My pastor’s sermon a few Sundays ago, His Word Endures Forever, came for me on the heels of seeing, and listening to, John MacArthur.
One of the sermon’s points was especially impactful to me after listening to Mr. MacArthur’s witness of a long and unblemished ministry.
(If you’d like a chance to listen to His Word Endures Forever, it can be accessed here. My pastor, Nathan Franckhauser, talked about how Christians are apt to shrink into themselves when they are called out on a tarnished witness or reputation.
The label of hypocrite can be as effective as a piece of duct tape over our mouths, shutting us up, telling us we aren’t worthy to speak—especially when the label holds truth.
Nathan called it the modern-day Scarlett Letter.
But he pushed on, building into the idea that even when the accusations are accurate, we still have an obligation to stand for truth.
How do those who wear that letter have the confidence to move forward?
Open Letter to those who have Failed Jesus:
I’m unworthy too. But you know what? We were never worthy to begin with.
Now we’re just blatantly and painfully aware of it.
I’m not going to lie and say your sin wasn’t that bad. It was bad. It was crucify-the-God-of-the-Universe-on-a-cross bad. But you know that. You’ve come to understand what Simon the Pharisee couldn’t grasp—those who are forgiven much, love much.
Turning toward the woman, He [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
You tremble, wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked at the blood-stained feet of Jesus. You’re no longer trying to whiten ratty robes with the bleach of good works. Now you kiss nail-scarred feet and are rewarded as loving hands place shining robes over your shame.
You don’t take lightly the cost of those robes.
These are the truths you’ve come to understand. Here’s what you may not understand yet:
Jesus didn’t place that robe over your shame to hide your wretchedness from others.
That was never the point. Jesus covered your shame so that you would become acceptable in the sight of a holy God.
And our God can work with a tarnished reputation.
1 John 2:1-2 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
John is writing this letter to the church, encouraging them, admonishing them, hoping they won’t sin. But he wasn’t naïve. He knew sin would happen. John reassures us that when we do fail, our recourse is to run straight to the One we failed.
Because Jesus alone is the one who can make it right again. Jesus alone covers us with righteousness and sets us back on our feet. His Spirit whispers into our spirit, “Get back in the game.”
And, if anyone can sympathize with living under the shadow of a tarnished reputation, it is Jesus Christ.
Though sinless and spotless himself, the shadow of his birth was never far from him. When he preached his first sermon in Nazareth, his neighbors said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”Though sinless and spotless himself, the shadow of his birth was never far from him. When he preached his first sermon in Nazareth, his neighbors said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Click To Tweet
No one looked at him and asked, “Isn’t this the son of the Blessed Virgin?”
No reasonable person believed that narrative.
Did Mary’s story remind the pious Jews of the hated Roman conquerors, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus—both who claimed to be divine by having descended from the goddess, Venus.
Even Jesus’s own family thought he was insane. “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21
Yes, I know. That was Jesus. And though he took on our sin, he himself never sinned.
So, what about Paul?
And our enemy doesn’t forget either—especially when the label of hypocrite will benefit him.
But Paul’s sketchy reputation didn’t stop him from heading boldly into ministry. And, indeed, his brothers and sisters in Christ rejoiced for what Jesus had done through him and in him.
Paul had a deep and personal understanding of his unworthiness. He wasn’t just writing prose or trying to make a pretty point in 1 Timothy 1:15-17. He knew how wretched he was apart from Jesus.
But still, it can be argued that Paul’s recorded sins—though horrible—were before he knew Jesus. Is there an unworthy example for us?
What about Peter?
Peter, who ate and drank and slept by and walked with and listened to and touched Jesus. Peter, who denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’s most desperate night—not once, but three times.
Peter. The worst, most fickle friend a man could have.Peter, the worst, most fickle friend a man could have. Click To Tweet
Peter. Unworthy. Just like us.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus reminded Simon Peter about the conversation he had had with the other Simon. Jesus looked Peter in the eyes and asked, “Do you love me more than these.”
You know the answer— those who are forgiven much, love much.
Jesus didn’t stop there. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, but three times. One redeeming question for each heart-breaking betrayal.Jesus didn’t stop there. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, but three times. One redeeming question for each heart-breaking betrayal. Click To Tweet
Then he commanded Peter’s service.
As he now commands yours and mine.
Failing Jesus doesn’t have to be spiritual duct tape across our lips. Does a tarnished reputation damage our witness? Yes, but the Good News that Jesus preached in that first sermon in Nazareth was that he had come to put right what was damaged beyond repair.
Peter lived the rest of his life in service to Jesus. Not every moment of it was perfect service. But every moment of it was in service to a perfect God.Peter lived the rest of his life in service to Jesus. Not every moment of it was perfect service. But every moment of it was in service to a perfect God. Click To Tweet
With hearts submitted to God, even tarnished reputations can be redeemed.
How will God use your story?