Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
My life is full of excuses—some of them mine, most of them belonging to others. My children always have a reason why they haven’t cleaned up the play room, why they aren’t ready on time, or why their sibling is crying. And that reason is never, “It’s my fault. I didn’t do what you told me to do. I’m sorry.” Other people share their excuses with me, too. “I know we haven’t been to church in weeks, but we’ve been busy. Janet had a gymnastics meet over the weekend. John had a stressful week at work and needed some time to relax. We’ve had something on the calendar every single weekend, and this was the first time we could stay home as a family.” No one ever says, “I guess church isn’t really a priority in my life. I always seems to find a reason not to go. I suppose I should just get myself there next Sunday.”
I have my own excuses, too. Sometimes I share them with other people, but more often I use them to soothe my own disappointment. “That sermon would have been better if I hadn’t been so busy last week. I should have been nicer to that person, but I wasn’t really feeling well. I know there’s a lot of work I need to finish, but I also need to give more time to my family.” I say those things to myself as a way of burying my failures—hiding them underneath a rational, logical veneer that allows me to keep my head up…for a while.
But the problem with excuses is that they hide the truth. They mask our real failures. They persuade us that there isn’t something wrong or that we can’t do anything about it. They chain us to our current circumstances, locking us in that place of failure, convincing us that things could be no other way.
How do you feel when you hear others’ excuses? Do you even notice when you make excuses for yourself?
In John 5:1-18, Jesus comes upon a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. For thirty-eight years, this man had been more or less lying in the same place. Day in and day out, he was stuck there. And Jesus walks up and says to the man, “Do you want to be made well?” Finally, salvation had come to this man. At last, after four decades of helplessness, the one thing this man had dreamed of was right in front of his face. And what did the man say? Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” and the man said, “I don’t have anyone to put me down into the pool when the water is stirred up.”
Don’t you just want to slap the man and take him by the shoulders and shake some sort of sense into him, yelling, “Don’t you see what Jesus is offering you? He’s asking if you want to be made well! Don’t make excuses. Just say, ‘Yes, please!’”
Of course, Jesus doesn’t wait for the man to get it. He heals him anyway. Perhaps that’s because Jesus sees something that I have a hard time seeing. He sees a man who has been stuck in his circumstance so long that he has forgotten how to recognize a way out of it even when it walks up to him and offers him the very thing he seeks. The truth is that sometimes we have been stuck in our helplessness for so long that we can’t even ask for help. The excuses have become our reality. And what then?
God comes and helps us even when we’ve forgotten how to ask for it. I hear a lot of Christians talk about salvation as if it were this thing God is holding out to us, waiting on us to take it. Those who ask for it receive it. Those who don’t don’t. We use words like “repentance” and “belief” to describe the process of “being saved.” “If you want to go to heaven,” we might say to our children or to someone who asks us about the Christian faith, “you must tell God that you’re sorry for your sins and ask him to forgive you and then believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again to save you from your sins.” And all of that is good and right and godly. But what happens when we’re stuck in a place for so long that we can’t even find the strength to ask for help? What happens when we’ve been making excuses for so long that our life has become one big excuse?
Well, God’s love is bigger than our excuses. God’s love is bigger than our inability to see salvation. God isn’t waiting on us to ask for his love before he will love us. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. That means he died for us while we were still stuck in our sin—even unable to ask for help. God’s love is where everything begins. God’s mercy meets us right where we are—even if we are unable to see it or ask for it. Thanks be to God that he sees through our excuses—not to demand that we leave them behind before he will redeem us but that he sees just how helpless we are and loves us anyway.