Blame and Doubt and Freedom

We as fallen people tend to be good at blaming others. If you work in an office, you’ve probably seen that people are very good at digging up old emails whenever something goes wrong in order to cast blame on another person. You see this with little kids too when something is broken in the house: it’s their brother or sister’s fault, or the dog did it. It’s never their own fault. If you’ve ever watched the TV show “Cops,” you’ve seen this as well, as the police pull over someone driving a stolen car and they claim that their “friend,” who they can’t name, “loaned” it to them. We prefer to cast blame on someone else, rather than accept blame ourselves.

We see this with Adam and Eve in Genesis also (see Genesis 3). They both eat from the forbidden tree, and so their eyes are opened and they now know evil. They have become rebellious against God. And so, they don’t want to accept responsibility for what they’ve done. As a result, they hide from God in the garden. They know they’ve sinned, but they don’t repent – instead they flee from the presence of the Lord.

However, like a good Father, God gives them the opportunity to repent and come clean by asking them, “Where are you?” The Lord gives them the chance to come out and explain why they are hiding and what they’ve done. This is their opportunity for both of them to say, “It’s all my fault, I have sinned against you.”

But, instead, Adam says that he hid himself from God because he was naked. That’s kinda silly, isn’t it? God made Adam; he certainly already knows what Adam looks like naked. There’s nothing there that God hasn’t already seen; he made everything. So, this is just an excuse. Adam is really hiding because he knows he’s done something wrong. He’s like a dog who sulks in the corner when he’s chewed on your shoes. So, Adam is trying to hide from the Lord, because he knows he’s a sinner. But, he won’t come clean, he’s trying to make it look like he’s hiding for a legitimate reason, which – even if it were true – actually isn’t all that legitimate.

The Lord knows why Adam is really hiding, though, so He gives Adam another chance to come clean. He says to Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

What’s the truthful, repentant answer to this question? The correct answer is “Yes, Lord, I have sinned against You and eaten from the tree from which you told me not to eat. Please forgive me.”

So, that’s the correct answer, but is this what Adam says? No! Adam tries to deflect responsibility for his own actions. He tries to shift blame. And who does he try to blame his sin on? He blames it both on Eve and the Lord Himself. Adam says, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

This makes you want to say to Adam, “Well, if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it to?” Adam says its the woman’s fault, and he wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t given him the fruit, and of course, it’s really God’s fault, because He made the woman. If only God hadn’t had created Eve, then poor Adam wouldn’t have sinned. Obviously, it’s all the Lord’s fault.

Well, then, God turns to Eve to see what she has to say for herself. Will she take some responsibility? No! She shifts blame as well. She says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Now, this may well be true, but it’s still Eve’s fault for eating from the tree that God told her not to eat from. Just as it’s Adam’s fault for not only eating from the tree, after God expressly told him not to, but also for not preventing Eve from eating from it. They both should have known better, because they had God’s Word. He told them not to eat from the tree, and they did it anyway, so it’s no one’s fault but their own.

And yet, look at what the Lord does. He turns to the serpent and says, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This serpent is Satan. He has been cast out of the Lord’s presence to live apart from Him. He is no longer a seraphim, burning in the Lord’s presence. Instead, he is as a fallen, venomous snake, a nachash, doomed to dwell in the dust of the earth. And what is more, the seed of the woman will come to defeat him and his days shall then be over.

And then, the Lord expels Adam and Eve out of the Garden, out from His presence, to await the coming of this seed of a woman who will defeat Satan and sin and death and clear the way back into the Lord’s presence.

Now, in the Gospels we see the promised seed of a woman doing just this. In particular, in Mark 3:20-35 Jesus is casting out demons and has begun his work of defeating Satan. If you look at the text, notice that what is in dispute in the text is not whether or not Jesus is casting out demons – everyone sees that he’s doing this. Instead, what is in dispute is how Jesus is doing this.

Jesus’ own family at this time thinks that he’s out of his mind, and some of the Jewish authorities say that Jesus is possessed and is casting out demons through the power of Satan. Jesus tells them, though, that what he is doing is in fulfillment of God’s promise of the Christ who would come to defeat Satan and his power. After all, how can Satan cast out Satan? If Satan casts out demons, then he will not be able to stand. Jesus is saying that he is casting out demons not by the power of Satan, but by the power of God. Jesus has come as God incarnate to defeat sin, death, and the devil. This incarnate Word of God is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But, the authorities deny this. So, Jesus says that “… all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” He says this because the authorities charged that Jesus had an unclean spirit. Jesus is casting out demons as the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the authorities are calling the Holy Spirit unclean and demonic.

These verses are where we get the term the “unforgivable sin,” meaning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But, what does this mean? I thought God forgave all sins through Christ?

That’s true, God does forgive all sins through Christ, but this forgiveness is received through faith. And faith is worked in us through the Holy Spirit coming to us through God’s Word. The Holy Spirit causes us to no longer hide from the Lord in our sins, but rather to say, “Yes, Lord, I have sinned against you.” The Holy Spirit turns us so that we repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness that comes through Christ.

St. Paul says in Romans 10: “… everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul then continues, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Faith comes through the working of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, which is spoken, written, and Sacramental. God has promised to work through His Holy Spirit to create faith in Christ in us. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not have faith, because we can not throu
gh our own power make ourselves have faith in Christ.

We are born as fallen sinners, bound to sin, death, and the devil; fallen sinners who can not free ourselves through our own powers. We are born into the world as houses occupied by a strong man who defends his turf. This strong man is Satan; because of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, Satan owns us. He won’t let us call on the name of the Lord to be saved, because Satan doesn’t want us to be saved. He’s got us imprisoned. He tricked Adam and Eve, because he wanted them to die, and he wanted them to worship him. Satan wants to destroy God’s creation, and he wants to keep people from calling on the name of the Lord to be saved. He does this by keeping us in bondage and preventing us from having faith in Christ.

So, in order to plunder Satan and take his possessions, he must first be bound. In order to save a person from Satan’s grip, Satan must first be bound so that the person may be freed and brought from the dominion of Satan to the dominion of the Lord.

So, on His cross, Jesus Christ defeated Satan, he crushed the head of that serpent. So, Satan is on the losing team; he’s already lost, but he wants to take as many people with him as he can. Yet, he’s been bound. His powers are limited and the end is coming for him. Satan is now the one bound and chained.

So, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son in order to remove the power of sin, death, and Satan over a person. A person, due to our fallen nature, is born captive to Satan and subject to sin and death, so the Holy Spirit comes to free that person to bring them over to faith in Christ. But, if the person rejects the Holy Spirit and calls him unclean and useless, then that person remains in his sin and remains a captive to sin, death, and the devil.

That’s why Jesus calls blasphemy of the Holy Spirit the only unforgivable sin. It’s because in order to grasp hold of Christ and the forgiveness of sins that comes only through him, in order to call upon the name of the Lord, a person has to have faith. And in order to have faith, that person must have the Holy Spirit occupying him. But, when a person rejects the Holy Spirit, when he hardens his heart, then that person will not come to faith and be saved, because he remains in captivity to sin, death, and the devil.

So, this brings up another important issue to mention. Have you ever wondered about your faith? Have you ever worried that maybe your faith isn’t strong enough. Have you ever wondered if you really have faith?

I think all Christians have these thoughts and worries from time to time, sometimes more than others. But, that’s ok. Keep in mind that people without faith don’t worry about their faith; it’s not even a passing thought in their minds, and Satan has no need to bother them. But, for the faithful children of God, Satan is always whispering in your ear and causing other problems to try to cause doubt and harass you. But, do not let him get the better of you. Tell him to go away, he’s a loser; God has fulfilled his promise of crushing his head and he has bound him. Satan is just a sad snake, dwelling in the dust of the earth, while God will raise up His children to eternal life with Him.

The people of Christ’s Church are God’s children, the family of God in Christ who have been set free from sins, set free from death, and set free from the power of Satan. The Lord baptized you into His name, feeds you with His body and blood, and sustains you through His Word. You are no longer bound, but set free to live as God’s children.

We see this in the Gospel text mentioned above also (i.e. Mark 3:20-35). Jesus points to those who have faith in him and says that they are his family. You are God’s people.

And so whenever doubts enter your mind, remember that your salvation depends upon God and what He has done, and He is faithful, and He has done it all for you. You are justified by God’s grace freely, as a gift, for the sake of Christ.

And God Himself has freed you from bondage to sin and the devil, and made you His own child instead, freed from death and destined for eternal life instead. He gave you this promise when He baptized you; He gives you this promise each week in His Word and the Lord’s Supper; and He will do what He promises you. The Lord keeps His Word. And He will strengthen you continually with His Holy Spirit to keep you as His own.

We see Jesus in the Gospels casting out evil spirits, and Jesus has cast out evil from your hearts and your lives. The Holy Spirit now dwells within you and He builds you up in faith in Christ for your salvation. And He prays with you and for you with “groanings too deep for words,” as Paul also says in Romans. And because of this, “.. I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:1ff). Amen.

 

(Image by Phillip Vere [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A11_Mark%E2%80%99s_Gospel_D._Jesus_confronts_uncleanness_image_1_of_7._Christ_heals_the_possessed._Jan_Luyken.gif