To forgive literally means “to send away, to let go.”  Rather than hanging on to the hurt, the right to judge and punish, we simply let go of it.  We send it away.  We often think that if we don’t forgive someone, we are punishing them.  Most of the time, the only person we are punishing is ourselves. 

There is great freedom in forgiving others. 

We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.  Hence, everything that is true of Jesus’ forgiveness of us is to be passed on to others.

What Can Wash Away Your Sin?

This is a great question isn’t it?  Everyone at some point has to wrestle with this question, maybe not in these exact words, but you still wrestle with the things you have done wrong or the things you haven’t done right!

Most of us have a beginning point for faith or something like faith, in a church or synagogue or in our family where someone came to us and told us that God rewards good people and this is what God is like. 

By our twenties we have pieced together something that we kind of live by if we are asked why we live the way we do.

Maybe your reason went like this:  God answers prayer or red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. or Zachias was a wee little man or ‘deep and wide’ and I don’t know what songs you sang but someone handed you a faith! Somewhere as children, some of us were taught to pray and ask God to forgive us of our sin!  And we weren’t even sure what that was or what that meant.

It was great as a kid because it seemed simple, how bad could your sin be right?  I mean, “I stole my brothers candy” or “I went into my sister’s room again without asking”  and when we were found out we’d cry, ask for forgiveness and be outside playing the next minute…most likely never thinking of it again.

 But then… as we became adults the sins got bigger!  As adults it’s harder to forget, instead there is guilt and shame that seems to follow you longer than when you were a kid.  You hope people don’t even ask about your first marriage because it wasn’t your sister’s room you went into, it was someone else’s, and it wasn’t a piece of candy you stole, but cheating on your taxes, or lying about your achievements, or…you get the picture.

What can wash away your sin?

There is just stuff that follows you. 

It’s a fact of being human that there are things you can forget and there are those things that you can never forget!!

What can wash away my guilt or shame?

Some of us drink it away or medicate it away.

Some give more to try and numb the ache or serve more to mask the pain.

Some have more children thinking more responsibility will allow us to shed the past.

There are sins you can laugh about that seem funny now because you have received forgiveness for them.

But there are sins that you can’t laugh about, they will never be funny.  You have constant triggers each and every day that remind you that you have fallen desperately short.  And the harder you try and work it away the tighter it clings to you.

Illustrate:  It would be like being under water and you have a noose around your foot and a weight is attached to the rope.  There is just enough rope to keep you just below the surface of the water!  You struggle and strain harder and harder to get the air and the harder you try, the tighter the noose tightens around your leg.  It doesn’t let go! 

This is unforgiven sin, it covers you or follows you like a cloud.  So there must be a different or better way to deal with whatever “it” is!

Sometimes we try and explain it or make excuses of why we did things: Well I was young. I was drunk. I was angry. I was broke. I didn’t know any better

Even though those things are true, it doesn’t wash them away, it is there like a shadow or an oily residue that remains with you!!!. 

The core of the issue to all of this is Forgiveness.  You may have never thought of it this way or you may not agree and that is ok, but what you are looking for is a way you can forgive yourself so that you can be done with whatever it is.

You may want to forget that billboard advertisement or the name of that person because every time you see them you remember what you did with them or in front of them or every time you open up your computer you are reminded of that website that cost you your job or your life that you once cherished and lived for, the cloud remains!

What can wash away your sin?  We will get there! 

Did you know that every religious system offers a solution to deal with guilt and shame that looks like forgiveness?  If you look at the particulars of the Christian teaching, it doesn’t look that different than many other ethical teachings.

  • Look at the Chinese ethical system of Confucius.
  • Look at the Pagan ethical system.
  • The Humanist ethical system.
  • Look at the Muslim or Islamic ethical system.

Aren’t they all going to say don’t steal and be generous? Won’t they all say don’t lie and speak the truth? Put away bitterness and forgive?

Only one person, not just a belief system, but a person has said, “I don’t have a solution but I am the solution.”  It is Jesus! 

Some of you may be wondering if I am going to do a repeat of Joe’s sermon from last week.  Here I am again reminding all of us that we are Sinners!  Why?  Because to truly be able to do what Jesus asks us to do next, we must understand what He has done for us.  Let’s look again at the text Joe mentioned in Matthew 18

Matthew 18:23-32

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Understanding the Gospel, the good news, begins with knowing that we’ve done nothing and Jesus has done everything.  We are the man in the story with the huge, unpayable debt and Jesus has washed away all that we owed Him.  Once and for all.

Jesus not only forgave us, but he set the standard for our behavior towards others. In some mysterious way, our own forgiveness is connected to our forgiveness of others.  To receive forgiveness and then refuse to give it to others sacrifices our own forgiveness. This is not easy to swallow.  Some of you have had things happen in your life that seem impossible to forgive.

Some of you are thinking…wait a minute a couple minutes ago you said that we can do nothing, it’s only what Jesus has done that saves me.  Yet now you’re saying if I don’t forgive I can’t be forgiven.  How does that work? 

It works like this…if you truly know what God has done for you.  If you realize the magnitude of forgiveness He has shown you…and you’ve accepted His gift…there is no way you can’t give that same forgiveness, on a much smaller scale, to those who have wronged you.  When we don’t forgive we are denying what Christ did for us.

It’s not our forgiving that saves us…but it is a sign that we have accepted God’s forgiveness.  

1. Forgive completely!

Looking back to the text we began with in Matthew 18.  We see the type of forgiveness that God asks of us.

I love that Jesus used stories because many of us, are thick headed, well at least I know I am, and we don’t quite get it until we can see it illustrated.  So let’s just picture the story for a moment…

There you are…before a great king…pleading for your life.  Can’t you see the anguish on your face, can’t you feel the panic causing your heart to pound…you plead for your life…you beg…and then the King pardons you.  Completely…not partially, there’s no payment plan, no automatic deduction…the debt is gone…PAID IN FULL

Relief, thankfulness, joy, freedom…and then…you go out and act like a completely spoiled brat.  Sorry, but this is really what the text is showing.  Look at verse 28 again.

Matthew 18:28 (ESV)

28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

Are you kidding me?  Is this guy for real?  The sad thing is, we’re the guy…when we don’t forgive. The story makes it so clear.  It’s obvious that our response to God’s complete forgiveness must be what we offer to others.  We have been forgiven, completely, and we must forgive in the same way…completely.  It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command and there’s no way of getting around it, but lets not kid ourselves, it’s tough. 

In his book “Reasons for God”, Tim Keller explains the dilemma this way!

“Someone may have robbed you of some happiness, reputation, opportunity, or certain aspects of your freedom. No price tag can be put on such things, yet we still have a sense of violated justice that does not go away when the other person says, “I’m really sorry.” When we are seriously wronged we have an unforgettable sense that the perpetrators have incurred a debt that must be dealt with.

The first option is to seek ways to make the perpetrators suffer for what they have done. You can withhold relationship and actively initiate or passively wish for some kind of pain in there lives equal to what you experience. There are many ways to do this. You can viciously confront them, saying things that hurt. You can go around to others to tarnish their reputation. If the perpetrators suffer, you may begin to feel a certain satisfaction, feeling that they are now paying off their debt.

There are some problems with this option, however. You may become harder and colder, more self-pitying, and therefore more self-absorbed. If the wrongdoer was a person of wealth or authority you may instinctively dislike and resist that sort of person for the rest of your life. If it was a person of the opposite sex or another race you might become permanently cynical and prejudiced against whole classes of people. In addition, the perpetrator and his friends and family often feel they have the right to respond to your payback in kind. Cycles of reaction and retaliation can go on for years. Evil has been done to you-yes. But when you try to get payment through revenge the evil does not disappear. Instead it spreads, and it spreads most tragically of all into you and your own character.

There is another option, however. You can forgive. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You not only suffer the original loss of happiness, reputation, and opportunity, but now you forgo the consolation of inflicting the same on them. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out of the other person. It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death.

Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the lifelong living death of bitterness and cynicism….If they simply refuse to take vengeance on the wrongdoer in action and even in their inner fantasies-the anger slowly begins to subside. You are not giving it any fuel and so the resentment burns lower and lower….Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil.” Tim Keller, Reason for God, pp. 188-189.

Keller points out that forgiveness is truly the only option for a Christian.  The alternative is a life of bitterness and pain.  But it doesn’t come without a price.  It in itself is painful…sometimes like death.  This leads us to our second point.

2. Forgive in faith.

Some of us here today have mountains of forgiveness, generations of deeply rooted pain… we need to forgive.

Some of us don’t have mountains, only some hills… we need to forgive.

But how? 

In the eleventh chapter of Mark, just before Jesus loses it in the temple, he curses a fig tree because he’s hungry and it doesn’t have any fruit.  This makes me feel so much better…even Jesus got cranky! 

The next day, as their walking by, Peter notices the tree has withered and is surprised.  Let’s pause to look at Peter here…He has already seen Jesus calm the sea, walk on water, make the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and yet he is amazed that Jesus could make a fig tree wither.   Now it’s Peter that makes us feel better!

Ok, back to the point.

Mark 11:20-25

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The order of this verse is critical.  First, Jesus says we must have faith in God.  Second, he describes a faith that can move mountains. Third, He tells us to pray and believe.  Finally, He asks us to forgiven. 

True forgiveness takes great faith…faith that can move mountains.  Only through prayer and a reliance on Jesus’ strength can we do it.

It’s the only way, but it is possible…take a look at this.

Video Clip

3. Forgive Freely!

What an amazing story of what Christ can do when we forgive.  But it was a process wasn’t it? And it wasn’t easy.  And it is not easy!

Daniel had to forgive himself, Robin had to forgive herself, and they both had to accept that Christ had forgiven them. Then came the most difficult choice, the choice to trust God and forgive one another. 

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Matthew 10:8

Freely you have received, freely give.

Friends, God knows all of what we have done, He knows the grief we have caused to others and yet he forgives.  He forgives us freely.

And God also knows what others have done to us.  He knows your hidden pain, he knows every tear you’ve cried and yet… He asks you to forgive freely. 

Forgiving is hard!!  The process is painful, BUT it is the first step to healing and reconciliation. It costs a lot, but the payoff is huge.  God asks us to forgive, because he knows it will set us free.  

Like Daniel said, you would be amazed at what God can do when you forgive.  And like the healing He brought to Daniel and Robin’s life, he wants to heal your life as well. 

He wants to heal your marriages. He wants to heal your families. He wants to heal your relationships. He wants to heal you.  

But it starts with forgiveness, accepting His and then in turn doing the same for those who have wronged you.

In a moment we’re going to take communion so right now I would like to invite the ushers forward, but before we do let’s remember what we must do.

Remember it’s not our forgiving that saves us…but it is a sign that we have accepted God’s forgiveness. 

1. Forgive completely! Because Christ has completely forgiven us.

2. Forgive in faith! Because only through faith can we forgive as Christ commands.

3. Forgive freely! Because it will set you free.

As we sing this song and the elements are passed out, I want you to ask God to search your heart.  On the bottom of the outline I’ve provided a place to write.  First, I want you to think about something God has forgiven you for and write it down in the box…that shouldn’t be hard.  Then I want you to think of someone you need to forgive, and I want you to write down their name.  Finally, I want you to pray and ask God to give you the strength to forgive.  Then I’ll come back up and we’ll take communion together.

What can wash away our sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.  Remember what Jesus has done for you and me.  Remember you are new in Christ!

Freely you have received, freely give!

Let’s pray!