HAPPY AND SAFE ARE THE FORGIVEN

Ps.32:1,2 – How happy and fulfilled are those whose rebellion has been forgiven, those whose sins are covered by blood. How blessed and relieved are those who have confessed their corruption to God! For he wipes their slates clean and removes hypocrisy from their hearts.

Forgiveness is a huge part of our Christian experience. The most interesting thing about forgiveness to me is this, you must acknowledge your sin. That is huge!!! Most of us spend so much of our time justifying ourselves or blaming others for our sins. No wonder the prisons are filled with “innocent” people. Conviction of sin and bringing us to a place of repentance is the first work of the Holy Spirit. Coming clean before the Lord is where we begin to experience recovery and favor from the Lord. Here are some comments from the Passion Notes on this passage.

“David wrote this psalm after he seduced the wife of his most loyal soldier, then had him killed to try to keep her pregnancy a secret. This sin with Bathsheba brought great disgrace to David, yet he finds complete forgiveness in God’s mercy. The apostle Paul chose the first two verses of Ps. 32 to support the important doctrine of salvation by grace through faith….This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. He had it written on the wall near his bed before he died so he could meditate upon it.”

There are some serious people included in those comments. From David, to the Apostle Paul, and Augustine; all recognize the role of repentance and forgiveness in our walk with God. Augustine lived off of this passage in his last days on earth, he recognized the power and blessing of forgiveness.

One of the blessings of forgiveness is protection in the storms of life seen in Psalm 32:6,7.

– This is what I’ve learned through it all:

All believers should confess their sins to God;

do it every time God has uncovered you

in the time of exposing.

For if you do this, when sudden storms of life overwhelm,

you’ll be kept safe.

Lord, you are my secret hiding place,

protecting me from these troubles,

surrounding me with songs of gladness!

Your joyous shouts of rescue release my breakthrough.

All of us have done some soul searching during our times of isolation during this pandemic. Becoming honest about our sins and confessing them to the Lord is healing for the soul and for the body. David says that forgiveness also brings us into a place of safety that we will not be overwhelmed by the storms of life. Happy is the one whose sins are forgiven and who is cleansed in the blood of the Lamb.

LESSONS FROM A HARLOT

Jn. 4:13,14 – Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

Jesus loved to shock people into reality. This story in John 4 is an example of Jesus and His tendency toward shocking and borderline scandalous behavior. For us twenty first century readers we may not catch the radical nature of this story at first glance. Jesus is stepping on centuries of racial tension by going to Samaria, engaging a questionable woman in conversation, and actually asking her for a drink of water. This is unthinkable to Jesus’s disciples and unthinkable to the Samaritans living in this village. What was Jesus after? What He is always after, He was looking for worshippers. So What does He do? He decides to find a woman of the night to teach the world a lesson about worship. Here is a description from John Piper.

“Sometimes casual sleepers need to be shocked. If you want them to hear what you have to say, you might even need to scandalize them. Jesus is especially good at this. When He wants to teach us something about worship, He uses a whore!

“Go call your husband,” he says to the Samaritan woman.

“I don’t have a husband,” she answers.

“That’s right,” Jesus says. “But you’ve had five, and the man you sleep with now is not your husband.”

She is shocked. We’re shocked! But Jesus simply sits there on the edge of the well with His hands folded, looking at the woman with razors in His eyes, ready to teach us about worship.”

So what was the Lord’s point? Worship is closely associated with pleasure and satisfaction; this woman was in search of both and had found neither. So the Lord offers her what she was looking for in all of the wrong places. He told her that if she would come to Him and ask, He would give her living water that would satisfy her thirst for the rest of her life. He was offering her forgiveness for her past and a solution for her future. He is offering us the same thing today. What well are you drinking from? Is it sexual sin, or alcohol, or maybe even a career, or even something as wholesome as your family? It’s all the same and none of those wells can quench our thirst. Just leave your bucket by that worldly well and ask the Lord for a drink, like He promised, you will never thirst again.

FALLING SHORT

Rom. 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

What is your definition of sin? For some people everything goes unless you hurt someone else. For others, it’s some kind of religious list. I’ll never forget what I found in the pulpit in our first church. It was some kind of list of rules that was concocted by the church who had used the building before us. There were things in there about swimming with members of the opposite sex and certain clothing that shouldn’t be worn. Then there was the Hindu book called Nectar of Devotion that was some sort of list of Hindu rules. The ones that got me were the ones about women not going to the temple when they were “at that time of the month” or the other one that forbade passing gas in the temple. Religion can get really complicated. Here is my definition of sin; sin is what you do when God Himself is not enough for you. Here is how John Piper describes it.

“It also follows that sin is the suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things. Paul said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). Sinning is a “falling short” of the glory of God. But the Greek word for “falling short” (husterountai) means “lack.” The idea is not that you shot an arrow at God’s glory and the arrow fell short, but that you could have had it as a treasure, but you don’t. You have chosen something else instead. This is confirmed in Romans 1:23 where people “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image.” That is the deepest problem with sin: it is a suicidal exchange of infinite value and beauty for some fleeting, inferior substitute. This is the great insult.”

So what have you replaced God with? Is it like the woman at the well that tried to find her satisfaction in another man’s arms? Or is it like the Pharisees that found their joy from the respect of other men? Maybe politics is your thing, like Simon the Zealot who wanted power in the political realm. Then there is the rich young ruler, his joy was caught up in his possessions. The bottom line is this, only when you taste the sweetest of all joys will you be able to be freed from the foolish pleasures and attractions of this world. Then you will not “fall short”, you will be right in the middle of His glory.

DON’T JUDGE ME

Matt.7:1-5 – Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

It’s funny how unbelievers latch on to certain scriptures even if they often claim not to believe any of it. One of the famous ones is in this passage, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”. Have you noticed how the scripture is kind of quoted but not completely? The lost person thinks this passage teaches us not to ever condemn sin, that’s not what it says. Jesus is actually addressing the sin of hypocrisy. He said get the stuff out of your life before you think about telling others how to live theirs. This is how Albert Barnes describes this passage.

“Christ directs us to the proper way of forming an opinion of others, and of reproving and correcting them. By first amending our own faults, or casting the beam out of our eye, we can consistently advance to correct the faults of others. There will then be no hypocrisy in our conduct. We shall also see clearly to do it. The beam, the thing that obscured our sight, will be removed; and we shall more clearly discern the small object that obscures the sight of our brother. The sentiment is, that the readiest way to judge of the imperfections of others is to be free from greater ones ourselves. This qualifies us for judging, makes us candid and consistent, and enables us to see things as they are, and to make proper allowances for frailty and imperfection.”

This is one of the first deflections you will encounter when you begin to share your faith. Don’t allow it to throw you off track. Remember, all of our sin has been judged at the cross. We are not perfect, just redeemed and changed. We are just trying to bring others to this place of forgiveness that leads to new life.

FORGIVING THE UNFORGIVABLE

Rom.2:5,6 – But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:

Have you ever had a problem forgiving people you think have wronged you? The Lord dealt with me about unforgiveness in a very unexpected way several years ago. I felt like another minister had wronged me with unethical ministerial behavior. I was having a real problem with forgiving him until I found release in this verse of scripture. What does this have to do with forgiveness? Everything! You see at the end of the day I thought I was looking for justice. When I saw this verse I realized I didn’t want justice after all. I saw in a moment that the great day will reveal everything. I found myself easily forgiving my brother hoping he would never face the consequences of what I thought was justice. According to this verse, our sins are being stored up for the day of wrath. What will escape in that day, only the sin that has been brought to the cross. Here is how Edwards and the JFB Commentary describe this verse.

“It is from men’s having such a heart as this, that they treasure up wrath for themselves….The reason given why the house of Israel would not obey God, was that they were hard-hearted.”

“Treasures up unto thyself wrath against — that is wrath to come on thee in the day of wrath. What an awful idea is here expressed — that the sinner himself is amassing, like hoarded treasure, an ever accumulating stock of divine wrath, to burst upon him in “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God!” And this is said not of the reckless, but of those who boasted of their purity of faith and life.”

My conclusion, nobody ever gets away with anything and the last thing I wanted was anyone to deal with stored up wrath on the day of judgement. Forgiveness is better than justice and judgement. I know I don’t want to face the consequences of all of my actions and I am grateful that the Lord forgave me. Thankfully the cross brings forgiveness for all who ask for it. Forgiveness is better than justice anyway.

KISSED BY THE FATHER

LK.15:20 – And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

I think many people get the wrong idea about religious people, especially the Puritans from long, long ago. They were often quite expressive about their love for the Lord and experienced spiritual intimacy rather than just an austere form of legalism. It was their passion for the Lord and their evangelistic zeal that brought seasons of persecution leading many of them to make their way to the New World. Our country is indebted to the legacy of these spiritual pioneers. In the 1600’s there was a member of the parliament in England by the name of Edward Leigh who had an evangelistic zeal and a passion for the Lord. Here are some of his comments on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“Among all the parables of Christ, this is most excellent, full of affection and set forth in lively colors. The old father sees a long way off, for dim eyes can see a long distance when the son is the object. His heart moves within him, and he has compassion on him. “He runs.” It would have been sufficient for him to have stood, because he was old, and a father, and even more so an offended father. But love descends rather than ascends: the son goes to the father; the father runs to the son. Then, he does not stop and embrace him or take him by the hand, but rather he falls on him and incorporates himself into him. He speaks not a single word- his joy was too great to be uttered—but he puts his whole mouth forward and kisses him, giving him the badge of peace, love and reconciliation. Through this example is declared that great goodness of God, who most mercifully pardons the sins of the truly penitent.”

This parable touches on something that is basic to our need as a human. We need forgiveness, acceptance, and real love. Jesus pointed us to the Heavenly Father for all of that. The Heavenly Father has also been painted by many as demanding and harsh. Jesus set the record straight when He shared about the rebellious son smelling of pigs embraced in the Father’s love. There is a place in His arms for you too.

LETS GET THIS PARTY STARTED

Lk.15:22-24 – But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

What an amazing description of God’s love for fallen man. We went out and wasted our Father’s gifts on sinful living. Rather than judging us and banishing us from His home, He embraces us, kisses us and showers us with gifts, and throws us a party. Here are some thoughts from the People’s New Testament Commentary on the Father’s response in this parable of the prodigal son.

“Bring forth the best robe. He had returned in rags. The best robe is the white robe of the righteousness of Christ. A ring on his hand. A ring with a seal was a symbol of authority, of sonship. Shoes on his feet. Servants went barefoot, but the shoes were a symbol of freedom. Bring the fatted calf. For a feast of welcome. To make such preparations was common in the simple life of the East. For my son was dead, and is alive. It was a spiritual resurrection. They began to be merry. Gladness should be manifested by all saints at the repentance of sinners.”

What an amazing welcome, He took off our filthy rags marked with the stains of our sins, He put on us a beautiful robe welcoming us back home. The Lord clothes each of His returning prodigals with a beautiful robe, we are clothed in the righteous garments of Christ, justified by grace through faith. Next, He places the family ring on our finger. We are not outcast, we are welcomed into the very privileges and authority of Sonship. We are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. Then there were the shoes. Our previous shoes were long gone from the hard road we had chosen to walk. Now, our feet are covered with the shoes of the promises of God. We are freed from our life of slavery, God’s promises are now ours. He also killed the fatted calf reserved for the greatest of occasions. This calf also reminds us of the sin offering that made all of this possible, the blood of Jesus has washed away our sin. The joy finally began to break out into singing and dancing, “My son who was lost has now returned home”. Let’s get this party started.

LESSONS FROM COMMUNITY

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Psa. 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
Sometimes the Lord speaks to His people in ways that are obvious to some but to others they hear or see nothing. Jesus actually said this is why He Himself spoke in parables.
Matt. 13:10,11,13 ¶ Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given….This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand”.
One of the ways the Lord has spoken to Victory Fellowship over the years is through the living parable we call ‘Feed the Multitudes’. Through this annual free food festival the Lord reminds us it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is in giving out of our own lack and need that we meet the great Provider, Jehovah Jireh. We have learned to partner as a community with the Lord to minister to the hurting; the results? God meets us again and gain with supernatural provision.

The Lord is speaking to our church again through another living parable called Mary’s Song. Over the last eight years we have seen numerous young women who had lost their way in life actually becoming mighty women of God. They come in distraught and discouraged and have found life and light in the community called Victory Fellowship. I am not quite sure who has received the greatest blessing, these girls or our congregation. They have found forgiveness and acceptance from the Lord and affirmation and guidance from His people. It is in helping them that our church has stepped into a new season of blessing. Now don’t get me wrong, not all of us are called to be directly involved in the Mary’s Song Community, but to those who have ears to hear we can hear the voice of the Lord and make the applications to our own lives.

First, all of us need forgiveness and acceptance from the Lord and God’s people. This is the place where our healing and recovery begins. We also each need accountability, the gentle voice of authority from someone who loves us and points us back in the right direction when we stray. Finally, we live in a world falling apart defined by many people losing their way in self medication and other destructive behavior. We need more than words and willpower to change. We need the power of God. It is in this Community of God that the power of God is seen, this is the place where shackles of oppression and sin are broken. This is the place of God’s commanded blessing.

VENOM OF DEATH

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Matt. 9:2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven”.

I recently preached on the miracle Jesus performed on the paralytic that was let down through the roof. There is a lot about this story that is mind blowing but the most amazing to me is what Jesus said first, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven”. Jesus didn’t approach the problem like anyone else did because he saw what no one else could see. He saw not only the condition of this man’s body, He also saw the condition of his heart. He needed forgiveness even more than he needed healing. The beauty of the miracle; healing and forgiveness are connected. This man’s healing flowed out of the forgiveness of his sin. Here is how Charles Spurgeon describes it.

“Now, at this time, you may have many troubles; and perhaps you are eager to spread them before the Lord. The sick child, your dear husband, who is at home ill, that business which is flagging and likely to fail, that disease of yours which is weakening you, and makes you scarcely fit to be in the Lord’s house tonight. Now, waive all those things, for heavy as they are, they are inconsiderable when compared with sin. There is no venom as poisonous as that of sin; this is the wormwood and the gall; this is the deadly fang of the serpent whose sting infects and inflames our whole being. If this evil be removed, then every ill has gone, therefore Christ begins with this, “Thy sins be forgiven thee”. Breathe a prayer to Him now for the forgiveness of your sin: “Jesus, Master, forgive me! With a word Thou canst pardon all my sin; thou hast but to pronounce absolution, and all my iniquities will be put away at once and forever. As my Lord, wilt Thou not put them away tonight?”
Sin is always our biggest problem. Sin is why Jesus came, sin is what nailed Jesus to the cross. I love the beauty and power of the gospel, not only did Jesus carry my sins in His body to the cross, He also bore my sicknesses. This is how Isaiah described it, Is. 53:4,5 “Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him and we are healed by his wounds”.

Bring your sins to Jesus, not only will He forgive, He will make you whole.

THE GREATEST BEAST

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Matt. 9:2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

This miracle stands out in the ministry of Jesus, it is classic. Peter’s house was packed that day, everyone from his mother in law, his fishing buddies, to the leading Pharisees were crammed into his house. What an awkward crowd, miracles seem to attract those awkward crowds. That’s when awkward turned bizarre; first there was the shuffling of feet up on the roof, then scratching and pounding, and then pieces of tile and straw were plopping into the room. Then the unbelievable happened, a paralyzed man came floating into the room suspended on ropes from the four brave friends on the roof.

What was going to happen? Everyone’s eyes moved from the crippled man to the smiling face of Jesus. His sermon had been interrupted by the commotion. What would He do? What would He say?

“Take courage My son, your sins are forgiven”. Wow! No one expected that. What did his sins have to do with anything. Actually they have everything to do with everything. Sin is often at the root of our problems, this man needed forgiveness more than he needed healing. Here is how Charles Spurgeon describes it.

“He did not begin by curing him of the palsy. That was bad enough; but sin is worse than the palsy, sin in the heart is worse than paralysis of every single muscle. Sin is death, but something worse than death; therefore, Christ, at the very beginning of the miracle, to show His Lordship, His royal, His divine power, said to the man, “Son, be of good cheer: thy sins be forgiven thee”. This was laying the axe at the root of this man’s evil nature. This was hunting the lion, the biggest beast of all the foul creatures that lurked in the densest forest of the man’s being. Christ’s words drove this unclean animal from his lair, and by his almighty power rent him as though he had been a kid.”
Maybe you feel paralyzed, unable to move forward, stuck in your present circumstances hoping for a break. Maybe its not a break or even a breakthrough that you need, maybe what you need is forgiveness. Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart, bath yourself in the word of God. Jesus brings forgiveness to all of us. The only catch is this, we have to recognize our need to come to Him for forgiveness. That’s when our life will start up again.