This will be a brief hypothetical sermon, because we don’t have any sinners among us today. There are no shady areas in our lives – no worldly tendencies – no inner sins. Furthermore, there are no false doctrines hidden away in our hearts – no radical Biblical interpretations. Ours is a church of perfect agreement and fellowship in every area. So the point of this message is directed towards others who are not among us at this moment. (I hope that you all realize that I am being facetious.) What we see in the leadership of the Jews can pop up in our lives under the guise of our sins – perhaps different from theirs, but the similarities can be obvious.
At some point a thought arose in the mind of one of the scribes – or one of the members of the Sanhedrin. He presented his concern to a few of his co-conspirators until the spark became a conflagration. “The man we just crucified has publically declared that he would arise from the grave – he promised to return from the tomb.” It could be that the men who first voiced this problem, were among those to whom the Saviour was speaking back in Matthew 12. “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, Master, we would see a sign from thee.” I can just imagine that earlier context, with those sly lawyers trying to outwit the infinite Son of God. I can envision the anger of the Lord rising just slightly, as He looked directly into the eyes of the men who uttered the challenge. “He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” I can imagine those words, driven by those eyes, being burned into the back of the men’s brains. And now that the Son of God has been crucified, Jesus’ declaration came flying back into their minds like the residual effects of their previous shingles attack.
Our title this afternoon is “The Anxiety of Evil.” Let’s use this illustration to try to define some forms of evil, and what might bring them about. Then when they are exposed, what might be done to ameliorate or eliminate the anxiety they produce.
Evil can take a great many forms.
The thought process in putting a sermon together can sometimes be as interesting as the sermon itself. For example, someone might ask why I chose to use the word “evil” rather than “sin” in my title. My answer is that it sounded more poetical to my ear – to my heart. In trying to work under the Spirit’s direction, that was simply the first word which came to my mind, and I chose to stick with it over other possible words. But I did ask myself why I used this word. Did you know that the word “evil” is found more than a hundred times in the New Testament? And W.E. Vine defines “kakia” as “badness in quality” denoting wickedness, depravity and malignity. In other words, it is a worthy synonym for “sin.” Wickedness, depravity and malignity are the things which we see in this text.
Sin can take a great many forms, but it is usually found in one of three major varieties. There are the actual physical deeds – the acts of evil and sin. There are sins of murder, deceit, adultery, theft and an army of others. There are evils which can be carried out with a person’s hands, like the slaps and punches which fell upon our Saviour. But then there are the sins which cannot necessarily be seen – or they have not yet been exposed. A person may be filled with hatred or vengeance, but it is tucked away – locked away – in a man’s heart, while a plot is devised to carry it out to its logical conclusion. Christ Jesus exposed hatred in the heart as murder before the eyes of God. Lust may never be exhibited in a public way, but the Lord sees it as adultery. There are a multitude of evils which never get beyond the heart, but they are still sins before God. There are deliberate sins of the heart like jealousy, envy, hatred, pride, covetousness, hypocrisy, and even unspoken blasphemy. “Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!” And then there is another kind of sin of the heart – the sins of neglect – prayerlessness, lovelessness, a lack of forgiveness.
Did the evil of this text begin with sins of the heart or was it a sin of the head? It was based upon a form of unbelief – it was built upon a deliberate rejection of the Word of God. Christ Jesus spoke and these people cast His words aside. There is a type of heresy in these men. Heresy is one of the great evils – one of the great sins – of our day. Heresy in salvation; heresy in regard to the person of Christ; heresy about God’s promises. In this case it was heretical opinions about Christ and the promise of His own resurrection.
The evil in these men’s heart produced a certain anxiety.
There are things in my ancient past about which I am not proud – things about which I am ashamed. There is nothing recent, in case you are interested, and only few since I have been saved. I have mentioned some of these in the last twenty years, so I shouldn’t be charged with hiding them. But still, I am not proud of them, and rarely speak of them. It would help my message this afternoon if you had some of these, but of course you don’t. Why is it that after all these years, when I remember those things, my face flushes and my heart skips a beat? Part of the answer is that I have a conscience. Do you have a conscience? Does it ever remind you of its presence? Does it remind you of your past sins?
The human conscience is something for which the evolutionist has no explanation. It is something which the Lord has created in all of us. It can be silenced; it can be seared into silence like a cauterized wound. It can be twisted around until seems to be looking backward or upside down. A conscience can be so abused that when it speaks, it lies to its host. It is said that some people don’t have a conscience, but often it has been so beat up that, like a battered wife, it keeps coming back begging for forgiveness. Everyone has a conscience. Was that what jump-started the events of our text? For the Christian, the conscience is often a tool of the Holy Spirit, but in the case of these men, we can’t be sure what ignited their hearts.
The anxiety of evil can arise when we realize that we are on the verge of possible exposure. The man who has been embezzling from his boss, may take special steps to cover his sins when the new accountant begins to examine the books. The child who has lied may be forced to lie again when it appears that his first lie is going to be exposed. As I’ve said before – sins are gregarious – they rarely stand alone. Misery loves company and so does evil.
Christ had performed a multitude of miracles, and every one of them pointed to His deity. But the men who authorized Jesus’ crucifixion had conveniently ignored them – at least until now. Besides this Christ challenged them to point out any Biblical sin in his life, but they couldn’t do it. Did this come up through the conscience of any of these men, now that Jesus was dead? Perhaps some of them heard the Centurion when he said, “Certainly this was a righteous man,” and for the last few hours those words had been ringing in their ears. In this way, they are like many people who have attended the services of one of the Lord’s churches, but who have walked away unconverted. They will remember, and hopefully what they heard will create an anxiety in them before it is too late. On occasion the smartest lawyers among these Pharisees confronted Christ with plans and plots to confound Him, but they were the ones who went away shaking their heads. Now, after the crucifixion were the consciences of these men pointing them back to these things? These priests and Pharisees were directly involved in the brutal treatment of the Lord. They were the reason that Pilate agreed to this crucifixion. Were any of them feeling guilty about that? Perhaps some hadn’t slept in a couple of days. Perhaps they couldn’t eat.
There was an anxiety creeping into their bravado, into their false doctrine, into their very souls. Were any of them beginning to wonder if Jesus really was who He said he was. They were unwilling to follow Nicodemus and Joseph into Christian discipleship, but they certainly didn’t want their faith to collapse. In order to strength themselves in their doubts, many will do anything to maintain their weak position. But what could these men do? “Let’s put a guard around the tomb and seal upon the door.”
What do people do in order to ameliorate this kind of anxiety?
Earlier these same men laughed and ridiculed the Person and the doctrine they feared. Look and listen to them while Christ still hung upon the cross. They took the very things which Jesus said – the things which these men fearfully denied – and threw them back into the face of the Lord. “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” The last empty argument of the defeated debater is ridicule and slander. If there was any substance to their fallen faith and doctrine, why didn’t they sooth their anxieties with those? Where were their scriptures – their logic – their irrefutable proofs?
What do people do to soften their anxieties? Diversion is a common practice, although that is not what we see here. People often immerse themselves in secondary things in order to avoid the primary things. They will even use doctrine in that way – focusing on smaller questions so that they don’t have to face the important things. I will never discount the fact that drugs and alcohol are addictive. But some people use them to hide themselves from their problems.
Other examples are sports, recreation and entertainment. The sports television channels are filled with ads for a new form of gambling – fantasy football. In one of those ads, the speaker says, “My Sunday’s have never been so exciting.” That statement says several things on several levels. Some people use football as a means of hiding from the Lord – hiding from the Lord’s church. Church is dull – the house of God is boring – why? Because of the poor quality of the preaching? Perhaps But more often, the football is used to cover the fact that the man is convicted by what is to be found in the House of the Lord. He uses entertainment, football, gambling to sooth his spiritual anxiety.
What might people do to cover their anxieties? They might take the offensive, just as we see here. “Let’s not lay back on our heels. Let’s attack the potential problem.” “Sir, we remember that that deceive said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, let his disciples come by night and steal him away.” This reminds me of those cults which say they base their doctrine on the Word of God, but in order to get and keep their converts, they write new scriptures, elevating them over the Bible. They have their books of Mormon, their Keys to the Scriptures, their declarations ex cathedra.
Do you suppose that after securing their dead captive, they went home and slept peaceably? I have my doubts. That which made them anxious in the first place was still there – their conscience and the promise of God. Their worries intensified until they exploded with the news of the empty tomb. But did this impel them towards faith in Christ? No, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
What is the only real solution to anxiety like this? Nicodemus and Joseph had been a part of this same unbelieving, anxious group. But these men submitted themselves to the Christ their former friends where trying to keep entombed. The priests and Pharisees were trying to calm their wicked rebellious hearts with means which were doomed to fail. The only guaranteed solution to the anxiety of sin is to be found IN Christ Jesus – not against Him. And Christ once said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
As I said, there are things in my past for which I am ashamed. But I have left those things with my Saviour. They are covered by His blood. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all evil – all unrighteousness.”