Lesbian Sex, HIV, Esau, and Christ

Lesbian Sex, HIV, Esau, and Christ

It was a vexing, soul-stirring, Sunday morning.

First came my devotions, flaming with the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Second was a New York Times article about the transmission of HIV through lesbian sexual relations. Third came a powerful sermon, from the pastor at the church we’ve been attending, about Esau from Hebrews 12:12–17.

Here’s how they relate — and vex and stir — in reverse order.

The Insanity of Sin

Esau “sold his birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16). This is insane. His desire for food had made him irrational: “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32). Besides the spiritual aspects of primogeniture, the firstborn was to receive twice the inheritance of other brothers (Deuteronomy 21:17).

The pastor compared this to Bill Gates asking you for some M&Ms, and you saying, “Make me majority stockholder in Microsoft, and you can have some.” And he says, “Fine.” Such is the insanity of sin. All sin. That’s the deal. You get M&Ms; you lose eternal joy.

But here’s the hook: The writer to the Hebrews makes this an example of sexual craving, not gluttony. Verse 16: “See to it that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau.” This helps make sense — if senselessness can make sense of anything — of presidents and pastors who risk their entire presidency and ministry for brief sexual pleasures. From Clinton to Swaggart to Haggard, legacies and souls are peddled for lentil soup.

When Esau Is the Hero

Which brings us to the New York Times article, titled “In Rare Case, Woman With H.I.V. Infects Female Sex Partner, C.D.C. Says.” Same-sex desires are disordered and sad, yet they don’t have to become sinful acts. But what kind of strange force is at work, when two lesbians engage in reckless and repeated sexual activity, knowing that one of them is infected with HIV? Answer: insane force. Esau-like force.

But be careful not to think this Esau-like insanity is owing to the passions of the moment. It is, in fact, what we are taught by the very Center for Disease Control that is supposed to protect our nation’s health. Here is their counsel, quoted at the end of the article:

C.D.C. officials advised that all infected people having sex with uninfected people stay on daily antiretroviral drugs, which can reduce virus levels in blood and bodily fluids so much that transmission is highly unlikely.

Translation: When you play Russian roulette with each other, be sure there is only one bullet in the gun. This is not the fruit of momentary passion. This is the considered counsel of cultural insanity. Esau is the hero in this story.

The Striking Parallel

Which brings us, finally, to Jesus. In Hebrews 12, Jesus is contrasted with Esau. Esau could not endure missing one meal for the joy of his inheritance (Hebrews 12:16). But Jesus “endured the cross for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). It is a striking parallel in the original Greek, evident in our English:

Esau
who for a single meal
sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:16)

Jesus
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)

We are all cursed with the madness of Esau. We inherit it from Adam and Eve who chose one bite of fruit over eternal joy with God. We are all afflicted with congenital, culpable irrationality.

Awake to Real Joy

Here’s the good news. The remedy for this insanity is to wake up from the stupor and blindness that makes sin more desirable than God. Jesus modeled for us what that clear-eyed wakefulness looks like: “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

But far more than modeling, he was paying and purchasing. He was paying the debt for all the Esau-like insanity of our preferring sin to God. And he was purchasing a new heart — a seeing heart, a rational heart, a heart that will not trade Microsoft for M&Ms.

When Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it was the scream of the damned — damned in our place (Isaiah 53:5–6; Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:14). If we will repent and trust him, no Esau, no lesbian, no president, no pastor, no person will be condemned. Our sight and our reason will return to us.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.