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At an airport recently, I was reminded that no bottles of liquid larger than 3 ounces can be carried onto a plane.
Luggage was X-rayed. Bodies were scanned or patted down.
Terrorism is a real threat and must be taken seriously, but let’s put it in perspective.
Your chances of dying in a terrorist attack are about one in 20 million.
You are five times more likely to be struck by lightning, and you are 2,300 times more likely to die by your own hand than that of a terrorist.
You are far more likely to die from alcoholism, choking during a meal or texting while behind the wheel than from terrorism.
You are a far greater threat to yourself than any terrorist.
Perhaps that is why the angel, in announcing to Joseph the birth of Jesus, said, “You shall give him the name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
We are saved, not necessarily from the sins of others, but from our own sins.
That’s surprising, because we see others and the sins of others as the greatest threat to us.
Political threats, moral threats, secularism — we see dangers all around us, but are blind to the danger within ourselves.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were no different. They were not as concerned for their own sins as they were the sins of the Romans and the influence of Roman paganism.
Any messiah who failed to deliver them from such external, political threats seemed less than messianic.
But Christ, in his ministry, did not focus on the sins of the Romans or on the sins of others.
In Luke 13, when Christ is told of some murdered Galileans, he asked: “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too, will all perish.”
Jesus focuses our attention not on the sinners around us but on the sinner within each of us.
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.”
It is not the sins of others that send us to hell, but the sins within us.
It is not the sins of others that cause us the most misery.
It is our response to the sins of others — our unwillingness to forgive, our bitterness and resentment, that enslaves us and ultimately destroys us.
This is why Paul cried out, “What a wretched man I am!”
The power of sin in his life could be subdued only by a greater power, the power of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ and the new life that follows.
This new life, nourished by the Gospel, is characterized by new desires, the desire to turn from those sins that enslave us, to love as we have been loved by God and to forgive as we have been forgiven.
That is real salvation, salvation from the real threat confronting us.
Political messiahs focus our attention on external threats, on the sinners around us, but they ignore the real threat, the sinner within each of us.
They promise much, but they deliver little because they ignore your real need.
None of them can answer for your sins, and none of them will.
Only Jesus can answer for your sins and already has.
Only Jesus gives a new life free from the domination of the enemy within every one of us.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.
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