History books tell us that when the Romans would capture foreign countries, they would sometimes put their captives through a particularly gruesome form of execution. They would take a captive and tie him face to face, hand to hand, leg to leg and ankle to ankle with a dead comrade. As the dead body strapped to the living body would decay, the smell and disease of the dead body would destroy the life of the living body.
The ancient historian Virgil describes this cruel punishment this way:
“The living and the dead at his command
were coupled face to face, and hand to hand;
Till choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,
The lingering wretches pined away and died.”
That may seem like a disgusting way to begin a sermon, but it describes our own spiritual condition very well. You and I have been bound from birth to a dead body. It’s what St. Paul calls, “the body of death.” Eventually, if not cut free from this body of death, it will kill us.
Each and every one of us come into this world, bound to the original sin of our parents just as they did to theirs and so on all the way back to Adam and Eve. How often have we heard it said, maybe said it ourselves, “we all come into this world with a clean slate.” That would be nice. It would give each of us at least a chance remaining free from that ‘body of death’ that no one wants to be bound to.
But according to the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Scriptures always have the final say, because they are ‘holy,’ we are all born sinful and unclean, just as we have confessed, both to God and to one another. That is to say, we are born, bound to death because we are born in sin and the stench and disease of sin kills everything it is tied to.
The truth is, sin ruins everything that it is bound to. It causes nations to decay, marriages to fail, relationships to rot, individuals to die. It will turn the greatest of good causes to a bad end; it will cause the most fervent love to turn cold and bitter. Bound to sin, the noblest purpose is destined to corruption. Sin brings decomposition and a stink to everything it binds itself to and to everyone who binds themselves to it. And the inescapable truth is, we are all born ‘bound’ to sin.
I know that we all would like to believe that we can ‘flirt’ with sin without becoming ‘attached’ to it. At our boldest and most naive, we believe that we can bind ourselves to sin and actually change it, redeem it, even purify it. Until we realize that we can’t.
The Roman captive must have cried out, “Oh, if only someone would cut me free from this dead body because I am not able to cut myself free of it and it is killing me.”
St. Paul would cry same cry. “The good that I will to do I do not and the evil that I hate that I do. “Who will free me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
And you and I join our own voices with St. Paul and the roman captive, “Oh, if only someone would cut us free of our sin. If only someone would release us from the death that we are bound to and that destroys our life.”
And the response to our cry is fast and sure and certain. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to cut us free from the decay, stench, and disease of sin that brings death to everything that it is bound to. And those who have been set free from death express their grateful praise, “Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Son of God has come into the world to set us free from sin and death, and “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”
St. Peter calls Jesus the “Living Stone.” He is a “living” stone because He is alive; and a “living” stone because He gives life by cutting us free from death. Jesus came into this world to cut us free from sin and death. He was bound to our ‘body of death’ by those nails that bound Him to the cross. All of our sins were tied onto Him – and boy didn’t they stink. And not just our sins, but our sinful nature as well. And sin did to Him what it has always threatened to do to us. It killed Him in a most horrible and disgusting death.
But He is the “living stone” – just as He is the “living water,” and the “living bread,” and the “living way,” and the “living God.” “The death He died, He died to sin, once for all.” (Rom. 6:10) “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor.5:21)
And now, having cut the cords that bind us to that old, body of death, our Lord binds Himself to us that we may now be bound to His body of LIFE. He cut the cords that bound us to the sin of our parents by giving us the new birth of water and the spirit. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, we have been born again, not of a mother and father, but of God. In that holy rebirth, Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death and tied Himself to us for life, even eternal life.
Let that picture sink in. Picture it. God has bound Himself to you. God, the holy, holy, holy, God, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7) has bound you to Himself and Himself to you.
The cords by which He has bound Himself to you are His infallible Word and His iron-clad promise. Bound to Christ by the unbreakable bonds of His love, the cry of the captive is no longer, “who will set me free,” but rather, “who will SEPARATE us from the love of Christ… Neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:34-38).
If we would dare to believe this, we who were once bound to a body of death and destined to die, we who have now become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” if we would dare to believe this, who could stop us from, proclaiming the excellences of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.” (1Peter 2:9).
So now, what will you do with that life that you have been given? Bound to Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ bound to you, what kind of person will you strive to be? What kind of people will WE strive to be? What kind of Church will we strive to be?
Certainly we begin, both individually and corporately where Peter began this chapter, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
The Old Testament verse that is most frequently quoted in New Testament is Psalm 118:22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” It is a sad truth, maybe the saddest truth there is, that a person to whom Christ has bound Himself by His Word and Promise, through the waters of Holy Baptism, by the giving of the Holy Spirit, may strangely, still cry the old cry, “Who will cut me free from this body of LIFE?”
The temptations that surround us are great. They are clever and cunning. They are expert in creating desires in us for all kinds of things that they need us to buy, either with money or time or personal devotion. And some are innocent. But some of them are not – because they require us to bind ourselves to that from which Christ has set us free – and that He Himself will not be bound to.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Our Lord’s Easter victory is the victory over every temptation that has enticed us and led us to reject the ‘living stone’ to be bound by a millstone.
In the 8th chapter of Luke’s gospel, we read that account when Jesus sailed to the region of the Garasenes were he meets a man who was bound with chains and shackles and lived among the tombs. Here is a man who truly ‘bound to death.’ Our Lord is able to cut right through those chains and shackles with the two-edged sword of His word to set this man free. And I’m telling you, He can do the same for you.
In the 11th chapter of John’s gospel, we read that account of Jesus at the tomb of His friend Lazarus who has been dead for four days. He calls his friend by name, “’Lazarus come out!’ And the man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. And He said to them, “UNBIND HIM, and let him go.” And I’m telling you, He has done the same for you.
Jesus gave His disciples the keys that set us free from the sin and death that we are bound to. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) “These keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin.” (SA III VII 1) They lose the chains and shackles that bind us to sin and death; and they bind us to the One who forgives us all of our sins and binds us to His life.
Besides being the 6th Sunday of Easter next Sunday, it is also St. Patrick’s Day on the Church’s calendar. I’m a week ahead of myself I know, but hymn #604 in our hymnal is attributed to St. Patrick. The wonderful text of this hymn connects so closely to the theme we’ve been following here that it’s worth listening to.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith,
Christ’s incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan river,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom.
I bind unto myself today,
the power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that give temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me those holy powers.
Patrick is able to bind unto himself to the living God because the living God has bound Himself to Patrick; and I’m telling you, He has bound Himself to you.
And having been set free from your body of death and bound to Him who is your life, we proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.