“And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond.” – C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
What do you do when you are so full of guilt that you know for certain that no other human being could bear that weight when poured out? To whom do you go when the torrent is overwhelming? Who but God can handle that immensity and be there for you over and over and over and over, and can identify with your feelings of brokenheartedness as you do it each and every week… for weeks… on end… for years… with no end in sight. Which friends and family could endure that endless outpouring? Who could bear that sorrow without wilting and tiring of it and walking away?
There is only One Who can bear that burden, not just for me, but for the whole world.
The practice of Confession in the Christian church is given to us so that I can offload my sins to He Who takes my sins to death for me—none other than Christ Jesus. Imagine coming to Him with ALL of your sorrows, caused by your own sin and the sins of those around you, through your whole life, every day, every week? Imagine trusting Him enough that you can unload ALL of your suffering from pain and weakness, and your betrayal and failure and faithlessness.
Why do (or should) we receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ every week? Why don’t we do it once a month? Or a few times a year? Why do we do it so regularly? Why is the Lord’s Supper so critical to us sinners?
Speaking for myself, I can say that the weight of my sin holds me down, drags behind me each week like I’m hauling a bag of bricks. Some weeks it’s more apparent to me than others, but it’s always there, holding me back, weighing me down. It’s a curse.
What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. – Matthew 15:18–20
How many times have I left church only to hate people on the highway? It’s one of my favorite examples—how easy is it to hate someone whom you will never have to face? All that covetousness, lust, envy… no sooner do I receive Jesus’ forgiveness and His absolution and body and blood, but I am back at it again, hating and coveting, like a dog returns to its vomit.
But, worse, my darkest places come from being hurt by other sinners who are also struggling. It is not my natural reaction to forgive when I am betrayed, lied to, stabbed through the heart by someone’s words, their lies and manipulations and contortions. Sin begets sin among sinners. How quickly does someone else’s sinful treatment of me feel as though it gives license to me to sin against them? When harmed and in pain, how easy is it for me to lash out in self-defense to cause hurt back? How quickly I feel justified to act sinfully!
And each week in church, God’s words are preached and taught to me to remind me just how sinful I’ve been. I’m reminded that, no, as a matter of fact it’s not okay to treat my neighbor that way, no matter how he or she has treated me, no matter how much I may have been hurt. There is no justifying treating people that way. I learn I have sinned. I have sinned against God in doing so. And yet it constantly pours out of me. Whether actively lashing out at someone, or using some passive-aggressive tactic, or through sheer silence, I learn from God’s word that I am convicted of how I have sinned against Him in thought and word and deed. By what I have done and by what I have left undone.
And I have no defense. God’s word strips me of all my defenses of self-justification, and I stand naked and defenseless against His Law. I am at His mercy.
But that’s the thing, though, isn’t it? His mercy. I never cease to be astounded at how quick God is to forgive. He uses His Law to show me what I have done to deserve eternal condemnation, being tormented in hellfire for all eternity. I am guilty.
But He knows that. And that is not what He wants for me. We’ve heard it many times—for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die that we might have eternal life. We hear it often enough that it might seem trite.
But what good news is it to a convicted sinner—one who has been shown how he stands defenseless against the Law for his sins—to see and taste that God is so good that He is actually willing to condescend to become man and overcome death by becoming my sin for me, suffering the punishment that I deserve in my place, that I might actually be rescued from such a just punishment?
‘Good news’ suddenly seems like massive understatement. It’s so far beyond good news that I find myself in tears. At the same time that I find myself crushed by my wickedness, even more intensely I find myself shattered by such undeserved graciousness.
I, chief of sinners, am so loved by He Who spoke the entirety of the universe into existence—with all its planets and stars and galaxies, the heavens and the earth, with all their complexities and beauty—that He is actually willing to DIE for me so that I don’t go to hell.
And it is that forgiveness that He delivers into my ears and into my mouth weekly for those new sins I have just committed. It is so hard to believe that He loves me that much, that He would offer me that same forgiveness again. Even though I don’t deserve it after sinning against Him again, this week.
So I weakly and sinfully trust Him with my confession, bringing my tears to Him, my broken heart, my pain and agony and suffering. I bring to Him the sins that weigh on my soul and which are hurting me and others around me. And He is always there to receive them. He never tires of taking those sins from me so that He can take them to die on the cross as though they were His. He never fails to give me life in trade for my darkness.
And my life is easier. And more peaceful. And I’m more forgiving of my neighbors. And I’m more generous to them. And I’m slower to anger than I was before.
It’s not just good news… it’s astounding! All thanks be to God.