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TEXT: Matthew 26:28
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #10: Forgiveness
The Apostle Paul was a man of genius and wide learning. Had he wanted to, he could have become a scholar in any number of fields. But he didn't want to because, after he met the Lord Jesus Christ, he lost interest in religion, politics, culture, and other things that so often rack brilliant thinkers.
From that day on, he was interested in one thing only: the cross. To a church in love with 'wisdom', Paul said he had none-and wanted none!
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God, for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
On the surface, the cross is foolish-what does it say to the issue of the moment? But, when you get under the surface, you find the issues of the moment are foolish, and real wisdom is in the cross and nowhere else. For, at the cross, God and man are laid bare: Man the sinner and God, the Judge of sinners and at the same time, our Savior!
Other things can be outgrown, but not the cross. If you have outgrown it, it is not growth you have experienced, but decay. Every doctrine is revealed in the death of our Lord, and every duty as well. The cross tells what to believe and what to do.
This is the theme of the book we have been looking at the last few weeks. The title is Passion of Jesus Christ. The author is John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The book is divided into fifty short chapters that answer the question, Why did God send His Son to the cross?
We know why others did it-Caiaphas, Annas, Herod, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, the mob, and so on. But why did it please the Lord to bruise Him? Up to now, we've studied eight reasons our Lord went to the cross at His Father's will. We'll look at number nine tonight. Piper says,
Christ suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins.
THE UNPROVED PROOF
John Piper doesn't have to prove this one because the doctrine is taken directly from the words of our text,
This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The chapter is also headed with a quote from Ephesians 1:7,
In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.
Christian hymns don't prove doctrines, of course, but they do reveal what the Church has long believed. For many years, all over the world, and in too many languages to count, believers have sung,
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
For my pardon, this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
This is not poetry-or hymn writing at its finest. But it wonderfully captures the theology of the Bible and also its priority. I know a man who hates singing the same words over and over again. In fact, he won't sing the same words more than three times in a hymn! I agree with him entirely-except for this one! In five verses, Nothing but the blood of Jesus occurs fifteen times, but the song would be better if you could work in five more. Some things can be said to often, but not this!
If we forgiveness at all, it is through the suffering and death of Christ. If you ever will be pardoned, it will be by His blood, or not at all!
Piper doesn't say all this, but it needs saying, and unlike him, I've got more than two pages to do it.
John Piper begins the chapter by telling us what forgiveness is and how it works,
When we forgive a debt or an offense or an injury, we don't require a payment for settlement. That would be the opposite of forgiveness. If payment is made to us for what we have lost, there is no need for forgiveness. We have our due.
Forgiveness assumes grace. If I am injured by you, grace lets it go. I don't sue you. I forgive you. Grace gives what someone doesn't deserve. That's why forgiveness has the word 'give' in it. Forgiveness is not 'getting even', it is giving away the right to get even.
Forgiving someone is not an act of justice. It's an act of grace, of generosity, of giving the offender what he doesn't deserve. You owe me $100, which you cannot pay. You ask me to forgive the debt and I say I will, on the condition you pay me back. That isn't forgiving the debt at all, but collecting it.
If God collected His debts, we'd be stuck,
If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand?
The implied answer: no one. Nobody can pay his debt to God! This means salvation is by grace or there is no salvation.
This is just what the Bible teaches, Acts 10:43,
Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin through His name.
The key words are 'forgiveness', 'through His name', and 'believes'. 'Forgiveness' means our debt to God is not re-negotiated, but wiped out. It's wiped out through Christ and not anything we do, hope to do, or would do if we could. It is granted to everyone who puts his faith in the Lord Jesus, when he puts his faith in the Lord Jesus, and not after he has made a token payment or two.
Forgiveness is free and without any fine print.
Isaiah says, Come without money and without price. Paul says, we are justified freely through His grace.
This is good news! Really good news! Super good news!
Until you think about it.
Which Piper has done,
This raises a problem. We all know that forgiveness is not enough. We may only see it clearly when the injury is great-like murder or rape. Society cannot hold together if judges simply say to every murderer or rapist, 'Are you sorry? Okay, the state forgives you. You may go'. In cases like these, we see that, while a victim may have a forgiving spirit, the state cannot forsake justice.
A man is convicted of murder in the first degree. When the trial is over, he comes to the judge and says he's sorry for what he has done and will never do it again. Would it be right for the judge to let him go? Many would say it wouldn't be because the criminal might be lying. Who wouldn't make promises to escape the gas chamber?
But, what if the judge was a prophet and could see the future as if had already occurred? What if he knew-for a fact-that the man would never kill again, and would be a good citizen from now on, pay his taxes, obey the law, take care of his family, and help little old ladies cross the street? Would it then be all right to let him go?
No. If the judge released him, he would be unjust-and so would the government he serves. If the penalty for killing someone is the same as the penalty for not killing someone, murder becomes no crime at all. At the most, it becomes a mistake, with unfortunate results for others, but not for the one who made it.
Without justice the world soon become unlivable. This is true, even of human justice, which is never perfect. But what if God was not just? What if He let everything slide? What if actions had no consequences? What if the worst sins would never be punished? What would become of this world? What would become of the next world?
Can God do anything? We often say He can, but that's not quite true. There are some things God cannot do. One of them is deny Himself (cf. II Timothy 2:13). The Lord cannot act contrary to what He is. And one thing He is is just. Piper says,
All sin is serious because it is against God. He is the one whose glory is injured when we ignore or disobey or blaspheme Him. His justice will no more allow Him to simply set us free than a human judge can cancel all the debts that criminals owe to society. The injury done to God's glory must be repaired so that in justice His glory shines more brightly. And if we criminals are to go free and be forgiven, there must be some dramatic demonstration that the honor of God is upheld even though former blasphemers are being set free.
Piper is a bit wordy here, but what he means is important: The sinner's pardon must not contradict the Lord's justice. If sin is to be forgiven, it can only be in a way that honors the justice of God.
But therein lies the rub! How does God both punish the sinner and let him go? To cite Paul, how can He be both just and the justifier? At the same time and to the same people?
There's a one word answer: cross. God punished our Lord in our place. God does not simply let us off; He punished our sin fully. But not in us. He punished us in Christ. Piper writes,
That is why Christ suffered and died. 'In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness cost us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That's why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus His life. That is why we call it just.
Did the cross prove God's love or did it prove His justice? Yes it did. Not one at the expense of the other; not one mostly and the other in a secondary sense. All of His love and all of His justice were poured out on the cross. On the Lord, it was justice that was poured out. On us, it is love.
By the cross, God showed Himself both perfectly just and perfectly merciful at the same time to the same people!
Piper closes with wonder,
Oh how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this!
John Piper is more gifted than we are with words. But if you can't say it as well as he does, can you feel it? Can you feel the preciousness of your sins forgiven? Can you feel the beauty of Christ who died for you?
If you can't, I feel for you. What, do you think Christianity is a set of doctrines? That it's a list of rules? It has both, but it is not doctrines and rules! It is Christ crucified for you. It is the just dying for the unjust. It is being not condemned because our Lord was condemned.
Pardon is precious and Christ is fairer than the sons of men!
If you believe this, act like it. Don't walk around feeling guilty. When you sin, confess it and try to do better the next time. But remember, you're forgiven! Your big sins are forgiven. Your stubborn sins are forgiven. The sins you feel guilty about are forgiven. The sins you hope nobody finds out about are forgiven.
If you believe this, then praise and worship and obey the Lord Jesus Christ from the heart.
For He suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins.
Not 'their' sins, but 'our' sins. Not 'his', but 'yours'.
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