The Puzzle of AbuseErwin W. Lutzer | November 15, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Abuse is everywhere. Whether it’s physical, sexual or verbal—all are destructive.
To the abused: Jesus bore your burdens, He knows your pain, and He calls to you to trust in Him. He was beaten so badly that people questioned whether or not He was a human. He went through that for you. Call on Him to help you.
To the abuser: Jesus died for your sins too. He didn’t die for just nominal sins, He died for all sins. And you, too, can experience His forgiveness because He is a real Savior for real sinners.
To everyone: every abuse you hurl—physical, sexual, or verbal—every abuse hurts Jesus. And because His abuse and rejection, death and resurrection, brought about our forgiveness, we can, in turn, forgive others.
The topic today is abuse, and I need to tell you that abuse occurs in all kinds of families—good families (supposedly good) as well the ones where we might expect it. As a pastor, the letters that I receive that are most heartbreaking—sometimes I am almost unable to read them—are stories of abuse that people write to me, sometimes asking for counsel and sometimes wanting prayer. They come from women in destructive relationships, children growing up in homes where there is division and strife and all kinds of abuse, and it is everywhere. Yes, there is physical abuse—slapping, hitting, kicking, whipping, shoving, pushing, punching—intended to humiliate and intended to control. And then there’s also verbal abuse, which can be even more destructive—swearing, name-calling, obscenities, belittling, downgrading, and shaming. It’s all there. And then I think of that terrible thing called sexual abuse. What we need to do is to realize that when a child is sexually abused he or she will believe that their only value to adults and to others is their sexuality, so as a result of that experience, they will tend to mimic again the type of abuse that they received as a child, even as they go into adulthood.
Just recently I received an email from someone who told me the story of a woman whom I came to know many, many years ago who was actually visiting this church. She had two children. Her husband died and she remarried. Now she has a 20-year-old daughter who had a child out of wedlock and now the daughter confesses what the mother suspected, namely that her stepfather had sexually abused her for nine years. Now just think of this situation that the mother is in. Her husband now is in jail, thankfully, where he should be, but on the other hand she is the breadwinner in the home. She is about to lose her house and she is spending her time in a job, trying to earn a little bit of money at Home Depot stacking shelves. I read that and I thought about the broken world in which we live. The stories, of course, are endless of men seducing young boys to go into homosexuality. We could go on in terms of all that means but we must hurry.
Now the devil, of course, plays a tremendous part in all of this because, you see, you and I are born with a desire to be valued, and if we are not valued, we will find that value. A sexually-abused child will find that value in destructive sexual relationships. We all want to mean something to somebody, and abuse goes right to the heart of who we are. And the devil likes it because he wants us to think that we are junk, that God doesn’t love us, that we are damaged goods, and we have no future. That’s the lie of the devil.
What are some of the characteristics of those who are abused? Well, of course, there is oftentimes rage and anger, and because this rage and anger is unacknowledged, what you have is, of course, all of it lying there that is going to come out at some point in a future relationship. You also have numbness of emotions. After all, you have to turn your emotions off. You couldn’t deal with the pain, and because you couldn’t deal with it you had to simply shut down emotionally and check out, and that’s why abuse carries on from generation to generation. Here’s an angry man (or it could be an angry woman) and when he abuses his children he has no feelings for them. He does not enter into the pain that he’s doing. It’s all fully justified in his own mind.
So you have those characteristics and then in addition to that, you have a great deal of guilt, because remember the abuser always blames you. It is your fault for what is happening. And then if that isn’t enough you also have a tremendous amount of shame. And so you hide in the shadows. You hide from your friends. You hide from yourself and you even hope that you can hide from God.
What about the characteristics of the abuser? One of the great and first characteristics that I have listed is that he doesn’t think that he is an abuser. Maybe he was brought up in an abusive relationship and he thinks that’s the way it should be, or likely he simply justifies what he’s doing, so he lives in denial and you can’t reason with him or her, at least very well.
Another characteristic is that he is very narcissistic, and because of that narcissism he blames others. “You made me hit you,” he says. “It’s your fault that I’m swearing at you. It’s your fault that I broke your wrist.” It’s always your fault. Because of his narcissism he takes no responsibility for what he’s doing, and then of course, oftentimes he’s charming. You have to understand that abusers sometimes are charmers. It’s a difficult story to tell, but frequently when abuse happens and someone points out that a person was abusive people say, “I don’t believe he was abusive. Look at how nice he is.” Yes, remember it is not important for him to be good, but it is very important for him to appear good, and so he can be charming and helpful. He’s the kind of man that all of the other women in the church wish that they had married.
And then there’s another characteristic, and that is he is filled with self-righteousness because, you see, he’s the only one who has a standard. He says, “You know the reason I slapped that kid is that in my home it’s not going to be this way, and you deserve to be punished because you overspent,” and so he’ll holler or he’ll hit, and on and on it goes.
Here’s a word to those of you who are listening as abusers. Whether it’s here in the sanctuary, whether it’s by the Internet, whether it’s on the radio or you are hearing this message on CD, I have a word for you. Would you get help real soon? I mean, like by tomorrow, because it’s never going to get better, and don’t you dare believe that lie that you are going to change, because you won’t. You’ve told yourself the lie before and you don’t have the power to change, and if you have been abused, please do the same thing. Get help.
I received a letter from a woman who said, “You know, I am in an abusive relationship. I had to leave. I went to a women’s shelter where all of the abused women are and I discovered there they were abusing their own children.” Break the cycle in the name of Jesus.
Well, we have some work to do today and so what I am going to ask you to do is to pray. Pray that God will speak to us. Pray that all of the defenses and the rationale that an abuser or someone who is abused might have might be broken down in the presence of Jesus who loves us and died for us. Would you join me as we pray?
Father, I ask in Jesus’ name that Satan who loves abuse because he’s a lover of evil—may his power be broken. May those who are bound in shame and in hurt come out of the shadows into the light of Your Word, into the light of your presence and may there be transformation. Lord, speak and may each person right now pray that You will speak to him or to her, and to me. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now I know that it takes a great deal of effort and time to overcome the effects of abuse. I know that. That’s why we have this hotline ministry called Set Free, but on the other hand I want to jumpstart the process. I want to help you on your journey today, and to do that, would you take your Bibles please, and turn to Isaiah 52? We’re going to very quickly walk through what Jesus did for us, and then we’re going to apply it to the situation of abuse and we’ll see its relevance. Normally we think of Isaiah 53, but I’m beginning at chapter 52 and then we’ll get into chapter 53. Chapter 52 is speaking about Jesus in verse 13. It says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely, he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you (and now it describes why they were)—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” Let’s stop there.
First, number one, the abuse that Jesus received! Imagine it. His form was so marred that He didn’t look human, it says in two different ways in the text we read. When the soldiers were beating Jesus and people walked by, the question wasn’t, “Is He the Son of God?” The question was, “Is that a human being?” That was the question. As a matter of fact, Jesus was so beaten (and Mel Gibson’s movie helps us here) that people probably walked by and said, “What is that thing that you are hitting?” Jesus experienced abuse, and the Bible says now that He shall sprinkle many nations. That’s probably a reference to His position as a priest to giving healing and forgiveness. The sprinkling of water was symbolic of forgiveness. You can also translate it, “He shall startle many nations.” Either translation works, because people are going to be surprised because the mouths of kings, the Bible says, are going to be closed because the whole issue is they are going to look back and say, “Oh, you mean that man who was so ordinary was the Messiah? Oh we can’t believe it.” They had no idea whom they were beating.
Abuser, I have a word for you. You have no idea who the child is that you are abusing. You have no idea who that little girl is that you are sexually molesting. You have no idea. Created in the image of God, special to God! Oh, I know Jesus was in an entirely different category, but the principle applies. Jesus was abused and the people who did the abusing at one level didn’t know whom they were hitting.
Let’s go on now and let’s look at the rejection of Jesus. This is in Isaiah 53. If you are underlining your Bible, as you should from time to time, notice that the Bible says in Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by men.” Why was Jesus rejected? It was for a couple of reasons that are right in the text. First of all, it was because of His background, for He grew up from a young plant and a root out of dry ground. Jesus came from Nazareth. That was like being born in the projects of Chicago. It was the place where people asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” The genealogy of Jesus was suspect, and you see, because of that, He was a root out of dry ground. You wouldn’t expect Messiah to be born in a genealogy that contains the harlot Rahab, and then you have, of course, also Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and David, and you wouldn’t expect that. A root out of dry ground—who is He? Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? So He was rejected because of His background.
He was rejected also because of His appearance. You’ll notice it says in the middle of verse 2 that He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him. He didn’t come looking like a king, and then it says, “and there is no beauty that we should desire him.” I love Jesus, but I want to tell you frankly that there’s no evidence in Scripture that Jesus was handsome or that He was striking in His appearance. He was very, very ordinary. There was no beauty that we should desire Him. I mean, if you talked to Him, I’m sure that His beauty came out and you realized that you weren’t talking just to a human being, but in the run of things He was not the most handsome person. He wasn’t the one that you would choose. There’s no beauty that we should desire Him.
He was also rejected because He was a man of sorrows. You’ll notice in verse 3 it says He was a man of sorrows. After all, who wants to be around a man of sorrows? We want to be around people who are happy, but He’s a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And that’s why we sing, “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim, hallelujah, what a Savior.”
And so for these reasons Jesus was rejected. Now He was abused, and He was rejected, but now I want us to look at the burden that He carried, and for this we’ll go to verse 4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” Wait a moment. What’s happening here? Look at Jesus there in the garden. Look at His sorrows. Look at His grief. Is that His grief? No, that’s my grief. That’s your grief. He’s dying for us in our place. Again notice that it says, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” What about that iniquity? What about those transgressions? Those weren’t His transgressions. Those were my transgressions. Those are your transgressions. He was dying for sinners. He was dying for us. That’s what Jesus was doing. That’s why when Rembrandt painted his wonderful picture, The Raising of the Cross, he painted himself as one of the people crucifying Jesus, and that was theologically right. We are in this text. I was there when they crucified my Lord. I was there. I’m there in the text. My transgressions! My sorrows! He bore all that.
No wonder we have dysfunctional families. Look at what it says in verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” You know, sheep will be going along and they’ll be following the shepherd, and one sheep is following the other, and one ornery sheep gets off the track and goes in this direction, and all the other sheep follow. And that’s the way it was in some of your homes. The father got off the track into drink and immorality, and the whole family began to take that direction. We’ve all scattered, but the good shepherd is there.
By the way, always be impressed with the accuracy of Scripture. You’ll notice it says here that the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. There was no iniquity in Jesus. You’ll never find that in the Bible, but iniquity was laid on Him. God reckoned my iniquity and my sin and my shame and He laid it on Jesus so that His grief and His sorrow and His shame were all mine. And if you have the faith to believe it, it was also yours.
Well, how does this relate to the subject of abuse? Notice that the Bible says that by His stripes we are healed. I’m in the last part of verse 5. The chastisement that brought us peace—the kind of sacrifice that was needed to bring us —was upon him, and with His stripes we are healed. Some people think that this means that we can have physical healing whenever we want it. Physical healing was included, but we won’t get all the blessings until the day of resurrection when we are finally healed.
There’s a healing from sin which is paramount in the Psalms as well as in Isaiah—the healing of the soul and that also will never be completed until we are with Jesus. But we begin the journey here, and that’s what I am interested in mentioning to you.
So looking at this particular passage of Scripture, we ask ourselves of its relevance. First of all, remember this: Jesus bore what you and I can’t bear. I can’t bear my sin, iniquities, and my shame. I can’t do that. If I were to do that I’d suffer in hell forever and the process would never end, and you can’t do it either. So Jesus comes along as a Savior and He bears what we can’t—our sorrows—and in Hebrews 12:2 it also says that He bore our shame. It says He scorned shame. I love that phrase. Jesus said to shame, “Shame, shame on you.” Jesus bore our shame so that we could go free and so that we no longer have to be captivated by it in the shadows.
Now listen carefully: An abuser wants to share his shame. He wants to give you his shame. So you are brought up in an alcoholic home and you bear the shame of your father, and the shame of your relationships, and all of that, that are passed on to you. Listen, you are not Jesus. Don’t take upon your shoulders the shame of someone else. Jesus is the Savior, and you let Him bear people’s shame, but you don’t, because shame will hold you bound, shame will keep you in the shadows, and shame will shackle you. And the shame that you feel going for help, and the fear that you have of your abuser if you go for help has to be cast aside. Here at The Moody Church, we want an atmosphere where it’s okay for people to say, “Look at my past. I am broken, I need healing and here I am.” Come out of your shame because of Jesus.
Rodney Clapp has written this: “Does shame bind us? Jesus was bound. Does shame destroy our reputation? The Bible says he is despised and rejected of men. Does shame reduce us to silence? He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is silent so he opens not his mouth. Does shame expose our apparent weaknesses? “Oh, he saved others. Himself he cannot save,” the multitudes mocked Jesus. Does shame lead to abandonment? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Does shame diminish us? He was crucified naked, exposed for gawkers to see. Jesus bore our shame. Don’t you take someone else’s shame. Just deal with your own and expose it to Jesus.
This past week I read about a woman in a neighborhood abusing a boy in the neighborhood beginning at the age of three, and after sexually abusing him she would chide him and shame him for the fact that he didn’t have his clothes on. And that woman is evil, but let me tell you a couple of things. First of all, that boy needs to know that the shame that he feels is not his. He does not have to feel that shame. He’s bearing the shame of an evil woman.
But someone go find that evil woman. Someone track her down. Go into a hovel. Go where she lives and find her, and tell her that she can come to Jesus, too, and have her shame taken away. Somebody tell the people out there—the abusers and the abused—that we have a real Savior for real sinners. (applause)
Jesus just didn’t die for people who committed nominal sins; you know, the sins of the boys and girls in fine Christian homes. Oh no, no, no! A Savior like that won’t do for Chicago. A Savior like that won’t do for the abuse in our homes. As Luther said, “We have a Savior who comes to save us from damnable iniquities,” so that woman, too, can stand at the foot of the cross, and her shame can be taken away because we have a real Savior for real sinners. And so what we need to do today, folks, is to understand that the shame that binds us has to be cast off. We have to come to the light. All of us have done things of which we have been ashamed, and Jesus shamed shame.
Secondly, His abuse brought about our forgiveness. You see, when it says He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, it was because of that, that Jesus said, “You can now be forgiven, and you can be set free.” What wonderful news of the Gospel! Reconciled to God, reconciled to others as far as it is possible (there are some people with whom you cannot reconcile), but reconciled with oneself. You’ll notice it says, “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him,” so that you can make peace with the past, so that you can know and you can be reconciled to God, and in this large audience today there are some of you who have never been reconciled to God. You’ve listened to the Gospel over and over again, maybe, but you’ve never understood that what you need to do is to come to Christ. I am urging you to come to Jesus, by whose stripes we are healed. Our sin is taken away; our souls are restored; the process of recovery begins there in the presence of the cross, and some of you need to receive Christ as Savior. And I really do believe that in a few moments you are going to, because the Holy Spirit of God is going to be speaking to you, and already is, and you know who you are, don’t you?
As a matter of fact, in a few moments all of us are going to have the opportunity of praying with others, and I’ll be explaining that in a moment. But right now, I want you to let the Holy Spirit of God speak to you, and to know that we have an abused Savior for abused people. He was raised from the dead triumphant, and He has borne our iniquities, our sorrows, and He heals our souls’ diseases. Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood. Sealed my pardon with his blood, hallelujah, what a Savior.
Finally, it is because of this reconciliation that having been forgiven, having our shame washed away, we can now in turn forgive others. It’s necessary to be healed, folks. Whether you are one who has been abused, or you are an abuser, forgiveness is necessary.
Someone gave me this story.
In a seminary classroom a professor, whom we will call Brother Smith, was known for his elaborate object lessons. This day was no exception. On the wall he placed a big target and on a nearby table were many darts (arrows). Brother Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or someone they actually hated. Then he would allow them to throw darts at the person’s picture. One lady drew a picture of a girl who had stolen her boyfriend. Another drew a picture of a man who had mistreated her. Several drew pictures of those who had abused them. All of the students found someone they hated, and they did so very quickly. For some, the challenge was to limit it to one among so many.
The class lined up and began throwing darts with much laughter and hilarity. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart. Just then Brother Smith interrupted the students and removed the target from the wall. Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus. Holes and jagged marks covered his face. His eyes were pierced out. Brother Smith said simply, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it to me.” No other words were necessary as tears filled the eyes of his students. They could not take their eyes off the mangled picture of Jesus. Even after the bell rang they sat in their seats until one slowly left, and then another, and then another.
My friend, every abuse you ever hurled (whether it’s verbal, physical, or sexual), you are hurting Jesus. You mistreat your wife, you are hurting Jesus. You can sling those arrows. You can take those darts, but it’s Jesus whom you are hurting, and it is the same Jesus who invites the abuser and the abused to come, and says, “Let me take your shame away, let me take your sin away. Let’s shine light on this situation so that there can be healing.” See, that’s why we do sing (don’t we?) “Hallelujah, what a savior.”
Would you pray now with me please?
Our Father, I ask in the name of Jesus that You might grant to your people the freedom to seek out prayer, and that we all might humble ourselves and know that we need the prayer of others. We need the acknowledgement that we need You. For those who have never trusted Christ, may they do that. For others we ask for them as well. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.