Bishop Sandy Millar speaks of a time when he was walking along the beach and he noticed how the sand had been churned up by the footprints of those who had gone before him. The next morning the footprints were all wiped away by the sea. He sensed Jesus saying to him, ‘That is a picture of forgiveness.’ Or to use another analogy, forgiveness from Jesus Christ is like deleting the file of all the bad stuff in our lives. Forgiveness is never easy. We all know how hard it is to forgive others. However, we often assume that forgiveness from God is almost automatic. On her deathbed, the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796), said, ‘I shall be an autocrat: that’s my trade. The good Lord will forgive me: that’s his.’ In the passages for today we see the very high cost and huge blessing of God’s forgiveness. As P.T. Forsyth (1848–1921) pointed out, first, you have to know the ‘despair of guilt’. Then you can appreciate ‘the breathless wonder of forgiveness’.
Experience the relief of forgiveness
Do you ever find it difficult to forgive other people or even to forgive yourself for something you have done? The key to forgiving others and yourself is knowing how much God has forgiven you. Forgiven people forgive.
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.’ As far as forgiving yourself is concerned, he wrote, ‘If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than him.’
Through Jesus, God has made total forgiveness available to you and me. In this psalm, we see the huge difference that God’s forgiveness makes.
Release from the hand of judgment David describes the spiritual agony of not being forgiven: ‘My bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer’ (vv.3–4).
Transparency with God The route to forgiveness is simply to come to the Lord with no mask or pretence: ‘Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin’ (v.5).
A fresh start David describes the enormous blessing of knowing you are forgiven: ‘Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit’ (vv.1–2).
Imagine that in our diaries were recorded not just our engagements and meetings but also all our sins. The first two verses of this psalm give us three pictures of what God does with your sins. First, ‘the Lord does not count’ your sins against you (v.2). He acts as though they do not exist.
Second, they are ‘covered’ (v.1). It is as if God gets out his heavenly eraser and rubs out the sinful entries in your records: ‘Your slate’s wiped clean’ (v.1, MSG). Third, they are ‘forgiven’ (v.1a). Literally that word means ‘removed’ or ‘taken away’. The pages relating to your sins are ripped out and destroyed. ‘You get a fresh start’ (v.1, MSG).
The apostle Paul quotes this psalm as evidence that through the death of Jesus for you, God credits you with righteousness by faith and that forgiveness is not something that you can earn by good works (see Romans 4:6-8). Through the cross, God restores you to a right relationship with him. Therefore, you can pray to him (Psalm 32:6a). He becomes your ‘hiding-place’ (v.7a). He protects you from trouble (v.7b). He guides you (v.8) and his ‘unfailing love surrounds’ you (v.10).
This is not earned by good works. It comes to the person who trusts in him by faith (v.10). A proper understanding of the Old Testament shows that the path to forgiveness is repentance and faith.
Forgiveness is not a reason to sin – it is an incentive not to sin. We want to stay on God’s paths. He promises that he will guide you: ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you’ (v.8).
He does not want you to be difficult to guide like a horse or a mule that must be controlled by bit and bridle (v.9). He wants you to avoid the pain of resisting the Holy Spirit. Follow the promptings of God’s Spirit. He wants you to hear his voice daily, listen to his instruction, walk in his ways and trust in his love.
Lord, thank you that you died for me on the cross so that I can know the relief of forgiveness. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life… Please forgive me.
Thank Jesus for paying the price of forgiveness
Take time today to thank Jesus for dying for you. Jesus paid a very high price for our forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy, but Jesus made it possible.
1. Jesus did die on the cross for you
Sometimes people suggest that Jesus did not really die on the cross but recovered in the cool of the tomb.
However, Pilate checked that he was indeed ‘already dead’ (v.44a). The centurion who had overseen the crucifixion confirmed that Jesus was actually dead. Roman soldiers were experts at carrying out crucifixions. The centurion would also have faced severe punishment himself if he let a living prisoner go.
Joseph of Arimathea ‘took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock’ (v.46). Joseph would have noticed if Jesus was still alive and breathing. He would not have buried a living Jesus.
2. Jesus was ‘God-forsaken’ because of our sins
‘... darkness came over the whole land’ (v.33). Jesus cried out, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (v.34a). Mark retains the original Aramaic words of Jesus, which mean, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (v.34b). As we have seen, this is a quote from Psalm 22, which ends with a great victory (see BiOY Day 46).
3. Jesus opened the way for forgiveness and entry into the presence of God
The curtain of the temple (see in today’s Old Testament passage, Leviticus 24:3), which was what separated people from the presence of God, was torn in two supernaturally by God from top to bottom. It was sixty feet high and at least, one inch thick. The fact that it was torn from top down (where humans could not reach it) emphasises that it was God who caused it to be torn.
This symbolised the fact that through the death of Jesus you are given access to God, because your sins are forgiven. God credits you with righteousness and allows you and me the immense privilege of an intimate relationship with him.
Lord Jesus, thank you that ‘you loved me and gave [yourself] for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Thank you that I can now enter the presence of God with boldness and confidence in your name.
Understand that forgiveness is earned not by us but for us
We see in the Old Testament how seriously sin is taken. It is not a trivial matter. And forgiveness is not to be taken for granted.
Justice required an equivalence: ‘Life for life’ (24:18); ‘fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ (v.20). This was never intended for personal relationships but for the law courts to prevent escalating violence.
It showed the need of the appropriateness of a penalty for sin (incidentally, it was under this law of blasphemy, vv.10–16, that Jesus himself was condemned to death as we saw in Mark 14:64).
Again, we see Jesus’ death foreshadowed. Forgiveness of sins requires sacrifice; it requires a lamb. The lamb must be perfect, ‘without defect’ (Leviticus 23:12). St Paul describes Jesus as ‘our Passover lamb [who] has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Forgiveness cannot be earned. On the Day of Atonement, ‘atonement is made for you’ (Leviticus 23:28). It is not made by you but for you. This is the radical and revolutionary teaching of the whole Bible. When you understand how forgiveness is made possible through Jesus, it takes your breath away and it totally transforms your life. And when you know that you have received total forgiveness from God, you have to forgive others and you have to forgive yourself.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have set me free from all these Old Testament laws. Thank you that you are ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). Thank you that you made atonement for me. Thank you for the breathless wonder of your forgiveness that transforms my life and eternity.
At such a crucial moment in history, when Jesus is defeating the powers of darkness, all his disciples and many followers deserted him. But the women were there at the cross. What bravery and loyalty! In a culture where women seemed to be almost ignored, Jesus empowered them: ‘Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there’ (Mark 15:41). Women who are empowered by Jesus, united together, can change the world.
C. S. Lewis, *The Weight of Glory*, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001; Originally published 1949) p.158 C.S. Lewis, *Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis*, (Zondervan, 2007) p.1591 P.T. Forsyth (1848–1921) Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.