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No Need to Hyde

Thomas J Parlette

“No Need to Hyde”

Romans 5: 12-19

3/5/17

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the unforgettable story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Most of you know the story well, I’m sure. Dr. Henry Jekyll was a respected man in his community – a gentleman in every respect. But Dr. Jekyll had some secret vices which he kept carefully hidden from public view. Thus Dr. Jekyll had a dilemma – one still faced by people to this day. He wanted to maintain his reputation, but also be free to indulge his darker side.

So Dr. Jekyll hatched a plan. Late at night in his laboratory, he devised a mystical potion that would allow him to transform his physical features at will. When he drank the potion, he would become a different person. Thus he was able to move around town and practice his unsavory vices without his neighbors knowing anything about it. During the day, he was the amiable Dr. Jekyll, a credit to his community. At night, he was transformed into a monster called Mr. Hyde.

At first, Dr. Jekyll thought he was in control of these transformations, but such evil can only be held in check for so long. One night in his sleep, without any intent on his part, he was transformed into the evil Mr. Hyde. Even worse, the monster within him began to dominate his life and eventually took over completely. Dr. Jekyll disappeared – only Mr. Hyde was left.(1)

Stevenson’s point was that there is a battle going on within each of us. Each of us carries around a bit of Mr. Hyde, and if we don’t pay attention to our character, we too, can be dominated by our lesser selves.

It’s a very theological story. Which is not surprising given the author’s background and early influences. Stevenson’s maternal grandfather was a minister in the Church of Scotland. Young Robert spent many of his boyhood holidays at his grandparents house. Actually, both of his parents were devout Presbyterians, and since Robert was often sick as a child, his parents would read him passages from the Bible and from John Bunyan, the writer famous for the allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Even though as a young adult Robert Louis Stevenson declared himself an atheist, he once wrote about his grandfather the Scottish preacher. He wrote:

“Now I often wonder what I inherited from this old minister. I must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them.”(2)

It seems to me Stevenson may have inherited the very Protestant belief that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. We all struggle with our inner nature. All of us have a bit of Dr. Jekyll – some good within us, for sure. But we also have some Mr. Hyde as well. We all have some light and some dark within.

But why should this be? Paul tells us in Romans that it is because we are descendants of Adam. According to Paul, through one man, sin came into the world.

You know the story of Adam. He defied the commandment of God, he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He tried to become like God. The consequences of his rebellion were not only tragic, but extended far beyond Adam himself.

It’s interesting that the first thing the Bible says about Adam’s son Seth, is that he was made “in the image and the likeness” of his father. So it has been ever since. We are all created in the image and likeness of the first human, “Adamah.” There is within each of us a spirit of disobedience and rebelliousness. We want to go our own way, and do our own thing, put ourselves first without regard to our responsibilities to others or to God. The theological name for this spirit of disobedience is sin.

Paul wants us to know that the primary problem in human life is sin. That truth is at the very heart of our understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. The Judeo-Christian faith has always been concerned with ethics and morality. Part of being in a right relationship with God is to seek always to do the right thing. Deep in our hearts we know that. That is why we feel guilt when we do something we know is wrong.

How do you please the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? You do it by obeying God’s laws. God is a holy God who desires holiness, righteousness, and most importantly, love on the part of God’s children. Do the right thing at all times and in all places and you will live well in this world and in the world to come.

I suppose I could stop there. But there’s a question that still lingers. “How can I always do the right thing – I’m only human.”

Yes, and our humanity can be a real problem. Because we are human, sin, our dark side, is always present. We can’t always see it – but it’s always there, with the ability to cause damage.

Back in 1978, the nuclear submarine “Swordfish” was having problems with a loading piston in it’s torpedo launcher that kept jamming for some unknown reason. A team of divers arrived and tried in vain to fix the problem. Finally the sub had to be taken to dry dock and after weeks of work and 171,000 dollars spent – the problem was found. It turned out that when the sub was being built, a worker had dropped a 50 cent paint scraper into the torpedo launcher and it had lodged itself in so tight – nothing worked.(3)

Unresolved sin and guilt work just like that. We can’t see it – but it’s there. And over time, it can do a lot of damage.

By our very nature, we are sinners. In Psalm 24 we read, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in God’s holy place?” The answer the Psalmist gives is… “those who have clean hands and a pure heart…” And we have to confess that we have neither.

So is there any hope for us? Paul says there is – there is hope. Our hope is in Christ. There is a second Adam, says Paul, and that second Adam is Jesus Christ. The first Adam brought death and destruction through his disobedience. But in stunning contrast, the second Adam humbled himself, submitted himself to the will of God and provided for us a means of salvation.

Matthew and Luke tell the story of the Tempter himself coming to Jesus in the wilderness and telling him – “Go ahead, make some bread if you hungry.” Then he takes him to the top of the Temple – “Go ahead, jump, you won’t get hurt.” Then the two travel to a very high mountain – “Look out over all this – I will make you ruler of it all if you turn from God and bow to me.”

In his book, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go, Richard Rohr writes about this temptation story. He says:

“There are three primary things we have to let go of, in my opinion. First is the compulsion to be successful. Second is the compulsion to be right – even, and especially, to be theologically right. (That’s merely an ego trip, and because of this need, churches have split in half, with both parties prisoners of their egos) Finally there is the compulsion to be powerful, to have everything under control.

I’m convinced these are the three demons Jesus faced in the wilderness in Matthew. Until we each look these demons in their eyes, we should presume that they are still in charge in every life. The demons have to be called by name, clearly, concretely, and practically, spelling out just how imperious, controlling, and self-righteous we all are. This is the first lesson in the spirituality of subtraction.”(4)

During the Temptation, Jesus looked the demons in their eyes and conquered all three compulsions: to be successful, to be right, and to be powerful and in control.

Each time Jesus was tempted, he submitted his own will, his own self-interest, to the will of God. And the impact was this: Just as each of us share in the consequences of Adam’s sin, so each of us share in the benefits of Christ’s obedience. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners,” writes Paul, “so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

That one man, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Only Christ can free us from the power of sin. That’s the first thing we learn from today’s lessons. Personal discipline is helpful, but there are many disciplined people who are still captive to their sins. Good intentions are a fine starting point, but there is much time-proven truth in the adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There is a flaw in the fabric of human character than only God can mend. There is only one way that we shall ever be free from the sin that lives just below the surface in all of us – and that is to open ourselves to God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and God’s love. Only by looking to the new Adam can we escape the curse of the old one.

We are set free from the power of sin when we accept God’s gift of grace which comes to us through Jesus Christ. Only this grace will give us what we need to make a new start.

A French writer named Henri Barbusse was in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. While in that trench he overheard a conversation. One man nearby knew he was wounded badly, and he was dying. He knew he only had minutes left. He turned to a buddy and said, “Listen, Dominic, you’ve led a very bad life. Everywhere you go, you’re wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so here – take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life – do it quickly. Now give me your papers so I can carry all your crimes away with me in death.”(5)

That is what Christ has done for us – given us a new identity and a new start. The old life, dominated by the actions of the first Adam, has given way to the forgiveness and grace of the second Adam – Jesus Christ.

There is an ancient legend that the cross of Christ stood on the same spot where the forbidden tree stood in the Garden of Eden. It’s a just a legend, a story – we can’t prove it. Nevertheless, the poet John Donne used that idea for one of his last poems – one written on his death bed. It goes like this:

“We think that Paradise and Calvary, Christ’s cross and Adam’s tree stood in one place; Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me; As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face, May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.”(6)

It was John Donne’s way of affirming that there are two natures within each of us, the first Adam and the second, Jesus Christ. We are both dust and divinity. We are both Jekyll and Hyde. Within us, we have both Light and Dark. The central tragedy of our lives is our inability to save ourselves from our lesser nature.

But the good news is this – there is no need to give in to Hyde. There is one who transcended the limits of humanity – Jesus – who has made it possible for us to be free from the power of sin. Christ can set you free from the demons that torment you, whatever they may be. Look to Jesus – trust in him, and you will be saved.

Because of Jesus there is no need to Hyde any longer. Sin is always present – but t doesn’t need to control our lives. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are given a fresh start.

And for that – May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, p57.

2.    Wikipedia, retrieved 2/28/17.

3.    Dynamic Preaching, Vo. XXXIII, No. 1, p58.

4.    Homiletics, Vol. 29, No.2, p21.

5.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol, XXXIII, No. 1, p60.

6.    Ibid… p60.