The Gifts of Christmas - Forgiveness


©Copyright December 23, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

During this Christmas season we have been using our Sunday mornings to look at the various gifts given by God at Christmas. We looked at:

The gift of significance – We are seen and loved by God. We matter to Him

The gift of Insight -- We don’t have to wonder who God is or what He is like any more because we see Him in the person of Jesus.

The gift of Peace – We have peace with God, we have peace in trials because we trust Him and we have peace in life because we have entered His rest and see life differently from the rest of the world.

Tomorrow we will look at the gift of a future . . . because of Jesus no longer is this life all there is

Tonight we look at another wonderful and staggering gift of God: the gift of forgiveness.

There are several organizations who operate the Apology Sound-Off Line a telephone service that gives callers an opportunity to confess their wrongs for the price of a phone call. People who no longer believe in priests trust their sins to an answering machine. Hundreds of callers call each day confessing small and large sins. People are desperate for a way to deal with their guilt.

Not everyone recognizes the problem as guilt. Lewis Smedes in his book on Shame and Grace writes,

Guilt was not my problem as I felt it. What I felt most was a glob of unworthiness that I could not tie down to any concrete sins I was guilty of What I needed more than pardon was a sense that God accepted me, owned me, held me, affirmed me, and would never let go of me even if he was not too much impressed with what he had on his hands.

When Jesus came to earth He came to address our guilt and brokenness.

We All Need Forgiveness

Each of us needs the gift of forgiveness. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes,

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23)

Solomon said, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

In Galatians 3:22 Paul is downright blunt when he wrote,

But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.

Paul says we have not only done things that require forgiveness, we are sin addicts. We can’t help but sin! We see this most clearly when we are angry, frustrated, or aren’t getting our own way. We see it when God’s Word commands something we don’t want to do.

We are mired in sin and there is no way, by our efforts, that we can get back to being holy in God’s sight. That is not an excuse! It is a deadly disease. Holiness is so far away we can’t even see it on the horizon!

But you know that don’t you? You saw it

When the person driving in front of you was not driving the speed you wanted to go . . . and you were in a hurry.

When your spouse or child snapped at you.

When someone was being talked about in a negative way and you joined in.

When you mocked the person who was different.

When you had a chance to make a few extra dollars “under the table.”

When you damaged someone’s property but no one was looking so you just walked away.

When you flirted with someone who was not your spouse.

When you lied.

When you were selfish rather than generous.

When you had the chance to tell someone about Jesus and you kept silent.

When you responded aggressively rather than with love.

When you knew what God wanted but made excuses not to do it.

We could go on and on couldn’t we? We work hard to excuse our sinfulness; we try to bury it deep; we want everyone to “understand” (even though we do not understand ourselves). We have forgotten much of what we have done . . .but what we remember haunts us.

When Jesus came to earth He made it possible for us to be forgiven. He provided a way for our sin to be paid off. He came so we could be freed from the guilt that has many people buried. I believe it is true that many people who are now considered mentally ill could be whole again if they could just believe they were forgiven.

Christ Makes Forgiveness Possible

When the angel appeared to Joseph he was told,

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21

Some men brought to Jesus a man who was crippled and they lowered him down to Jesus on a mat. And He said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5)

In Luke 7 we read about a woman described as an “immoral woman” who came in and brought in a very special container of perfume and poured it on Jesus. She wiped his feet with her hair and then kissed His feet. Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

And of course, when Jesus was on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Of course, anyone could say these things. The difference is WHY Jesus could say these things. There are two reasons. First, He paid the price. He gave His life as payment for our sin. This is why He had to live a sinless life. If He did not, He would have sins of His own to pay for. But because He was sinless, He could give His life as payment for our sin. This was the very thing the entire Jewish sacrificial system was pointing to.

The second reason Jesus can extend forgiveness is because He was God become man. Because of that, His life was of sufficient value to pay for all my sin, and all of yours. But there is more . . . He can declare us forgiven because ultimately, He was the One who was offended.

I can’t forgive you for something you did to someone else. I can only forgive you for what you did to me. But, all sin is an act of rebellion toward God. Therefore, He can extend the forgiveness that we crave. . . even for things we did to people who are no longer here.

When Jesus died, the debt was paid. Three of my favorite words in Scripture come from one Greek Word: Tetelestai, in English it is translated: “It is Finished”. The guilt was dealt with once and for all on the cross. Jesus did not say, “It is begun” or “It is almost there.” No . . . He said “it is FINISHED”.

Paul said,

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. (Col 2:13-15)

My friend, Ray Pritchard wrote,

If Jesus paid it all, you don’t have to. If you try to pay for your salvation, it means you don’t think he paid it all. There is no middle ground between those two propositions. God is not trying to sell you salvation. He doesn’t offer salvation at half-price. And you can’t split the cost with him or pay for your sins on the installment plan. God is offering you salvation free of charge. That’s what tetelestai means. Jesus paid in full so you wouldn’t have to pay anything.

We have received an astounding gift! Our foolish, sinful, hurtful, and rebellious choices and actions are forgiven when we take Christ as our Savior and King. We are forgiven when we see Jesus not simply as a baby in the manger, but as the Savior who did what we could not do. When we run to Him as our Savior, when we put our hope in Him, when we stop trying to save ourselves and rest in Him . . . we are forgiven!

There is nothing better you could do to celebrate Christmas this year than to come to Jesus as your Savior and King. It requires

1) admitting your sinful condition and your helplessness to save yourself.

2) Confessing Jesus as your only hope for forgiveness and new life.

3) Embracing Him as your Savior and King and surrendering your life to His love and mercy.

If you have never done this, I invite you to do so right now . . . tonight. Then I ask you to tell someone else (you are welcome to tell Rick or me or someone else from the church) what you did. That will reinforce your decision.

Our job is to extend Forgiveness to Others

But there is one more thing . . . Jesus tells us that if we are going to receive His forgiveness; if we truly understand the magnitude of what He has done for us; we are to forgive each other.

Sometimes you will hear people say, “I forgive you but I won’t forget.” Unfortunately, what they often mean is: “I say I forgive you but I reserve the right to beat you up with this at any (and sometimes many) times in the future.” That is not forgiveness!

Forgiveness is saying, “It is finished”. It is recognizing the hurt and choosing to no longer allow it to impact your relationship. Tony Evans wrote,

Computers are programmed with commands by which you can either erase or retrieve and display what is stored in the computer’s memory. Since our brain is like a computer, you can send it either an erase or retrieve command when it comes to something painful in the past.

What many of us do is keep sending the retrieve-and–display command so we can recall and relive past events at will. We tell our brains to save that information. We store it in our memories and keep recalling it so we can look it over and remind ourselves how much it hurt.

That way, every time we see the person involved, we can remind ourselves of what he or she did to us. We can take some satisfaction in holding on to the past instead of erasing it, especially if we are looking for an opportunity to pay back the hurt. So the cycle just goes on and on. (Tony Evans THE PROMISE 199-200)

Forgiveness is when we choose to move forward instead of constantly recalling the past. It is choosing “not to remember”. You may never forget what happened but you can still choose to not allow it to be a factor in your present relationship. This is what God asks us to do . . . to extend the same mercy to others that He has extended to us. Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right . . . it just sets you free. It sets you free to continue a relationship with that person.

But guilt is not the only thing that can kill us. So can resentment.

Frederick Buechner wrote that of all the deadly sins, resentment appears to be the most fun. To lick your wounds and savor the pain you will give back is in many ways a feast fit or a king. But then it turns out that what you are eating at the banquet of bitterness is your own heart. The skeleton at the feast is you. You start out holding a grudge, but in the end the grudge holds you. (Buechner, Wishful Thinking 2)

You have seen it in others and you have seen it in yourself . . . rehearsing a hurt again and again. When we do this the offense grows and we are unable to see any positive things in the other person. Our thinking because wickedly distorted and warped.

Pastor John Ortberg (who is also a counselor) wrote,

Don’t forgive, and your anger will be your burden.

Don’t forgive, and bit by bit all the joy will be choked out of you.

Don’t forgive, and you will be unable to trust anybody, ever again.

Don’t forgive, and the bitterness will crowd the compassion out of your heart slowly, utterly forever.

Don’t forgive, and that little grudge you nurse will grow larger, and stronger.

(Ortberg, Everybody is Normal Till You Get to Know Them p. 66)

Of all the Christmas gifts you can give this Christmas, this could be the most precious. It could also be the most satisfying and liberating.

Each Christmas families get together and there are family members they haven’t talked to for a period of time because of a hurt . . . It is time to say that grudge is finished!

Each Christmas people are keeping score because of some perceived slight. They did not get as good a gift as someone else (funny how we miss the fact that it is a GIFT not a RIGHT.) It is time to say scorekeeping is finished.

There are spouses who sit close but there is distance growing between them because of hurts real or imagined in the past. It is time to say the words: “Will you forgive me?” and “I forgive you.” It is time to leave those things in the past and “find each other” again.

There are always some who are waiting for the other person to make the first move. As a result, bitterness and resentment deepen and the poison becomes more and more pervasive. The Bible is clear: If we have offended someone we are to make the first move! If someone has offended us, we are to make the first move and explain how we were hurt (that is always better than insisting the other person “knows exactly what they did.”) Did you catch that? God says WE should always be the one to make the first move!

There are children who feel they are not welcome at home because of something they did in the past. Often there are parents on the other end wishing their children would come home. What is needed is a dose of forgiveness.

In Ephesians 4:32 we are given this command:

be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

This is the Lord talking . . . not me. If you appreciate the gift of forgiveness from God; you will want to give that same gift to others.

You don’t have to stay imprisoned to your guilt. Jesus paid your debt. You can be forgiven if you will only turn to Him. And you can be freed from the bitterness and resentment if you would follow His lead and let it go . . . and forgive. It is a wonderfully liberating thing to say, “It is Finished.”

The forgiveness of Christ in us and through us has the power to transform lives, restore families, rekindle friendships, and bring joy where there was previously darkness and gloom.

It’s the Christmas gift everyone wants but Amazon can’t provide. It is there for the asking and for the giving. Jesus has already done the work; now it is up to you to decide whether you will ask for His forgiveness and new life and then extend that same forgiveness to others, or whether you want to see if you can solve the problem by talking to an answering machine.

©Copyright December 23, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

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