satan, He would have had to betray the One True God. Thanks be to God that He did not betray His Father! Besides wrestling with hunger, thirst, and loneliness in the wilderness, Jesus had lots of time to think and pray. During those 40 days, He came to a true understanding of Who He was/is. He came to grips with His true identity as the Son of God.
Now the Devil watches us all carefully, so he knows which buttons to push to try to pull us away from God. Satan’s temptations were all intended to seduce Jesus into being selfish and self-gratifying. But our Lord knew after 40 days of self-denial that He was meant to be selfless and self-sacrificing. He was meant to save lost sinners (The Revs. John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, “The Lectionary Lab, year A, 2013, p. 75). Thanks be to God!
Let’s return to the image of copper nails on our conscience. King David wrote Psalm 32, while he was suffering the impact of his sins with Bathsheba and against Uriah, her husband—coveting his neighbor’s wife, adultery with her, and setting Uriah in the front lines of the next battle so he would be killed. King David killed to save his skin and his reputation. However, his conscience was so seared by his memory of the copper nails that he felt compelled to confess his sins to Almighty God (here and in Psalm 51). Then he reports, with great relief and gratitude, that he receives God’s forgiveness, and feels blessed because of his restoration.
Jesus has given us the key to resisting our temptations:
1. Understand our true identity as the Redeemed, and the magnitude of God’s love and grace;
2. Then ask the Holy Spirit to help us use Scripture to resist the Devil.
We don’t want to be like the 4 pastors who agreed to confess their sins to each other (What an awful idea!): One said, “I cheat on my taxes.” The 2nd confessed he snuck food and drinks into the movie theater. The 3rd said he borrowed all of his sermons from the internet. The 4th was unwilling to say what he did wrong. The others pressed him, saying, “Come on, we confessed ours. It’s your turn.” It took some pressure, but he finally admitted, “Mine’s gossiping and I can hardly wait to get out of here.” Unlike this guy, remember cooper nails. Confess the wrong; make it right.
Paul has stressed for us the enormity of Jesus’ saving actions in each of our lives. Our best response is to praise Him with gratitude. Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams