Posts tagged ‘Forgiveness’

Take Your Sin to the Right Place

One of the most tragic stories in Scripture is that of Judas Iscariot – the one who betrayed Jesus into the hands of His enemies and, ultimately, His executioners for a pitiful pittance of 30 pieces of silver. Shortly after Judas leads the Jewish religious leaders to Jesus so they can arrest Him, he is overwhelmed by the anguish of his guilt:

When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

Judas’ actions against Jesus are treacherous and wicked. But this does not make his end any less tragic.

Part of what makes Judas’ end so devastating is that he understood the gravity of his actions and began looking for a path to redemption. He rushed back to the ones who had paid him the paltry sum of silver and confessed:

“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

But the religious leaders only lobbed his sin right back on him.

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:4).

“That’s your responsibility.” These are the most damning words anyone can speak to any sinner. They remove every hope for redemption, restoration, or reconciliation. This is why it is so important that we not only feel remorse over our sin, but take our sin to the right person.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Judas would have taken his confession to Jesus. How would Jesus have responded? Here’s my guess:

“Judas, you mean the world to Me. I’ll take your sin to the very place to which you betrayed Me. But it is no longer your responsibility.”

Are you overwhelmed by remorse, guilt, or shame? Take it to Jesus – no matter what it is. He will take it from you and, in exchange, give you freedom, forgiveness, and righteousness.

One more thing: if you, like Judas, struggle, for whatever reason, with thoughts of taking your own life, seek help. Whatever it is that is leading you into these thoughts, Jesus wants more for you. Jesus wants life for you. He died so that you can live.

September 19, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Knowing Thyself

Credit: Temple of Apollo at Delphi / Wikimedia

On the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, there is inscribed a famous maxim: “Know thyself.” But knowing one’s self can be hard. Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters” (Proverbs 20:5). In other words, we often don’t understand our own hearts – our own selves. Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: “I do not understand what I do” (Romans 7:15).

Knowing thyself is key. After all, if we do not understand ourselves – including our hidden motives and perverse incentives – it will be very difficult for us to love others rather than use them. So, what is the key to knowing ourselves better?

Scripture gives us some critical practices to help us know ourselves. The first is that of confession, or self-examination. In confession, we grapple with what we know we’ve done wrong – those things that nag us with guilt and regret. The lie we told. The lust we indulged. The addiction we engaged. The person we hurt. Confession brings the parts of ourselves we would rather pretend not to know into the light. It is the first step to knowing ourselves.

But there is more. For we need not only confession, but counseling, or cross-examination. Oftentimes, our motives are so mixed, or our sin becomes so opaque to us, that we cannot see it for what it is. We become strangers to ourselves. We have all had the experience where we offended someone, often justifiably, and we did not even know it because we did not see how our words or actions hurt others. Those who counsel us – and not just professionally, but as friends, spouses, and neighbors – can help us identify our blind spots. After Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” he adds, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). We need people of insight around us to draw out what we cannot ferret out for ourselves.

Both of these practices can help us know ourselves. But, of course, knowing yourself is quite different than liking yourself. When we become aware of the depth of our brokenness and sin, it can be easy to fall into despair or self-loathing. This is why one more practice is needed – that of compurgation.

Compurgation was an early common-law method of trial in which a defendant could be acquitted on the endorsement of friends or neighbors. In other words, if enough people interceded for someone who had been accused of a crime, he could be exonerated on his friends’ testimony.

The apostle Paul asks:

Who is the one who condemns? No one.

Paul says that no one can condemn us in our sin. Why? Because:

Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Christ is the one who testifies on our behalf. And His testimony is all we need to be exonerated by being forgiven through Him. His compurgation is enough.

So then, who are we? We are children of God through Christ. We are sinners by nature, yes. But we are also saints through faith. How do we know this? By knowing ourselves – and, even more importantly, by knowing Christ.

September 12, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Two Kinds of Self-Righteousness

In our society, little is more despised than someone who is “self-righteous.” No one, it seems, wants to be someone or likes anyone who fits the stereotype of a self-righteous person – proud of their own moral success and judgmental of those who they judge to be morally inferior. And yet, as much as we may despise self-righteousness, we still fall prey to it, often without even knowing it. Self-righteousness, it turns out, is sneaky.

One way that many people have sought to address the scourge of self-righteousness is by dismissing the notion any ultimate righteousness. In this way of thinking, if someone does something you would consider “wrong,” it is excused by calling it “right for them.” Righteousness gets relegated to the realm of personal preference.

But this, too, is its own form of self-righteousness. After all, when we say righteousness is defined by what is “right for me,” we are defining righteousness for ourselves, which, by definition, is self-righteousness.

What Christianity offers is not a righteousness that judges others, but nor is it a righteousness that we create for ourselves. Instead, it is a righteousness that is given freely through Christ. As the apostle Paul writes:

Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22)

The Christian does not self-righteously condemn and judge others because Jesus did not condemn and judge him. Instead, He forgave him. But the Christian also does not make up the rules as he goes, for what matters is not what is right for him, but what is right to Jesus. His righteousness is what the Christian looks to for guidance and for salvation. The only true antidote to self-righteousness, then, is Jesus’ righteousness.

His is a righteousness worth sharing.

September 5, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

God’s Open-Door Policy

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In Exodus 19, as God is preparing to give Israel the Ten Commandments on the summit of Mount Sinai, He issues a stern warning to the people through Moses:

Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. (Exodus 19:21)

And again to the priests and the people of Israel:

The priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them. (Exodus 19:24)

Everyone, it seems, would love to have some time with God. But as the Law is being introduced, the Israelites, instead of getting time with God, are being separated from God. The people are to remain at the foot of the mountain while Moses receives God’s Law at the top of the mountain. And to try to get close to God while He is giving His Law – to try to force their way into His presence in the midst of His law – will only result in their death.

Jesus makes a fascinating, perplexing, and seemingly passing statement in Luke’s Gospel:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. (Luke 16:16)

“The Law” to which Jesus refers is the Law Moses received up on Mount Sinai, and “the Prophets” are those who proclaimed the Law, up to and including John the Baptist. But now, instead of a mountain, there is a kingdom. And now, instead of being sternly warned not to force their way up the mountain, people are openly and fearlessly forcing their way into the kingdom. Why? Because while the Law separated us from God because of our sin, Jesus came to undo that separation by forgiving our sin. We can force our way right in to see God. In Christ, God has an open-door policy.

So, what do you need to see God about? A worry? A sickness? A sin? A need? Feel free to barge right in. He’ll be happy to see you – and to help you. Because He loves you.

August 8, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Did I Do Something to Deserve My Suffering?

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People who are struggling can sometimes wonder: Is God angry with me? Is He disciplining me because of some sin in my life? Did I do something to deserve this? These questions become particularly acute when people read biblical stories of God punishing places like Sodom and Gomorrah or Jericho or Babylon or even Israel because of their sin.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of spiritual depravity in Israel. This depravity was masked, however, by general political stability and economic prosperity. Because of these conditions, the Israelites were lured into believing they were experiencing God’s favor. But God called Amos to deliver a damning declaration:

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane My holy name.” (Amos 2:6-7)

God’s judgment was coming on Israel’s sin. But at the same time such a declaration may sound unsettling, it can also be comforting.

God regularly used the ancient prophets to remove ambiguity about His judgment. People did not need to guess whether God was punishing them because of their sin because the prophets clearly revealed whether God was punishing them because of their sin. In Amos’s case, God even reveals through this prophet the specific sins for which Israel was being punished.

God leaves no ambiguity when it comes to His punishment of sin. As Amos goes on to explains:

When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6-7)

If God brings judgment, He will make known what He is doing. He renders no judgment without revealing whether it is, in fact, His judgment.

You never have to wonder, then, in the face of some struggle or suffering, whether God is angry at you. Or whether He is disciplining you. Or whether you have done something to deserve what you are experiencing. If you are left wondering, you already have your answer: He is not angry with you. He is not lobbing suffering at you out of His wrath toward you. God’s judgment is not meant to be secret or mysterious. Instead, it is designed to be clear so that it can unambiguously call people out of their sin and back to His righteousness.

If you are suffering, God is not judging you. You can know that. But you can also know this: He is with you. He does not remain aloof from you, but comes to you through Christ. If you are suffering, remember that Christ has also suffered. He knows what suffering feels like. And He knows – and cares – what you feel like. His response to your suffering is not judgment, but love.

June 13, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Don’t Destroy Yourself!

Credit: Bartolomeo Biscaino (1629-1657) / Wikimedia

In the book of Exodus, the Pharaoh of Egypt seeks the destruction of the Israelites because they “have become far too numerous for us” (Exodus 1:9), and he is worried that “they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10). In response, Pharaoh issues an edict: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22).

It is at this time a Levite woman gives birth to a son and, at first, attempts to hide him so he might not drown in the Nile:

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

This brave mother follows the letter of Pharaoh’s edict to throw her son into the Nile, but with a twist. She places her son into a basket, and then places the basket with her son into the Nile. Famously, this basket boy survives and grows up to become Moses – the one who rescues the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

In a showdown with another Pharaoh of Egypt that takes place some 80 years after Moses was first placed into a basket as a baby in the reeds of the Nile, Moses and the Israelites find themselves backed up against a sea called the Sea of Reeds, which we know today as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), with Pharaoh and his army coming to destroy them. But just like God protects Moses from the waters of the Nile when he is placed among the reeds, God protects Israel from the waters of the Sea of Reeds by splitting them into two, so the Israelites can pass “through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:23). But when Pharaoh and his army try to pursue them, “the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28).

Pharaoh sought the destruction of the Israelites by declaring that they must be drowned among the reeds of the Nile. But instead, he himself is destroyed by being drowned in the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s berserk desire for destruction only destroyed him.

When we are slighted or hurt by someone, it can be easy for us to wish for – and, perhaps, even work for – their destruction – the destruction of their job, their reputation, or our friendship with them. But our desire for destruction – our desire for vengeance – more often than not, only destroys us. The bitterness and anger we harbor toward someone drowns our souls. This is why Jesus says, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them” (Mark 11:25). Jesus does not just say call for forgiveness in an effort to let someone who has upset us or hurt us off the hook. He calls for forgiveness to let us off the hooks of our own dangerous desires for destruction that will, if left unchecked, only destroy us. God doesn’t want our souls to get trapped in a vengeful Sea of Reeds.

So, who is God calling you to forgive today? Remember, forgiveness not only helps someone else; it rescues you.

And you’re worth rescuing.

April 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Anger and Patience

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Jesus’ words on anger in His Sermon on the Mount are incredibly challenging:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

In His words, Jesus connects a feeling – that of anger – to a felony – the crime of murder.

These words are not just challenging for us in our context, where societal anger is on display on social media, on cable news, and in the streets and where personal anger can be found in homes, in workplaces, and in relationships across this nation, these words have been challenging ever since Jesus uttered them.

We see just how challenging Jesus’ words have been in an interesting textual variant found in some of the ancient manuscripts of Jesus’ sermon. Some manuscripts add the phrase “without cause” to Jesus’ words:

I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:22)

Though these words, according to the best textual evidence we have, were almost certainly not original, they are widespread among the ancient manuscripts. It seems that even in antiquity, people thought that a prohibition against being angry with someone without qualification was a bridge too far. But when we are angry, none of us believe our anger is “without cause.” We all believe our anger is justified or even necessary. Jesus reminds us that it’s not. Anger is not the answer to offense.

Solomon once wrote:

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)

When we are tempted to become angry, patience is the key. For patience can produce what anger never can – peace. Patience can diffuse a situation instead of escalating it. And patient is what God was with us. In our sin, He waited for us to turn to Him in repentance.

Anger may make us feel better for a while, but patience can make the world better for the long haul.

November 1, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Real Grace for Real Sinners

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Whenever the topic of sin comes up in a Bible study or conversation, I have a friend who will joke: “Since we’re talking about sin, how about we all tell each other the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He always gets a laugh, but it’s always a bit of a nervous laugh. I’m don’t think many of us – or, let’s be honest, any of us – are comfortable being forthcoming about the worst thing we think we’ve ever done.

Sin is strange like this. We will speak freely in generalities about how we are sinful, but when someone asks us to get specific – especially about the sins that most embarrass us – we fall silent. We may be comfortable with the idea of being a sinner in general because we know that everyone sins, but when it comes to our specific sins, we can sometimes worry that we’re the only one who has ever done what we have done. And, if people found out what we have done, they would reject us in disgust.

In 1544, a dear friend of Martin Luther’s named George Spalatin offered some advice to a local pastor who wanted to know whether it would be permissible to preside over the wedding of a man who wanted to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. Spalatin gave this pastor the green light to perform the wedding. When Luther found out about the guidance Spalatin had given, he was aghast and harshly criticized Spalatin.

After being criticized by his dear friend and mentor, Spalatin fell into a deep depression because he assumed that he had committed a grievous sin that could not be forgiven. When Luther found out about his friend’s despondency, he wrote him a letter where he reiterated to his friend that though he thought his advice was wrongheaded and sinful, he himself was not unforgivable:

The devil has plucked from your heart all the beautiful Christian sermons concerning the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which you used to teach, admonish, and comfort others with a cheerful spirit and a great, buoyant courage. Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. Therefore, my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

Luther reminds Spalatin that there is no sin for which Christ did not die. There is no mistake – even the mistake of poor pastoral advice – that Christ cannot forgive. This means that the worst thing we have ever done is not beyond the reach of grace that comes from God’s one and only Son. We don’t need to be afraid of our biggest sins because we have an even bigger Savior.

So, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done? What sin would you prefer to keep secret? Don’t let that sin shame you into staying away from Jesus. Don’t let that sin shame you into hiding from others. If Christ can handle the world’s sins, He can handle your worst. He wants to. Because He loves you.

October 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Lamechs

Credit: “Lamech and His Two Wives” by Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia

A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Anger and Forgiveness

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A new study published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology finds that those who work to resolve arguments quickly – or avoid arguments altogether – improve their long-term health. Researchers from Oregon State University found that the longer a person lets an unresolved conflict linger, the heavier and more significant it begins to feel. Robert Stawski, the senior author of the study, explains:

Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end, and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being. Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.

The study found that, if possible, it is best to resolve a conflict the same day it arises. Dr. Stawski added:

The extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.

Of course, this insight of resolving conflict within a day is not new to this study. Long before there was this study, there was the apostle Paul who wrote:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Unresolved anger is dangerous, Paul writes – not only emotionally, but spiritually. It gives the devil himself a foothold in your heart.

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone who is nursing a grudge and stewing in anger. And, to put it bluntly, they’re miserable. The problem is it’s difficult to stop a feeling. When I become angry, I don’t consciously choose to become angry. Anger just, well, happens. But even if I don’t consciously choose to become angry, I can consciously choose to calm down. I can talk to a friend who I trust to give me perspective. I can talk to myself and remind myself that my anger solves nothing. I can talk to the Lord and ask Him to bring me peace. And I can forgive. To quote the apostle Paul again:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

In other words, even if you can’t stop anger from bubbling up in your heart, when it does, you are called to get rid of it as fast as you can. But how? Paul tells us in the very next verse:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Anger, Paul says, is nothing forgiveness can’t fix. Yes, forgiveness is hard. Choosing to release a grudge against someone when they have hurt you is a heavy task. But anger is dangerous. And it’s heavy, too. So, choose what is better for them – and for you. Choose forgiveness.

April 26, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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