Begin the New Year in the Joy of Forgiveness
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
In "A Christmas Carol", Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who against his will, takes him back to a time when he was still a young man. Scrooge sees himself proposing to the woman he loved, a woman who later breaks their engagement because she realizes that he has come to love money more than her. As Scrooge watches the scene unfold, we can see the emotions playing out over his face. We can imagine what is going through his mind: What a fool he had been! How his life would have been different if he had married, if his heart hadn’t been hardened by the love of money. Perhaps that young man wouldn’t have become this wretched, bitter old miser.
Well, consider this: How would you like to be visited by the ghost of your past? How would you like to go back and relive your sins, your mistakes, the foolish choices that changed your life? How would you like to be forced to watch helplessly, knowing what the outcome is going to be, unable to do anything to change the result, feeling the sharp pain of regret at not having taken the other path, or at least wondering what would have happened had your choices been different. Well, for most people, there’s really no need for a nighttime visit from one of Charles Dickens’ three spirits. Because we do it ourselves. We replay the past, again and again. We see it projected on the screen of our minds and we say if only I knew then what I know now. But the past is just that – the past. It can not be changed and we have to live with the choices and circumstances of our actions. But knowing this is not a reason for despair. As a matter of fact God tells that we can rejoice instead of despairing. As we begin the year 2002 and leave the sins, mistakes, and foolish choices of 2001 behind God comforts us with the message that we can Begin the New Year in the Joy of Forgiveness.
Psalm 32 was written by King David. He composed this psalm after he was called to repentance by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah the Hittite. David was hand picked by God to be King over Israel. And with God’s help he defeated all of his enemies. David was totally devoted to the God and there was nothing he could not accomplish because God was with him. But at the peak of his reign as king, David used his position and power to commit a most despicable sin and God tells us in the 2nd book of the prophet Samuel, “The thing David had done displeased the LORD.” David tried to hide his sin of adultery and murder for a year but he could not hide it from God. God did not want David to remain in his sin so he sent his prophet Nathan to call him to repentance.
But before God sent the prophet Nathan, the weight of David’s sin was heavy on his mind. David tells us, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Even though he tried to hide his sin, David was suffering from a guilty conscience. He knew that what he had done placed a barrier between him and his lord and he regretted what he had done.
Like David, we all have sinned against God. We all have private sins which we try to hide. We think that no one knows about them but God knows. We have all done things that we are ashamed of, things that we think God would never forgive. But like David we can take those sins to the foot of the cross and leave them there. Like David we can turn to our loving and gracious God, repent, and God will forgive us. David said, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
David invites us all to follow him in confessing our sins to God and receive the joy of forgiveness, to receive the peace and comfort which forgiveness brings. David encourages us to trust that God forgives us and removes all our guilt. God will do this because the punishment for our sin has already been carried out. Before the creation of the world God had already planned that Jesus would be the one to suffer for our sins. God would send his one and only Son to this world to be our substitute, to go to the cross and die for the sins of the world. Let me say that again! Jesus died for the sins of the world! All sins! There are no sins left unpunished for all who trust in what Jesus has done for us.
It is because of David’s trust in his Lord that the terrible sins he committed were in the past; removed from him as far as the east is from the west, that he could say, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
We also have the same confidence that all of our sins are in the past. There is no need to despair over them. God has taken my sins and your sins and washed them away in the blood of the lamb. They are behind us never to be brought up again. Knowing this we can move forward confidently in the New Year.
What does the year 2002 have in store for us? We are a nation at war. We are under the threat of terrorist attack at any time. But as long as we live in a sinful world we are going to have to deal with threats of violence like this. God tells us that we must go through many trials and tribulations before we can enter the kingdom of Heaven. And in the Gospel of John he tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
We will want to place our trust and confidence in the Lord in the toughest of times. Satan attacks us with doubt when we face trials and tribulations. The devil wants us to question our trust in the Lord. When we are faced with sickness or injury we say things like, “Why is God punishing me?” Brothers and sisters, God is not punishing you. God has carried out his punishment on his one and only Son. Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt we owed to God. His innocent death for our sins was the payment God required and he does not punish us even though we deserve it. The punishment that each of us deserve was completed when our Savior said, “IT IS FINISHED.”
The greatest need we have is the need for forgiveness. God fulfilled that need when he sent his Son to pay for our sins. But even there Satan tries to plant doubt in our minds. God tells us that he has forgiven all our sins by his grace. But when your conscience nags at you and you feel bad about the things that happened in your past, listen to what God says. God tells us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” God has forgiven every sin that you have committed against him. If you need further proof that you can trust in God for your forgiveness, then look to your baptism where all your sins have been washed away. Come to the Lord’s Table and receive his precious body and blood where God personally tells you to have confidence that you are forgiven.
While we live on earth our trust and confidence is often misplaced, often disappointed. We trust our physical strength, yet illness can make us weak. We work and save our money and then a recession comes to threaten our security. We trust friends with secrets only to find their hearts are false and that they use their tongues against us. Our ideals lie shattered, our goals unattained, our ambitions unfulfilled. In the end, we find that self-reliance is able to produce nothing but depression and despair.
But God reminds us to place our trust and confidence in him, who alone is trustworthy. We can rely on him because we have proof that he has acted mightily for us. In Jesus Christ God assumed the burden of our sinful nature and cancelled our debt of sin. By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has removed our sin and guilt forever. This fact gives us the confidence that when God calls us home we can stand before him trusting in what Jesus has done and not on what we have done. Do you need any other reason to move forward into the year 2002 confident that that your sins are forgiven?
After the visits from the ghosts of past, present, and future, Ebeneezer was given a new chance at life. He was allowed the opportunity to change his ways. He was given a new chance at life and he rejoiced. Through forgiveness God has given us a fresh start on life. God has given us his word so that we can read, learn and hold firmly onto his promises of life. These are promises that you can trust and have confidence in as you begin the New Year. These are promises that remove any doubt or fear. May God the Holy Spirit give you a firm faith to trust in him and all that he has done for you so that the year 2002 will be one that you can begin in the joy of forgiveness. AMEN.