September 21, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
ILL: On July 11, all the 7/11 stores in town offered a free small Slurpee to anyone who came in between 11 am and 7 pm. Being a big Slurpee fan, I headed to the nearest 7/11…and there was a line out the door! I was really bummed because I wanted a Slurpee but I wasn’t about to stand in line for an hour for a free one. Social media blows up news like this—people texted, tweeted, Instagramed, and Facebooked the free Slurpee deal like crazy. “Good news: free Slurpees!” Hence the lines.
Free is always good news. People like free. So try this one on: you are fully forgiven and accepted by God. For people who pack their past around like a ball and chain, for those who live with a boatload of regret or guilt, this sounds too good to be true. “Don’t I have to pay for my sins?” Nope. Someone else already did. You are fully forgiven, and it’s free. It’s a gift. You just have to receive it.
You are fully forgiven and accepted by God. Please turn to your neighbor and tell them that! You just preached the gospel! See how easy it was!
In this three part series on forgiveness, I talked about receiving God’s forgiveness, and then Bobby talked about giving it freely to others. Freely you have received, freely give. If you want to stay forgiven, forgive others. Today in the final part of this series, I want to talk about sharing forgiveness. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Jesus commissions us to tell everyone that they are forgiven and to create communities of full forgiveness.
I want to lay some groundwork, and remind you of what we need to know, and then we’ll get to what we need to do.
1. What we need to know:
A. Jesus offers and expects every-time-forgiveness.
This is what we talked about the last two weeks. We looked at the story in Matthew 18 when Peter asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?” And Jesus said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Some translations say 77 times. Either way, 77 times or 490 times, Jesus clearly didn’t expect us to keep track and stop at 77 or 490—that would be a bookkeeping nightmare! Jesus expects us to forgive every time.
Why? Because that’s how God forgives us. God forgives us fully and freely. Jesus goes on to tell the story of a man who owed the king 10,000 lifetimes of salary—an unimaginable debt, and completely impossible to repay. But the king had mercy on him and forgave the whole debt. In Jesus’ story, God is the king, and I am the man with the staggering debt—it’s me, and it’s you. And God has forgiven all of it. All of it!
That’s why He expects you to forgive others. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
But in Jesus’ story, the freshly forgiven man finds a friend who owed him a few months’ wages. But rather than forgiving him, he has him thrown in jail. And for that, he is dragged back before the king, where his forgiveness is rescinded and his debt reinstated. Here’s the punch line: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat you unless you forgive your brother and sister from your heart.” Soul punch!
We are expected to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.
Forgiven people forgive.
Jesus gives us every-time-forgiveness, and He expects us to pass it on, to give every-time-forgiveness to others. Jesus taught us to pray: Matthew 6:12 “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Think about that! Every time you pray the Lord’s prayer, you are asking God to forgive you the same way you forgive others! And if we don’t, we somehow jeopardize our own forgiveness.
ILL: It’s like giving a big bag of candy to one of your kids, and saying, “You can have all you want, and there’s more where that came from! But you have to share. If you don’t share, you lose it; I’ll take it back.”
God expects us to share! You are fully and freely forgiven, so there’s no reason not to forgive others the same way.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It wasn’t easy for God to forgive you! It cost Him dearly. If you’ve ever been deeply hurt or disappointed, you know that forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s very hard to let go of the hurt and the desire to hurt back.
The word “forgive” means “to let go, to send away.” To forgive is to let go of the hurt, to send away the desire for judgment. What do we call it when we hang on to the hurt? A grudge. Bitterness. Resentment. When you hang on to the wrong someone has done you, the only person you hurt is yourself. You think you are punishing them, but you’re just punishing yourself. You’ve got to let go.
But it’s hard. Even when someone is sorry and has apologized, things can happen that bring the pain back to the surface. And it’s especially hard if someone hasn’t repented, or is still wronging you over and over again.
It’s hard. But you’ve got to let go. For your sake, you’ve got to let go. And you may have to do it over and over for awhile.
ILL: A lady asked Corrie Ten Boom once why, even though she had forgiven, the pain hadn’t gone away. Corrie explained that it’s like pulling the rope on a church bell. After you let go of the rope, the bell continues to swing and make noise. But if you’ve truly let go, eventually the bell slows and stops and goes silent. In the same way, when we forgive, the pain and hurt may still be ringing for awhile, but eventually, it will slow down and stop.
Let go of the rope. Every time the gong of pain rings, or bitterness resurfaces, let go again. Let go of the rope. Choose to send it away, every time. And eventually, the ringing will stop.
You need to know that God forgives you every time. And He expects you to forgive others every time.
Why can we forgive others every time? Because God has forgiven us fully and freely. You also need to know that…
B. God’s forgiveness is bigger than you thought!
I said two weeks ago that when Jesus died on the cross and shouted, “It is finished,” that He paid for our sins in full. But not just ours—everyone’s! Jesus paid it all—for the whole world.
2 Corinthians 5:17–19 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Notice verse 19. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” Who did God reconcile to himself? The whole world. Everyone. God let go of their sins; He forgave everyone and refused to count their sins against them. Everyone is forgiven.
Paul says this again in an even bigger way in:
Colossians 1:19–20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
What is reconciled to God? Everything! “All things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” God did this through Jesus’ death on the cross. In other words, what Jesus did on the cross is so big that it includes everyone and everything.
We can say with confidence to anyone, “Your sins are forgiven and you are reconciled to God.”
Now some of you are experiencing some inner dissonance right now. You are thinking, “Wait a minute. Doesn’t the Bible say some people will go to hell? How can everyone be reconciled and forgiven? Joe, you’re not preaching universalism, are you?”
Universalism is the belief that in the end, everyone will be saved. There are two types of universalism. Many universalists have no Biblical or theological reasons for believing that everyone will be saved; they just want a happy ending and hope that’s what will happen. But there are Christian universalists who point to verses like these and argue that God’s grace is bigger than man’s sin, and that God’s love and mercy will triumph in the end. They have Big View of Christ’s death and what it accomplished.
I wish they were right. I wish I could be a universalist. But there are too many verses in the Bible that clearly say some people will not be saved, but will go to hell. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish everyone was saved. And you should too. Here’s why: because that’s what God wishes too.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
1 Timothy 2:3–4 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
God doesn’t want anyone to perish. God wants everyone—all people—to come to repentance and to be saved. You need to know that God’s forgiveness is bigger than you think!
So how does this work? In Christ, God has reconciled the whole world to himself—His forgiveness is bigger than we think! And He wants everyone to be saved. Yet not everyone will. What’s the deal?
C. Repentance is turning to God to receive His forgiveness.
Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel of repentance for forgiveness.
Luke 24:47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What was their message? Repent and you’ll be forgiven. What is repentance? The Greek word here is metanoia, which literally is a “change of mind.” To repent is to change your mind and your behavior. To repent is to change your mind about your sin, and to change your mind about God. It is turning away from sin and turning toward God. The gospel is: “turn to God and receive forgiveness.”
Repentance is turning to God to receive His forgiveness.
So here’s a big question: does God forgive us before or after we repent? Before! He forgives before we repent. He doesn’t wait until we repent to decide to forgive us. That was decided long ago; our debt was paid in full at the cross. Jesus paid it all; all is forgiven; it is finished, paid in full, already decided. Now it’s up to us to simply turn to God and receive what He already paid for. Turn to God and receive forgiveness.
ILL: Each year I go to denominational meetings in LA. When I register, they give me a packet and my nametag, then they say, “See that table over there? They have an envelope with your name on it. Inside is cash for dinner on your own.” I always go over to that table and show them my nametag, and say, “I think you have an envelope with my name on it.” I say “always”, because if I don’t go get it, guess who is paying for dinner? I am! I’d rather they pay! So I always go ask for my envelope. “Here you go, Pastor Joe.”
Jesus has paid for your sins. There is an envelope with your name on it. All you have to do is turn to God, and He happily gives it to you.
Now if you want, you can pay for your own sins. But why do that when Jesus has already paid, and all you have to do is stop by the table?
You are forgiven before you repent, but you must to turn to God to receive it. There’s an envelope with your name on it, but you need to come to the table.
God forgives everyone everything, so when you turn to God, you know you’ll be forgiven.
How does it work with us and others? The same way. When do forgive someone else? Whenever they sin or when they repent? We forgive others just like God in Christ forgave us.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We forgive every time. It’s already decided. I don’t have to wait for someone to repent before I forgive him; I’ve decided to forgive every time, so that’s done. When they repent, I don’t have to punish them, make them wait for a verdict, make them feel bad, or decide then whether to forgive or not. No—when they repent, they receive full and free forgiveness immediately. It is finished. It was paid for long ago. And why should I hang on to something that God let go of long ago? “Of course I forgive you!”
ILL: There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced but he couldn’t hit a thing. Discouraged, he headed back for dinner.
As he was walking back he saw Grandma’s pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head and killed it. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the woodpile; when he looked up, he saw that his sister was watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.
After lunch the next day Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen.” Then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, “I’m sorry but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally just smiled and said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help.” She whispered again, “Remember the duck!” So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.
After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, he couldn’t stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck.
Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug and said, “Sweetheart, I know. I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing, but because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
When did Grandma forgive him? When he did it—immediately. He had been forgiven the whole time, but didn’t know it until he came to Grandma. That’s how we’re to forgive others—immediately, before they repent. Repentance is their chance to experience what we’ve been offering all along.
Some of us are more like Sally than Grandma. “Remember the duck.” We hold people hostage with our unforgiveness.
Luke 17:3–5 “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
At first glance, this sounds like we have to wait for people to repent before we forgive. But notice that Jesus is teaching every-time-forgiveness here. If someone sinned against 7 times in one day, that would get old! But you should forgive them every time. Here’s the deal. To do that, you decide ahead of time that you’ll forgive every time—which means that you’ve decided to forgive before people repent.
You need to know that repentance is turning to God to receive forgiveness. There’s an envelope with your name on it. And there’s an envelope with each person’s name on it, so here’s what we need to do.
2. What we need to do: (Pass out communion here: take two.)
A. Share the good news of full forgiveness.
Would you turn again to your neighbor and tell them, “You are fully forgiven and accepted by God.”
Tell them, “Turn to God and receive full forgiveness.”
Tell them, “There’s an envelope with your name on it.”
You are preaching the gospel! And that’s what Jesus calls us to do. We’ve already looked at:
Luke 24:47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
What was the message they proclaimed to all nations? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Turn to God and receive forgiveness! Here is John’s version of Jesus’ commission to His followers:
John 20:21–23 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Every commentary I read said the same thing: Jesus wasn’t saying that we have the power to forgive sins. Only God can forgive all a person’s sins. We have the privilege of announcing that good news. “Your sins are forgiven!” We also have the solemn responsibility of warning people who refuse to turn to God. “There’s an envelope with your name on it, but you have to come to the table. Turn to God and receive forgiveness. If you refuse to turn to God, you are paying for your own sins.” I want to emphasize again that we’re not saying, “Turn to God so you can be forgiven.” God has already forgiven them. There is an envelope with their name on it. “Turn to God so you can receive the forgiveness that He’s already given.” We want people to turn to God knowing that they will receive forgiveness, not wondering if they will or if they will be accepted.
2 Corinthians 5:17–20 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is making His appeal through us! We have the message of reconciliation: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. You are reconciled to God. You are fully forgiven in Christ! Turn to God and receive full forgiveness.
Friends, I’m praying that every one of has at least one opportunity this week to share this good news with someone who desperately needs to hear it.
We not only share the good news, but we embody it. We live it. So we need to:
B. Create environments of full forgiveness.
What is an environment of forgiveness? Many environments are characterized by shame or guilt. You know that you’ll be judged, censured; you know that you’ll meet with disapproval and shame. People are carrying heavy burdens. We want to create environments where they feel free to let them go, not environments that simply pile it on! We want to create environments where you know you will be forgiven every time, and you never have to wonder if or when you’ll be forgiven. You’re forgiven now—every time. You don’t hesitate to come clean because you know you’ll be fully and freely forgiven every time. Even before you ask, you know the answer: “Yes, I forgive you!”
It starts in our homes, with our families or roommates. We promise each other, “I will forgive you as Christ has forgiven me—freely and fully—every time. When you blow it, you never have to wonder if I’ll forgive you. It’s already decided, and I’m telling you now: you are forgiven every time.” Can you imagine what this will do to the atmosphere in your home?
Let me remind you again to forgive people before they repent—like Grandma with the duck. It will make it easier for them to repent and is crucial to creating an environment of forgiveness. They won’t be wondering if they will be forgiven; they will know that they already are.
We need to have an environment of forgiveness in our churches. Sometimes Christians can be so unforgiving. People leave churches mad over the smallest things. They have been forgiven everything, and yet they can’t seem to find it in their hearts to forgive the smallest things. All of our fighting and resentment and bitterness simply tells the rest of the world that we must not be real followers of Jesus.
John 13:34–35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
How will everyone know we are Christ’s disciples? By our love for each other. When people walk in here they ought to feel a difference in the environment. This is a place where people are loved, forgiven and accepted. Every time. If people can’t find love, acceptance and forgiveness here, where will they find it? That’s our deal. That’s our currency. Go to the bar for a drink. Go to the bank for buck. Go to church for love, acceptance and forgiveness.
Finally, we can create climates of forgiveness in our community—in our schools, our workplace, wherever we are. We take this environment with us, and we let people know: “You are fully forgiven and accepted by God, and by me. Every time.”
Conclusion: We’ve taken communion each week in this series, and we will today as well. But it’s going to be different today. You noticed that these are mobile communions—take them with you communions. And you each have two. Here’s what I want you to do. Today or sometime this week, I want you to find someone and share communion with them. It could be someone at home, or from church; it could be someone at work or school. But I want it to be someone who needs to hear from you: “We are fully forgiven by God. So I promise that I will always forgive you—every time. And to seal that promise, let’s do this together.” If they’re not a Christian, you can explain communion to them—tell them that Christians do this to remember that they are fully forgiven because of Jesus. ‘
I’m looking forward to hearing what happens this week as you share this good news with people you love.