Last week we looked at why Jesus had to suffer. We saw his suffering was not a tragedy but a triumph of God and a triumph for mankind. Through Christ’s suffering, God demonstrated His power, His provision and preeminence to rescue us from our sin. But for those who don’t understand mankind’s need for forgiveness of sin, Christ’s suffering appears pointless and tragic.
Forgiveness is nonetheless practiced by most on a human level in order to get along. But for us who believe in God, we are concerned with God’s forgiveness of our wrongdoings also. We realize that when we die, we will meet our Creator, Who holds us accountable for the way we lived, the way we treated others and the way we related to Him. And because none of us are perfect, God’s forgiveness of our sins in this life is vital to our standing with Him in eternity.
Someone tells the story about a pastor who hired a new associate. He wanted to build a friendship with the associate before they began working together. The associate loved hunting, so the pastor drove with him to a nearby farm to shoot rodents.
On the drive up, the pastor explained, “The owner of this farm used to be a member of our church. He left the church over a dispute with other members, but we were on good terms. But just in case, I want to talk with him before we hunt on farm.”
When then arrived, the associate stayed in the car, while the pastor walked 50 yards to the farmhouse. They greeted each other and caught up on old times. Then the pastor asked permission to hunt on his farm. The farmer agreed but asked the pastor to do him a favor.
The farm said, “I’ve got a very sick horse, and I need to put him out of his misery. But he’s been with the family for so long that I can’t do it. In fact, he is fenced right near where you’re parked. When you go hunting, can you help me put him out of his misery?”
The pastor hesitated, but agreed. On his walk back to the car, the he decided to have some fun with his associate. When he got into the car, he acted furious and said, “I can’t believe that man is still bitter. No only is he still angry at the people who was in conflict with him, but he blames me for the whole episode. I’m so mad, I can shoot his horse.” With that, he pulled out his rifle, took aim, and shot the horse dead.
Before, he could turn around to see the reaction on his associate’s face, his associate pulled out a rifle, took aim, and said, “And I’ve got his cow.” Bang!
By killing the cow, who did the associate wrong, the cow or the farmer? He killed the cow, but he wronged the owner. He needed forgiveness from the owner. And God, by right or creation, is the Owner over all. Note this: “Whenever we mistreat another person (i.e. spouse, child, coworker, classmate, etc.), we wrong God. And we need forgiveness from God!
That’s why David, who took advantage of Bathsheba and killed her husband to cover his tracks, said in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, [God], have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight….” We want to say, “But David, you took advantage of Bathsheba, and you killed her husband. How can you say you only wronged God?” Because God is the Owner of Bathsheba and her husband by right of creation. In the end, all of our actions are accountable to God.
You might want to note this: “What we believe does not determine what is true. What is true determines what is true.” You don’t believe in God, and you don’t believe your actions are accountable to Him. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a God or that you are not accountable to Him. I believe in God, and I believe my actions are accountable to Him. But that doesn’t mean there is a God or that I am accountable to Him. Whether there truly is a God who holds us accountable for our actions is what determines whether there is a God and whether we are accountable to Him.
Someone asks, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does the tree make a sound?” Or, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to see it, did the tree fall in the forest?” The answer to both questions are “yes.” Whether we hear it, see it or believe it, does not change whether the tree fell in the forest.
The Bible doesn’t say that God only holds us accountable for our actions if we have heard, seen or believed there is a God. The Bible tells us, God holds us accountable for our actions. That may not be terrible news if you are someone who lives a perfect life. The problem is, no one has ever lived a perfect life. So God’s forgiveness is vital to our standing with God in eternity, since we are accountable to Him.
Our text is Luke 23:26-43. From this passage, we can discover how to receive God’s forgiveness of our sins.
We see many people present at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But only one was guaranteed forgiveness of his sins and promised paradise. Wow. All others missed it. We don’t want to miss it. Let’s look at each person or group of people and see why only one received the assurance of forgiveness.
First, those who serve Christ out of compulsion are not guaranteed forgiveness. Vs. 26
Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Christ. He didn’t know who Jesus Christ was and why he was condemned to die on the cross. Maybe he heard rumors from the crowd just before he was drafted to help Jesus. But he did help Jesus, and we would think, though incorrectly, that by helping Jesus he would receive assurance of forgiveness.
Many people help Jesus, without knowing who Jesus really is and for what reason he suffered and died. Mormon missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, even some priests and pastors, serve Jesus with their lives, and never receive the assurance of forgiveness. Fear or guilt forces their involvement in missionary work, the door-to-door witnessing and church work.
Similarly, many people who come to church are conscribes and are not converts. Conscribes are enlisted by force, manipulated by fear tactics, guilt trips or lies. Converts, on the other hand, are persuaded by their internal conviction of who Jesus is.
Here are some good questions to ask: Why am I serving Jesus? Do I know who Jesus is? Do I know why Jesus suffered? Do I know what difference Jesus’ suffering makes in my life? True converts know the answers to these questions and are persuaded to serve Jesus because of a personal relationship with him. Conscribes don’t have these answers and are serving Jesus out of compulsion.
Second, those who disapprove of wrongdoing are not guaranteed forgiveness. Vs. 27-31
The women who followed behind Jesus mourned the injustice done against Jesus. They were not a part of this injustice. They would correct the injustice if they had the power. But they didn’t have the power. And we would think, though incorrectly, that these who disapproved of wrongdoing would receive assurance of forgiveness.
People with strong ethical values are in danger of not seeing their need for the forgiveness of sins. Knowing right from wrong can sometimes give the illusion of righteousness. But Jesus reminded these people that they would face God’s judgment, even in the destruction of Jerusalem in the days ahead.
People who know what is right and wrong try their best to do what is right in their lives. They believe that in the end, the good they do will outweigh the bad they’ve done. “If there is a God,” they think, “I will be in good standing because of my strong ethics.” And unless God breaks through such self-righteousness, they will not even know they need to receive forgiveness of sins.
Third, those who are ignorant of their sins are not guaranteed forgiveness. Vs. 33-38
The people who came to watch the crucifixion, and the rulers and soldiers who mocked Jesus would not have done what they did, had they known what they were doing. They were crucifying the Son of God, but they didn’t know it. Their ignorance, however, will not be a viable excuse on the day of judgment.
Some people believe that Jesus forgave these people for this sin, because He prayed for their forgiveness. But Jesus was simply living out what he taught, to “pray for those who persecute us.” His prayer was not a confirmation of forgiveness but an affirmation of His love for his enemies.
Several times I was late in returning library books. The librarian made me pay the fine even though I told her I didn’t mean to. I had forgotten the due date. Last year Susan had to pay a late fee for her car registration. Apparently, DMV did not update our change of address, and we never received her registration statement in the mail. She did not intentionally withhold payment.
Our late fees were not waived just because we didn’t know we were late. And our sins will not be forgiven just because we didn’t know we were sinning. Ignorance is not a viable excuse before God.
Fourth, those who suffer for doing wrong are not guaranteed forgiveness. Vs. 32, 39
There were two criminals who were crucified with Jesus that day. One felt that he could judge how much punishment fitted his crime. He felt he had paid enough and should be set free. I suspect that when he died and met God that day, he told God that he deserved a place in heaven, because he had already suffered enough. If that did not convince God, and it won’t, then he would tell of his disadvantaged childhood, the crime-infested neighborhood in which he lived most of his life, and the people who didn’t care enough to help him succeed in life.
Maybe you feel like you’ve paid your dues in this life. Maybe you feel that God handed out his punishment early in your case. And when you get to the end of your life, the consequences you suffered would be enough, and you will have a new start in heaven. Not true.
If God were handing out our deserved punishment now, none of us would be alive. When we suffer in life, we are often experiencing the consequences of our poor choices, the sins of other people and the impact of sin in this world. We have not seen what our sins deserve, because God is patient, waiting for us to turn to Him for forgiveness.
Fifth, those who confess their sins and request forgiveness are guaranteed forgiveness. Vs. 40-43
Two criminals died with Jesus that day, but only one went to be with Jesus in paradise. The one who was guaranteed forgiveness confessed his sin and requested forgiveness. Confession simply means agreeing with God about what is right and wrong. He agreed he deserved the death sentence and that Jesus didn’t deserve the punishment. But he also requested to be with Jesus in paradise, which presupposes his forgiveness.
Ephesians 1:7 tells us, “In [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Our forgiveness costs us nothing, but it cost Jesus his life. Yet, he willingly laid down his life to make forgiveness of our sins assured. We need only to confess our wrongdoings to Jesus Christ and request forgiveness from Jesus Christ.
The truth is, every person who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ needed forgiveness and could have been forgiven. Yet, only one person that day received the assurance of forgiveness. He was not more innocent, not smarter, not more deserving of forgiveness. He simply confessed his wrong and requested forgiveness from Jesus. Everyone present today can do that as well.