Begin with your own Forgiveness
Today as we celebrate communion, we celebrate our own forgiveness. It is a great way to start a new year. Every year the new year’s resolutions people cling to for a few weeks are the hope of making a fresh start. They express the desire we all hold to make each year better than the one before it. But resolutions usually fall sooner rather than later, and the New Year energy is replaced with the drudging move through winter’s cold months and into another year more or less just like the last. This morning we ought to start with something other than resolutions. We’ll start with something more lasting, indeed something that is by its very nature: Permanent! Today we begin with forgiveness. And we will begin by talking about our own forgiveness.
Communion as a celebration for us serves as the proper place to start talking about forgiveness for what it is. Forgiveness goes way beyond telling someone “I’m sorry.” And it goes way beyond responding with, “That’s OK, I forgive you.” When someone has apologized. Forgiveness has a much deeper meaning, application and cost to us than the cheapness of words which can be stated without any fact behind them. After all, God does know the difference between what we say and what we mean, but often times we do not know ourselves the fullness of what we are asking.
Like a little child asking for a pet, they have no idea of the full task of buying the pet, tending the pet, taking care of the pet, feeding them, buying the food, buying the services of a veterinarian, cleaning up after the pet, and taking time out of their own schedule to take it for a walk, spend time with it and invest in its well being. All the child sees is the fluffy creature in front of them (or the scaly one) which they think is cute and will bring them happiness – they are often most blissfully unaware of the full cost of that relationship.
In the same way, we are often blissfully (painfully) unaware of the cost of forgiveness. A cost which is clearly displayed for us in the elements of communion. Here, on the table at the head of church is the reality of forgiveness that is expressed in the gospel.
God pays the penalty
2 Corinthians 5:21 explains to us what God did in order to bring about forgiveness. God did not merely sit in heaven and say, “that’s ok, I forgive you!” God couldn’t just say “oh, the sin doesn’t matter any more.” The reason he couldn’t is because sin does matter. Any breach in God’s nature is an eternal breach and therefore demands an eternal correction. A momentary statement ignoring it’s presence is not a way to bring about the cure. But our forgiveness was purchased at great price.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB95)
Forgiveness is not purchased with a few simple words. Forgiveness is purchased by the incarnated Son of God becoming obedient to death on a cross. In order for forgiveness to even work, the sin that needed to be forgiven has to be paid for.
In a more visible example consider bankruptcy. In a bankruptcy an individual who has amassed a debt too large to pay back seeks for the forgiveness of that debt – the removal of it’s burden. If the proper conditions are met, a judge will bang his gavel and announce that the forgiveness of debt has happened, but that doesn’t mean that the money suddenly appears to pay it, the bank – or whomever was owed the money – now has to absorb the loss themselves. This is what God did when he, the righteous judge set out to put the right conditions in place to initiate our forgiveness.
We celebrate the broken body of Christ and the spilled blood of Christ, not because we are morbid and we desired his death, but because these are the united conditions for our forgiveness. The death of Jesus Christ is the act of the almighty God absorbing the loss of our sin upon Himself!
This is the fulfillment of Romans 3:21-26 (Read). In order for justice to be delivered God had to punish, in order to justify us, he had to punish Christ.
God declares the penalty accepted
When Christ was crucified he paid the penalty, the echoing cry of the ages on his lips was, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). That decree indicates that God was satisfied with the sacrifice of the Savior. And so we read in Romans 8:1 There is therefore, now no condemnation for those which are in Christ Jesus!” It is a verse of proclamation and declaration which we who know him can cling to with all of our hearts. For God has decreed our forgiveness by paying its cost. Thus when God says, “You are forgiven” it is not an empty phrase which denies his justice it is a statement of fact upon an eternal debt having been eternally paid.
God promises to actively forget.
We’ve all heard “Forgive and forget” but we too often fail consider its meaning and implication for us as Christians. God promises to “not remember” our sins – but this is not the same thing as “forgetting.”
“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25, NASB95)
We see the same idea expressed elsewhere but we might struggle to comprehend it when we consider the omniscience of God: that all of history, the present and the future – including the potential of all of those points in time are equally present in the mind of God. How can God still be God and not remember?
Jay Adams explains it this way, “forgetting is passive and is something that we human beings, not being omniscient, do. “Not remembering” is active; it is a promise whereby one person (in this case, God) determines not to remember the sins of another against him. To “not remember” is simply a graphic way of saying, “I will not bring up these matters to you or others in the future. I will bury them and not exhume the bones to beat you over the head with them. I will never use these sins against you.”
Thus when God forgives, he promises to throw our sins into the sea of forgetfulness (Micah 7:19) not by ignoring them but by paying for them and then vowing never to bring them back to the surface again.
This is what it means to be forgiven by God, and this then is the foundation for what it means for you to forgive others; which for us is the next step in the process of beginning with forgiveness.
Begin by forgiving others
We see it in the parable of the unmerciful servant. (Read Matthew 18:21-35) And we see it clearly stated at the end of the Lord’s prayer: (Read Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
The Evidence is clear, we are to become just like our heavenly father and we are therefore to pay the price of forgiveness for others who have hurt us. This is what is implied in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NASB95)
Read that last part again. Our method of forgiving each other is “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” How did God forgive you in Christ? God forgave by paying the full, just, and legitimate penalty of his wrath at legitimate sin, and then vowing that he will never bring it up again.
Is it any wonder that the disciples hearing that we are to forgive again and again declared, “Increase our faith!”? (Luke 17:5) It is a hard work but it is a work for us to pursue.
When you are betrayed, when you are injured, when you are taken advantage of, when you are sinned against we are to seek out the offender and show them what they’ve done. If they repent, we must agree to take the penalty away from them and bear our wounds, promising not to remember their sins again. That is forgiveness.
Begin by seeking forgiveness
Lastly there is another forgiveness to begin with and it just might be your fault. ““Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23–24, NASB95)
In the context of the passage, the seriousness of even the “smallest” of sins is at issue – there is enough guilt in calling your brother an idiot to send you to hell. The application of the passage as a whole is clear: Make as quick an effort as possible to seek reconciliation!
And yet there is a second and clear lesson as to the manner of this in the section I’ve quoted. If in the middle of worship (bringing your offering to the altar) you remember all of a sudden that you’ve done something to make someone angry with you ( Your brother has something against you…) Don’t finish your offering, get up and go immediately. So rushed should be your response that you even leave your offering there at the side of the altar, go be reconciled to your brother and then come present your offering. It is a powerful image of how importantly God sees the forgiveness which must be sought after by us and given by us when others seek it from us.
So then, whom have you offended? Go and seek them out for forgiveness. Is it someone here? Stand and declare your repentance. God is waiting.
Let this morning’s communion be a celebration not only of your own forgiveness, but also of the forgiveness of Christ flowing through you to others. And let your humble heart lead you to seeking forgiveness from those you have offended so that they too, might begin a new year with forgiveness.
As we take communion, let us begin with forgiveness…