This is a summary of a sermon I delivered at Christian Tabernacle in February 2009. It was on a Wednesday night during a series on Prayer called, “Prayer: Just Do It.” The series was aimed at explaining the the basic building blocks of prayer (ie: Adoration, Petition, Thanksgiving, etc.) and motivating the people to pray more.
Pastor Joe asked me to speak briefly on the subject of confession, or the admitting of our sins and the asking of forgiveness in prayer. Staying within the vein of the series, “Prayer: Just Do It,” I would say that my goal here is to motivate us to have confession in our prayers by emphasizing the truth that God is forgiving. And I think that we can meet that goal if take our cues from “The Lord’s Prayer” itself:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:9-12).
Now, before look at this any further, I thought it be best if we first define “forgiveness” so that we are all on the same page. Thomas Watson, an old Puritan, defined forgiveness with these seven characteristics:
- Resisting revenge. (Romans 12:19)
- Not returning evil with evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- Wishing them well. (Luke 6:28)
- Grieve at their calamities. (Proverbs 24:17)
- Pray for them. (Matthew 5:44)
- Seek reconciliation with them. (Romans 12:18)
- Coming to their aid in distress. (Exodus 23:4)
In a nutshell, forgiveness is “overlooking transgressions.” I say that because Proverbs 19:11. It says that forgiveness is man’s greatest honor, “It is his glory.” This makes sense when we consider who God is. In Exodus 34:6-7, God calls Himself “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
For this reason, John MacArthur said something like this, “We are most like God when we forgive others and we are least like God when we don’t forgive others.” Thus, when we forgive, it is the most honorable thing we can do. And, we don’t forgive, it is the most horrible thing we can do. And, the Bible warns us that God will not forgive us either (Luke 6:37; Matthew 18:23-35). So the rewards are wondrous and the punishment is grave. Forgiveness is at the heart of our Lord.
It is also an important part of life because it is an important part of God. When Jesus was hanging on the cross he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This, of course, was God’s heart as His own creation committed the most evil of sins – murdering the Son of God.
The disciples understood the importance of forgiveness. Peter, being the bold foot-eater that he is, asked Jesus the question, “How many times should we forgive someone who sins against us?” Trying to be impressive, he suggests an answer for Jesus thinking that he would sort of beat him to the punch-line, “Seven times?” Jesus responded, “Seventy times seven” which meant infinitely since no one would really keep track to that much detail.
After that, Jesus told the parable of the man who owed the king ten thousand talents. In Matthew 18:23-35, the king wants to settle this debt but the man didn’t have the money. So the man begs the king for mercy and the king forgives him his debt. The story goes on to say that this same man had a servant who owed him one hundred denarii. The man went to settle this debt (just like the King did with him) and the servant begged him for mercy (just like he did the King) and the man choked him and threw him in jail – proving himself most unlike the King. So the king found out about this and threw the man in jail.
Forgiveness is a divine quality. God has set the standard for it and expects us to fall in line or otherwise fall short of His forgiveness. In other words, God grades our forgiveness by His own. So logic would suggest that God must have forgiven first in order to have a scale by which He will grade. I say this because I think that it answers the question, “Does God forgive?” The reasoning goes: If God judges our forgiveness by His own, then He must have first forgiven first. And this makes sense to me. Isn’t it true that we love God because God first loved us. Well, the same is true of forgiveness.
What evidence do we have that God forgives? We have the evidence that God calls us to forgive and judges our forgiveness by His own. Ask yourself, “Would he hold you to a standard that is higher than his?” Certainly not! Forgiveness is a divine quality and we cannot forgive unless we are first forgiven.
Now, that certainly answers the question. But there is more to say about forgiveness. Especially when we are considering the topic of confession in our prayer. Again, The Lord’s Prayer goes like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:9-12).
The prayer teaches us to confess our sins to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. We have much to be forgiven. We have countless sins to confess. First John 1:8 and 9 read, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So, if God sets the pace for forgiveness by forgiving much more than we ever will and He tells us to confess our sin to him because he is “faithful and just to forgive us,” then why do we struggle so much with confession? In other words, “What stops us from confessing?” Forgiveness is a divine action. It is stimulated and commanded by God. It is honored by God. It is like God because it is of God. And therefore it is something we should be eagerly seeking. God wants to do it. He has done it and will do it. It is at His heart to do it. And he tells us to just ask. Again I say, if it is that glorious of a reality, what stops us from confessing? What kills our motivation to confess to this forgiving God?
I can think of two reasons why we are hesitant and I hope to respond to both of them in one passage. The first reason may be that we are too weighed down by our sins. Sin causes friction in relationships. We experience that not only in our relationship with God, but also with our friends and family. Healing these relationships is always tough. It humbles us and makes our hearts beat a little harder. It makes us vulnerable. So, how much more difficult is it when there is tension with the Most High!
The second reason may be that we feel as though God doesn’t understand our shortcomings. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some sins that I think are more sinful than others. It is these sins that make me want to run from God rather than run to God. The depths of our sin can be dramatic to us and we may feel that God just won’t understand.
So the two reasons are the affects of our sin and the depths of our sin keep us away from God and confession. That is to say that the tension is thick and the understanding is limited.
Let’s turn to Hebrews 4:14-16. It reads:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We understand priests to be those who made sacrifices for the people. You may remember that each day, a Jewish priest would take the animals from those who came to offer, and would butcher the animals, burn them, and make an offering of incense unto God on the people’s behalf. The priest served as a mediator who represented the sinner. Here, Christ is our High Priest who represents us in Heaven making His appeal to the Father on our behalf. Not only is He a priest but he is a sinless priest. He is the High Priest.
It can be the affects of our sin that tell us not to go before our Holy God. But, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us here, we have one who is going to God on our behalf. It says that we “have a high priest” who is “without sin.” He is our High Priest who is sinless and has no reason to be ashamed. He makes His appeal to the Father as our representative. That is to say that we can feel safe when we confess because God is dealing with His Perfect Son rather than His sinful child. When we are making our appeal to God it is not us making the appeal, but our great High Priest, Jesus, who is sinless, making an appeal as if it were his own. So our first reason, which is more an excuse, should no longer hinder us. We should not be afraid of confessing to our Holy God because His Holy Son is making His appeal on our behalf. God sees His son and not us.
It can also be the depths of our sin that tell us not to go before our Holy God. This was our second reason. And to this, Hebrews says, “we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses.” So if you can imagine the Son having the attention of the Father. The Father is listening to the Son as He makes an appeal on our behalf. This is the connection that the author makes between God the Father and the God the Son. They have a union and a relationship of love. The Son has the heart of the Father. This is picture set forth in Hebrews and the rest of Scripture.
There is another connection made here in Hebrews. It is one between us and the Son. And I like to think that we have the heart of the Son as He has the heart of the Father. So, as the Son listens to us, the Father listens to Him. We make our confession known and our Atoning Christ makes this confession to the Father. The Son, Jesus, sympathizes with us in our temptations. He understands. He pitites us like the King did the man in the parable.
So, I think that at least these two excuses are irrelevant. While they are real feelings, they are not realistic truths. That is to say that we may feel that way, but it is not the way it is. Yes, our sins cause tension. Yes, some sins have more severe consequenes and are more grave than others. But, when we are in the Son and the Son is in the Father. We have reason to believe based on what God has revealed to us and motivation to confess in prayer and be confident that our Lord will forgive.
Forgiveness is dear and near to the Lord’s heart. We have a High Priest who is sinless and who sympathizes with our frailties.
I wrote down this note to sum it all up. “God feels with us and not against us.” And I think that this was what the writer of Hebrews concluded. When he considered all that we have considered just now, this is what he wrote, “[that being true], let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”