Hebrews 9:24-28 – Forgiveness Is Real

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For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (New International Version)

Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. I could preach on the finished work of Christ every Sunday and never exhaust the immensely rich implications of his death for us. 

Maybe today’s verses seem like a re-hashing of things we already know. Yet, it is important to keep plumbing the depths of Christ’s once for all sacrifice because it is through continually examining Jesus that we will experientially know our forgiveness is real. Having this reality sink deep into our souls enables us to extend forgiveness to others.

The original recipients of Hebrews were experiencing spiritual fatigue due to their difficult circumstances. The believers were so tired from swimming upstream that they considered quitting and giving up on Christianity (or at least the Church). 

The author of Hebrews truly believed that the way to combat this tiredness was through a robust understanding of Christ.  So, he sought to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to the old sacrificial system and has even superseded it. 

There are three main distinctions between the old sacrificial system and the new way of Christ. They are meant to encourage us so that we will know our forgiveness is real. This awareness will help us persevere and live for Jesus in all we say and do, until he returns.

First Distinction: Reality versus a Simulated Copy

The Old Testament sacrificial system, and its worship rituals in dealing with the sin issue, were only a copy and a shadow of the real sacrifice, which is Christ. The Temple sacrifices, in other words, were merely a facsimile of the real thing.

When my girls were small, they always enjoyed going to our local large grocery store. At that store they had a row of mechanical horses that only cost a penny to ride for one minute.  Riding the horses was always the highlight of shopping for them. Their Aunt once came for a visit and brought a coffee can full of pennies and took them to the grocery store just to ride the horses for an afternoon. 

All three of my girls are now grown adult women. They do not ride mechanical horses anymore. They now ride real live horses. My daughters, as excited as they were to ride mechanical horses as small girls, now have no desire to do so because those horses were only a simulation of the real thing.

As Christians, since Christ has come as the true and real sacrifice for sin, we are no longer to be content with simulations and copies of the real deal.  And we are to know the difference between them. Our forgiveness is neither a simulation nor a copy because Christ is the real thing. 

As my girls were growing up, my wife and I had a certain process we went through with them when they did something wrong toward one another. We would talk about the offense, and then they would need to say the words, “I am sorry.” 

However, the matter was never over until they hugged each other and told each other they loved the other. If they could do that, it was the real deal. You see, they could mouth the words to get us off their backs, but to hug and express love was the reality.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

Jesus did not just mouth words of forgiveness to us. He secured it through his death on a cross. It is not a cheap imitation kind of forgiveness. It is real. Christ died a violent death. The emphasis in Scripture on blood and sacrifice can be upsetting for many people.

Yet, we need to understand that the brokenness of this world is so bad that it requires drastic action. Christ’s death reflects the horrible sin of humanity. Since Jesus has secured forgiveness for us at such a steep price, we are to receive it with great humility and joy that God loves us that much.

Second Distinction: Once versus Endless Repetition

Jesus Christ came to deal with the sin issue once for all through his blood. He came to do away with sin, not just veneer over it. The old sacrificial system was like whitewashing a barn – it took care of the issue for a while, but it would need to be done over and over again.

We are familiar with temporary arrangements. For example, annual fees need to be paid and renewal stickers have to be put on a car’s license plate every year. Christ’s atonement, however, is no temporary arrangement. The forgiveness Jesus offers is permanent. 

There is no need to keep offering sacrifices over and over because Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The forgiveness we possess is not like paying an annual fee and getting a forgiveness sticker for the year. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! And this forgiveness was purchased with Christ’s own blood.

Author Henri Nouwen once told a story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest.

At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.

“Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not being God.”

Henri Nouwen

The cross that held Christ’s naked and marred body exposed the violence and injustice of this world. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, and a God of sacrificial love. Because Jesus was willing to do this on our behalf, we have forgiveness once and for all through his blood.

This world needs forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving but a real forgiveness that lasts forever. 

Third Distinction: Salvation versus Judgment

A lot of religious energy can be spent trying to figure out how to make ourselves acceptable to God. Part of the good news is that, in Christ, we do not need to fear the future.  We have been made right with God through the death of Jesus. Through Christ’s sacrifice the doors to heaven and earth get flung wide open. The way has been secured, the trail has been blazed, and the road has been made smooth to come to God.

Jesus, unlike any Levitical priest, has entered God’s presence, providing access to the living God. Christ did not need to offer sacrifice for his own sins but offered himself solely on our behalf. Jesus did more than offer the sacrifice; he himself became the sacrifice. It was a sacrifice to bring deliverance to humanity, not judgment.

Either to justify or to judge is God’s business, not ours. Our concern is to believe in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus that brings a permanent forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, can experience deliverance from sin, death, and hell.

We can have such a hard time forgiving others because we struggle with experiencing our own forgiveness. The path to extending grace to others is in deepening our knowledge, understanding, and awareness of God’s grace in Christ.

Conclusion

The author of Hebrews meant for the Christian life to be an exciting and abundant adventure following Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation. And yet, many Christians do not know anything about this kind of life. They only see the Christian life as a duty and a chore, a kind of cross to bear. 

It is important we recognize it is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the object of our faith, who has delivered us so that we can live a new life of freedom enjoying our forgiveness and inviting others on the journey.

There was once an immigrant that booked passage on a ship with just enough money to buy a ticket, a block of cheese and some crackers for a long voyage. The first few days at sea the crackers and cheese tasted good, but eventually they became stale.

As he watched the porters carry large steaks, lobsters, chicken, beautiful salads and many other delicious foods to the other guests, he became so hungry that he finally stopped one of the porters. “I’II do anything to get one of those steaks,” he said. “I’II wash dishes, clean rooms, even mop the deck.” The porter replied, “You bought a ticket, didn’t you? The meals come with the ticket.”

Too many people today are cheese and cracker Christians—missing out on all of God’s steak dinners. All the resources of God are available to us, yet far too many of us live in self-imposed spiritual poverty. 

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

Jesus did not die on the cross and rise from the dead so that we could live ho-hum Christian lives. He has granted us forgiveness so that we will eagerly enjoy the Word of God; enjoy laboring together in the Gospel; and look forward to how the Spirit will transform lives through Christ’s forgiveness. 

Real forgiveness opens our minds, hearts, and our energies to live for Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation.

Mark 11:20-25 – Forgiveness

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (NIV)

Sometimes forgiveness seems about as possible as moving a mountain or withering a fig tree. Yet, it can be done. It needs to be done. An unforgiving spirit only causes gangrene of the soul and rots a person on the inside.

The heart of the good news in the Bible is forgiveness of sins. It comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is both an event, and a process. Forgiveness is to be a constant dynamic within our relationships because we live in a fallen world. People sin against us, and others hurt us. We sin against other people and hurt them, too. Relational pain is a reality this side of heaven. Revenge and/or passive-aggressive behavior are neither biblical nor healthy ways of handling our hurt. So, what is a person to do?

We practice forgiveness. The following is some biblical guidance as to what forgiveness is, and is not:

Forgiveness is hard work.

God did not promise forgiveness would be easy. He knows exactly the kind of cost it brings. Through the death of Jesus there can be and is forgiveness. The price of forgiveness for Jesus was not cheap.

“The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14, NIV)

Forgiveness is a process.

Forgiveness is an ongoing process of putting off bad relational habits and putting on good ones. It takes time and cannot be hasty. Forgiveness must be deliberate with no shortcuts to it, otherwise it will not stick. 

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:21-32, NIV)

Forgiveness does not mean we condone bad behavior.

Forgiveness is not blanket amnesty. It does not simply give another person a “pass” on their hurtful words or actions. Forgiveness means we do not hold the offense over the other person’s head.  Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University, an academic researcher of forgiveness, states, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”  We cannot undo the past. Yet, we have control of the present, and can choose to forgive. True forgiveness calls a spade a spade and names the specific offense in all its ugliness, and lets it go.

“You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent.  Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” (Matthew 18:32-33, CEV)

Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.

It takes two to reconcile. It only takes one to forgive. I have often been told that it will not do any good to forgive another person because it would not change them. I respectfully retort: That is not the point. We forgive because it is our responsibility to work through our forgiveness issues and do it. We are not in control of whether another person will feel sorry for what they did, or not.  We regulate our own decision to forgive, no matter what the other person does or does not do, or whether they feel the gravity of their sin, or not.

“If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” (Romans 12:18, CEB)

“I [Jesus] say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, NRSV)

Jesus said [on the cross], “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, CSB)

Forgiveness is primarily for our benefit.

If we hold on to bitterness toward another for their offense, we only hurt ourselves. Drinking the poison of bitterness will kill you, not the other person. Avoid the magical thinking that they are going to come to you all slobbery sorry for what they said or did. That often does not happen. When it does, it is a beautiful thing. Regardless, of another’s decisions, we are to forgive everyone who sins against us just as God has forgiven us.

“Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15, NLT)

Forgiveness is to be frequent and generous.

The relational currency in God’s kingdom is forgiveness. Without it, we can neither operate well together, nor can we enjoy a satisfying life. However, with forgiveness, there is a demonstration of the practical effects of Christ’s crucifixion to life, not to mention a good witness to a watching world.  

“Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22, MSG)

Forgiveness is an act of faith.

To forgive is risky business. If we have taken on a grudge like a warm security blanket, to toss aside the odd comfort of unforgiveness will seem strange, even fearful. When we are hunkered down in bitterness, we rarely see how it causes faith to weaken. The longer the lack of forgiving goes on, the harder it will be to give it up. Faith steps out and acts, believing that God is in it. On the other side is the hope of freedom and peace. Besides, the consequences of unforgiveness are downright unpleasant.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (Matthew 6:13-14, MSG)

Forgiveness is a blessing.

The end of the matter for many people comes down to the intensely practical. So, here it is: Do you want to be happy or miserable? I am not familiar with anyone who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “Mmm, I think I will be miserable today.” No, we want to be happy and blessed. Forgiving others is the path to blessing.

It is a great blessing when people are forgiven for the wrongs they have done, when their sins are erased. (Psalm 32:1, ERV)

May you know the blessing of being forgiven and forgiving others. May this freedom allow you to enjoy the peace of God the fellowship of others. Amen.

It’s Time to Forgive

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God is in the forgiveness business.  It’s a big deal to him.

If you and I want to be content in this life, we need to let Christ’s instruction to practice forgiveness sink down deep into our souls.  Jesus said it about as clear as anybody could say it when he taught us how to pray:

“Forgive us as we forgive everyone else.” (God’s Word Translation)

Yet, many people live with discontentment because they think to themselves: “I will not forget what you did, and I will not forgive.”  Persistent thoughts of revenge only serve as a cancer that destroys the mind’s thoughts, erodes the soul, and hinders the heart’s ability to love.  But people who practice forgiveness are much less likely to be hateful, hostile, and belligerent toward others.  They are healthier and happier, and more at peace.

I have had people tell me, “But you don’t know what I’ve been through.”  My typical response is: “You don’t know what I’ve been through, either.  You may not even believe some of the things I have experienced, and some of the things that have happened to me and were said to me.  So, can I tell you what I have done to forgive those who have sinned against me?”

1. When I am trying to forgive someone, I pray for them.

It’s hard to keep resenting someone and wish them ill-will when you are praying for them on a regular basis.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph was the victim of his brothers’ abuse.  If there was ever a dysfunctional family to grow up in, it was Joseph’s.  Being sold into slavery by your own brothers and being the target of their derision would cause anyone to be upset.  But, many years later, Joseph chose to forgive his brothers.  He acted with their best interests at mind.  He prayed for them and did not actively work against them.  What’s more, he eventually came to see the hand of God in it all.  Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

2. I write a letter of forgiveness (which I may or may not send).

In the letter I write in full detail how the person hurt me.  I leave nothing out.  I express exactly how it made me feel, and how it affected my life.  Then, I express forgiveness and say that I will not hold the offense over their head.  Here is a five-step process for forgiving others using the acrostic REACH which helps shape how I write:

Recall 

That is, name the hurt.  Name it squarely.  Don’t fudge on it by saying it’s not that bad, or as bad as others have experienced.  Call it what it is: deceit; stealing; harassment; assault; abuse; adultery; verbal shaming; or even, murder.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid was based on providing full disclosure of all crimes.  Those that stepped forward to do so would be offered a full pardon.  Desmond Tutu, who led the commission, was most struck by how many people wanted to hear what had happened to their loved ones from the perpetrators themselves so that they could know whom to forgive.  Methinks we have much learn from our African brothers and sisters.

Empathize

Try and see the offense from the other person’s perspective.  Attempt to put yourself in the other’s shoes.  This does not mean we paper over the offense; it just means we don’t demonize another as a monster.  That only feeds and fuels our own lack of forgiveness.  When we view others as non-human, then we feel no responsibility to forgive.

Altruistic

Choose to do the right thing and treat the other person well, not because they deserve it, but because it is within your control to extend grace.  Again, this is what Joseph chose to do with his brothers: “So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:21).

Commit

Commit to practice forgiveness.  Make the decision to do it.  Don’t wait too long for your feelings to catch up to you.  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Hold

Hold-on to your forgiveness.  Just because you make the decision to forgive does not mean you’ll never have to do it again.  Once you have forgiven, let it be a stake in the ground in which you look back to it again and again.  “I forgave him/her, and I will not let the enemy of my soul keep trying to make me bitter about it all over again.”  One of the reasons we repeat the Lord’s Prayer Sunday after Sunday in my church is to keep forgiving those who have sinned against us.

3. I talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor about my effort to forgive.

Many people get stuck in discontentment.  They have an inability to forgive because they don’t seek a wise person to help them walk through the process of forgiving.  The easy path is to complain about the offense to someone we know will react with the same level of disgust and spirit of revenge that we ourselves have in our hearts.  But that only reinforces bitterness.  We need someone who can offer us what we need to hear, and not what we want to hear.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, and, so, ought to be at the core of a healthy Christian life.  The Christian season of Lent is designed for repentance, grace, and forgiveness to shape our lives.  There is no better time than now to deliberately engage forgiveness.