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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Our comfort is in God's gospel forgiveness
Text:LD 21 QA 56 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Psalm 32:1,2

Hymn 1

Hymn 81

Scripture readings: Micah 7:18-20, Luke 7:36-50

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 21, QA 56

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Louie Zamperini went through horrible things in the Second World War.  His bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean and he spent many days adrift in a life raft with two other crew members – one of whom died during their ordeal.  Eventually they were picked up by the Japanese and then sent to a camp in Japan where they were brutally abused.  Louie Zamperini came back to the United States a wreck.  He struggled with post-traumatic stress in a bad way.  His experiences made him an angry and bitter man.  He got married, but his marriage was a train-wreck too – his out-of-control drinking made him intolerable.

In September of 1949 a young evangelist was holding a revival meeting in Los Angeles.  Louie’s wife Cynthia attended one evening.  She was already a Christian.  She had been brought up in a Christian family.  She appreciated what she heard from the evangelist.  The next evening she invited her husband to come along.  Billy Graham was preaching about sin, repentance, and everyone’s need for God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Louie came and heard the message.  It didn’t sit well with him.  Listen to how Laura Hillenbrand describes his reaction in her book Unbroken:   “Louie felt indignant rage flaring in him, a struck match.  I am a good man, he thought.  I am a good man.  Even as he had this thought, he felt the lie in it.  He knew what he had become.”

Louie Zamperini tried to deny his need for God’s forgiveness.  He tried to do it by telling himself that he was a good person.  If you’re a good person, then you don’t need forgiveness.  You’ve done nothing wrong.  You don’t need Jesus Christ.  You don’t need the gospel.  It’s all irrelevant to you if you’re a good person. 

The problem is that, like Louie Zamperini in that revival tent, we know it just isn’t true.  We know deep in our hearts that we’re not good people.  We know there is a God and we have rebelled against him.  We actually do need his forgiveness.  In fact, it’s our greatest need in life.  To be forgiven by God for our rebellion gives us peace with him and peace in our hearts.  It gives us joy in life and hope for the future.  Forgiveness is comfort which the good news of Jesus Christ offers to all sinners.

Forgiveness is what we’re learning about this afternoon with the help of the summary of biblical teaching in QA 56 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  We’re going to see that our comfort is in God’s gospel forgiveness.  We’ll learn about:

  1. What God won’t do and why
  2. What God will do and why

Let me begin with a definition of forgiveness.  In the Bible, forgiveness involves an offense.  Since we’re talking about “the forgiveness of sins,” the offense we’re specifically looking at is an offense against God.  Sin is when you offend God by refusing to follow what he commands.  What he commands is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  When we fail to keep any of the Ten Commandments, we are sinning and therefore offending God.  When you offend God, he takes notice and he will act.  God is holy and just and he will not just overlook sin.  The thing to remember is that God is infinitely majestic and lifted up.  There is no one like God.  If you offend infinite majesty, you’re in infinite trouble with his justice.  The LORD is just and he will repay.  That’s the problem we’re all facing. 

The gospel offers the solution.  Gospel means “good news.”  The good news is that God has made a way for his justice to be maintained and for sinners like us to be forgiven.  God has made a way for our sins to be removed from us as far as east is from west – as we sang in Psalm 103.  God has made a way for our sins to be cast into the depths of the ocean – as we read from Micah 7.  In both passages, forgiveness is pictured.  East from west, the depths of the ocean – the idea is that our sins are out of the way.  They’re no longer an obstacle to a relationship of fellowship with God.  We’ve been reconciled to the God we offended with our sin.  Instead of being our judge and our enemy, he’s now our Father and our friend.  Instead of being terrified at the prospect of his justice, we can be amazed at his love.  Forgiveness changes everything in how we relate to God and how we view him.

In connection with the forgiveness of our sins, our Catechism mentions two wonderful things that God will not do.  The first is that he will not remember our sins.  That language comes from the Bible in places like Jeremiah 31:34.  About his new covenant people, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.”  That’s typical of what we call Hebrew parallelism, where one phrase explains the others.  “Forgiving iniquity” means “no more remember sins.”  We need to unpack that a little more.  Can God truly forget anything?  Isn’t he all-knowing, or omniscient, as we say?  Well, he is, yes, absolutely.  But that’s not what’s in view here.  The word “remember” in the Bible has to do with the covenant relationship.  When God says that he will no more remember our sins, he is saying that our sins will not be an obstacle in our relationship with him.  He’s not going to use our sins against us in the future.  They’re out of the way, as far as east is from west, in the depths of the ocean. 

Which of the sins of a Christian are no more remembered?  The answer is:  all of them.  Every single one.  Sins committed in the distant past.  Sins committed before you were a Christian.  Sins committed yesterday or this morning.  Even the sins of the future.  Sins you’ll commit tomorrow or next week.  The gospel promises Christians that all our sins, past, present, and future are forgiven by God.  They will never be an obstacle to having God as our loving Father.  What an awesome thought, isn’t it? 

It’s even more awesome when we bring in the second thing that God won’t do.  All Christians have a struggle on their hands.  The Holy Spirit describes that struggle in Galatians 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing what you want to do.”  We are at war with ourselves and in ourselves.  Each Christian has a battle going on inside.  We sometimes pray that God would keep “sin far away from us.”  I recently read a devotional which made a good point about that.  When we pray, “keep sin far away from us,” we seem to think that sin is a force outside of us.  But the reality is that it in us as Christians.  Sin is in our desires and affections, what we want and what we love.  But Christians battle this.  We don’t put up with it.  We don’t throw up our hands and say, “Oh, I guess this is the way it is, this is the way it’ll always be.”  No, we fight and we struggle against our sinful nature.  Listen to me carefully, the struggle against a sinful nature is part of what defines a Christian.  If you don’t fight against sin in your heart, if you just give in and never battle, you’re not a Christian.  But if you’re struggling, that’s indicating that the Holy Spirit is working in your life.  He’s the one giving you the strength and the will to fight.

Now our Catechism acknowledges that reality.  We have a sinful nature and we struggle against it.  The struggle is real.  But so is God’s gospel promise.  He comforts us with the assurance that the sin which remains in us is not going to stand in the way of our relationship with him.  He will continue to be our Father and we’ll continue to be his dear children.  God doesn’t abandon us because of our struggle with sin.  Through that struggle, he continues to maintain his loving bond with us.  That’s a great encouragement for us when we’re deep in the trenches battling our sinful desires.  God’s gospel forgiveness is always there for us. 

And why is this all true?  It’s not because of us.  It’s not because we’re so forgivable.  It’s only because of what Jesus has done for us.  God’s forgiveness of our sins is “because of Christ’s satisfaction.”  That’s pointing us particularly to the cross.  On the cross, Christ bore the wrath of God against our sins.  He took our place and he took our punishment.  He took the hell we deserve.  You’ve heard that so often, but stop and take it in.  Really reflect on it for a moment.  You have your sins and you have a sinful nature.  There’s so much rebellion in you.  You’ve sinned against infinite majesty in every way.  Yet that same God of infinite majesty said in his love, “I am going to make a way for you to be mine.  I am going to save you.”  The Son of God in his infinite majesty said in his love, “I am going to die on the cross with your sins on my shoulders and your name on my heart.  I am going to bring you back.” Is there any love that compares to that?  Brothers and sisters, pause for a moment and worship him in your heart.           

In his gospel forgiveness, God not only wipes away our sins, he also gives us something.  That something is the righteousness of Christ.  The Catechism says that he will graciously grant us the righteousness of Christ.  The language of “graciously granting” is meant to remind us that what we’re talking about here is a gift of grace.  We’re receiving a gift that’s the opposite of what we deserve. 

And what an amazing gift it is!  This gift of Christ’s righteousness – do you know what that is?  This is referring to Christ’s obedient life in our place.  You see, not only did he take our place on the cross to pay for our sins, he also took our place in his life of obedience to God’s commandments.  He was a sinless man, a righteous man who perfectly followed God.  He loved God and his neighbour impeccably.  He always did what was right with his heart, with his hands, and with his mouth.  Every single one of the Ten Commandments was completely obeyed by our Lord Jesus.  His obedience is ours when we trust in him.  God expects perfect obedience from us and from all people.  We can’t do it.  But Jesus has done it in our place.  Because that is true, we can have a relationship of fellowship with God.  After all, only those who are sinless and perfect can be at peace with God.  The only way we can be regarded as such is through the righteousness of Christ graciously granted to us.

Since we have that relationship of fellowship with God, since he is now our heavenly Father, we will never come into condemnation.  Savour the words of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Those gospel words are so comforting for believers:  no condemnation.  When you’re a Christian, you don’t have to fear God’s condemnation.  You don’t have to fear his judgment.  Because you have Jesus and his righteousness, God is your Father, no longer your judge.  You’re out of the courtroom and you’re in the family.  The judgment was already issued about you.  God declared you forgiven, he declared you righteous.  The verdict is out and there’s no changing it.  As the song says, “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.” Loved ones, believe it and find your comfort in that for life and death.

Who qualifies for this incredible gospel forgiveness?  Let’s look for a moment at what happens in Luke 7.  There’s this woman.  She’s a notorious sinner.  More than likely, that means she was a prostitute.  She comes into the house of this Pharisee Simon, a house where Jesus is dining.  She comes with tears at his feet.  Jesus’ feet get wet with her tears, tears no doubt of love and repentance.  She wipes her tears with her long hair and then anoints his feet with some ointment.  The Pharisees are horrified.  How can Jesus, if he’s a respectable man, how can he allow himself to be touched by this terribly sinful woman?  It’s scandalous.

In response, Jesus tells his parable about two debtors, one with a large debt and one with a small.  Both are forgiven their debts.  Which will love the moneylender more?  Simon the Pharisee answers with the obvious answer.  If you have a larger debt to be forgiven, obviously you’re going to love more.  Then Jesus points to the woman.  Her love is incredible, because she was aware of the extent of her own sinfulness.  She had much to be forgiven and she knew it.  This notorious, wicked woman was forgiven at the feet of Jesus.  She was forgiven as she came with tears and with faith in our Saviour. 

One of the things this passage teaches us is that God’s forgiveness is great enough to cover anyone’s sins.  No one is disqualified.  Absolutely no sin disqualifies you from God’s forgiveness.  The gospel promises that any sin can be forgiven.  Your sins, whatever they are, can be wiped away and you can receive the righteousness of Christ.  But this isn’t automatic.  I’m not saying that God forgives everybody’s sins, full stop.  The Bible doesn’t teach that.  The Bible teaches that in order to be forgiven by God, you need repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. 

You need repentance – that’s the tears the woman cried at the feet of Jesus.  You need to be sorry for your sin, hate your sins, and turn away from them.  Repentance is an attitude change about sin.  When you repent, you look at your sin the way God looks at sin – with disgust and hatred.  You’re sick of it and you want to be different.

For forgiveness, you also need faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith means that you trust that he took your place on the cross.  Faith means that you rest from your own efforts to measure up in God’s eyes and totally believe that Jesus has done everything you need.  His cross has paid your penalty and his life is your obedience in God’s sight.  Faith means leaning on Christ alone as your only hope for salvation.

Loved ones, have you repented from your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone so that you can be forgiven by God?  If so, praise God for his grace in your life.  Praise him for the work of his Holy Spirit in your heart.  But if you haven’t yet repented and believed for the forgiveness of your sins, right now you’re called to.  God is calling you to do it.  In his love, God is calling you to seek his forgiveness so you can be at peace with him.  He’s made a way for it to happen.

The first night that Louie Zamperini heard Billy Graham preach, he stormed out.  He was so angry at the preacher and his message.  The next day was a Sunday and his wife Cynthia begged him to go again.  He did.  It was that night that God took hold of Louie Zamperini and brought him to faith in Jesus Christ.  Louie Zamperini found peace and joy.  He found the comfort of the gospel.  He spent the rest of his days as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  He had been given what we all need; he had been given forgiveness.  AMEN. 


Our heavenly Father,

This afternoon you’ve blessed us again with the comfort of the gospel.  Thank you that you promise to wipe away our sins with the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.  Thank you that you promise to remove our sins as far as east is from west, to throw them into the depths of the sea.  You promise to remember them no more.  Through Christ, we can be in a relationship of fellowship with you.  We’re so encouraged by that.  We’re encouraged too when you promise to give us the righteousness of Christ so that we may not enter into condemnation.  Father, thank you for being so full of mercy to sinners like us.  Help us to believe your gospel promises so that we can always find comfort in them.  We pray for anyone here this afternoon who doesn’t yet know your forgiveness through Christ.  Please work in their hearts with your Holy Spirit.  Work repentance from sin and true faith in the Saviour.  We pray that you would give every single one of us here this afternoon the joy and comfort of knowing we’re forgiven by you.                                     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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