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TEXT: Matthew 9:2b

SUBJECT: Apostles' Creed #9: Forgiveness of Sins

Philip Melanchton was Martin Luther's best friend, and excepting John Calvin, the most important theologian of his time. Back then, theology was still Queen of the Sciences. If you had a good mind, you studied law or medicine, but if you were a top-notch thinker, you studied God. That's how it was in the 16th Century.

With all the best brains working in theology, you'd think this would be a golden age for the study of God. But it wasn't. The doctrinal books of that time were, for the most part, rubbish.

Do you know why? Because theologians chose learned speculation over practical edification. While they had a lifetime to split hairs over how Jesus Christ is present at His Table, they had hardly a minute to study His cross with wonder and gratitude.

Melanchton was appalled by the theology of his day, and went about changing it-not its content, so much, but its outlook. In his best known book, he wrote, 'To know Christ is to know His benefits'. In other words, you don't know who Jesus is until you know who He is.to you. To Philip, our Lord was not a topic to be examined, but a Savior to be adored.

This brings me to our study of the Apostles' Creed. For the last several months, we've been looking at its teaching-especially its doctrine of Christ. The Creed tells us that Jesus Christ is both God and Man; that He died on the cross, rose from the grave, ascended to heaven, and sat down at God's Right Hand; one day, He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We must know these things and believe them. But as true and good as they are, they are not enough. 'To know Christ is to know His benefits'. This means, knowing Christ also means knowing the forgiveness of sin.

This is the teaching of the Creed, and of the Bible. Back in the days of Jeremiah, things were pretty bad for God's People, but the Lord promised a better time to come. Some day-He said-He would wipe out the Old Covenant that was against them, and replace it with a New Covenant that would be for them. From this New Covenant, the people would know the Lord-from the least of them to the greatest. Do you know why?

Because I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.

Knowing Christ means knowing your sins are forgiven. That's what the Bible says. And so does the Apostles' Creed. Near the end, we find,

I believe.in the forgiveness of sins.

WHAT IS SIN?

What is sin?

Traditionally, the Church has thought of sin as breaking the rules. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

What is sin?

Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.

Sin, in other words, is not doing what God tells you to do or doing what He tells you not to do. In short, sin is breaking the rules.

As far as it goes, this is true. The Bible says so, I John 3:4: Sin is lawlessness.

In recent years, the Church has begun thinking of sin in a somewhat different way. The new way doesn't contradict the older way, but-to my way of thinking-improves on it by emphasizing the Personal nature of sin. When I take the Lord's name in vain, what am I doing? Am I breaking a rule? Or am I offending God? I'm doing both, of course, but what am I mostly doing? Mostly, I'm offending God.

I don't know if this is clear or not. Maybe an illustration will help. If I punch my wife in the mouth, what have I done? For one thing, I have violated the law, because in California, wife beating is a crime. But is that all I have done? I don't think so. On a deeper level, my punch has violated my wife.

Sin, therefore, is both legal and personal; it is both breaking the rules and insulting the One who made them.

WHAT DOES SIN DO?

If you know what sin is, you also know what it does-and what it has to do.

If sin is breaking the Law, it makes you liable to the penalties of the law. If you run a red light, you get a ticket. If you steal a car, you go to jail. If you murder your husband, you go to the gas chamber. These are human penalties that follow breaking human laws.

If breaking human laws get you in trouble with judges, breaking divine laws get you in trouble with God. The penalty of sin is death-not just the death everyone dies, but a Second Death as well. There's a word for this Second Death; the word is hell. Hell is real, hot, and forever. Not because a fire eating preacher says so, but because our Lord says so. It was Jesus Christ who called it The Lake of Fire, Everlasting Fire, and a place where the fire is not quenched. Should the fire be taken literally or as a figure of speech? It doesn't matter because the meaning is the same-fire means intense pain, and everlasting means intense pain forever.

Although the fullness of hell is at the end of history, a whiff of it can be smelled even in this life. Our Lord said, He who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God. In other words, the unbeliever is already in hell-sort of!

What will be great trees in hell are now seeds in the unbeliever's heart: guilt, fear, loneliness, and despair.

If breaking the law is bad, offending God is worse. What does wife beating do to a marriage? It wrecks it. If the woman is either scared or extremely devout, she'll stay with the man who beats her. But the love he might have had will not be there for him.

Likewise, sin breaks fellowship with God. Go back to Eden and you find a man and woman living in harmony and happiness with each other and with the Lord. But as soon as they eat the forbidden fruit, what happens? They run from God, and then, He turns them out of the Garden. Their relationship is wrecked. The Lord is angry with them and they want no part of God. What they once had, they no longer have. What they might have had, they won't have. All because of their sin.

Adam and Eve were real people. What they did affected both them and all their descendants-including you and me.

Original Sin is a mystery that I cannot explain. But explain it or not, I know this: We are born in the same state as Adam and Eve were in after the Fall. In other words, we are born out of fellowship with God and we come into this word against God. At first, you don't see it. What do baby sins look like? But before long you do. Nobody teaches our kids to be selfish or stubborn or deceitful. They're born this way because they're born enemies of God.

This doesn't apply to a handful of especially depraved sinners, but to every human, except our Lord Jesus Christ. You know the verses,

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.

THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS

If everyone is a sinner, everyone needs forgiveness. Without it, you remain under the penalty of the laws you have broken, and cut off from God.

This second part of the problem has not been made clear enough to most people. The sinner is not only under the curse of God's Law, but he is unable to do anything about it. There's a story in the New Testament worth telling. You can read it John 5.

There's a fountain in Jerusalem called The Pool of Bethesda. Every now and then, God sends an angel there to stir the waters. When he does it, a sick person can step into the pool and be cured. There is a crippled man who, for the last thirty-eight years, has camped out at the fountain, hoping to be the first one in the stirred waters. But, of course, he never is. Why? Because he's crippled, of course, and others always beat him to the pool!

The poor man is stuck. Until he is quick enough to get into the pool first, he will never be healed and until he is healed, he will never be quick enough to get into the pool first!

Likewise, until we are in fellowship with God, His law will be against us, and until His law is not longer against us, we cannot be in fellowship with God. We're stuck!

This means: we need forgiveness. We need it more than internet access, cable TV or an Ipod. We need it more than food, clothing, or shelter. Rachel said to her husband,

Give me children or I die!

She was wrong about that. A woman can live without children, even if she wants them very badly. But you cannot live without forgiveness. You cannot live this life without it, and you surely can live in the life to come unless you are forgiven.

The need for forgiveness may or may not be a 'felt need'. But whether it's felt or not, it is real and it could not be more urgent. Some things you need, but not right now. Forgiveness, however, is not one of those things! You need forgiveness more than you need your next breath.

FORGIVENESS AND MERCY

What we need, God provides. He doesn't have to, but He does. If He chose not to forgive us, no one could blame Him, but He made the other choice-He chose to forgive us.

There was a long-running debate in the Medieval Church on whether God could forgive us by His mercy alone and without the death of His Son.

Could He have done that? Some say God can do anything, but this is misleading. The truth is: God can do anything He wants to. And what He wants to do is consistent with His nature-not one part of it, but the whole thing. God's mercy, therefore, does not undercut His justice or wisdom.

Tom has a bad son-not a naughty or immature boy--but bad to the bone! The man loves mercy-and why shouldn't he? So does God. Every time the boy lies or curses or throws a fit, or vandalizes or sets a fire, Tom forgives him without a cross word or making him apologize. Is Tom merciful? You can't deny that he is, but that's all he is-merciful (in a short-sighted way, of course), and not wise or just. Tom's mercy has overpowered his other traits.

But God's mercy, though far greater than Tom's, does not blot out the rest of His character. Thus, if God is going to forgive us, He's going to do it in a way that honors all of His attributes and not just His mercy.

Don't get me wrong: forgiveness is an act of God's mercy, but not only that.

FORGIVENESS AND JUSTICE

Forgiveness is also an act of God's justice. Because of what Christ has done for us, it is right for God to forgive us. If He didn't forgive us, He would be unjust.

Why? Because the death of Christ did the two things that equal forgiveness.

He satisfied the claims of the Law. If the penalty for drunk driving is one year in jail, the man who has served his year has satisfied the law and it has no more claim on him. It cannot punish him twice for the same offense.

And that's what our Lord did for us on the cross: He served our time in hell, and when He walked out three days later, the Law had no more claim on Him.or on the people He died for!

His death also took away the personal offense of our sin. Because God avenged His honor on Christ, He is no longer offended with us. This frees Him to love us, and we end up loving Him because He first loved us.

WE ARE FORGIVEN

Because Christ died for us, we are forgiven.

But what does forgiveness mean? The Greek word means to let go of, and that's just what forgiveness is. We've all known people who won't let go of it. Offended twenty years ago, they hold on to the offense, brood over it, and plan to have their say some day or take their revenge.

Unlike bitter people, God does not hold on to things! When He forgives, we are truly forgiven. The Prophet says He Remembers our sin no more.

This should be enough--Son, your sins are forgiven. But it isn't. We're all children, and children need more than words; they need pictures. In the Bible, God draws pictures to illustrate forgiveness. What does forgiveness look like?

It looks like hiding a thing. On the Day of Atonement, a scapegoat was taken by the priest; the man put his hands on the goat's head and named the sins of Israel. Then the goat was leashed and walked miles and miles away, out of the people's sight-and out of God's sight! That's what forgiveness looks like!

It also looks like a burial at sea. Micah 7:19 says the Lord will cast all our sins in the depths of the sea. How much more hidden could a thing be? Miles from shore under billions of tons of water? But that is where God has put our sins! That's what forgiveness looks like.

Believers in Christ are forgiven. All of our sins are forgiven, including the big ones. And if they are forgiven, they are also forgotten. God will not bring them up against us when we stand before Him at the Judgment.

We are sinners, but not just sinners, we are forgiven sinners! Top to bottom, inside and out, we are washed in the blood of the Lamb!

This is what it means to believe in the forgiveness of sins. It means, for Christ's sake, we are not guilty and we are acceptable to God.

THE CHALLENGES

A responsibility goes with the blessing. If God has forgiven us, we must forgive us. We must forgive people who don't deserve forgiveness (How would you deserve it, by the way?). We must forgive people who have committed big sins against us. We must forgive people who commit the same sins against us, over and over, all their lives they never change.

We need to forgive them from the heart-and not just from the mouth. And when we forgive them, we need to let go of it and not bring it up the next time we're mad at them.

Finally, being forgiven means being grateful and content and happy. Of all the things God could give you, the best one of all is forgiveness. But He has given you that, and therefore, Be of good cheer!

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