This is the first in a 5-part Lenten sermon series called “He Chose the Nails,” based on Max Lucado’s book by the same title.
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 3:9-26
The phrase “the Dark Side” is term that need no explanation. We know exactly what it refers to and what it signifies. It signifies evil – Darth Vader evil. So, when we speak of the “dark side,” we’re talking about that which is contrary to life. And from the perspective of person of faith, that which is contrary to the Giver of Life – God.
On Wednesday our nation was once again reminded of the reality of evil in our world when a 19-year old man entered a high school building and killed 17 people and injured many more. And on or around that same day, a church member’s nephew was murdered in his own apartment by someone he knew from work.
We could argue all day about what lies behind these kinds of shootings, and the solutions that would keep them from happening again. But regardless of what anyone says, here’s the bottom line. When it comes to gun violence, road rage, sexual assault, child abuse, tax evasion, cover-ups, corruption, and any of the terrible things we read and hear about in the news every day, the root cause of it all is humanity’s broken relationship with our Creator, resulting in a sin-prone human condition.
I’m talking about the reality of the dark side that resides within every single human being, including you and me. Observing this truth, the O.T. prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). Not very high praise for what drives us human beings.
In his book, He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado talks about the “beast within” all of us. It’s a reference to the main character in the story, “Beauty and Beast.” As the story unfolds, we learn that the Beast wasn’t always a beast. He was a person, albeit a mean, beastly person. And after refusing to let a fairy in from the pouring rain, a curse was laid upon him, and the “beast within” was physically manifested on the outside. And only true love would break the curse. Lucado writes, “They story is familiar, not just because it’s a fairy tale. It’s familiar because it reminds us of ourselves. There’s a beast within each of us.”
Let me tell you about a time that beast in me came out. It was back when we lived in Mackinaw City, which mean Rachel was around 4-5 years old. For some reason she and I took a trip to Petoskey. On the way back that little beast was absolutely coming out in her! She was complaining about something, and it just wouldn’t stop. No matter what I said, she kept complaining, and it was driving me nuts. At some point I reach my limit, so I pulled over to the side of the road, cars whizzing by at 55mph. Since we had mini-van, I was able to turn and face her in her car seat. And boy did I yell. I really let her have it that day. Like I said, it was the beast in me. I wasn’t proud of myself, for sure. To make matters worse (and I think it was God’s way of having the last laugh), when I turned to tell at her, I stepped on and broke my favorite sunglasses! To this day we still [jokingly] blame the other for that happening.
How did this come to be? If Jeremiah is right, and our hearts are deceitful above all, how did it get this way?
Well, it’s a question we’ve struggled with for as long as we’ve been on this planet. It’s a question that every culture has tried to answer out of their own understanding of human nature. The ancient Hebrews answered this question with a tale about our original parents willfully disobeying God and doing things the way they wanted to do them. This, of course, changed everything. Everything that was good and whole became bad and broken. They lost their intimate loving relationship with God. They felt shame at their nakedness. Life and health was replaced with death and decay. And they were banished from the garden. All of this is to say, sin entered the course of human history, and from that point on all of creation would be negatively affected. That’s how the ancient Hebrews tried to explain how things got the way they are.
Popular culture wants to speak of an innate goodness within human beings. But such a notion simply doesn’t align with Scripture. Yes, it’s true that people do good things, and make self-sacrifices for the sake of others. We see and do it all the time. And many would argue that this is the evidence for the idea that we are by nature good, but that we can turn bad or sometimes do bad things. Like Anakin Skywalker starts out good but becomes bad over time. But as Max Lucado points out, it’s not that we can’t do good, because we do. It’s just that we can’t keep from doing bad.
In theological terms, we’re “totally depraved.” Though we’ve been made in God’s images, we’ve fallen. We’re corrupt at the core.
Here’s how the psalmist describes our condition. Psalm 14 opens with this blow to our sense of innate goodness:
They are corrupt and do evil things;
not one of them does anything good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humans
to see if anyone is wise,
to see if anyone seeks God,
but all of them have turned bad.
Everyone is corrupt.
No one does good—not even one person! (vv. 1-3, emphasis added)
And in his own letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul quotes this Psalm and other Scripture passages to support the idea that the nature of human beings is one prone to sin and rebellion. Here’s what he says:
There is no one who understands.
There is no one who looks for God.
They all turned away.
They have become worthless together.
There is no one who shows kindness.
There is not even one.
Their throat is a grave that has been opened.
They are deceitful with their tongues, and the poison of vipers is under their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are quick to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and they don’t know the way of peace.
There is no fear of God in their view of the world. (Romans 3:10-18)
You would probably agree with me that this is a very disheartening view of human beings? Most of us value focusing on the positive and painting people in the best light possible. It doesn’t feel right to start from such a negative place when it comes to human nature. Probably because it feels like doing so is a way of passing judgment, and that’s a sizable taboo in our culture. But I would argue that regardless of the way we want it to be, the Bible has nailed it on the head, and our human default is sin.
When the prophet Jeremiah observed that there is no cure the deceit of the human heart, at the time he was absolutely right. Fortunately, though, his perspective on the human heart was limited. At the time he said that, he didn’t know that God actually had a cure in mind. A cure for the sin-stained human heart. And that cure was his Son, Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s be clear about something. Jesus didn’t leave the Glory of Heaven to deal with bad behavior and poor choices. He didn’t enter into this broken world to address the problem of sinful actions and attitudes. No, he bore the pain of this world to address the Sin behind the sins. To deal with the root cause of our sins. Which is what? Our broken relationship with God. That’s at the root of it all. However it came into existence, our propensity to choose sin and self over God is the result of a broken relationship with our Creator.
And the unfortunate truth is that every person automatically inherits this broken relationship when they’re physically born. We come into this world separated from God. So Jesus’ whole reason for coming was to go the Cross of Calvary so that that relationship might be restored. So that every person who would choose it would be reconciled to God. God sent his Son to destroy the power of sin which broke our relationship with God, and thus he restored us back to a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. In other words, Jesus is our means of connection to God.
How, exactly, did he accomplish this? By crossing over to the ‘dark side’ if you will. By taking our sin nature upon himself, and nailing it to the cross. 2 Cor. 5.21 says, “God caused the one who didn’t know sin to BE sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He came to BE sin, not just take it, but to BE it. It wasn’t just a body nailed to the tree; SIN itself was nailed to the tree. Scripture tells us Jesus BECAME sin.
Another Bible version puts it this way: “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” Jesus became our filth and took it to the cross.
We can look at this way. How did Jesus respond to the sadistic cruelty of the Roman soldiers? They only had one job: to crucify him. But Scripture describes how they did so much more. They sadistically tortured him. And yet he never retaliated–even though no one would have blamed him for doing so. The fact is, though he didn’t want it, he fully accepted it. But even more so, because it was within his power to have walked away from being illegally crucified, but didn’t, then we can rightly say that Jesus Christ chose the nails. He chose to bear the dark beast that lurks deep within every human and take it to the cross.
And what exactly was God’s motive for doing this? Plain and simple, love. His love for you, and me, and every single person brought into this world. John 3:16 sums up the Gospel message: “God loved the [people of the] world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will have everlasting life.” God loves us so much that he made a way for us to be reconciled back to him…even though as a human race we’d done nothing to deserve it.
Could it be that out of his love for each of us, Jesus sees the beauty within the beast? And calls it out—not by kissing it, like Belle did to the Beast, but by becoming it? Christ becomes the beast so that the beast can become the beauty. Jesus changes places with us. The Bible says that because of the sin of our Original Parents, all humanity came under a curse. But according to Galatians 3:13, that’s all been changed. It says that Jesus “changed places with us and put himself under that curse.” Why? So that we could be reconciled back to God and restored to spiritual state of righteousness in God’s eyes.
Ephesians 2 sums it up well.
At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else. However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. (Ephesians 2.1-5)
He did it not because he had do, but because he wanted to. Because he loves us so very, very much.
In the make-believe story, Belle falls in love with Beast. She kisses him, and make-believe love breaks the curse. In the real-life story, God never stops loving us, beastly as we may be. It’s hard for us to fathom, because it so goes against our fallen human nature, but the truth is, God loves Nikolas Cruz, the young man at the center of Wednesday’s shooting in Parkland, FL. Jesus loves him as much as he loves you and me. And he loves every victim of Wednesday’s massacre. And every person who suffers at the hands of others who act out of their own brokenness and sin.
The reality of sin and evil is not a sign that God has abandoned us, or that he somehow doesn’t care about us. Because the truth is, because he loves us so much, he made a way for us not to be forever shackled to our sinful human nature. And that way is person and has a name. Jesus. Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Who loved us enough to take our sins upon himself and break the curse so that we might have life.