Luke 3:7-18 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." 10 "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely-- be content with your pay." 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
Does size matter?
Several years ago, after a church council meeting, some of the taller guys were giving me a hard time about my height compared to theirs. They said, “You know, short people are more accident prone. That’s because they always have to use a ladder around their homes.” I countered, “That may be, but shorter guys live longer in war. We don’t have to duck when the bullets are flying.”
Does size matter? A pick-up truck is great for moving things, but hard on gas. An electric car may be great on gas mileage, but it’s hard to fit a family of six in one of them. A large yard and home are awesome for a large family, but they are pretty empty and hard to care for when your children leave home. A 6’6” girl is great to have on your basketball or volleyball teams, but she might struggle a bit on the cheerleading or gymnastic squads.
Size does matter in most things in our lives. But when it comes to sin, does size matter?
John the Baptizer had plenty of people traveling into the desert in order to hear him preach. He had Pharisees and tax collectors and Roman soldiers and others make the journey to hear the forerunner of the Christ. Every person in John’s audience could have looked at others in the crowd and seen much that was wrong with them. Every person could have looked at themselves and could have rationalized and excused away their own sins.
Those in the crowd could have blamed the Pharisees for the burdens they placed on the people with their additional religious laws. The Pharisees could have rationalized these laws as necessary for civic and spiritual righteousness. The people would have blasted the tax collectors for cheating them out of their hard-earned money. The tax collectors could have excused their collection methods as being shrewd business practices. The people would have accused the Roman soldiers for being harsh and cruel in their treatment of the Jews. The soldiers could have justified their actions as being part of the local law enforcement.
It was easy for each member of John’s audience to compare themselves with the others in the crowd. They would have elevated themselves while belittling those around them. They would have downplayed their own sins while emphasizing the sins of others. They would have been desensitized to their own wrongs while having a heightened sensitivity to being wronged by others.
We still do the same thing today. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” However, that hasn’t stopped us from comparing distances.
It doesn’t matter how bad you think you are, or how bad other people say you are, you’ll always be able to find someone who seems worse than you. It doesn’t matter how good you seem to be, you’ll always be able to find someone who seems better than you. We’re addicted to comparing, measuring, quantifying, and judging.
We know that God sees all sin as the same. However, that doesn’t mean that we do. Anger and aloofness are seen as bad for a marriage, but not as bad as adultery. However, they can all equally destroy the bond of marriage. Shoplifting, downloading illegal music or robbery with a gun are considered as different points on the sin spectrum, yet they are all sins against the seventh commandment. Picking on the unpopular kid at school or having an abortion both destroy God’s precious gift of life.
There’s an unspoken agreement among many religious people that God is like a good-natured beat cop. He respects and enforces the law, but gives good, ordinary citizens some leeway. He’s not going to ticket you for driving 60 in a 55 mph zone. He understands that things happen. Just don’t push the envelope.
The law of grace has you covered for five miles over the speed limit. But for carjacking, well, you’ve got a date with the Judge.
In an effort to be like what we think God is, we’ve concocted a categorization of sin-sizes modeled after our legal system. No one gets handcuffed for stealing some pens from work, but they do for robbing a liquor store. Likewise, no one gets fire and brimstone for cheating on their taxes, but for cheating on your spouse, well, there’s hell to pay.
In our minds, we categorize sins on a scale of petty to felony iniquities. This helps us to look down on other really bad sinners. It allows us to feel prideful that even though we aren’t perfect, we’re not serial sinners, either. Worst of all, by categorizing our sins, we perpetuate our favorite, most damnable lie – that doing our religious best keeps us in God’s good graces.
Our problem is not merely that we don’t get all that upset about sin. Our problem is that we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness. We have grown casual and complacent. The message of repentance is not urgent because we expect God to meet us as we are – just like everyone else has to.
We are no better than a brood of vipers, a nest of Satan’s snakes.
So what is God’s final judgment about sin? Does size matter? How will He rule on the matter of our lawlessness?
Here is the sound of God’s gavel falling on all of this nonsense:
· “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3).
· “Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
· “Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin” (Galatians 3:22).
· “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
So when it comes to sin, does size matter? Yes! All our sin is too big.
The pressing questions are not, “Is my sin bigger than yours?” Or, “Is yours bigger than mine?” Instead, it’s the question, “Which sins are bigger than Christ’s willingness to forgive?” Or, “Which offenses outweigh the cross?” Or, “Which laws of God that you’ve broken are so bad that Jesus cannot rescue you from them?” “Exactly which sins are so enormous, so heinous in the eyes of the Judge, that the blood of Jesus Christ cannot atone for them?”
There are no sins that are too big for Christ to forgive. He forgives the repentant abuser or abortion provider, just as He forgives the repentant for the accidental adultery or outburst of anger. There are no offenses that outweigh the cross. He has nailed to the cross the little white lies you’ve told at work as well as the secrets you’ve kept hidden from your spouse all these years. There are no laws so damning that Jesus cannot rescue you from them. He endured the wrath of His heavenly Father for every sin from Adam to the last man on earth. There are no sins that are so enormous that the blood of Christ cannot atone for them. The divine blood of the Son of God is more powerful than the countless sins of mortals.
Look at the people in John the Baptizer’s crowd for evidence of that. The Pharisees were making people’s lives miserable by placing undue religious burdens of the law on them. The tax collectors were making people’s lives miserable by cheating them out of their money. The Roman soldiers were making people’s lives miserable by forcing their every whim upon the common Jewish folk.
Yet what did Jesus do with those Pharisees, tax collectors and soldiers? Jesus reached out to Nicodemus the Pharisee one dark night and removed the burdens of the law from him. Jesus ate dinner at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector and forgave him for his cheating ways. Jesus convinced a Roman centurion at the cross that this man who had died really was the Son of God.
John preached, “One more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus’ baptism is for the newborn infant in the hospital, the foreign exchange student at Shoreland, and the convicted and converted murder on death row. For Jesus’ baptism fills young and old alike with the power of faith and forgiveness from the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Lord’s Supper is for the frequently absent confirmand, the couple struggling in their marriage, and the shut-in who is grumpy with constant pain. For Jesus’ Holy Supper offers, gives and seals forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith for those who believe.
Jesus is fair in that He uses His winnowing fork for all people. He gathers the wheat into His barn, but He burns up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
John was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, but that’s because Jesus would use those sandals to accomplish so much. With those sandals, He stepped on the Ancient Serpent’s head. He allowed the sandals to be tossed aside when His perfect feet were pierced with nails. Then those perfect feet were used to walk out of the grave alive.
This is good news and it changes people. John confronted people with their sins so that God might call them to repentance and then bear the fruits of repentance in their lives. In this way, John connected what happens in the heart with what is lived out in life. The repentance John called for is not just avoiding the negative, it is also doing the positive, activing in love toward the neighbor. That’s why John gave instructions to the tax collectors not to collect more than they were required to, the soldiers to be content with their pay, and the general public to share their tunics and food with the less fortunate. God’s Word works.
In Christ, there are not a variety of sin sizes. Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be your sin on the cross. And in Christ risen from death, you have no sin whatsoever. So long as you are in Him by faith you are free, forgiven, beloved, perfect, chosen, wanted, and treasured.
The Bible teaches this good news: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
When it comes to sin, does size matter? Yes! Each sin is too big. But God’s love for you is bigger. Jesus’ forgiveness of you is greater. The Holy Spirit working repentance and sanctification within you is deeper. Amen.