In an article entitled “Men Met in the Hotel Lobbies” from the June 16, 1901 edition of The Washington Post, George D. Aldrich recalled a story from Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes guy): “He said that at a dinner party he had attended the guests began discussing the daily discoveries made to the detriment of people occupying high stations in life and enjoying the confidence of the business world. Dr. Doyle said that it had always been his opinion that there was a skeleton in the closet of every man who had reached the age of forty. This led to a lot of discussion; some of the guests resenting the idea that there was no one who had not in his past something that was better concealed. As a result of the controversy, Dr. Doyle said, it was suggested that his views as to family skeletons be put to the test. The diners selected a man of their acquaintance whom all knew only as an upright Christian gentleman, whose word was accepted as quickly as his bond and who stood with the highest in every respect. ‘We wrote a telegram saying “All is discovered; flee at once” to this pillar of society,’ said Dr. Doyle, ‘and sent it. He disappeared the next day and has never been heard from since.’”(1)
I should mention that I don’t have an old 1901 edition of The Washington Post lying around the house. A quick Google search brought me to that story a few years ago while I was prepping a sermon on the guilty conscience and the skeletons that we keep in our closets. I was drawn into Dr. Doyle’s “discovery” that even upright Christian gentlemen have skeletons in their closets.
I put the word “discovery” in quotes because what he uncovered shouldn’t surprise us. We all have them, don’t we? Skeletons? Shameful things we’ve done we hope no one ever finds out? Skeletons, as I use the term based on my own experience, are those really bad, embarrassing sins that we hope never see the light of day. Especially terrifying is the possibility that our closets will be exposed to the merciless courthouse of social media.
Maybe you can identify with me on this: I still feel guilt from time to time about skeletons that I know are forgiven! I confessed that sin. I’ve heard the absolution. I’ve received God’s forgiveness in Christ’s body and blood. But then I’ll read, say, a harsh rebuke on social media and my doubts will get the best of me. Questions start to flood my mind. Maybe I haven’t suffered enough for what I did? Will God see that I really repented? Am I sorry enough? Does “no condemnation” really mean “no condemnation”? When those thoughts creep in, Satan, “the great accuser of the brethren,” takes me by the hand, opens my closet, and makes a Vanna White showcase gesture at all the ugly skeletons I put in my closet.
I just can’t seem to get rid of my skeletons. Nothing I do seems to work. Running and hiding doesn’t get rid of them. It didn’t help the man in Dr. Doyle’s story. His guilt and sin went with him. Running didn’t clean his conscience. Likewise, pretending those skeletons aren’t there won’t work. Replaying the scenario over and over in your mind and assigning blame to other people doesn’t work either.
So how do we get rid of our skeletons? Well, we don’t. Jesus does.
Jesus opened your closet, stole every skeleton you own, and carried them to His death. Your skeletons no longer hang in your closet. They hang by nails on a wooden cross. It’s not your job to deal with your sins. Jesus has already shed His blood and died for them. Your skeletons don’t belong to you anymore. One more time for the people in the back: your skeletons don’t belong to you anymore! They belong to Jesus. He stole them. And you can’t have them back.
Here’s a passage of Scripture I keep close to my heart: “[A]s far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). I can’t read that verse enough. I can’t hear the absolution enough. I can’t receive Christ’s body and blood enough.
Through the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died and rose for all—yes, all—our sins, God brings peace where there is guilt and faith where there is doubt. It is in the reassurance and repetition of the Gospel that we can face the questions that plague us.
No, we haven’t suffered enough for what we’ve done. But Jesus did. No, we can’t repent enough or be sorry enough to put our consciences at ease. We know we can’t do anything to put them at ease. We’ve tried to no avail. That’s why, in our baptism, Jesus scrubbed our consciences in His blood. By putting away our sins by the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus allows us to confidently stand before our Heavenly Father with a clean conscience. Our sins really are forgiven. “No condemnation” really does mean “no condemnation.”
Sure, there will be days when the Accuser will lead you by the hand to show you what lurks in your closet. I say, let him. Really. Go ahead, open your closet. Because of Jesus, there’s nothing there.
(1) “Men Met in the Hotel Lobbies,” The Washington Post, June 16, 1901, pg. 18.