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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Today we move into the third section of the Sermon on the Plain. Now, these are not just isolated sayings of Jesus strung together for no reason. They all fit together. This can be seen by the careful way that it is put together, which parallels the second section on dealing with enemies, with v. 36 holding them together:

Dealing with enemies (27-35)

  • Two sets of four sayings on loving enemies (27-30)
  • A key principle (31)
  • Some provocative questions (32-34)
  • An exhortation (35)
  • The result of obedience (35)

Center of the sermon (36)

  • Be merciful

Correcting others (37-45)

  • Four mercy sayings (37-38a)
  • A key principle (38b)
  • Some provocative questions (39-42)
  • An exhortation (42)
  • The result of obedience (42)

What this section is about

This part of the sermon is also held together by two interrelated themes: 1. The theme of mercy. This section is set up by the center point of the sermon – v. 36, which says, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” And this mercy theme is continued in vs. 37-38, when it talks about forgiveness as opposed to condemnation.

2. And then we also have the theme of correcting others

  • vs. 37-38 are about judging or giving mercy when someone sins
  • v. 39 speaks of someone who is blind who needs guidance
  • vs. 41-42 speaks of correcting others who have sin in their lives

When you put these together, the focus of this section is on correcting others with mercy. It is interesting that the core of Jesus’ sermon highlights two areas that we don’t like to talk about – loving enemies and correcting others.

Jesus’ instructions on giving mercy

judge not and you will not be judged
condemn not and you will not be condemned
forgive and you will be forgiven
give and it will be given to you

The first two are synonymous parallels; they mean pretty much the same thing. Also the second two are parallels – forgive and give, that is, give mercy. It’s not about money so that all of a sudden Jesus changes topics. It’s implied for sure, but it means – give mercy.

Also the first two and the last two are opposites. To not judge or condemn is to forgive or give mercy.

What does it mean to judge someone?

We have begun to answer this, but let’s look more closely because this often confuses people. Jesus is not talking about:

  • discerning what is or is not a sin
  • or calling someone to stop sinning

This is the same Jesus, after all, who told us in Luke 17:3 – “If your brother sins, rebuke him . . ..” Here you have a discernment that something is a sin, and a call for the person to stop doing it.

Rather, judging means that you determine someone is unworthy of mercy – from God or others. Here’s an example of some judging responses. Bob, an addict, stole your car and wrecked it. You might:

  • hold bitterness and hatred against him
  • speak evil against him, his character (James 4:11)
  • look down on and keep away from him, like the Pharisee who said, “God, thank you that I am not like this tax collector – Luke 18:10.
  • withhold forgiveness when there is repentance
  • seek to harm him

What does it mean to give mercy?

Mercy means there is the possibility of redemption and a new start – with both God and others.

Again, Bob, an addict, stole you car and wrecked it. To give mercy, you can:

  • have compassion for him
  • see the good in him
  • recognize you have failed too and you are not that different
  • forgive when there is repentance
  • work with him as he tries to live a new life, giving help and accountability

A key principle

v. 38 – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This principle is behind the logic of all four of Jesus’ instructions above. And it is radical! It means – you will get from God what you have given to others, either judgment or mercy. Some motivation here for action! Next we have –

Some provocative questions

– which come in the context of an extended set of sayings on blindness and seeing.

v. 39 – “He also told them a parable: Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Those who taught others were called guides to the blind. In this case, however, the teacher is also blind, which leads to disaster for both teacher and student. Jesus is saying, ‘Disciples, you are blind. You are still learning and you need a good teacher to guide you.’

In v. 40 he goes on to talk more about teachers and students. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus is saying to his disciples, ‘Once you’re fully trained, you will be like me.’ Jesus was famous for giving mercy to sinners, prostitutes and tax-collectors. All those that others judged and cast aside. As disciples, we will be known for our mercy as well.

Next comes more questions. vs. 41-42 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

You know how it feels when you get something in your eye and you can’t see. I can only imagine how it must feel to have a log in your eye. This does present something of an image of the blind leading the blind.

Here’s the point:

  • You see a sin in someone else’s life (a speck) and try to correct it.
  • But you don’t see your much bigger problem that should be corrected first.

Now this could apply to any problem you have that is worse than the issue you are trying to correct in someone else. But here, in context, the log refers to being merciless and judgmental, as you try to correct someone. If you see sin in a Christian’s life you look down on them, speak evil of them and don’t forgive them.

An exhortation

v. 42 – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye . . ..” Get rid of your much bigger problem, judging and condemning others. Learn mercy and practice forgiveness.

The result of obedience

v. 42 –  “. . . and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Before, with the log in your eye, the correction was just a part of condemning the person. That’s why Jesus calls the person a “hypocrite.” They look like they are doing something good, but they are really only judging someone.

It’s only when you learn mercy for those who struggle and fail that you will “see clearly to take out the speck” in the other person. This is when you’ll actually be able to help someone with their problem, when they fail, when they struggle.

How does it work? If you see sin in a Christian’s life – recognize you have failed too, pray and work for their repentance and forgive when there is repentance.

Finally

How will you respond when you see sin in a fellow Christian’s life? It’s not like this is an uncommon thing.

Remember: If you give judgment and condemnation, not only will you be the blind leading the blind, God will give you judgment and condemnation.

But, if you give mercy and forgiveness, not only will you be able to help, God will give you mercy and  forgiveness. As vs. 38 says, “a good measure (of mercy), pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on ‘How to overcome sin in our lives’ to a close today. Our focus has been on how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and keep us from experiencing all that God has for us.

And the message has been that there is freedom in Jesus! We can overcome. We can be fee. We can walk in the fullness that God has for us.

I have been sharing all of this with you so that you won’t sin. It is very much like what John says to his readers in 1 John 2:1, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” But then he goes on to address the reality of failure. He says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” – 1 John 2:1-2. (NRSV)

If you do fail and fall into sin, John teaches us that Jesus can help. He died for our sins, so that we can be made right with God. And he is our advocate before God, seeking out God’s mercy for us; interceding for us.

But we also need to do something in order to receive what Jesus provides for us; to experience restoration and renewal. So today we look at –

What you must do

– when you fail and fall into sin.

1. Be honest. Our natural human response is to hide our sins and live in denial. Or if we can’t do that we find excuses for our sins, or we deflect attention away from our failure by focusing on the faults of others. We all see this kind of stuff a lot.

But a true mark of repentance is honesty. You must be absolutely honest with yourself first of all. Because without this you can’t make any progress in Christian faithfulness. And then you must be honest with God and others.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Honest confession leads to mercy.

2. Take responsibility for your actions. This means that you own your actions; they are yours. You don’t shift the blame to other people or circumstances or whatever. You are accountable.

After committing terrible sins, David prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” – Psalm 51:3-4. He’s saying, ‘I did it. And whatever negative consequences come my way are my fault. Because I’m the one who did wrong.’

We see the same thing in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. When he came back and wanted to make things right with his father, he said, “Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. He was ready to live there as a servant. He knew there were consequences for his actions. And he had squandered his share of the family estate.

Now, his father – in love and grace – accepted him back as a son, not a servant. But notice, he still lost all that he had, for all the rest that the father had was the elder son’s now, and that would not change.

So there are negative consequences that come on you when you sin. You reap what you sow. And you need to take responsibility for all this, because it’s a result of your actions.

3. Express your sorrow. When we fail and fall into sin, we cause God and others pain. And when we realize this it should cause us to be sorrowful. We should feel it, and have regret.

After James calls his readers to repentance he says, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection” – James 4:9. (NRSV) Paul calls this “godly grief” in 2 Corinthians 7:10, which is a part of the process of repentance.

4. Stop the behavior. There is no healing with God or others if you don’t turn from your sin.

You know the person who wants mercy, mercy, forgiveness, forgiveness – but doesn’t want to change anything in their life. This isn’t repentance. It’s manipulation.

If you have failed, what you must do is resolve never to do this sin again, and to do everything necessary to make this happen. All the things we have been talking about in this series.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “he who . . . forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.” Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. . . Turn then, and live.” When you stop the wrong behavior, then you can receive “mercy” from God and others; you can “live.” When you don’t, “iniquity will be your ruin.”

5. Ask God to forgive you. Ask God for mercy to pardon you. And this is the time to be truly honest with God, taking responsibility, expressing your sorrow and committing to stop the wrong.

Pray like the tax collector in Jesus’ story, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” – Luke 18:13. Or you can pray from the Lord’s prayer and personalize it – “Forgive (me) us (my) our sins” – Luke 11:4.

God’s promise to us is this: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. And we can hold on to this promise knowing that God will keep his word to us – to forgive, to cleanse and to renew us.

6. Seek reconciliation with others. If your sin involved hurting others, a part of dealing with it is that you seek to make things right with them as best you can. Again this is the time to be honest, to take responsibility, to express your sorrow and to commit to stop the wrongdoing.

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24 (NRSV). Prioritize making things right with the one you have wronged, even over worship of God. First go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; seek forgiveness. Restore the relationship damaged by your actions.

Now also, if you have harmed someone in a way that can be restored, make amends. The example of Zacchaeus’ repentance speaks to this. He was a wealthy tax collector who was despised because he made his profit off charging more taxes than were necessary. When he repented he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He tried to make things right. He made amends. And he is an example to us.

What should you do when you fail?

1. Be honest

2. Take responsibility for your actions

3. Express your sorrow

4. Stop the behavior

5. Ask God to forgive you

6. Seek reconciliation with others

This is how you get back on track. Not giving up because you have failed. Not wallowing in despair. But repenting in all these ways. And then moving forward with what God’s will is for your life.

Psalm 51 (1-4; 7-12; 16-17)

I want would like to end with a prayer of repentance from David in Psalm 51. He knew how to repent and we can learn from him.

L: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

P: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

L: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

P: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

L: Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

P: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

L: For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

All: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, and then, I hope, we will each evaluate how we are actually doing.

Last week we focused on the first mark: Complete Yieldedness to God. I showed you how this has to be at the core of our Christian lives. And that’s because without this we remain stuck in our sins, failures and compromises. But with this we are able to move forward and experience the spiritual renewal that God has for each one of us.

Specifically today, we see how completely yielding ourselves to God is the key to restoring our relationships with God and with others. We begin with the first of these . . .

2. Renewed relationship with God

Our unyieldedness to God damages and eventually destroys our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Our undealt with sin, which we know about and continue to choose, creates an obstacle, a wall, a barrier between us and God.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Its not possible to have a right relationship with God, while there are areas of our life where we choose not to submit to God.

So because of our unyieldedness, our relationship with God becomes distant, stale, and cold. As Paul says, we are “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:18).

This shows up in different ways:

  • We have little if any sense of God’s presence in our lives. You know, God speaking to us, comforting us, guiding us, fellowshipping with us. God is distant.
  • We have little if any sense of devotion toward God. I’m talking about that sense of deep emotion that is connected with that which has the most value for us in all of life. Think of the devotion you have to your family. You feel strongly about them. Well, when we choose not to yield to God, we lose this for God.
  • We spend little if any time with God, that is, in prayer, reading the Scriptures, Christian fellowship and worship. Oh, we may come to church, but our heart doesn’t enter in. We’re just going through the motions. Its like with a person that you aren’t getting along with. You don’t really want to be around them. And if you see them you just go through the motions.

If this is where you find yourself, here’s . . .

What you should do to renew your relationship with God. As we talked about last week, yield yourself completely to God in every area of your life. And we do this through honest assessment of our lives and making hard choices of repentance.

And then, ask God to forgive your sins, your failures, and your compromises. Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And you are a part of that many. He died for you.

The promise to us is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Through what Jesus has done, and our receiving this gift by faith, the walls of our sin are broken down. The barriers are destroyed. We have –

Restored relationship with God:

  • We come to know and feel the presence of God in our lives. God is close to us, leading us and helping us.
  • We come to feel devotion for God. We have a deep passion and desire for God and to serve God.
  • We want to spend time with God; to be in God’s presence, to soak up all that God has for us from the Scriptures, times of prayer and worship and Christian fellowship. We can’t get enough of it.

This is the second mark of a vibrant Christian life. Renewed relationship with God in all these ways.

3. Renewed relationships with others

Our unyieldedness destroys our relationships with others. And this can happen in two different ways:

  • Our own wrongdoing can destroy relationships
  • Or our unwillingness to love and forgive those who have wronged us can destroy relationships

Either way our relationships with others become distant, stale and cold. They become characterized by things like bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:31. If this is where you are at, here’s –

What you should do to restore these relationships. Again, yield yourself completely to God – here in terms of how you have treated others, and how you have responded to those who have hurt you.

More specifically 1) Make things right with the one you have wronged. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (you have wronged them), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24.

There is no guarantee that they will respond and the relationship will be restored, but do what you can to restore the relationship through repentance and love for them

2) Forgive those who have sinned against you. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3.

Again, there is no guarantee that they will repent and seek forgiveness. And without repentance on their part there can’t be restored relationship. But, do what you can to restore the relationship. Show love for them and be willing to forgive if they repent so that there can be true reconciliation.

I would just note here the seriousness of this. In both of these cases our relationships with others, has a decisive impact on our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:23-34 shows that our unrepentance for hurting others affects our relationship with God. Why do we first seek reconciliation? Because if we have sinned against someone and don’t seek to make it right, our relationship with God is broken. There is no need to try to bring your gift to give to God in worship. You have to first make it right with the other person.

Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that our unwillingness to forgive others affects our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Our horizontal relationships with each other, affects our vertical relationship with God. This is really important. So if nothing else, this should spur us on to the goal, which is . . .

Restored relationships with others. This is when we set aside hatred and love each other from the heart. This is when we set aside bitterness and find forgiveness. This is when we put away hard-heartedness and find compassion and mercy.

As Paul said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.

This is where we love each other and are willing to lay down our lives for each other, to sacrifice for each other. As John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16.

Restored relationships mean that we are humble before each other. As Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.

And we live in peace with one another – As Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50.

This is the third mark of a healthy and faithful Christian life. I hope that you will look at both of these and evaluate where you are at. Do you have this kind of relationship with God? Do you have these kinds of relationships with others?

William Higgins

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We’re looking at the gospel, that God is doing something new in the world. And how God invites each of us to be a part of it. And the first way to do this is to . . .

1. Believe

Now, it’s obvious enough that something is wrong with the world. We see it every day, evil, injustice, suffering and death. And we don’t just see it, we experience it ourselves. Its in the news headlines all the time: wars, murders, theft, hunger and oppression. Human suffering is all around us.

But Jesus came with good news. God has begun to act through him to make all things new! He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . ” – Mark 1:15. Jesus is saying, its begun; and its begun with my coming.

And God confirmed that he was right:

  • God worked through Jesus’ ministry in amazing ways to manifest the kingdom, through healings, the casting out of demons and transformed lives.
  • And God raised Jesus up from an unjust death and made him Lord of all things.

God’s kingdom has begun with Jesus – his ministry and especially with his resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection heralds the decisive inbreaking of God’s new creation; of resurrection life.

In Jesus, God has begun to do away with the old – the evil and the suffering of our world, including death, and God has begun to bring in the new – life, joy and peace. And Jesus calls us to “. . . believe the good news” – Mark 1:15.

To be a part of this new thing that God is doing, this new creation, choose to believe that God is making all things new through Jesus.

2. Turn

We not only experience evil in our lives, we also practice evil. We are by nature self-centered. And because of this we often harm others, we practice injustice, we are cruel to others. If we wonder why the world is like it is, we only need to look at ourselves. We are the problem.

So Jesus came to teach us a new way of living.

  • He lived a life of love for God, doing what God wanted not what he wanted. He was “God centered” in his attitudes and actions.
  • And he lived a life of humble service to others, sacrificially loving everyone, including his enemies who killed him. He was “other oriented” in his attitudes and actions.

And Jesus not only modeled this for us, he calls us to turn from our ways, to learn his new way. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” -Matthew 4:17.  He calls for a change of mind and heart that leads to a change in our attitudes and actions.

To be a part of God’s new creation, turn from your old life and follow the new way of Jesus.

3. Receive

God hates injustice and evil more than anyone; all the pain and suffering that it causes. That’s why God has decreed that the penalty for wrongdoing is death.

But the depth of God’s love for us is beyond understanding. And so as God looks at us, under his judgment, he has taken pity on us. God doesn’t want us to die.

So God sent Jesus to set us free from his own decree of death by dying in our place. Because of this, we are given another chance! Now we can be made new ourselves.

  • We are made new by receiving the forgiveness for our sins. All the old is wiped away. This allows us to begin a new relationship with God and to have a new start on life.
  • We are also made new by receiving the Spirit of God. The Spirit gives us a new heart and a new power to walk just like Jesus walked. We don’t have to live like we used to. We have new life.

Jesus calls us to receive these gifts of new life when he says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

To be a part of God’s new creation, receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

4. Belong

Jesus didn’t just come to make individuals new. Jesus came to gather a new nation; a movement made up of people from all tribes and nations and languages – all made new through him. This community is different from all the nations of the earth because it is under his lordship.

And Jesus called his people to bring others in so they can belong as well. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus wants everyone to be a part; to be baptized and to learn his ways.

This community is Jesus’ family. We become brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Like any family should, it will strengthen and encourage you as you follow Jesus in your new life.

To be a part of God’s new creation, belong to God’s new community.

5. Wait

That’s because God’s new creation will only be complete when Jesus returns on the final day.

  • Then evil, suffering and death will be destroyed forever.
  • Then there will be resurrection to eternal life, joy and peace.

Now, no one knows when this will happen. And God’s mercy is such that he delays, waiting for more to receive. And so we need to wait until God is finished. As Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13.

As we wait we must continue to be faithful to:

  • Believe – for our faith will be tested.
  • Turn – from our failures and walk again in the way of Jesus.
  • Receive – forgiveness for our sins and the strengthening, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Belong – to be a part and to be strengthened and to strengthen others in the community of Jesus.

If we do this, the Lord Jesus will gladly welcome us into God’s new creation, on that final day.

To be a part of God’s new creation, faithfully wait for Jesus to return.

————————–

This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. I trust that wherever you are at – whether you need to believe, turn, receive, belong or continue faithfully waiting – that you will receive the word this morning by acting on it and moving forward.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Luke 15:11-32 this morning and the story of the prodigal son.

The point

. . . of this parable is easy enough to discern. The verses right before it set the context for understanding it: Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

  • Jesus is receiving and eating with repentant sinners; people who have intentionally disregarded God and knowingly done what was wrong.
  • The Pharisees do not approve of this; people who have tried to keep God’s will.

This is the situation that is being dealt with in the whole of Luke chapter 15.

Then in Luke 15:3-10 come the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin – which comment on this situation. Yes, there are those who are not lost – the 99 sheep and the 9 coins, but when the one that was lost is found there is rejoicing. Even rejoicing in heaven among the angels.

Then in our text we have:

  • The younger son’s repentance which is celebrated
  • And the elder son, who grumbles about this

So, you can see how these all line up, and what corresponds to what:

prodigal context

So all these parables refer back to the situation of Jesus and the Pharisees and comment on it.

The point of our parable, then, is that it is right to welcome and celebrate sinners who repent.

  • The father celebrates his son’s repentance. In vs. 23-24 he said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
  • The father tells his older son that it is right to do this. In v. 32 he said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Now, beyond this central point – there is much that we can learn from this parable about repentance, and we have looked at it in this light.

There is also something to learn about how those who have sought to be faithful and have been serving God for years, should be welcoming to repentant sinners, and rejoice for them, despite their years of sin and failure.

And there is also much to be learned about God’s love. And this is our focus today. And to get to this, first we look at . .

The love of the father in this parable

He is actually the central figure of the story. It begins and ends with him, and he is the thread that holds the two parts together, first with his younger son and then his elder son. So lets look at his love:

1. The father’s love endures rejection. His son’s request was highly unusual, indeed insulting to the father. You only get your inheritance when your father is dead! And so the son is, as it were, treating his father as if he is already dead. And he just wants his money. He doesn’t care about his father, only what he can get out of him.

But the father grants his wish. V. 12 – says “he divided his property between them,” that is the two sons.

2. The father’s love accepts his son when he repents. Even though the father knew his son was wasting his own hard earned resources and squandering his good gifts . . ..

Even though he knew that his son was debasing himself:

  • using the money on prostitutes (v. 30)
  • sinking to the lowest possible point for a Jew, caring for pigs which are unclean animals
  • and being so hungry that he longed for their food . . ..

Even with all this, when the father saw his son coming v. 20 says,

  • he “felt compassion”
  • he “ran and embraced him”
  • he “kissed him”

This kind of display of affection was unusual in this cultural context. It shows the intensity of his love for his son. And this despite all that his son had done wrong.

The father’s love survived all the insult and pain and was there waiting for him as he returned from far away and from his foolishness. It was waiting to accept him.

3. The fathers’ love is full of mercy. He gives him so much more than he deserves, given all that he has done. V. 22 speaks of . . .

  • “the best robe”
  • “a ring” (a symbol of authority)
  • and “shoes”

All of these items speak to a certain social status. The father is proclaiming him to be his son and not a servant. (The son had only hoped to be accepted back as a servant).

And then the father welcomes him with a party – v. 23. The fattened calf is brought out, reserved only for the most special of occasions.

4. The father’s love is patient with the elder brothers grumbling. The elder son objected to the party. In fact, he insults his father by not taking part. Even though the father pleaded with him.

Yet the father is patient and only gently rebukes him. He says in v. 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad . .  ..” The father is saying, ‘He’s your brother! And something amazingly good has just happened.’

5. The father’s love rewards the faithful service of his elder son. In v. 31 he says to his elder son who has worked for him so long and so hard, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.”

This shows us again that sin has consequences. The younger son’s inheritance was still all gone. But the point here is that the father honors faithfulness. Everything the father has is his elder son’s. He is blessed for his faithfulness.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us

Now, the father in this parable certainly represents to us our heavenly Father. So let’s see what we can learn from him about the love of God:

1. God’s love endures our rejection of him. So often we dishonor God by making our own choices that go against God and God’s way. But yet, like the prodigal son, we want what we can get out of God. When we get in trouble or there is an emergency we call for God’s help.

But despite our all this, our heavenly father’s love for us endures.

2. God’s love accepts us when we repent. No matter how much we have rejected God, no matter how much we have debased ourselves, no matter how much we have squandered God’s gifts to us – when we come to our senses and come to him in repentance – God is there to welcome us with affection and love.

3. God’s love is full of mercy to us. Our heavenly father gives us so much more than we deserve. When we come in repentance –

  • He blesses us with gifts
  • He calls us his children
  • and there is rejoicing in heaven

None of which we deserve.

4. God’s love is patient with us when we grumble. Although we all live out the prodigal son’s story to some degree, since we understand that we have all sinned against God, we can also all find ourselves in the place of the elder son.

Perhaps you were raised as a Christian, or at least you’ve been a Christian for many years – serving God and seeking to do what is right.

And we become proud and un-accepting of those who have lived truly sinful lifestyles for years. All the attention and fuss that is made over them. We’ve been toiling in silence for years!

Yet God lovingly and gently admonishes us to rejoice with those who have come to their senses; to welcome them.

5. God’s love rewards us for faithful service. God’s grace to those who have wasted so much of their lives in sin, will not cheat anyone out of God’s blessings. No one needs to fret or be upset.

If we have truly been faithful, God will be faithful to bless us for all that we do for him.

So we learn much about God’s love to us in this parable – when we are walking in sin, when we come to God in repentance and when we are faithful as well. God loves us with an amazing love!

William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series from 2 Chronicles today, picking up with Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.

The basics

  • He began to reign at 12 years old – v. 1. Probably alongside his father for the first several years, as was common.
  • He reigned for 55 years – v. 1, the longest of any Judean king.
  • But, he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord – v. 2. In fact, he was so bad, we have to have a whole section to describe all of . . .

Manasseh’s sins

  • “He rebuilt the high places” – v. 3. These were local shrines throughout Judah, that his father had broken down in his reforms. These were most often for Canaanite worship.
  • “He erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs” – v. 3. These were Canaanite gods. Ba’al’s name means “lord.” He was the god of storms (and thus rain) as well as fertility. Asherah or Astarte was his companion, the goddess of many things, including fertility.
  • He “worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” – v. 3; that is, the worship of stars and planets as gods. Vs. 4-5 tell us that he built altars in the Temple for this pagan worship, “in the two courts of the house of the Lord” it says, thus defiling the temple with his idolatry.
  • He practiced child sacrifice offering up some of his own sons – v. 6.
  • He “used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.” – v. 6.
  • But his crowning act of unfaith-fulness is that he “put an idol in God’s temple of which God had said . . . ‘I will put my Name forever’” – v. 7. The contrast between God’s action of putting his name in the temple, and Manasseh action of putting an idol in the temple, is stark.

Also in v. 8, commenting on this action, the contrast between the faithful Davidic king who is “careful to do all that I have commanded . . . all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses,” the contrast between this and Manasseh, is clear. He blatantly went against God’s commands given through Moses and defiled the Temple.

This passage has a building crescendo of outrage to it. As v. 2 says, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” As v. 6 says, “He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” And as v. 9 says, he did “more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”

The bottom line is that he was the worst king in all of Judah’s history. His “sin and unfaithfulness” (v. 19) was complete. He was the antithesis of his father, the righteous Hezekiah and he undid all of his reforms until things were worse than they were before Hezekiah.

Yet, despite all this, through the many years . . .

God tried to get through to Manasseh

God sent prophets to speak to him and the people:

  • v. 10 says, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”
  • v. 18 also refers to “the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Finally, since he didn’t listen, God put him in “distress.” v. 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”

Its possible he took part in a rebellion against the Assyrian overlords, so they came after him and caught him. Whatever the case may be, it was the Lord who was behind this.

The Assyrians were brutal. They would put hooks through the nose or lips of a person, tie a rope onto them and lead them away as prisoners. Something like this happened to Manasseh. He was taken away in humiliation.

Now, sometimes when God puts us in distress, or disciplines us for our sin, it works. But sometimes it makes people even more hardened in their rebellion against God. In this case, the distress worked. It led to . . .

Manasseh’s repentance

v. 12 says, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” He was already humiliated before the Assyrian king, but now he humbles himself greatly before the king of all creation. Humiliation is what others do to you. You have to choose to humble yourself. And he chooses to do this before God.

v. 13 says, “He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” This is a remarkable verse. God was moved by his prayer. Isn’t it an amazing thing that our prayers can move God?

And despite all that he had done, his idolatry and child sacrifice, God heard his plea, forgave him and saved him! He was sent back to Jerusalem.

Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was the true God. After pursing every other god available, every other religious option, he comes back to the God of his fathers.

This is one of the most powerful stories of repentance, of turning one’s life around, of a true change of heart, in all of the Old Testament and indeed in all of the Scriptures.

When he got back to Jerusalem, he started doing what a Davidic king is supposed to do.

He took care of God’s people

  • He built a great outer wall around the whole eastern part of Jerusalem – v. 14
  • He also “put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah.” – v. 14

He got rid of the idols. v. 15 says,  “And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city.”

He had done great wrong with his idolatry and now he makes it right. His repentance finds expression in concrete actions. He stopped doing what he was doing wrong. And then also he started doing what was right . . .

He practiced true worship in the temple. v. 16 says, “He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

But we also have to say that his reform was limited in impact. V. 17 says, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.”

It was focused on Jerusalem. The people outside of the city still used the high places, even though they worshipped God at them or were supposed to now.

It also didn’t take hold in people’s lives. It’s most likely that his repentance came nearer to the end of his reign, so that most of his life, most of his 55 years as king, he did evil and encouraged others to do evil – (which is why, even with his repentance, he is still later referred to in v. 22 as one who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord).

A whole generation would have been brought up in his idolatry, which would be hard to break. And this is why his son, who followed in his footsteps, found it easy to go back to Manasseh’s idolatrous practices.

Some lessons

1. We learn that sin has consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6, ‘you reap what you sow.’

Now, not all trials come directly from our wrongdoing, but in this case it was because of his sin that he experienced distress in his life. He was taken away as a prisoner in humiliation. And God also disciplines us when we sin. God tries to get our attention; to wake us up.

With regard to his legacy, he is remembered as one who repented, but he is also remembered as one who lived most of his life in sin (33:22).

We learn from this that it’s always better to not sin in the first place, than to sin and then repent. There is always damage and pain and consequences that you can’t control, even with the grace of repentance. Manasseh repented, but his sins continued on in the generation to come. Sin has consequences. We must remember this.

2. How to repent. Manasseh “humbled himself greatly” before God – v. 12. That is, he lowered himself. He put aside arrogance and defensiveness and recognized his wrong. Then he “prayed to God” – v. 13. He confessed his sins. And then, he changed his behavior – v. 14–16. And this last part is necessary.

His repentance was not just a matter of the heart. Although it has to start there. He  didn’t just feel bad. It was not just a verbal thing. He didn’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Although this is necessary too. His repentance involved changed behavior. What he did wrong before he stopped doing. And he began to do what is right.

Repentance requires all three: the heart, the mouth and our actions.

3. Finally, we learn about the depth of God’s mercy. God was patient with Manasseh, seeking him out for so many years; speaking through prophets; putting him in distress; trying to get his attention.

And God does the same with us. We sin, we run, and we try to ignore. But God pursues us.

And we see God’s mercy in that God forgave Manasseh. When the worst king of Judah, whose sins and unfaithfulness were astounding; when this sinful man cried out in repentance, God heard, God forgave and God saved.

And if God can have mercy in such an extreme case, it shows us that God can have mercy on us too.

What a good and wonderful God we have! A God we don’t deserve, but a God who loves us nevertheless.

William Higgins

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(For more on the interpretation of these verses see the post below – The Story of the Babylonian Envoys).

Today we end our time of focusing on Hezekiah by over viewing 2 Chronicles 32:24-31 and the story of the visit of the Babylonian envoys.  But first we have to set the background, and this means first looking at . . .

Hezekiah’s greatness (background #1)

Last week, in 2 Chronicles 32:23, we saw that after the defeat of Assyria, “many brought . . . precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.” This is further expanded on in vs. 27-30:

“Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.”

We talked last week a bit about Hezekiah’s water tunnel. It goes from the Gihon spring outside the city, to the pool of Siloam inside the city, 1750 feet long. They dug through rock, starting at both ends and met in the middle. It was an amazing engineering feat.

There are also pottery impressions from jar handles that have Hezekiah’s royal seal on them. Many of these have been found. These were most likely used to store food items – which speaks to the abundance during his reign.

So Hezekiah was great and wealthy. He was exalted in the sight of the nations. And this is background to our story, because the Babylonians came due to his fame and they came bearing gifts as well.

Hezekiah’s recovery from sickness and a sign (background #2)

Chapter 32:24 says, “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death, and he prayed to the Lord, and he answered him and gave him a sign.”

Now, you understand that these stories of the kings of Judah that we have been looking at over the last year, are also told in other places, most prominently in 1 and 2 Kings, but in Hezekiah’s case also in Isaiah. And in these other places there are sometimes different stories or they vary in the level of detail they go into.

In this particular case:

  • in 2 Chronicles the story is covered in 1 verse
  • in 2 Kings there are 11 verses, and
  • in Isaiah there are 22 verses.

So, with this story, we will actually have to look at one of these other sources, because the writer of 2 Chronicles simply assumes that we know this story.

For today, here are the basics from 2 Kings 20:1-11:

  • Hezekiah is told by Isaiah that he will die from his illness
  • But he prays and weeps and God hears his prayer and promises to give him 15 more years of life.
  • And he is given a sign that this will happen – the shadow of the setting sun moved backwards “ten steps.”

This is an amazing story, and I encourage you to read the longer versions. But in 2 Chronicles this is all background (just one verse) for the story he wants to focus on, which is . . .

The visit of the Babylonian envoys

As the writer says in 2 Chronicles 32:31, these envoys “had been sent to Hezekiah to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land.” So he had to mention the healing and the sign.

But even though the visit of these envoys is his focus, again, he doesn’t tell the story! He just makes comments on it, assuming that we already know the story. So lets lay out the story from 2 Kings 20 along side the comments of the writer of 2 Chronicles in chapter 32.

2 Kings 20:12 tells us that envoys came from the king of Babylon. Babylon was still subservient to Assyria, but it was soon to be the next great world power. They had heard Hezekiah was sick and so they brought a gift to him.  2 Chronicles 32:31 comments, “And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” So there is more going on here than meets the eye. There is a spiritual or faith part; a test from God.

2 Kings 20:13; 15, Hezekiah showed them “all his treasure.” Everything he had he laid out before them. Notice the pronouns. In v. 13 – “his” is used 5 times in connection with his wealth; and in v. 15 – “my” is used 2 times in this way. 2 Chronicles 32:25 brings out what is only subtle in 2 Kings. “But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud.”

Think of all the benefit done to him:

  • God had delivered him from the Assyrians
  • God had healed him and given him an amazing sign
  • God had exalted him, including all his wealth

Yet here Hezekiah was, boasting before the envoys of all that “he” had. He got caught up in his own exaltation and forgot about God, who gave him all that he had. The writer of Chronicles makes this clear in 32:29. It says, “for God had given him very great possessions.”

2 Kings 20:14-18 goes on to tell us that Isaiah confronts Hezekiah and warns of coming judgment. Vs. 16-18: “Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 2 Chronicles 32:25 says it this way, “therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.” This refers to Isaiah’s word of coming judgment.

But 2 Kings 20:14-15; 19 tell us that Hezekiah told the truth when confronted by Isaiah. And then after hearing of the judgment, Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” He accepts that what he has done is wrong and he submits to God’s rebuke and will. (See the similar response of Eli to a word of judgment – 2 Samuel 3:18).  2 Chronicles 32:26 says, “But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”

How many other kings imprisoned or killed the prophets who rebuked them? Yet because of his humility (his response to Isaiah and his change of heart) God had mercy on him and spared that generation from the coming judgment on Judah, for all their unfaithfulness throughout the centuries. The judgment was coming. It was just a matter of when at this point. And God put it off because of his repentance.

[Note on 2 Kings 20:19, “For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?'” The sense is not, ‘Oh good, someone else will bear my judgment.’ Rather, it is that judgment is inevitable, given Judah’s past sins (which he has added to) but that it is postponed for now. The tipping point had already been reached, and for now it is just a matter of whether God will be merciful to delay it, which God did. See the similar situation with Josiah in 2 Kings 22:15-20.]

Two lessons from our story

1. God tests us when times are good, not just when times are bad or there is a crisis. And these may well be more difficult tests, because we aren’t as alert as when there is a crisis going on, because we are not as focused.

What I’m really saying is that, the good times are themselves the test. What will we do when things are good; when we have an abundance?

Deuteronomy 8 talks about testing. It talks about having lots of food, herds and flocks, good houses, silver and gold. And it says, “Take care lest . . . your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God” – vs. 11-14. It says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” – v. 17. This is exactly what Hezekiah did.

Well, God also tests us when we have an abundance; when things are good. Like with Hezekiah, God wants to see what is in our heart (2 Chronicles 32:31). Is it “lifted up”? (Deuteronomy 8:14); is it “proud”? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Will we “make return according to the benefit done to”  us by giving glory to God? (2 Chronicles 32:25). Or do we think “my power” has “gotten me this wealth”? (Deuteronomy 8:17).

We see the results of pride in Hezekiah’s life and it is a warning to us, to respond differently. Let us not forget God in our good times or take credit for God’s gifts to us.

2. What to do when we fail a test. We all fail at times, sometimes horribly. When we stumble and fall, what should we do to get back up and moving forward again?

Well, “Hezekiah humbled himself” (2 Chronicles 32:26).

  • He received the rebuke of Isaiah (2 Kings 20:14-18). The prophet came to him and told him that what he did was wrong and he received it.
  • He confessed truthfully what he did (2 Kings 20:14-15). Yes, the envoys came and I showed them all of “my” stuff.
  • And he accepted the consequences (2 Kings 20:19) Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’” Even though it was a hard word. He accepted God’s discipline.

In all of this he showed a true change of heart. From pride to humility. He turned away from his sin. And that’s when the mercy came. So that, although he had fallen, he was able to recover and move forward, and he was remembered as a great and righteous king (2 Chronicles 32:32-33).

In the same way, when we fail, we must also humble ourselves:

  • We need to receive rebuke and correction from others. And this requires humility. We all have blind spots. But how many of us are humble enough to receive correction from someone else without being defensive or even hostile?
  • We need to confess our sins. We need to tell the truth about what we did, which takes humility.
  • And we need to accept the consequences of our actions. When we reap what we sow, we must not blame others, but rather in humility, take responsibility for what we have done.

We must show forth a true change of heart as well; we must turn from our sin. And this is when the mercy will flow for us. It is never too late for God’s mercy for those who repent. And when we repent, then we can get back up and move forward again with what God has for our lives. And we can be remembered as one who loved and served God.

These are lessons we learn from Hezekiah’s failure and from his recovery.

William Higgins

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Someone once said that the Christian teaching on sin is the one Christian teaching that can be empirically verified . . . you can just look around with your own eyes and see its true. You don’t need faith to see all the wrongdoing, evil and the lack of love in this world. You just need to turn on the daily news – or just look in the mirror. And I say this last part because . . .

Sin is something we have all done

All of us have acted rebelliously against God, doing what is right in our own eyes instead of listening to our Maker. And all of us have injured others through our actions and our words – or perhaps by not doing or saying what we should have. It is just as Paul says in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned.”

And we must recognize that sin has disastrous consequences:

Sin destroys our relationship with God. In Isaiah 59:2 the prophet tells us, “. . . your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you . . ..” We can’t have a relationship with God when we are knowingly choosing to do wrong and sinful things.

Sin also destroys us. Although at the time (right?) we think – “hey, this isn’t so bad” or “this will get me out of a difficult spot.” But we really do end up paying a price.

  • We experience guilt & shame (unless our heart).
  • We are given over to the power of sin. This is God’s judgment. God says, “I don’t want this for you, but if that’s what you want, I will let you have it . . . But its gonna take over your life.” Sin works like a drug addiction. It seems pleasing at first and then it takes over our lives.
  • We experience the misery of sin, as the “other shoe” drops and we start reaping the results of our actions.
  • We are overwhelmed by death. James 1:15 says, “Sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.” Sin destroys us.

So if this is where you find yourself today – alienated from God and suffering under the misery of sin,  whether you call yourself a Christian or not, I want to tell you . . .

How to find forgiveness

 . . . how to be set free from this downward spiral; how to be released from the power and the penalty of sin. Let’s look at this:

Step #1: Look to God – God has provided the way for us to be forgiven and there is no other way:

  • we can’t work our way out of the problem, trying to earn our own forgiveness
  • we can’t compensate for it by being really good in some other area of our life
  • we can’t pay the psychiatrist enough or go to enough therapy to get rid of the root problem of our sin
  • no pharmaceutical prescription will give us forgiveness
  • no self-help program or the latest self-help book
  • and no false religion can do it.

God has provided the way, and that way is Jesus.

Jesus, looking ahead to his death on the cross said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. Without getting into all that he is saying here, the key for us is that his death brings us “the forgiveness of sins.”

Look to God, for Jesus is the way to find forgiveness.

Step #2: Confess your sins to God. Psalm 32:3-5 talks about how when the writer kept silent about his sins he was miserable. And then v. 5 says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” 

You can see the connection between confession and forgiveness. There was no release, only misery, until there was confession.

Like in the Psalm, the natural human response is to hide our sins, to find excuses, or to focus on others’ faults. We want to live in denial. But if we want to be free, we have to be completely honest with God. Look, God already knows everything you’ve done – Why try to hide it? You have to come clean with God.

As Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Now a part of confession is that you take responsibility for your sins; you own them. They are yours. It is what you have chosen; it what you have done. We don’t like it, but that’s a part of what confession means. 

David’s prayer to God in Psalm 51:3-4 is a model for us. After he had committed horrible sins he prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you . . . have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” He’s saying, I did it and the consequences are my fault.

Step #3: Express your sorrow. If we see things rightly, we come to understand that our actions – our sins – have caused God and others pain. And this should cause us to feel badly for what we have done against God and others.

  • Paul talks about “godly sorrow” in  2 Corinthians 7:8-10.
  • David spoke of his “broken and contrite heart” after his sin in Psalm 51:17.
  • James says to those who have sinned, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” – James 4:9. James is saying, “Feel it!”

There is an emotional component to this that can be healing both to us and for those we have wounded through our actions as they see our sorrow.

Express your sorrow for the wrongs you have done.

Step #4: Turn from your sin. Turn away from it and commit to do God’s will from now on.

  • Proverbs 28:13 says, “he who . . . forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.”
  • Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. . . Turn then, and live.”

A part of this turning is that you commit to make things right with others – as best you can.

  • If you have sinned against others, seek peace with them, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:23-24.
  • If you have harmed them in a way that can be restored, make amends to them, just as Zacchaeus said in Luke 19:8, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” He tried to make it right.

Step #5: Ask God to forgive your sins. Ask for God’s mercy. Just as the tax collector in the story of Luke 18:13 – prayed, pray “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

The prayer of David in Psalm 51:1-2 is a good pattern for us – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;  according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

Forgiveness is a gift of God to us and you need to ask for it. Just as Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 about all of God’s good gifts to us – “Ask, and it will be given to you.” 

Step #6: Claim God’s promise by faith. We know that God always keeps his promises, so we can claim his promise to forgive us and know that God will do just as he says he will do.

Here is a promise to hold on to – “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – I John 1:9.

Claim this and stand on it! God is faithful and just and he will do it.

Finally let me just say that if you take these six steps . . .

You can have joy

 . . . from knowing that:

Your sins are covered – Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
God doesn’t count your sin against you anymore – Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the person against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.”
God doesn’t remember your sin against you anymore – Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God casts your sins away – Micah 7:19 says, “God will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
God removes your sins far away – Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
God erases your sin – Isaiah 43:25 says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.”

All of these are just different ways of saying the same thing – our sins are gone!  Think of it – your sins will no longer separate you from God and your sins will no longer destroy you. As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you want to be free of the misery of sin? Do you want to have a relationship with God? Do you want to know the joy that forgiveness and new life brings? Well, you have to act! You have to do something. God has already acted in Jesus, and he is waiting on you. Follow the six steps. Act to find forgiveness and new life. William Higgins

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We have looked off and on at Luke 17:3-4 about forgiveness and repentance and going to the one who has sinned, bringing in Matthew 18:5. Now we look at some additional teaching from Jesus on forgiveness, that comes after these verses. I will share this with you as two short sermons.

Does forgiving others seven times in a day require you to be super-spiritual? Luke 17: 5-6

We start with v. 5 –

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”

This verse picks up from v. 4 where Jesus taught the disciples to forgive seven times in a day. The apostles must have thought – ‘That’s impossible!’ ‘Who can do this?’ ‘You would have to be super-spiritual; you would have to have great faith to do this teaching.’ And so their response is to ask Jesus, “Increase our faith.”

This is similar to the objection they raise when Jesus teaches them about divorce and remarriage. “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” – Matthew 19:10. And it is also similar to their response to Jesus’ teaching on wealth. “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’” – Matthew 19:25. So also here, Jesus tells them something that seems impossible to them, and they react to it.

Jesus’ response comes in v. 6.

“And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this Sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

Lets look at what this means. First, we are dealing with proverbial imagery here:

  • A grain of mustard seed was proverbial for something really small.
  • Despite most translations (mulberry tree), Jesus seems to be referring to the sycamore tree, which was a large, deeply rooted tree that was used in proverbs as well, to talk about something that is difficult to move.

In this case, the idea is to speak to it so that it is uprooted and planted into the sea. This would be a spectacular sight! Mark and Matthew, in other contexts, have a similar saying where you speak to a mountain and cast it into the sea. This saying (and the others) is not meant to be taken literally. It is a proverb. It speaks of doing the impossible. Jesus means – if you have even the smallest faith, you can do the impossible. 

On another level, Jesus is addressing a misconception about faith in v. 6. The apostles don’t understand the way that faith works. You don’t sit back and wait until you get enough faith so that it seems easy. You act on the faith you have – in the midst of it being difficult. And that’s how your faith grows. So their question is a bit odd. They don’t need to receive something. They need to do something with what they have already received.

Putting all this together, Jesus’ answer to the apostles is this: To do the impossible (or what seems impossible to you) all you need is to act on even the smallest amount of faith.

With regard to the difficulty of forgiving someone  seven times in one day, you don’t need to be super-spiritual, or have unusual faith. You just need to act on the faith you have.

This teaching, in these verses, has to do with forgiving others seven times in a day. But it certainly applies to lots of things Jesus teaches, which seem really hard to us: Not seeking wealth, but giving it to the poor; not worrying about our economic future, but trusting in God to provide; practicing nonresistance and loving our enemies; not judging others or speaking angry words that tear others down; being faithful in difficult life circumstances; or fulfilling a special calling that God has given to you.

The message to us from these verses is that – yes, what Jesus teaches is hard. It may seem impossible to us. But if we exercise the little faith that we have and step out – we can do it.

Does forgiving others seven times in a day qualify you for special recognition? Luke 17:7-10

This passage connects with the preceding verses of Luke 17 in that it addresses the apostles’ misunderstanding that only the super-spiritual can practice forgiveness in the way that Jesus teaches. The implication being that people that can obey such hard teaching would deserve special recognition from God. The logic goes like this – you would have to be super-spiritual to forgive someone seven times in one day. And those who are so super-spiritual would surely deserve something special from God in terms of reward.

We begin with v. 7

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table?’”

We are dealing with the culture of that day where household slaves were not uncommon. In this case we have a farmer with one slave who does both outside and inside chores. The question is, after the slave has worked outside all day, will you stop and feed him? Will you do something special for him for doing his work? The answer is clearly expected to be “no” in this context.

Vs. 8-9 say,

“Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?”

In this context, the slave does not gain credit for doing what he is supposed to do, which is to work hard. He worked outside all day and then has to come inside and cook for his master before he can relax and eat.

Even though he does this hard work, there is no social obligation or debt created on the part of the master so that the master would say, ‘You have worked hard, let me give you some special recognition.’ Working hard is what slaves do.

Then comes the punch line in v. 10 –

“So you also, [you are slaves to God] when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

God doesn’t owe us any thanks or any debt when we do what he tells us to do, even if it is hard. In fact, even if we obeyed God perfectly all our lives – which none of has done or will do – God would still not owe us anything. We are still only doing what are supposed to do in the first place.

The specific application here is, do you get special recognition for forgiving others seven times in one day; for being supposedly super-spiritual? No. You are only doing what you are supposed to do as God’s slave!

Again, this teaching, in these verses, has to do with forgiving others seven times in a day, but it certainly applies to lots of things Jesus teaches – which seem really hard to us: Not seeking wealth, but giving it to the poor; not worrying about our economic future, but trusting in God to provide; practicing nonresistance and loving our enemies; not judging others or speaking angry words that tear others down; being faithful in difficult life circumstances; or fulfilling a special calling that God has given to you.

The message to us from these verses is that when you start stepping out in faith and are doing the impossible on a regular basis – don’t think that you deserve special credit from God. Don’t get a big head. You are only doing what you are supposed to do.

William Higgins

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We are dealing with community life skills that we all need to be able to be a healthy church community in our relationships with each other.

We talked about repentance last time and ended with Luke 17:3 – “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them.” To heal a relationship damaged by sin you need both repentance and forgiveness. And so we look at forgiveness today.

Jesus has some strong things to say about our need to forgive others their wrongs against us

1. If the person repents – you must forgive. As we just saw, “If a fellow believer sins, tell them to stop; if they repent forgive them” – Luke 17:3.

2. If you don’t forgive – you won’t be forgiven by God for your sins. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

3. You should forgive whenever someone comes to you in repentance. In Luke 17:4 Jesus says seven times in one day. In Matthew 18:22 Jesus says, seventy times seven – or 490 times. These are both meant as overstatements to make the point – forgive whenever someone comes seeking it.

If we ask, “why forgive?” the answer comes in the parable of Matthew 18:23-35. It is an evil hypocrisy and inconsistency to receive forgiveness from God for what is a huge debt that you owe to God and not forgive others what is relatively speaking a small debt. You can’t receive mercy – and then not give mercy.

Three components of forgiveness

So, a person comes to you – with repentance – and you want to forgive them – what does this look like?

1. Set aside your anger and the desire for judgment. When you have been wronged, anger is the natural response. In fact it’s the way God has made us. Anger is given to us as a way of stirring us up to seek out what is right for ourselves and others.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t usually handle our anger, because our fleshly desires corrupt it and turn it into a vehicle to simply get back at those who hurt us. So our anger leads us to seek out judgment of the other person. We want to get even; to make them pay; to harm them in return. We stew in anger and hostility until judgment is done or we sink into bitterness if it is not done.

But Jesus tells us in Luke 6:37-38-

judge not, and you will not be judged forgive, and you will be forgiven
condemn not, and you will not be condemned give (mercy), and it will be given to you

Judging and condemning are the same thing here and they are the opposite of forgiving and giving mercy. Jesus teaches us that we have to choose. You can’t have both at the same time. Forgiveness means setting aside this anger and desire for judgment

This is not based on emotions – you most likely won’t feel like doing it – it’s a decision you make. Also, this is not an overlooking of the wrong that was done. It is a search for a different kind of resolution – other than payback. One that brings peace and wholeness rather than more wounding and harm.

2. In mercy release the person of their debt to you. There is actually an economic background to the idea of forgiveness in Scripture: Sin is seen as a debt that is owed – Matthew 6:12. The word that Jesus uses here – “forgive” means to release someone of a debt.

This shows us that we owe each other to do what is right and good. And when we fail in this by wronging them we are in debt to them. To forgive someone is to release them of this moral debt to you.

So when someone comes to you with genuine repentance, seeking mercy, “I owe you and I can’t ever really make it right” – forgiveness means releasing them of this debt that they can’t pay.

But note, it has to be real, not a show or a put on, or a social courtesy. It has to be “from the heart” – Matthew 18:35. Also, once it is dealt with and you are satisfied that there is real repentance – you must really let it go. You don’t keep bringing it up.

3. Begin the relationship anew. The goal with any broken relationship is reconciliation. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:24 to the one who does the wrong – “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother.” He also says in Mark 9:50 – “Be at peace with one another.” This can happen when you have true repentance and true forgiveness  – the relationship can heal.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can always pick right up where you left off. Some wounds go deep and need time to heal, time to reestablish trust – and that is fine. It’s a process. The key is that you are in relationship – and you are working at healing.

 Clarification: What if there is no repentance?

In popular language “forgiveness” is something we can just do internally by ourselves – an inner release of anger and debt. But in Scripture “forgiveness” has to do with all three components. There has to be repentance that deals with the issues and leads to reconciliation. Both parties need to be involved.

What should we do when there is no repentance? It is similar to the teaching on forgiveness:

  • We give up our anger and desire for judgment.
  • We choose to love them even as we are to love all our enemies. (And what is an enemy except one who harms you and doesn’t care or repent.)
  • And we stand ready to forgive them if they ever repent and work toward true reconciliation.

Finally –

What is more powerful –  the evil deed or love that forgives?

In some cases forgiveness is seemingly unthinkable – the pain is too deep. I think of sexual abuse, child abuse, or the murder of someone you love. But even in these catastrophic cases, each of us have to choose:

  • Will we allow the evil done to us to be the most powerful reality – and let it enslave us and twist us and deform us and make us bitter?
  • Or will we act on the belief that love is more powerful – and choose to make the hard choice to forgive and allow God to set us free?

It can be an incredible struggle to forgive. We could say like Jesus said to the rich man, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26. It takes God acting in us and through us to make the decision to forgive and to live out that decision throughout our lives.

But if we make the choice we can put into practice the admonition of Paul in Romans 12:21 – “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Instead of being overcome by the evil done to us, we can overcome it with good – the power of love and forgiveness.

William

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