Naked as the day we were born

Message preached October 15, 2000
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon
Hebrews 4:12-16

As far as I know, none of us remember the time when we first entered this world, breathing our very first breath. Furthermore, while Iím no expert in this, Iím fairly certain that all of us arrived on the scene buck naked. If anything, we wore what my family growing up called our "birthday suit." Of course, ever since that initial moment, weíve been involved in a cover-up of one sort or another.

Thereís nothing wrong with covering up, mind you. It is quite a shock to go from the warmth of a motherís womb out into the "cold, cruel world," after all, even if that "world" is the most up-to-date birthing room available. Life is never the same after that point. From there on, weíre expected to grow up. All-too-quickly our birthday suit gets left behind.

Not long after we moved here, Karen was busy over in the parsonage on a warm day when she heard raucous laughter coming from over in the direction of the church. The window to the quiltersí room was open that Wednesday, and she could hear them howling away at something. Then she caught sight of one of our children (who shall remain nameless), a 2-year-old at the time, prancing around in the back yard, oblivious to the world, dressed only in a big pair of yellow dishwashing gloves. They were naked as the day they were born.

Similar stories could probably be told of each one of us. After a certain age, such tales give way to embarrassment. Is it comforting to know that someone remembers us way back when we only wore our birthday suit? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

The book of Hebrews speaks of someone who remembers us naked as the day we were born. This "someone" was there when we took in our first breath, as well as long before that. This "someone" has known us at every step along the way, and that knowledge of us goes far beyond that of an earthly mother or father. This "someone" will be there when we take in our last breath, as well as far beyond that point. Who is this "someone?" as if I really need to ask.

"The word of God," Hebrews says, "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account." (4:12-13)

Do you find those words comforting, that someone not only remembers you the way you once were, but knows you fully the way you are right now - naked as the day you were born? Maybe yes, maybe no. Weíre not talking skin deep here, you know. This knowledge, like the most advanced surgeonsí knife, cuts through everything - and I do mean "everything." When we pray with the Psalmist, "may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer," (19:14) weíre not just whistling dixie. This One to whom we pray, and to whom we all must one day give an account for our lives, sees it all.

Now, letís not get technical here. I realize that this passage from Hebrews is referring to Godís "word" as a sword piercing to the heart of the matter, cutting through our defenses to expose us as we really are deep down. Letís not, however, make the mistake of substituting something impersonal, like a book that only sits on a shelf gathering dust, for someone who lives and speaks to us. The Bible is Godís "word" only insomuch as we listen for his voice through it. "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth," the prophet Isaiah said for God. "(My word) shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (55:11)

Before this word, before the One who spoke it, weíre all naked as the day we were born. Now, is that a threat or a promise? I suppose it depends upon where youíre standing when you hear it. If you know deep down that you arenít standing upon solid ground, that what you say isnít connected to what you mean, that how you behave (especially when you think no one else is looking) is not what you believe, then I suppose those words can be heard as a threat. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Now, you know Iím not a "fire and brimstone" kind of preacher, like some of my predecessors in the pulpit. I hear stories from some of my elders here at Long Green about brother William Roop, for instance, and his no-holds-barred preaching. He, and others like him, could get pretty vivid in describing the consequences of sin and the reality of hell. Many people came to the Lord through his preaching. Sometimes it takes a threat to wake us up. Is that wrong? Of course, in this day and age we donít like talk of judgement. But what we like or donít like doesnít change the fact that one day weíll meet our Maker face-to-face to account for our lives, and we wonít be able to fool God, before whom weíll be naked as the day we were born. On that day, weíll all need to heavily rely upon the One who promises to stand with us.

Thereís that "promise" word again. Let me repeat the question, then. Is this statement, about God knowing us completely, a threat or a promise? Do you remember that Old Testament character named Job? He was the guy for whom everything went right and then, for no reason apparent to him, everything went very wrong. It wasnít because he was a two-faced kind of fellow. He was about as "righteous" as a person could get. Still, everything fell apart for him. He lost even the shirt off his back. Quite literally, in his grief over tragedy after tragedy befalling him, he was as naked as the day he was born, covered only with a bit of sackcloth and ash.

He did have a few friends who sat with him as he wondered why things turned out this way. In fact the majority of his story, as itís told in the Hebrew portion of our Bible, is a conversation between him and his friends. For the most part their responses to his sometimes angry, sometimes depressed thoughts are predictable. He must have done something that caused God to allow this to happen, they said. After all, God is God, and God knows everything. Thereís the threat, spoken in a variety of ways.

But Job is not satisfied with that threat. He knows it is true. All he wants is his day in court to find out why, to face God, before whom all stand naked as the day they were born. Do you catch the difference? Job doesnít see this as a threat, but as a promise. "Oh, that I knew where I might find him," Job says, "that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge." (23:3-7)

Those are hopeful, not fear-filled, words on Jobís part. Facing the living and active God would be for him a positive thing, not a threat. The hardest part of his present circumstances, as anyone who has faced suffering can attest, is the feeling that God is nowhere near, that God either doesnít care or is not living and active. "If I go forward," Job cries, "he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him." (23:8-9)

The Psalmist has a similar cry. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest." (22:1-2) Do those words sound familiar? Did not Jesus, himself, repeat them as he was dying upon the cross? (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46) There he was nailed before every eye that dared to look, about as naked as the day he was born.

Speaking of birth, do you recall the passage of scripture with which we began our service of dedicating those two infants and their parents earlier this morning? "Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God." (Psalm 22:9-10) Those words come from the same Psalm as Jesus quoted, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Did God, who took Jesus from his motherís womb and kept him safe on his motherís breast, abandon his own Son? If we ended the story there, weíd have to say "yes." But this story, as every story, continues.

Just like that passage from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. It does not end with those words which sound like a threat to our ears, about how before the eternal judge everyone stands naked as the day they were born. No, this "word" of God goes on, and herein we discover the promise that it holds. Listen as I read from the Contemporary English Version of this text.

"We have a great high priest, who has gone into heaven, and he is Jesus the Son of God. That is why we must hold on to what we have said about him. Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

By the way, the story of Job also continued. After all his complaints, beyond the platitudes and warnings of his friends that God was not to be messed with, Job did have his encounter with God. Out of it he didnít receive any answers as to why everything went wrong for him, just like few if any of us get to see in life why rotten things happen. Still, Job stood before his Maker, as naked as the day he was born, and the promise came true. It was enough to change his life.

So it remains for us. When we stand, amazed even, in the presence of God, before whom nothing is hidden, is that a threat or a promise, bad news or good? I guess it depends upon where you stand, or better yet, upon who stands with you... No "fire and brimstone." Just an invitation. Come, boldly stand with Jesus at the throne of grace. Just as you are, in reality as naked before God as the day you were born. Donít be afraid. Trust in Christ Jesus.

©2000 Peter L. Haynes

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