1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
In 1818, one out of six women who had children died from something called “childbirth fever.” Back in the day, a doctor’s daily routine didn’t start with visiting patients, it started in the dissecting room. He started his day in the room where autopsies were performed. From there, from the dissecting room, the doctor made his rounds to examine expectant mothers. Back then, the thought of washing hands never crossed their mind … at least not until a doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis began the practice of strict hand washing. Dr. Semmelweis was the very first doctor to associate a lack of hand washing with the huge fatality rate. His practice was to wash his hands with a chlorine solution and after eleven years of being a doctor, he delivered 8,537 babies. Out of delivering all those babies, he only lost 184 mothers, that is about one mom out of fifty. Now that may not sound the best, but it is better than the one out of six which was the norm. Even though Dr. Semmelweis lost one out fifty, his colleagues laughed at him for his obsession with hand washing. He argued, “Childbirth fever is caused by decomposed material conveyed to a wound … I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proven all that I’ve said. But while we talk, talk, talk, women are dying. I’m not asking for anything earth shaking, only that you wash your hands. For God’s sake, wash your hands!” Even though he proved that washing hands saved lives, virtually no one believed him.
Now today, in literally every pubic bathroom which one visits, there are signs posted at the sinks, on the doors leading out of the bathrooms saying “Employees must wash their hands.” Some signs even tell you and me as the consumer that we should not forget to wash our hands. And not only are we told to wash, many bathrooms have diagrams which show us the proper procedure for making sure that our hands are clean. The purpose of this, the importance of being cleansed … so that we do not spread diseases. If hands are washed properly, then diseases aren’t spread. If diseases are not spread, then there are less sick people in the world.
Like Dr. Semmelweis, Jesus is not asking anything earth shaking from you and me this evening. John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We need to wash our hands, we need to confess our sins, we need to admit to God that we have sinned in our thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words … we need to regularly wash not only our hands but our souls. We need to wash our souls before God. It’s essential. The failure to confess our sins will result in a spiritual infection which will not only hinder our ability in the spiritual journey we find ourselves on this Lenten season but it will also infect our spiritual journey throughout our life.
This spiritual infection of harboring our sins within us shows us the severe importance of being cleansed. Outwardly things may look okay, but inwardly? … Well that is a different story.
In Psalm 32, we see David harboring sin inside himself. We don’t know if this is the same sin which he confesses in Psalm 51 where he realizes that not only sleeping with Bathsheba was a sin but that the killing of her husband Uriah to cover up what he did was also a sin. Either way, whatever the sin is which David is harboring inside of him… it is destroying him. Listen to how he describes it. He says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).
When I was silent, when I didn’t confess my sins, when I didn’t try to wash out the guilt which is building within my soul, my bones wasted away. In other words, David is in agony over sin! His body is wasting away. Because his body is wasting away and the heavy hand of God is upon him, he keeps reliving this sin within himself. As David continues to relive this sin, as he tries with everything within himself to not give his sin to God and as he tries to keep it tucked away in the dark corner of his heart … David’s strength, or as the Hebrew says it, the juice, the sap, the very life-moisture inside of him is sapped, its dried up. As much as he tries to live as if the sin doesn’t exist, the unconfessed sin is spiritually and physically infecting him. Whether it be to God directly or to the individual he has sinned against, the only thing left for David to do is to confess. The only thing left for David to do is be cleansed.
And there is a very important lesson in this for you as well as for me as we enter, as we go through this Lenten season together. As we journey our way toward the looming, dark cross of Good Friday we need to see that sin is an infectious disease. Actually sin is a terminal disease which has no human cure, it is a terminal disease which has sadly infected each and every one of us. There is nothing we can do with it or about it. We are told in Psalm 51:5 (NLT) “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” Sin is something we are born with, sin is something that you and I can do nothing about. No matter how many times I wash my hands, no matter how many times I soak myself in an oatmeal bath or take a hot shower, no amount of soap, no amount of scrubbing, no amount of water will ever cleanse my soul of my sin. No matter how hard I try to live a good and decent life … I, as well as for each and every one of you … there is sadly no distinction, there is no one who is better than another for we “all have sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We are all in desperate need of cleansing. Thus John tells us this evening, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
You know, there are some things we want that we just aren’t meant to be. Growing up I wanted to be a professional bowler, something which is not meant to be. There is a story of a young, very short boy who wanted so badly to play basketball. He even told his dad that he wanted to become a pro when he was older. Knowing that his son would never be able to play the game, the dad asked the local coach if there was anything he could recommend to make the boy taller. “You might take him down to the museum and put him on the old torture stretch rack,” the coach said.
Several weeks later the coach asked the father if putting the boy on the stretch rack had helped. “Well, it didn’t make him any taller, but he confessed to several things that I never knew.”
You and I want to be cleansed of our sin, we want to be free from the guilt which comes with that sin … but that is not something we can do on our own. There is no stretching machine to make us taller, there is no secret formula to cleanse ourselves. The thing we need to do, the thing which John tells us we need to do is confess … confess our sins. Confess our sins to the one we have sinned against, whether it be our neighbor or God … sin needs to be confessed. If it isn’t, then like David the guilt of our sin will eat away at us, it will torment us till we finally get to a point, like the stretched out young boy, where we can’t take it anymore and we just break down. We break down to our knees before the cross of Christ and cry out, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, forgive my iniquity” (Psalm 25:11).
I want you to close your eyes and imagine … you are there at the foot of the cross, you’re kneeling in the warm blood soaked mud … with sin darkening your heart … with life zapped out of you … with a bowed head, you cry out … “Forgive me Lord! Please Lord, forgive me for the sins I have committed.” … As you confess those words, as you confess your sins there in the warm blood soaked mud at the foot of the cross … there is a shadow which comes from behind you and covers you. The shadow looms over you and as it looms, you feel a hand being gently placed on your shoulder. And then there is a voice saying … “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20). With the pierced hands of the living Christ, Jesus helps you up out of the muck and mire of your sin, he cleanses you from all unrighteousness, and he embraces you as a long lost member of his family.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You may open your eyes.
With this cleansing from Jesus, your heart is now open to fully accept the love Jesus has for you. Your heart is open wide to fully accept the love of Jesus found in his body and blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. With your heart wide open as you come to his table and the love of God being poured into it so abundantly, more than what you and I can contain within us … the natural place for this cleansing love to go is to those around you. As you are made clean by the washing of God, the likelihood of spreading the sinful disease goes down and as Dr. Semmelweis observed … clean hands do not spread diseases. Hearts cleansed by the saving blood of Jesus, hearts cleansed by God do not spread sin but instead they spread the love which God has for you and all people. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, cleanse, guard, and protect your heart in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.