Receive God's Forgiveness
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 John 1:9
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 23-24, 2019
1 John 1:9
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“Go and Be Reconciled: Receive God’s Forgiveness”
At a recent Confirmation session in which we were discussing the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I asked the students which is harder to do: to ask for forgiveness or to give forgiveness? What do you think? Is it more challenging to be the offending party or the offended party? We agreed that the more difficult thing is to receive forgiveness. Why is that? It may be that by holding onto a grudge or grievance, we believe that we are also holding onto power over the other person. By not receiving or accepting forgiveness, we exercise some measure of control. The offending party may ask for my forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean that I, as the offended party, have to accept it. This is not some manufactured psychological drama. This is a very real dynamic in interpersonal relationships. It affects our lives and that of our families. It is all too real. Can this same dynamic be at work in my relationship with God? Do I at times have difficulty in receiving God’s forgiveness? Our Lenten preaching series, “Go and Be Reconciled,” continues today as we lift up the need we have to “Receive God’s Forgiveness.” That is the theme for preaching this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
“Go and Be Reconciled” begins with God’s reconciling work in his Son, Jesus. It is through Jesus that God has declared us to be acceptable and pleasing in his sight. Truth is, there is nothing you or I can do to earn, buy, or merit this. We Lutherans pride ourselves on this central point of our theology, and we faithfully preach and teach that this can only be received as a gift. That, of course, is absolutely true, but that can also be where trouble enters in. The way of the world is that you don’t get something for nothing. “There is no free lunch,” as the old saying goes. Although we may rejoice when a free lunch comes our way, we are hard-wired to be suspicious of anything that is free; maybe even the grace of God in Jesus Christ. There is something within us as human beings that has great difficulty in accepting the free and undeserved mercy and forgiveness which God gives through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Grace is counter-intuitive to our human condition. But the truth of God’s Word stands: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Nothing here about struggling or striving to be good enough to deserve God’s forgiveness. Only that God is faithful and just, cleansing us from all unrighteousness. My friends, regardless of what our feelings may tell us, the truth is that in Jesus God is reconciled to us. The good news is that God is at peace with us through the reconciling death of Christ on the cross. The question is, are at peace with ourselves? Will we accept God’s free gift of forgiveness?
We heard in today’s Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 33:7-20) of what God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were saying: “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10). They believed that their sins had caught up with them, and there was no escaping the consequences. Sound familiar? Don’t we often hear and say the same thing today? “What goes around comes around?” “That person is reaping what he or she has sown.” It may well be that there are earthly consequences for our words and actions, but are there also eternal consequences? Our guilty conscience may tell us yes, but the Word of the Lord to Ezekiel says this: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). God does not desire the condemnation of anyone, but that we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which he freely offers in his beloved Son, Jesus. In the Gospel lesson for today (Luke 13:1-9), a man comes looking for fruit on the fig three that he has planted in his vineyard. Finding none, the master says to the gardener to cut the tree down. It’s taking up space and using soil with nothing to show for it. That’s what we would probably do, right? But the gardener pleads for that unproductive tree, promising to enrich the soil around it with fertilizer so that it may yet produce fruit. That is a word of grace for you and me from Jesus. We are that unproductive tree! How often have our lives yielded little if any fruit for Christ and his kingdom! And yet, patiently and lovingly, Jesus our Gardener, who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13), comes to us digging around the withered and malnourished roots of our own faith to restore, refresh, and renew us with his Word and Sacraments. Through these we are freely given forgiveness and new life in Jesus. For these, we can only give our humble thanks to Jesus
Receiving God’s forgiveness means that I have to get over myself, swallow my stubborn pride, and admit that I cannot save myself or anyone else. Only God can do this, and only God has done this through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. In short, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life through God’s Word and Sacraments, I can let go of whatever hang-ups that are holding me back: that I am not worthy of what God has done for me, that what I have done is so awful even God can’t forgive me, that I don’t feel sorry enough to merit forgiveness, etc. All of these things are lies and deceptions of the enemy to keep us from receiving the gift of God’s forgiveness; to keep us unsure and uncertain about where we stand with God. The saving truth is that you are a beloved child of God, precious in his sight, created in his own image, and redeemed with the blood of Jesus. In Jesus, you are forgiven of all your sins and transgressions, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). And even more amazing is that God keeps no record of our sins. Not only are these blotted out, but God himself has removed them from his memory as he tells us: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34b). My friends, if God has forgiven us, how can we do anything except receive this gift with joy and thanksgiving?
Let us then again this day, with joy and thanksgiving, receive the gift of God’s forgiveness. And receiving this gift, let us be at peace with God, with ourselves, and with one another. Let us go and be reconciled to one another as God in Christ is reconciled to us. Amen.