Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Where Credit is Due

Jesus said every sin could be forgiven – except one!  He freely associated with people who were caught up in sinful behavior that shocked the religious leaders.  He was accused, Himself, of being a drunkard and a glutton.  He told a woman who had committed several serial acts of adultery that He did not condemn her.  Jesus was a compassionate and forgiving and taught that God the Father was also forgiving.  And yet, He said, “Watch out!  There is one sin that cannot be forgiven – ever.”

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

What was He talking about?  What did He mean?  We don’t have to look far to see.

” Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 12:22-24, NIV)

Jesus demonstrated the compassion and power of God in a healing of spiritual and physical dimensions.  It was clear to “all the people” that He had done so by God’s power.  Indeed, “all the people” began to suggest that He was the “Son of David,” the Messiah King, promised by God.  But the Pharisees told the people that Jesus was acting on behalf of Satan (“Beelzebub, the prince of demons”), not because of what they saw Him do, but in response to what they heard the people saying about Jesus.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the act of publicly attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the influence of Satan, when you know it is not true.  Those guys had deliberately tried to diminish what God was doing, so they could control the people and protect their own reputations.  They said, “That’s not God doing that, it is Satan.”  Jesus said, “Watch out; doing that is unforgivable!”

Now, maybe you are thinking, “I don’t have to worry about that; I’m certainly no religious authority and nobody is going to be influenced by what I say.”  Maybe so.  But in the light of the severity of what Jesus taught, perhaps it is appropriate for us to be cautious about what we think whenever we see something that God does.  For example, during the last several months, The River Church in Lyons, CO has experienced several astonishing acts of rescue and relief, as they were recovering from a devastating flood.  Their well went completely dry.  The experts determined that the ground water had shifted and that the only thing to do was to drill another well – something the church had no money to do.  But a volunteer work crew, assembled from churches all around the country, gathered around the well house, joined hands and prayed that God would restore it.  That afternoon the water began to flow – pure water that passed the county’s stringent health standards.

How do you understand that event?  Who did that?  How did it happen?   There are many physical explanations you could use.  Most of them would need to include the word, coincidence.  Or, you could shake your head with awe and humility and give the credit to God.  I’m pretty sure that is the safest course.  And ultimately, it matters little how God pulled it off.  The main thing is to understand why He did it.  And to give credit where it is due.

Bible quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What Really Matters

Eric Wallace threw himself out of an airplane and parachuted into the middle of the Air Force Academy football stadium, just before the game.  But when he landed, he knelt down before his girlfriend, Melanie and asked her to be his wife.  The parachute part was sensational.  The proposal was more important.  The day will come when what really matters to Eric and Melanie is that they agreed to be husband and wife, “’til death do us part.”  On days like that, how he showed up to ask her won’t be so important.

Matthew focused in on what really mattered when he told about the paralyzed guy and Jesus. The way Mark and Luke tell the story, his friends smash a hole in the roof and lower him down on ropes, to get him to Jesus.  But Matthew leaves that part of the story out, skipping ahead to what really matters.  He wrote:

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)

Being lowered through the roof was the sensational part.  Being healed of paralysis must have been what the man was hoping for.  But Jesus jumped right to the part that really mattered: “Your sins are forgiven.”  I realize that some priests and clergy presume to pronounce sins forgiven, but in truth, only God has the authority to forgive sins.  That is why…

“At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3)

The blasphemy they accused Jesus of was taking on the role of God.  In Luke’s account, they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:4-8)

The startling part of this story was when they tore open the roof.  The sensational part was when the man stood up and walked home, healed.  That part wowed the crowd!  But the healing was only a sign, a sign to prove the part that really matters.  What really matters for you and me is that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

When you go to Jesus, seeking forgiveness, it makes no difference what you had to do to get there.  If He heals your body when you come, that is a bonus, of only temporary significance.  But what really matters to you eternally, is that your sins have been completely and eternally forgiven.  When your mind wonders and doubts if it is really true, you can be sure it really is, because Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.  That’s what really matters.

Cool New Stuff

When you update an app, you expect it to work better, right?  Sometimes you don’t notice any difference but sometimes your updated app does cool new stuff.  When you trust Jesus, you get more than an update. You get a whole new operating system – the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit definitely comes with cool new stuff.

Like mercy.  We humans are not naturally wired to extend mercy, but God is.  When He described Who He was and what He was like to Moses, God started out with mercy:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…  (Exodus 34:6)

Mercy is the character of God, 101.  Bob Dylan writes songs; God extends mercy.  So, when a person receives God’s Spirit, Who begins to transform how he operates, one cool new result is an increased capacity for mercy – to give it and receive it.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began by  preaching hope for those who knew they were spiritually bankrupt, for those who mourned their condition and hungered for a soul that worked right (See the previous 4 posts).  He told them they would be comforted and filled, hinting that He would give them the Holy Spirit.  But then Jesus switched gears and began to speak of what happens in a person who is comforted and filled by His Spirit – what the cool new stuff is.  He said:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  (Matthew 5:7)

That’s cool new stuff 101.  Those who have the Holy Spirit notice a growing capacity for mercy – to give it and receive it.

It’s not that being merciful earns us mercy from God.  Being merciful in a genuine way shows that God’s Spirit is living in us.  In that condition, we are enabled to receive God’s mercy.  This mystery is repeated often in Jesus’  teaching.  The unmerciful are unable to receive God’s mercy.  The unforgiving are unable to receive His forgiveness.  It’s not that they don’t deserve it; nobody deserves mercy and forgiveness.  If we are deserving, it’s not mercy or forgiveness.  It’s that our souls are unable to receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, to really accept them in a settled way, unless they have been brought to spiritual life by His Spirit.  When we receive mercy, we naturally extend it.  And vice versa.

It’s cool new stuff from our new operating system.

What’s Love (and Justice) Got to do with It?

Why did you get so mad? The judge said the kid was a victim of “affluenza” – too much money and not enough parental discipline.  Sure, he killed four people and injured two others.  Sure, he was driving drunk. Sure it wasn’t his first offence.   But, hey, it’s not his fault because he was too wealthy to know better, right?  No jail time; just a residential treatment facility for the very privileged few…

What makes this outrageous is that justice was not served.  We are wired to seek justice.  Justice is good; injustice makes us deeply cranky.  Animals don’t seem to care about justice.  But humans have been designed by God to reflect His being.  You already know God is love.  But God is also Just.   Consider what He told Moses:

And he [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.   Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…”  (Exodus 34:6-7a)

How can God be loving and forgiving, if He also must not leave the guilty unpunished?  Like a good parent, that’s how.   But these statements about God’s character become more puzzling when we consider that His justice is perfect.  Perfect  justice must equate punishment with the impact and consequence of the offence.  Pure justice demands a death penalty for causing  death.  Since sin causes spiritual death (God told Adam that on the day he disobeyed he would die), the just penalty for sin must be death.  Here’s the riddle:  How can God forgive us and love us, if first He has to kill us, to fulfill justice?

The solution to this riddle remained a mystery until 700 B.C., when Isaiah revealed how God would accomplish it.  He would send His “Son” to undergo the penalty required by perfect justice on our behalf.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus gave His life to pay our penalty.  He became the Solution to the riddle of God’s love and justice.  He went “all the way” to rescue us.  John explained that Jesus “came by water” (He identified with us in baptism) and “by blood” (He paid in death so that we could be reconciled with God).

I realize that this explanation may not fully satisfy.  We understand it somewhat, but wrestle with the idea of someone dying in our place.  If that describes how you feel, look back at “All the Way – Part 2” for more on that…

All the Way – Part 2

We’ve been chewing on something puzzling that the Apostle John said about Jesus:

“This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  (1 John 5:6 a) 

NOTE – The previous post dealt what John meant about “water.”  If you haven’t read it, click on this link – All the Way – Part 1.  Hopefully, this second part about blood will make more sense.

When John said Jesus came “by water and blood,” he meant  Jesus came all the way – all the way TO you and FOR you.

Every week in the summer, out here in the Rockies, people find themselves stuck after climbing half-way up cliffs.  They cling desperately to the rock face, helplessly waiting for a rescue.  If someone came all the way down the cliff to stand next to them, they would feel so much better.  (This is the “water” part)   But feeling better wouldn’t be enough.  What they really need is for that person to do whatever is necessary to get them all the way out to safety.

That Jesus came by water means that He came all the way TO you.  That He also came by blood means He came all the way FOR you, as well – He came to do everything necessary to rescue you all the way.   Your rescue from sin, and from ultimate death, cannot be completed without blood.  His blood.

Why blood?  Why did God require a blood sacrifice before He could forgive you, wipe your slate clean forever and connect you to His Spirit?   Perhaps you have heard several explanations about why the Cross was necessary.  If you are like me, you “sort of get it,” but there are still lingering questions.  I believe those lingering questions remain because human explanations cannot completely encompass the wisdom and understanding of God.  If you ask a software engineer to describe what he or she does for a living, they will struggle to explain it to you in terms that make sense.  If you ask an advanced physicist and mathematician to explain string theory, chances are you will only have a vague notion about what they say.  Human understanding strains to comprehend such things.  God knows software and string theory like you know how to tie your shoes.

God helped his people grasp the concept – that blood is required for forgiveness and reconciliation –  by teaching them to act it out symbolically, by sacrificing an unblemished animal.  When Jesus sacrificed His own, perfect and sinless life, they “sort of got it” – some of them – but not fully.  Neither do I.

But I do get this:  Almighty God, Who is characterized by love and grace, would never have required His own Son’s blood on my behalf if there was any other way.  He told His people it was going to happen:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

And Jesus made very clear that it had to happen:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

Good enough for me.  Bottom line, Jesus came all the way; He came all the way to me in the water and He came all the way for me by His blood.  I wish I understood it completely.  For now, I “sort of get it” and that will have to do.

Stay tuned – there’s a bit more to this…

The Trouble with Penguins

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  (1 John 4:18)

The “Blues Brothers'” concept of Jesus was filtered through memories of a vicious nun (“The Penguin”) who beat them with a ruler.  Funny movie, but it too closely resembled how many people think of Jesus.  Which is also why many people don’t think of Jesus.

But Jesus said:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  (John 3:17)

Jesus openly received the worst sinners with love and acceptance.   He had harsh criticism for the “Penguins” of His day.  It’s not that He doesn’t care when we sin, but that He knows why we do, how helpless we are and how much we are hurting ourselves.  And He came to rescue us.

Remember the stray puppy you found, the one that cowered when you reached out to pet it?  Somebody had been beating that dog… You needed  a lot of patience to win his trust, even more to gradually rinse away his tendency to flinch at any sudden movement.  But now, when that pup sees you coming, he comes to life, wagging his whole body, bounding over and jumping up to greet you with great joy.  That’s because “perfect love drives out fear.”  And,  “Fear has to do with punishment.”

Jesus has to do with love.

And rescue.

He is patient.

No Doubt

I was halfway out to my car at the end of a long day.  I thought, “Did I lock the workshop?  Better go back and check.”  I knew it was locked, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of doubt that was seeping into my mind.  I went back and shook the door; it was locked (of course…).  Turned around and went back to the car.  But something inside my head was going, “Are you sure?  Maybe it just seemed locked…”  Did you ever find yourself doubting something you knew was true?  It’s okay; you don’t have to raise your hand.  I think most of us have had moments of doubt like that.

John was a man who had walked with Jesus, saw Him die, and who spoke with Him after his resurrection.  Now, perhaps as much as 40 years later, with the wisdom and perspective that only come to the elderly, he observes some troubling changes in the body of believers.  He could have scolded them, tried to lay down the law.  But John knew that if he could solidify some of the basic truths in their hearts, help them turn away from doubting things they knew to be true, that the Holy Spirit would keep them on track.  So he writes a kind of song to the believers – to the ones newest in the faith, to those who are in their most robust years of living out their faith, and to those who have grown old in the faith.

To the newest believers, he writes:

I write to you, dear children,

because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (1 John 2:12)

When someone says, “I forgive you,” even though it is a relief, we more or less assume that they haven’t done so completely, or that if we did the same bad thing again they would “unforgive” us.  That’s why it is so hard for new believers to truly understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t work that way.  When God forgives our sins, they have been forgiven, all of them.  It’s over!  John knows that doubting that can undermine our understanding and experience of everything else about our life in Jesus.  John knows Satan knows that, too, and loves to tempt us to doubt.  So he nails it down for the children in the faith.  You are forgiven.

A bit later, he addresses the newest Christians again:

I write to you, dear children,

because you have known the Father.  (1 John 2:13c)

John knows how essential it is for us to understand that God – Almighty God, Creator of the Universe –  is our Father.  Jesus taught us by His example to approach God as our “Abba,” our Papa, particularly in times of great distress (Mark 14:36).

John “sings” to the new believer, reminding him (or her) that God, Who is their loving Father, has completely and irrevocably forgiven them all their sins.  He has not done so capriciously, but rather has accepted full payment on their behalf in the blood of His Son, Jesus.  “…your sins have been forgiven on account of His Name.”  

Maybe you have had some doubts about those basic truths.  Let John’s “song” sing to you.