Tag Archives: Forgiveness

The Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness can come from an unsuspected source and is sometimes met with odd responses.

An attorney, after meditating on several Scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients that had owed him money for more than 6 months. He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its Biblical basis and sent 17 debt canceling letters via certified mail. One by one, the letters were returned by the Postal Service, unsigned and undelivered. Perhaps a couple people had moved away though not likely. Sixteen of the seventeen letters came back to him because the clients refused to sign for and open the envelopes fearing that this attorney was suing them for their debts. How profound! We owe a debt for our sin and God is willing to cancel it but too many people will not even open the letter that explains how.

Today’s message is about forgiveness shown to a most unassuming person, a criminal. Many of us believe that a criminal is deserving of the punishment he stands to receive. And that is true. The law is based on justice. But what about forgiveness? And how does that relate to us?

Today, we turn to Luke 23 and see how Jesus treated one of the criminals hung beside him. And in it, we will find some unsuspecting lessons on the “The Blessing of Forgiveness.” Let us gain a context for this topic was we look at the scene of the Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notice verse 32:

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

“…there they crucified Him,” This is no little thing. Crucifixion was the most painful of all executions that mankind has ever known. Spike impaling the person at the wrists and feet, exposing the victim to horrendous pain and agony. The person eventually dies of suffocation. All four gospels record Jesus’ crucifixion, but none of them go into detail. The reason for this is that they seek to explain why He was crucified more than describing the event itself. Everyone knew what crucifixion meant in the first century. But to us in 2018, we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus died the most horrible death you can imagine.

And yet even in His agony, he uttered these words over His persecutors: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At what volume Jesus said these words is unknown. Safe to say it was loud enough for Luke’s source to record it and for the onlookers to react to it. And only Luke records the words of this prayer. Well known was it to the extent that Stephen, the church’s first martyr, repeats it for his persecutors in Acts 7:60. But notice that…

THE WORLD REACTS PRIDEFULLY TO GOD’S GRACE AND OFFER OF FORGIVENESS.

Notice the context that this forgiveness is proffered. It is in the most ruthless, venomous environment. Here, we are told that the rulers scoffed at him. The soldiers mocked him. The sign above him read: “King of the Jews,” but it was displayed out of disrespect. Lastly, the criminals hung on either side of him ridiculed him, one saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Each of these sneers come with mockery of Jesus’ true identity: “the Christ, the Chosen One of God or that He was King of the Jews- most unusual responses to the statement: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Only Luke mentions the comments of the two criminals. Walter Liefield states the reason for this is “…to emphasize the humiliation of his execution and perhaps also his identification with sinners in his death as well as in his life.” Remember that hundreds of years before this event, the prophet Isaiah preached : “Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” We identify with these criminals from a human perspective. We all have gone astray; all have committed crimes against God and others made in His image. Jesus dying between two thieves is poetic in this sense. Secondly…

ONLY THE HUMBLE AND CONTRITE TOWARDS GOD ARE FORGIVEN.

“But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”

Walter Liefield states that the believing criminal’s words “…reinforces two characteristics of Luke’s gospel. One is the innocence of Jesus; The other is the immediate realization of God’s saving grace through Christ.”

What is the definition of forgiveness? According to Question number one of the Heidelberg Catechism, one part of the only comfort you have in life and in death is that Jesus has fully paid for all of your sins. You see, you incurred a debt against a holy and righteous God, through your sinful thoughts and actions. The word in the book of Ezekiel tells us: “The soul that sins shall die.”

But Jesus was sent to bear that punishment. 1 John 4:10 tells us: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And Psalm 32:1-5 reminds us that: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

From this we know that the concept of forgiveness in “a covering.” This is where we get the idea of atonement. As one commentator states: “There is a contrast in the kind of covering: when God ‘covers’ sin, he graciously blots it out; when man ‘covers’ his sin, he is sinfully hiding it.” The Romans felt that what this man did was worthy of capital punishment. But
be that as it may, Jesus had the power and love to forgive Him, upon request!

Notice that Christ only says this to the one thief. Jesus does not make the same promise to the other thief who was reviling Him. We do not believe in universalism: the belief that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God and will be in heaven.

But here, we see firsthand what is involved in granting forgiveness here? Truth: “This man has done nothing wrong,”; confession of sin: “you and I are guilty;” and a request: “Remember me.” In this, He acknowledged that Jesus was the head of a heavenly kingdom and that He alone could grant admission.

Notice also that the repentant thief could not do anything to earn God’s favor. He could not serve at the local food bank. He could not witness door to door. He could not serve on the board of Deacons. He could not
even get baptized. He was helpless and in need of one thing: Forgiveness. A.W. Pink puts it this way:

“He had no moral life before his conversion and no life of active service after it. Before his conversion he respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. After his conversion he died without having opportunity to engage in the service of Christ. …Hence we are shut up to the conclusion that if saved at all he was certainly saved by sovereign grace.”

And none of you will be saved except by sovereign grace. That is why you must repent and believe today!

Confession rubs against the grain of society today. Guilt is seen as useless and unproductive at all costs. Very few want to acknowledge their wrongdoing. But Jesus taught us that it is a part of everyday prayer. He taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And David wrote in Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity.”

In contrast, our first parents attempted to cover their sin my hiding from God and making coverings for themselves. This did nothing. Today, people try to cover their own iniquity. They say: “I was mistreated as a child; therefore, I have every right to behave this way.” Or, pointing to others while saying: “I was done wrong,” in order to justify their poor decisions. Or some cite their genetic predisposition, their personality type, their financial plight or something else.

But God has given a special and kind formula for obtaining forgiveness: “repent and believe.” Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin and righteousness. Our sin can grieve the Holy Spirit. And He is faithful in showing us where we’ve gone astray.

Someone once described a proper response to Christ and the gospel as A, B, and C.

A: Admit that you are a Sinner; Confession. Someone once said that confession is “agreeing with the Holy Spirit.” 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

C: Commit your life to Him. Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

In closing, notice Jesus’ response in verse 43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That term “paradise,” is the Greek barrowing from a Persian word that means “park” or “garden.” It reminds us that God is about restoring things to their original beauty before the fall. The promise that Jesus made was that the repentant thief would be with Him in paradise, the place that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Notice that there is no mention of Jesus going to hell or of the thief paying for his sins in purgatory. Rather, he enjoyed the Lord’s presence immediately after he shut his eyes and breathed his last.

But so many misunderstand how to get there. During an edition of the news program “60 Minutes,” Dan Rather interviewed Jack Welch, the outspoken former CEO of General Electric. At the end of the interview, Rather asked Welch, “What’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?”

Welch replied, “Do you think you’ll go to Heaven?”

When asked how he had answered that question, Welch said, “It’s a long answer, but I said that if caring about people, if giving it your all, if being a great friend counts—despite the fact that I’ve been divorced a couple of times, and no one’s proud of that. I haven’t done everything right all the time. I think I got a shot. I’m in no hurry to get there and to find out any time soon.”
The truth is no one is good enough to get to Heaven except for Christ. We must trust Him and Him alone to forgive our sin and save our soul. The 17th century Puritan John Owen said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”

A Series of Gifts: Forgiveness

The following message is based on Matthew 1:18-25 which tells us of the angel’s message to Joseph.  It was delivered on December 2, 2012.

Christmas is the season of giving.  Some gifts are those we find in a department store, in a catalog or online.  Others are such that a pricetag cannot be placed upon them.  Consider the following story.

Louis Pasteur, the pioneer of immunology, lived at a time when thousands of people died each year of rabies.  Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine.  Just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog.  The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to experiment on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph for ten days- and the boy lived.

Decades later, of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his headstone, he asked for three words: JOSEPH MEISTER LIVED.  For Pasteur, it was just one physical life, who by the way, ended up dying of something else eventually.  But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, millions will be able to live eternally through faith in Him.

The highest honor of any believer is to bear the title: “Christian”, because it recalls the One who laid down his life for us.  But it is not just a name.  It is a name associated with a deed.  It speaks of what Jesus did for you and me.  Although much of America and the western world equates Christmas with materialism, I would like for us to consider the spiritual blessing we who are Christians have because of Jesus and His coming.  The one gift that I would like to elaborate on is forgiveness.  For that, we turn to Matthew chapter one.

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATES THE GIFT OF JESUS.

Matthew 1 gives us the scene of Joseph, a righteous man, engaged to Mary.  Both are from the village of Nazareth.  Notice that verse 18 states: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

The fact that Mary was pregnant and was probably beginning to “show” should have bothered Joseph.  He was betrothed to Mary.  He was considered to be “her husband (verse 19).”  And yet, there was only one thing he could assume: Mary had been unfaithful.

Jewish betrothal was something serious.  The only way a betrothal could be disestablished was divorce.  To proceed with the marriage, would have meant Joseph was immoral.  To divorce Mary openly would have subjected her to shame, ridicule, and in the most extreme cases, possible death by stoning.  But Joseph was just and merciful.  He sought to do the most inconspicuous of things.  The Scripture says in verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”

The birth of Jesus tells us that at the heart of Christianity is a belief in the miraculous, that God can do the impossible.  It is truly supernatural that one could be born not from two parents, but through the power of God wrought upon a young woman of just 15 years of age.  That is the definition of a miracle: the author of creation intercepting the natural order to perform something that is truly supernatural. How did this happen?  It is unexplainable, as other miracles are.

And yet, it was something that was foretold nearly 700 years before Jesus came.  The prophet Isaiah foretold of a virgin that would bear a child.  His name would be Immanuel.  It took the angel to relate this to the skittish Joseph, as he told of the special circumstances surrounding our Lord’s birth.  Then he gave the reason:  “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”  What we have in verse 22 is a fulfillment formula that Matthew uses 12 times, to specifically state that the life of Christ fulfills what God promised hundreds of years before.

The virgin birth is more than just a theological tenet.  Rather it speaks of God who came to us as one of us.  I’ve heard it said that Jesus was the missionary “par excellence.”  All missionaries leave their home country, travel to a distant land, learn the language and the customs of its citizens before they start to minister to the people and spread their message.  Jesus set the standard of such activity, when He left throne in heaven and came to dwell among us.  Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus: “…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

What is your response to such a gesture?  Does it inspire you?  Does it humble you?  The fact that God became one of us, to minister to us- does that not do something for you?  Is that not a loving thing to do?

CHRISTMAS ALSO CELEBRATES THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS.

Notice how the angel instructed Joseph to name Mary’s son.  Matthew 1:21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  The meaning of Jesus’ name ties into His ultimate mission.  The meaning of that term is Savior.[1]  Jesus’ name is a Greek equivalent to the Hebrew name: “Joshua.”  Although many were called “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves,” only Jesus was given the name with an Old Testament reference to Psalm 130:8: “And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” There is deep significance in the name “Jesus.”  Listen to what D.A. Carson says about the name of Jesus.  “It was no doubt divine grace that solicited Mary’s cooperation before the conception and Joseph’s cooperation only after it.  Here Joseph is drawn into the mystery of the incarnation.  Mary was told Jesus’ name (Luke 1:31); but Joseph was told both name and reason for it.”[2]

The reason for His name is given by the angel: “…for He will save His people from their sins.”  The Greek term is swzw which is put in the future form and means: “to preserve from eternal death and judgment.[3]  This is reiterated by Jesus Himself in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost.”  And 1 Timothy 1:15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

When we read what the Bible says about being “saved” we are to understand as a comprehensive process based on Jesus’ miraculous mission.  It involves a person recognizing the moral mistakes they’ve made in their lives; that such things have offended God, recognizing that Jesus came in order that we might be forgiven of those offenses and that by turning from our sin and placing our trust in Him, we are reconciled to God.  This is what the Bible means by being saved.

This is God’s plan for your life.  The Barna Research group revealed the results of a survey several years ago that found that 46% of all men and 40% of all women are still hunting for life’s plan.  Could it be that we are hunting and searching, for a needle in a haystack, while God has made it plain to us through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ?

The following is a testimony from one of Dr. Drake’s students from China, Keran Wang.  She writes: “I grew up in China without hearing about the Christian faith.  China has been influenced by Confucianism for centuries, and it still exerts influence today. This way of thinking has nothing to say about sin, wrong, or evil.  For the Confucians, each person is created good.  Someone becomes bad or evil only when that one comes into contact with evil things, but education in virtue can prevent evil.   Good education in virtue will create genuinely good people, and then in turn this will make a good society.”

“Confucian teachings, however, are not the only beliefs within China.  Communism now also exerts influence throughout my home country.  Communism encourages people to devote their lives to the state.  Christianity gets in the way.  Because Communists are fearful of the Christian influence in China, they try to control it.  Christians are advised to go to state registered churches, while other churches have to hide themselves to avoid possible persecution.”

“I became a Christian when I moved to the Netherlands.  At Christmas time in 2003 I realized that I needed Jesus as my Savior.  While I had been taught many other ways to believe throughout my life, I came to realize that my wrongdoing could not be excused by education or overcome by devotion to the state.  Instead, I needed to have my sins wiped away by Jesus.  He was the only one who could forgive me and grant me life.”[4]

Each one of us must know that forgiveness and transformation is found in a person- that person is Jesus.  It is not a philosophy or an ideology.  Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we could receive but it takes a formal reception, which is asking Christ to rule and reign in your life, turning from sin and seeking His forgiveness.


[1] New Geneva Study Bible, 1506.

[2] D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “Matthew,” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 75.

[3] BAGD, 798c.

[4] Drake Williams, Joy of the World:31 International Christmas Devotionals, 8-11.