Summary: Forgiveness is being released from the debt we owe. By canceling our debt, God sets us free. All unhappiness in life can be traced to rejecting God’s love and forgiveness.
“I Believe”—a sermon series on the Apostles Creed
“Forgiven!” Psalm 32 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
An Air Force pilot and his co-pilot had been shot down and were adrift at sea in their tiny life-raft. After several days without food, water, or any hope of rescue, the pilot began to pray. He said, “God, You know I haven’t lived a very good life. I’ve cheated, lied, and haven’t had much use for church. But God, if You’ll save us from dying out here I promise that I’ll”—at that moment, the co-pilot interrupted: “Major--don’t say another word! I think I see land!”
When we turn to Jesus, our sins are forgiven and our guilt is removed. This sounds like great news, but not everyone agrees. The Apostle Paul writes of the “offense” of the cross in Galatians (5:11). I didn’t understand what that meant until I heard the harsh criticism of Mel Gibson’s movie. The real offense of the movie The Passion comes from the fact that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin; He died to pardon us. This means we need forgiving. It means we are sinners, something people may not care to hear, nor accept. “How dare anyone imply that I have such a need!” One Boston Globe reviewer got riled up by the clear message in the movie that we all need a Savior, that we can’t save ourselves, that we are sinners, rebels. If you really want to infuriate someone, forgive them! All unhappiness in life can be traced to rejecting God’s love and forgiveness.
Like it or not: The bad news is that we’re sinners in need of forgiveness; the good news is that Jesus died to purchase our pardon. If anyone had a right not to forgive, it was Jesus: as God, He would’ve been justified to condemn the entire human race. Upon the cross Jesus prayed for those who put Him there. Usually people executed by crucifixion shouted curses at the crowd or cried for pity. Jesus did the unexpected; we hear Him praying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
So, is it necessary to go to God and ask for forgiveness? Also, how can we know we are forgiven? The Apostles Creed states that forgiveness is part of God’s plan. Some people think there’s nothing to forgive; they figure that God is way too loving to condemn anyone. But when confronted with the evil of the world, they back down a bit and admit that some punishment is appropriate; otherwise terrorists and rapists and Enron executives have a free ride--even if they don’t want God’s charity. Why not be as bad as possible if God’s going to automatically overlook all we do? In all fairness, there must be some accountability.
God is able to show mercy because our sins were punished on the cross. Our sins must be paid for, and they were. The real agony of Jesus, however, was not the physical pain but having to take on our sin. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” it was a cry of anguish for having the Father turn His back on Him—God the Father forsaking God the Son. The movie The Passion was unable to show the real suffering of Jesus. Even if we had been present at the cross, we wouldn’t have seen our sins placed on Jesus, nor would we see the Father turn from His Son. The OT prophet Habakkuk states that God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil.” Sin separates.
The Big Question is--How are people forgiven? In Judaism, atonement came by animal sacrifice, to satisfy the justice of God. When the High Priest placed his hands on a sacrificial lamb, he was transferring human guilt to the animal. What happened to that innocent lamb was what deserved to happen to the people. When Jesus suffered, He did so as the spotless Lamb of God. All Temple sacrifices pointed to His perfect sacrifice upon the cross. Paul assures us in Colossians that our sins were nailed to the cross (2:14). Our penalty for sin has been paid in full. The Father charges to Christ our sins, and charges to our account the righteousness of Christ. God does not overlook our sin; He forgives on the basis of a sacrifice made in our behalf. And His love keeps no record of wrongs.
When I served in the Army, I participated in a lot of hikes. These weren’t pleasant, peaceful walks in the woods; we called them “road marches” and we went wearing full combat gear and chanting cadence. Imagine a young soldier struggling with the weight of a full field pack. He starts lagging behind due to the load he’s carrying. Suddenly his platoon leader comes and takes the pack from him, and, revitalized, he’s able to finish the course. The word “forgiven” means “to lift off and carry away”. This is what happens to the burden of our sin and guilt when God forgives us.