On many a Sunday I had the privilege to announce an “assurance of pardon” during our church service. We go through a confession of our sins and following that I draw attention to the fact that we can rest assured knowing that we are forgiven. But I’ve had the conversation a couple times about what it is I’m doing when I make such announcements. The point that I try to make explicitly clear is that I am not the one doing the forgiving. I can’t forgive someone for their sins. Nor can I make atonement for them, pardon them, nor cleanse them from those sins.
So why have this as part of a service at all? What am I doing? As I’ve written, I “announce.” Jesus Christ is the one who can forgive our sins, and I draw attention to the gracious work that he has done.
We’ve read this week in Matthew 9 that Jesus ruffles quite a few feathers when he tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. He is accused of blasphemy, as though he acting out of order. But Jesus truly is the one with the authority to do this. It says in Romans 8 that Jesus he has power to judge us, but rather than condemn, he came to this world to die for us, and even now he intercedes on our behalf.
That is a savior worthy of proclamation, and his work for us is something I have the privilege to announce. I cannot forgive sins, but Jesus Christ, Son of God, can and does, and the good news I share is that in Christ, we are forgiven.
As I’ve been reading the beginning if Leviticus the last few days what has stood out to me is how big of a deal sin is. Contemporary culture doesn’t talk about sin much, or any sort of weakness or evil in us. Instead we all are good, everyone is right, I’m OK you’re OK.
But you can’t understand sin as no big deal and make sense of Leviticus. Sin is a very big deal and God’s people went through a lot to deal with it.
With all these regulations and sacrifices, sin was an unavoidable topic. Think about the constant reminder in the sights, sounds, and smells of the tabernacle. Seeing smoke rise up as a sacrifice for your sin, smelling the burnt fat, seeing others giving over first fruits and goats without blemish.
But as often as you’d be reminded of sin, you’d be reminded of the confidence the people had in knowing those sins were forgiven. The smoke rises up to heaven and it vanishes in the winds just as our sins when confessed are raised to God, forgiven, and then cast far from us, as far as the east is from the west.
Sin is not a fashionable subject, but it was a big deal then and it is a big deal now. It was so big that to save us from our sin God sent his Son to set us free. It makes no sense to speak at length on salvation and forgiveness and neglect what we are forgiven for and saved from. Sin is a problem that thankfully our God has overcome. Let’s not overlook our sin and in so doing diminish how great God’s forgiveness is.
In Exodus we see the way God has instructed the Israelites in how to be a people of his own, including how they should order their lives with law and how they should order worship. In Luke, Jesus called his disciples, continued teaching, and showed the people his great power, even power over death.
In Luke 7, a pharisee questions Jesus’ interactions with a sinful woman. Jesus responds with a story of forgiven debt, making the point that the one who has been forgiven much, loves much, and the one who has been forgiven little, loves little.
What we must remember is that we have all been forgiven much. We are all sinful and our debt is far more than we could ever repay. Left to our own ability and effort, we would be lost. But God has forgiven this debt–in fact he paid this debt for us himself in the work of Jesus Christ. If we daily remind ourselves of this, of how abundant God’s grace is, it will spur us on to love much. As forgiven sinners we cannot treat with disdain other sinners in this world. We all suffered under the weight of great debts. Therefore we should share love with others as recipients of grace.
Having this constant remember of grace is part of why I think God describes himself to his people in the beginning of the Ten Commandments with the words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Whenever God describes himself in this way, he is reminding his people that they have been redeemed from slavery, they have been given abundant grace, and they have much to be thankful for.
When we recognize how much God loves us and how abundant is his grace, the more we will be propelled to love and forgive those who God places in our paths.