By Pastor Glenn Pease
Charlie Brown is quite certain that Lucy's offer to hold the football for him to kick will end just like the other attempts. She will pull the ball away just as she kicks, and he will end up flat on his back. She assures him that she is a changed person and that he can trust her. He accepts Lucy at her word and comes running to kick the ball. But sure enough, as he kicks she does it again and pulls the ball away. He flies through the air and smashes to the ground, and Lucy bends over Charlie to say, "I admire you, Charlie Brown. You have such faith in human nature."
Poor Charlie is made to look like a fool, but the fact is, followers of Christ are expected to be fools like this for Christ's sake. Jesus made it perfectly plain that the practice of forgiveness was to be perpetual. In Matt. 18:21 Peter comes to Jesus and asks, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as 7 times?" In verse 22 Jesus answers, "I do not say to you 7 times, but 70 times 7." We can only look at such radical teaching and say in the words of Lucy, "Lord, you have such faith in human nature."
Jesus not only taught radical forgiveness, but He practiced it. We see this in these first words He spoke from the cross. In these first of His final words He expresses a forgiveness far greater than the 70 times 7 that He expects us to express. Forgiving those who so cruelly crucified Him not only revealed His faith in human nature, but it opened up to the whole world an insight into His nature as the Son of God.
We do not understand God, or the Gospel, until we grasp the significance of forgiveness of sin. God's plan cannot be fulfilled without it, and we cannot be saved without it, nor can we live the Christian life without it. Forgiveness is not a subject out on the edge of Christian truth. It is at the very center. Maybe those at the cross did not hear Jesus in His prayer of forgiveness, but they heard the Gospel of forgiveness later. In Acts 5:30-31 Peter says to the leaders of Israel, "The God of our fathers raise Jesus whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
The Gospel of forgiveness was the message of the early church. God commissioned the Apostle Paul to preach the message of forgiveness of sin to the Gentiles also. Paul speaking before King Agrippa tells of the message he received from Christ when He was saved. The Lord was sending him to the Gentiles, and Acts 26:18 has Jesus saying, "To open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." Note how forgiveness of sin is a key factor in the Gospel. It was a major message that Jesus wanted spread into all the world.
When Paul preached in Antioch where many, both Jews and Gentiles responded to the Gospel, he concluded that fruitful sermon with this great news in Acts 13:38-39, "Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." Forgiveness of sin was the key message in Paul's preaching and writing. He writes in Eph. 1:7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace." In Col. 1:14 he ends his statement of things to be thankful for with, "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
We could go on and on showing how the whole of Christian theology has been influenced by the truth of forgiveness of sin. Those words of Jesus from the cross, "Father forgive them," laid a foundation on which the church has been building ever since. We want to examine what forgiveness means to us. First of all,
I. FORGIVENESS MEANS FREEDOM.
We just read of how Paul said that forgiveness in Christ frees us from everything from which the law of Moses could not set us free. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed, and the Son makes us free through forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness of sin, there is only bondage. Much, if not most, of the world not only lacks political freedom, but they also lack spiritual freedom, which is the freedom that only comes to those who know their sins are forgiven. Many feel there is no escape from the past. What has been has been, and nothing can change it. Your Karma has been determined, and what shall be shall be.
The moving finger writes, and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit,
Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
You are bound by the sin of the past, and there is no escape in the hard-nosed philosophy of much of the world. Pardon is not a possibility for them, and they cannot fathom forgiveness. The gods of the pagans have got their own problems, and could care less about man. Tennyson describes them as they lie reclined in heaven.
"Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deep and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile."
In contrast to their indifferent grin, we have the God of Calvary who has an answer for sin, and who says, "Father forgive them." There is freedom in Christ, and no man needs to live in bondage because of his past. No man needs to carry the burden of his sin and folly. He can leave his heavy burden at the cross, and go free. The prayer of Jesus was for those who crucified Him, but He made it a part of the Gospel to be proclaimed to all the world. He died for the sins of all mankind, and so anyone can receive His forgiveness and be set free.
For you and for me
He prayed on the tree;
The prayer is accepted, the sinner is free.
The sinner am I,
Who on Jesus rely,
And come for the pardon God will not deny.
John Bunyan was in prison when he wrote Pilgrim's Progress, but he was one of the freest men whoever lived, because of his full grasp of the truth about the forgiveness of sin. He tells of how Christian journeyed with a heavy burden on his back. The burden weighed him down, but he could not get rid of it. Then in his dream he saw Christian at last ascend to a hill where he stood before a cross, and then the burden fell from his shoulders and tumbled down the hill never to be seen again. Christian could hardly believe it, and when he realized he had received forgiveness he leaped for joy and began to sing-
Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could ought ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: what a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must hear the burden fall from off my back?
Must hear the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!
He made forgiveness of sin personal, and went away free. Forgiveness means freedom. The tragedy is that many of God's own people do not experience the perfect liberty that comes with forgiveness. C. S. Lewis wrote, "I had been a Christian for many years before I really believed in the forgiveness of sin, or more strictly, before my theoretical belief became a reality to me. I fancy this may not be so uncommon." Lewis fancied right, for the world is full of neurotic Christians imprisoned by the inability to accept forgiveness. Guilt poisons and pollutes the stream of their life, and in spite of the fact that Christ has opened the door to victory, they stay in the dungeon of defeat. These Christians need to grasp this truth:
II. FORGIVENESS MEANS FORGETTING.
There is no freedom without forgetting. If you are going to dwell on your past sins and failures, you will never be free from them. Forgetting comes before freedom. When God forgives He forgets. In Isa. 43:25 we read, "I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins." God blots out sin, and He makes it white as snow. He removes it as far as the East is from the West. Communion is a call to remember Christ and what He did for us on the cross. We are to remember Him, and not our sin. He paid for our sin. He atoned for it to make forgiveness possible. If we do not remember to forget we limit the freedom He died to give us.
So many saints get confused, and instead of remembering Christ and His victory over sin, they remember their sin and feel regret. They think that God must desire them to feel bad about their evil past. But all the regret and tears of a lifetime will not blot out one sin. The Christian who understands forgiveness will feel relief and not regret. A.W. Tozer in his book That Incredible Christian says that some Christians feel that a lack of regret reveals a low view of sin, but he says just the opposite is true. Lack of regret reveals a high an biblical view of forgiveness. The biblical view leads us to forget and not regret. Tozer gives this illustration from the teaching of Christ.
"The return Prodigal honors his father more by rejoicing than by repining. Had the young man in the story had less faith in his father he might have mourned in a corner instead of rejoicing in the festivities. His confidence in the loving kindness of his father gave him the courage to forget his checkered past."
Do not misunderstand. The Prodigal had to repent of his sin and regret his folly before he returned to the father, but once he was received and forgiven he forgot his past, and he entered into the joy of restored sonship. A Christian who never learns this lesson that forgiveness means forgetting will never experience the full joy of Christian freedom.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher points out how we tend to keep things we don't need. For example, men have buttons sewed on the outside seam of their coat sleeves right in back of the wrist. There usefulness disappeared long ago. A century ago gentlemen wore white ruffles at the wrist, and to keep them from getting soiled they were buttoned back. Long after the ruffles went out the buttons stayed, even though they had no purpose. Regret and sorrow for sin has its place, but once it brings us to the cross it becomes obsolete. If we truly receive the forgiveness of Christ, we are set free from guilt, and we can forget the past. If we go on regretting and sorrowing for our sin, we hold on to what no longer has any purpose, and we hinder our joy in Christ.
One of the greatest gifts Jesus gave to every person who has received His forgiveness is the healing power to forgive others. Broken lives, broken health, broken homes, and broken hearts can all be healed through forgiveness. May God help us to experience the full joy of forgiveness in our own lives, and then let the spirit of forgiveness flow through us to bring healing and freedom to others.