Sermon: The Burden of Sin
Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
Given 04-Aug-18; 36 minutes
There are a number of “systems” though which this world’s churches generate converts. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses employs a “system” involving door-to-door visitation. The “invitation system,” immensely popular for the last 200 years or so, is another such system and has become a major part of the stock-and-trade of evangelical preachers. In their parlance, they refer to it as the “come forward” call or as the “altar call.”
Most every student in an evangelically-oriented seminary takes a course in homiletics—how to write and deliver a sermon. One of the units in such a course is the altar call: How to make it work. Your light man knows just what lights to dim and how much, and your organist has selected the most syrupy hymn ever written—soft now; not too loud, in keeping with the “atmosphere”; the emotion-charged, demon-inspired, ambience. And, ambience is what you make it.
Recently, one member told me there is an evangelically-oriented organization which dubs itself “Calling All Skaters,” (or Calling All Skateboarders”). Members visit venues frequented by skateboarders, preaching their version of “the gospel.”
In the thinking of evangelicals, the altar of a church—it is usually wooden—represents the cross. In their symbolism, those who “come forward” are coming to Jesus on the cross—you see, it is a type of “come to Jesus meeting.”
Well, we already see major problems here, do we not? Indeed, it would surprise none of us that altar calls typically contain a pack of lies. Oh, yes, they do that. What an collection of misinterpreted, misquoted, misunderstood scriptures altar calls contain!
For instance, the evangelist might say something like: “Come forward, don’t be afraid to lay your sins on your Savior’s shoulders as He is nailed on the cross.” Or, “Jesus is calling. Do you hear Him calling? He wants you to give Him your sins tonight.” Or, “Jesus is ready tonight, waiting tonight, hoping you will throw the burden of your sins on Him.”
Well, you begin to understand why I entitled my comments today, “The Burden of Sin.”
Evangelically-oriented hymns frequently express this sort of thinking. The evangelist often leads the congregation in songs of this ilk just before, or after an altar call. Let us look at a few examples:
All Your Anxiety
Written 1920, by Edward Joy:
Is there a heart o’er bound by sorrow?
Is there a life weighed down by care?
Come to the cross, each burden bearing;
All your anxiety—leave it there.
At the Cross
Written 1907, by William Henry:
There thy soul shall find sweet rest,
At the cross;
. . .
All thy guilt shall pass away,
All thy night be turned to day,
When thy burden thou shalt lay
At the cross.
Knock and It Shall Be Opened
Written 1888, by Daniel Warner
(notice the misquoted Scripture here)
See the blessed invitation:
“He that knocks may enter in”;
Will you now accept the offer,
Casting off your load of sin?
Why Do You Wait?
Written 1878, by George Root:
Do you not feel, dear brother,
His Spirit now striving within?
Oh, why not accept His salvation,
And throw off your bondage to sin?
Brethren, does God ask us—require us—to put our sins on Jesus’ shoulders, to carry the burden of our sin to the cross and leave it there on Christ? Well, the answer is no. Such a notion manifests the Protestant’s major misunderstanding of the truth that Christ bears our sins. They do not understand it correctly.
Today, let us take a look at Christ’s work of bearing our sins, a concept most recently bought to the fore through David Grabbe’s comments regarding the symbolism of the Azazel. We are not going to be focusing on the two goats, but, rather, on our place and Christ’s place in His bearing of sins.
Let us start with one of the images of sin. Let us start with an old, old photograph, a black-and-white one taken probably in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It shows convicts, dressed in black-and-white stripped clothes, in a prison yard. One of them, who had attempted to escape but was recaptured, walks about with a heavy chain. Each link looks to be about 10 inches long, the chain itself probably eight feet long. One end attaches to an ankle, the other cuffed about his neck. I would guess it weighs 50 or more pounds.
The presence of the chain impedes, but does not preclude, his working, as he was made to drag it after him. When he needs to walk, he lifts the chain, resting it on his shoulder. The chain is part of his work and part of his walk, hobbling him, restraining him. The chain is at once a restraint and a burden. Its presence makes further escape virtually impossible.
This image somewhat accurately describes sin, a part of us, something we cannot shed by ourselves, a burden weighing us down, hobbling us, a part of our walk and work—part of our nature. The people of the world live with it—and die from it. They, through their own efforts, cannot do much of anything about it. It is just there. Many become calloused to it; others deny its existence. But, it is there.
Let us begin by reviewing a few Old and New Testament Scriptures, which establish that sin is indeed a burden.
Psalm 38:4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
Proverbs 5:22 His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin.
Isaiah 1:4 (ISV) Oh, you sinful nation! Your people burdened down by iniquity! . . .
II Timothy 3:6 . . . who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts.
Hebrews 12:1 (Jubilee Bible) Therefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, leaving behind all the weight of the sin which surrounds us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us . . .
The Complete Jewish Bible puts Hebrews 12:1, "[L]et us, too, put aside every impediment—that is, the sin which easily hampers our forward movement."
Yet another pretty good translation is that of The Voice: "[L]et us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us."
The Scriptures see sin as this huge weight, like a chain, encumbering us, restraining us. But, I need to look further into this last passage, for the evangelicals would say I have painted myself into a logical corner by quoting Hebrews 12:1. For, does it not command us to lay aside, or to put aside, or to drop, sins? They therefore would argue that it is perfectly fine for them to admonish people to come forward, to come to the cross, to come to the altar, and lay this chain of sins on Christ. I need to address this.
The verb translated “lay aside,” “drop,” “leave behind,” or “put aside” in Hebrews 12:1 is apotithēmi, appearing eight times in the New Testament. Its first use is at Acts 7:58, where those stoning Stephen lay aside their cloaks at Saul’s feet. In all its seven other uses, it refers to our putting sin out of our lives during our period of sanctification, not initial justification. Not in Hebrews 12:1, nor anywhere else, does apotithēmi refer to laying our sins on Christ. In all these seven cases, the audience is church people—converted people—and what they need to do in the process of sanctification, what they need to do in order to grow to become like Christ. Let us take a look.
Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us [you see, the already-justified people of God’s church to whom Paul writes] cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
Ephesians 4:22 That you put off, concerning your former conduct . . .
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.”
Colossians 3:8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
I Peter 2:1 Therefore, lay aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.
None of these passages speak of laying our sins on Christ so He can carry them away. Rather, these scriptures refer to our ongoing work of overcoming sin, in cooperation with Christ as He sanctifies us. So, sin is a burden—a horrible burden.
Let us look a bit deeper into I Peter 2, as we consider, “What does it mean when we say that Christ bears sins?” In a few words, it means that He carries sins out of the sight of God. The aphorism, “God forgives and forgets,” is germane here. Christ carries sins so far away that God forgets them. Of course, Christ does not literally carry them to another galaxy or something like that. The apostle Peter, writing in I Peter 2:24 says that Christ, “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” He was largely stationary, on the cross. So, when we speak of Christ’s bearing or carrying our sins, we do not imply or mean physical movement.
Someone once tried to convince me that Christ carried our sins away when He “preached to the spirits in prison,” described in I Peter 3:19. No, it says there that Christ preached, not bore. Wrong verb.
Another person insisted that Christ carried our sins away when He returned to the Father after His resurrection. I do not think so! The idea was to separate sins as far as possible from the Father, not to carry them up to the Third Heaven and deposit them in the Holy of Holies. That idea is ludicrous on its face.
No. Absolutely, Christ’s bearing or carrying away our sins is a spiritual matter. In fact, Peter in this same passage makes this spiritual orientation clear.
Peter says we are like Christ, all living stones, constructed as a spiritual house, to the end that we will offer spiritual sacrifices to the Father. Paul’s teaching here is that we can offer effective spiritual sacrifices—that is, prayers—because Christ opened a “new and living way . . . for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh,” thereby giving us, “confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus.”
Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
I have digressed a bit. Let us return to the idea that Christ’s bearing of sins is a spiritual matter—just as is prayer. Importantly, the verb offer in I Peter 2:5 (“offer spiritual sacrifices”) is exactly the same Greek verb as bore which we have noted down in I Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins.” It is anapherō, which means “to lift up,” and therefore can refer to lifting hands in prayer and to making an offering on the altar—lifting the animal up, you see.
Christ offered up spiritual sacrifices; we do too. His carrying of sins is a spiritual matter. Do not mistake me—it is real, but it is spiritual.
Now, with the understanding that Christ spiritually carries sins away from God’s sight, let us briefly establish that God forgets our sins.
Isaiah 43:25 I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.
Jeremiah 31:34 “For I will be forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Isaiah 38:17 . . . for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
God forgets our sins because Christ bears them away so significantly, so profoundly, that they become out of God’s sight, just as when we throw something into the ocean. Usually we never see the bottle again. The adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” may be relevant here.
So, with this background, let us turn to a number of the scriptures which speak of Christ’s bearing or carrying our sins on the tree.
Isaiah 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Two verbs appear here, near synonyms, borne and carried. The first verb, borne, is nasa, which appears some 654 times in the Old Testament. Nasa is a highly polyvalent word. That is, it has lots and lots of meanings, like the English verb put, which can mean, “put someone to death,” “put a question to the floor of the Senate,” “put a flower on the table,” “put laws into effect,” “put money on a horse,” “put forth foliage on a plant,” and so on. Put can even be a noun.
In the King James Version, the translators render nasa in more than ten different ways, ranging from bear, to forgive, to exalt, to obtain, to respect. And, colloquially, these are not synonyms. This state of affairs can make it hard to pinpoint a meaning. The translators need to pay close attention to context. Hence, to clarify this important point, God inspired the use of a second verb in the couplet. It is translated carried. It is cabal, which appears only nine times in the Old Testament. The translators of the King James Version render it carry and bear seven of those times. The meaning is fairly straightforward. It simply means “to carry.”All in all, Isaiah’s meaning is clear: The Messiah carries our sins.
Now, please, turn to Matthew 8. To clarify any question in meaning, God inspires Matthew to quote Isaiah 53:4. This gives us more insight into the meaning of the verbs.
Matthew 8:17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”
Again, in this quotation (in Matthew) of Isaiah 53:4, there are two verbs, translated took and bore. The verb bore is the Greek verb bastazō. It clearly means “to bear,” as in its concrete use at Mark 14:13, where Christ sends two of His disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover. There, they are to look for a man bearing a pitcher of water.
But, it is the verb translated took that is most telling. It is lambanō. It appears 263 times in the New Testament, but, by far and away, it is in the sense “to receive” or “to take.” This is quite a strong verb.
For instance, The Passion Translation renders it, “[Christ] put upon Himself our weaknesses.”
This is the same take—lambanō—appearing in Philippians 2:7, where Christ takes the form of a servant. And then, it is the same take in Revelation 5:7, where Christ takes the scroll, draws it to Himself.
This verb is about as straightforward as it can be. Christ took—took to Himself in an active sense. There is no notion here of His passively taking sins dumped on Him by others. That connotation is absent.
So, at this point, I will ask: In any of these examples in Matthew or Isaiah, have you seen verbiage to indicate that people throw, or put their sins on Christ? No, you do not. Christ voluntarily—and actively—took (note the past tense) our sins upon Himself. He initiated the carrying away of our sins, and He finished it—the Author and Finisher of our salvation, as Hebrew 12:2 puts it. The Complete Jewish Bible calls Him the “Initiator and Completer.”
I call your attention again to a scripture we looked at earlier,
The emphasis is on Christ’s act. We did not dump our sins on Him; He Himself took them.
Any number of scriptures indicate this active participation by Christ in the removal of sins. In Titus 2:14, Paul reminds us that Christ, “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed.”
John Ritenbaugh has pointed out that Christ was in complete control of the situation at His crucifixion; no one put anything on Him. No one took His life. He gave it, voluntarily and willingly.
This concept appears over and over in the New Testament in any number of contexts. Consider these six examples:
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
Ephesians 5:25-26 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify her.
Please, turn to John 1. As I wind down, let us consider a somewhat overlooked verb indicating Christ’s actively bearing our sins away. Here, John the Baptist prophesies concerning the work of Jesus Christ.
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
The apostle John uses almost exactly the same terminology—same verb—at I John 3:5, where he says Christ came in order to “take away sins.” This Greek verb, rendered “take away” there in John 1:29 and I John 3:5, is airo. The translators of the King James Version commonly render airo as take up, take away, take, away with, lift up, and bear. This is a remarkably strong verb.
Matthew 4:6 “In their [angels’] hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Airo appears as “take up” in Christ’s statement recorded in Matthew 16.
Matthew 16:24 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
In Luke 23:18, airo appears in a particularly strong context, where the people shout, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas.”
Airo appears as “bear” in Matthew 27.
Matthew 27:32 Him [Simon] they compelled to bear His cross [to take it up].
In Colossians 2:14, airo also appears in a Pauline context:
Colossians 2:14 [Christ] having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailing it to the cross.
Looking at John 1:29 and I John 3:5 together, we see the use of this decidedly strong verb to indicate that Christ took away sins. We are powerless to remove the heavy chain of sin burdening us. It is fast connected to us. We did not—we could not—unfasten that chain, remove it, and place it on Christ’s shoulders. “While we were yet sinners,” Paul avers in Romans 5 that Christ lifted that heavy chain of sin which burdens us, taking it upon Himself, in what was an active and overt display of His agape love for us. To aver that we ourselves can “place our sins on Jesus,” is not only theologically errant, but it is arrogantly presumptuous.
Indeed, evangelists issuing altar calls usurp God’s prerogative to call. He calls; He does not need an evangelist’s showmanship to get people’s attention. God does not need the light man; He does not need the organist. The worldly evangelists grossly mislead people. Do not fall for their deception.
The evangelicals with their altar calls deny exactly what the Catholic crucifix so graphically denies: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both the crucifix and the altar call teach that Christ is still on the cross, just there waiting for people to lay on Him a burden of sin.
Hebrew 10:10 belies that deception, indicating the Christ died, “once and for all [time].” His work on the cross is finished, as He Himself asserted at John 19:30. Christ is now at His Father’s side in heaven, interceding for His people.
Just as Satan has deceived people into believing he carries away their sin, so has Satan deceived people into believing that they themselves can lay their past sins aside. It just does not work that way!