You Are Forgiven: God’s Answer to the Problem of Guilt
April 29, 2020
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God’s timing is always perfect.
A few months ago I felt a burden to study the promises of God. It’s always hard to explain a burden to someone else, and often you can’t explain it to yourself. But that’s how it happened for me. I felt like I should give my attention to the promises of God in the Bible.
But where to begin? The Bible is a big book filled with promises. As part of my study, I consulted the two largest Bible search websites on the internet: YouVersion and Bible Gateway. Both sites do a yearly survey to discover which Bible passages are most popular with their users. Since millions of people use these websites, they offer a good snapshot of what people are concerned about at any given moment.
We live in strange times
The results intrigued me.
YouVersion reported the most-searched verses were Philippians 4:6, 2 Timothy 1:7 and Matthew 6:33. Bible Gateway put John 3:16 in first place, followed by Jeremiah 29:11. In their survey, six of the top eleven verses come from Psalm 23.
Many of those verses deal with issues of doubt, fear, worry and uncertainty. It’s understandable because we live in strange times. It’s noteworthy that those surveys were taken before we ever heard of Covid-19 or the Coronavirus. Now that the whole planet is locked down, I’m sure the anxiety quotient has gone through the roof.
How Many Promises?
In times like these, we need the promises of God. We need hope that goes beyond the newest article about “flattening the curve” or the latest pronouncement from some politician. More than ever, we need to hear from heaven.
More than ever, we need to hear from heaven.
We know the Bible is filled with promises, but how many are there? Over sixty years ago, a man named Everett Storms set out to find the answer. He began counting every promise in the Bible, starting with Genesis and going to Revelation. It took him two years to finish the project. He concluded that there are 7487 promises from God to man in the Bible. That means 1 in every 4 verses is a promise from God.
But why study the promises? That’s not a hard question to answer. They give us faith to believe in the darkness and strength in the moment of temptation. If we know God’s promises, we find guidance to take the next step and we gain strength to keep going when we feel like giving up.
D. L Moody laid down a challenge for all of us:
Let a man feed on the promises of God for a month and he will not talk about how poor he is. You hear people say, “Oh, my leanness! How lean I am!” It is not their leanness; it is their laziness.
If you would only read from Genesis to Revelation and see all the promises made by God to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to the Jews and to the Gentiles, and to all his people everywhere—if you would spend a month feeding on the precious promises of God—you wouldn’t be going about complaining how poor you are. You would lift up your head and proclaim the riches of his grace, because you couldn’t help doing it!
Perhaps you remember the words of this gospel song:
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.
Blood, Death, Sacrifice
May the Lord make those words come true for us. This series is called “Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Have, You Can, You Will.” We start with a message about God’s answer to the problem of guilt. It is based on the words of Hebrews 10:11-12.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; Again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
In some ways this passage is hard to understand. After all, how many of us took a lamb to church last Sunday? Did anyone bring a bull to offer as a sacrifice? The answer to both questions is no, which reminds us that we live in a different world than the Jews of the Old Testament.
The priest stands. Jesus sits.
What is the main point of this passage? In the Old Testament, the priest stood because his job was never done. But Jesus sat down at the right hand of God because his work was finished.
The priest stands.
That’s the whole message in five words. Or we can make it even simpler:
A casual reading of Leviticus reveals that the Old Testament religious system was very bloody. If you were a priest, you spent a good part of each day killing animals, draining their blood, in some cases splashing the blood on the altar, in some cases preserving part of the animal for food, and then burning the rest. All day long that was your job. Killing, draining the blood, burning the carcass. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. No matter how hard you tried to wash it off, you would go home with the smell of blood and burning flesh on your clothes.
Three words summarize the religion of the Old Testament:
If you served as a priest for forty years, you would have killed thousands and thousands of animals. The blood would have filled a small lake. And when you died, another priest would come along and take your place and do the same thing.
There was no end to the killing, no end to the bloodshed, no end to the death because that’s the religion God gave his people. During the 1,500 years from the time of Moses to the time of Christ, hundreds of thousands of lambs and goats and bulls were offered on the altar to make atonement for the sins of the people. That’s what the writer means when he says “day after day” and “again and again” the same sacrifices were offered.
No Chairs in the Tabernacle
Exodus and Leviticus describe the architecture of the ancient tabernacle. Moses writes at great length concerning the brazen altar, the table for the showbread, the candlesticks, the veil, and the furniture inside the Holy of Holies. But you never read about a chair because there were no chairs in the tabernacle. When the priests were standing before God to minister, they could never sit down. Why? Because they never finished the work of making sacrifices and offerings before God.
1000 years, and not one sin forgiven!
Whatever else one can say about the sacrificial system, it was not God’s ultimate desire. From the very beginning, he always planned something better. Hebrews 10:1 tells us the law was a “shadow” of good things to come. Through the monotonous repetition of blood, death and sacrifice, the Jews learned they dare not approach God on their own, but only through a sacrifice offered on their behalf.
Let me put it another way. Suppose you were a priest in the Old Testament. Now, suppose you lived to be one thousand years old. Let’s further suppose that from the day you were born to the day you died you offered a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening. You never missed a day, and you never missed a lamb. By the day you died you would have lived 365,000 days and you would have offered 730,000 lambs to God. Do you know how many sins you would have forgiven? Not one. Zero. No sins forgiven. That’s not much to show for one thousand years of work.
A Messy, Smelly Job
If animal sacrifice could not take away our sin, what sacrifice will make a difference? Hebrews 10:12 explains it this way: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Take a look at the word but. Circle it. Underline it. Your salvation depends upon that one little word. You are going to heaven because of the word but.
On one side stand the priests doing the will of God day after day, week after week, and year after year—killing animals for God. Their hands are stained with blood. The same thing every day, all the time. When one of them dies, another man steps up to continue the offerings and sacrifices. Always standing, never sitting down.
On the other side stands one man. His name is Jesus Christ. The little word but separates the priests of the Old Testament from the Lord Jesus Christ. That word makes all the difference. After they had done all the killing they could do, in accordance with the Old Testament Law, they could never take away sin. Jesus did what they could never do. He sat down because his work was finished. One man paid for sins forever. He finished the work when he died on the cross, and then he sat down at the right hand of God.
Jesus sat down because his work was done
We all understand this picture, don’t we? It’s a wonderful thing to come home at the end of the day, tired from your labor, and glad that it is over. You sit down because you finished what you set out to do.
That’s the exact picture in this verse. Jesus sat down at God’s right hand in heaven because the work was done. When he cried out, “It is finished,” he didn’t mean, “It’s almost finished” or “I’m 90% done with the work of salvation.” He wasn’t saying, “I’ve done my part, so now you can do your part.” No, finished means finished. Christ paid in full in the price of our salvation. That’s why he sat down.
If you want to go to heaven, you need a sit-down salvation.
Three Eternal Truths
Let’s wrap this message up with three eternal truths that explain God’s answer to the problem of guilt.
1. Jesus Christ has done in his death what the Old Testament priests could never do. The priests were good men who did God’s will. But Jesus Christ has done what they could never do. He has accomplished a sit-down salvation.
Sometimes we say practice makes perfect. That’s true in sports, and it’s true in playing the piano. Most things in life get better when we repeat them. But practice does not make perfect when it comes to the forgiveness of sins. You’ll never get your sins forgiven by doing something over and over and over again—like coming to church, saying a prayer, or keeping the Ten Commandments. When it comes to forgiveness, practice does not make perfect.
When it comes to forgiveness, practice does not make perfect.
2. Nothing can be added to the work of Christ because it is final and complete. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The word means, “Paid in full.” Nothing we can do could ever add to the value of Christ’s death. Lewis Sperry Chafer said it this way, “Believing in Jesus means trusting him so much that if he can’t take me to heaven, I’m not going to go there.” I don’t have a Plan B when it comes to salvation. Jesus is my Plan A, and he’s all I need. Said another way, if Jesus’ blood is not enough to save me, the blood of a million bulls and goats would make no difference.
We struggle with this concept because it forces us to admit two things:
- We can’t do anything to save ourselves.
- Jesus has done it all.
Only undeserving people go to heaven, which goes against everything we believe. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg said this several years ago:
I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close. (Reported in The Atlantic)
We shouldn’t be shocked by his words because that’s what most people secretly believe. Mr. Bloomberg had the audacity to say it out loud.
But he is wrong, and so are the people who think like that. No one can “earn” their way to heaven. We’re all sinners, whether we like to admit it or not. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Michael Bloomberg is wrong!
Do you want to go to heaven? Here are five words that will take you there: “Only Jesus and Jesus Only.”
3. Because his work is finished, our salvation is certain. This is the necessary conclusion from our text. The priests stood because their work was never finished, and they offered the same sacrifices over and over because sin was never removed. But Jesus, having offered himself as the sacrifice for sin forever, sat down in heaven because his work was done.
Let’s put it this way. If you could lose your salvation, you would. If it depends on us to any degree, none of us will ever make it to heaven. I love the words of Jack Wyrtzen: “I’m as sure of heaven as if I’d already been there 10,000 years.” That’s how a Christian talks.
Who is a God Like You?
When Micah drew near the end of his little book, he exclaimed, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgression?” (Micah 7:18).
Where else will we find a God like this?
He delights to show mercy to sinners like you and me.
He loves to forgive sin.
He longs for sinners to come to him.
If it’s not free, it’s not grace
He sends his Son to die on the cross and then says to the whole world, “Anyone who wishes may take the gift of salvation.” People ask me, “Pastor Ray, do you believe in free grace?” What other kind is there? If it’s not free, it’s not grace. Because Jesus paid it all, we can say to anyone, anywhere, at any time, “Come to Jesus, and your sins will be forgiven and your guilt will be gone.”
Every other religion is based on works. You go to heaven because of what you do:
Go to church or to the synagogue or the mosque.
Light a candle.
Pray all night.
Keep the feast days.
Give alms to the poor.
Offer a sacrifice.
Keep the Ten Commandments.
Follow the Golden Rule.
Be a good neighbor.
Obey the law.
Stay out of jail.
Do your best.
Live a good life.
But that’s not what God demands. He’s not like Santa Claus, “making a list and checking it twice.” We’d better be glad about that because if God kept a list of our sins, we would all end up in hell forever.
Let me ask you a personal question.
Are you satisfied with what Jesus did for you on the cross?
Are you satisfied with Jesus?
God is satisfied with what Jesus did.
Jesus himself said, “It is finished.”
The price has been paid in full.
What do you say? Is Jesus enough to take you to heaven, or do you think you’ve got to add to what he did?
Jesus Paid It All
In 1878 Ira Sankey, D. L Moody’s song leader, published a book called Sacred Songs and Solos that became hugely popular. When he put the book together, he added a song by Elvina M. Hall. Though it was hardly known at all, once the book came out, this song became popular around the world. We still sing it today:
I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
ind in Me thine all in all.”
For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
All to Him I owe
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
Aren’t you glad Jesus paid it all? We’re going to heaven because we have a sit-down salvation, bought and paid for by the Son of God.
That’s God’s answer to the problem of guilt.
Father, when we ran from you, you ran after us.
Our sin could not defeat your love for us.
While we were your enemies, you sent Jesus to die for us.
Thank you for providing a sit-down salvation.
All glory to you, our Savior and our Lord.