We are continuing in a sermon series on the Miracle of Mercy. Today we’re going to talk about something that promises to bring freedom to every part of your life, to every relationship in your life. We’re going to take a close look at the mercy of forgiveness. By God’s mercy we are forgiven. God’s forgiveness is what sets us free from the power of sin and death, and it is made possible through Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus teaches that forgiveness has two sides to it. It’s like a coin. On one side of the coin is God forgiveness toward us and on the other side of the coin is our forgiveness toward others. Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. [now here’s what I want you to really hear] And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.’” (Matthew 6:9-12) That’s the two sided nature of the mercy of forgiveness. We want God to forgive us and he wants us to forgive others.
Jesus taught that the miracle of mercy brings freedom into our lives in two specific ways. God sets us free by forgiving us and we set others free by forgiving them, which ends up setting us free as well. When we forgive others we are set free from having to get even. We are set free from having to remember and keep score. We are set free from seeking revenge. We are set free from the anger and resentment that comes from feeling we have been wronged. This freedom is made possible by God’s miracle of mercy toward us and through us toward others. Mercy is defined as “undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness.” Mercy is what God shows us when he forgives us and mercy is what we are to show to others by forgiving them. Let’s look closer at THE TWO SIDES TO MERCY.
THE FIRST SIDE F MERCY IS THIS: IT MEANS GOD FORGIVES US. That’s really good news. In fact, that’s the best news we’re ever going to hear. God forgives us and because of his forgiveness we have a fresh start. Because of his forgiveness we have a clean slate. Because of his forgiveness the debt we owe to God because of our sin is removed. His forgiveness sets us free from the power of sin and death. We have freedom, and that freedom is not just for this life, but also for the life to come. It’s an eternal freedom. There is no better news than that. It’s the best possible news we’ll ever get. The problem is we get used to hearing it. We take it for granted. We’ve heard it so many times it doesn’t have the meaning it once had. Forgiveness isn’t merely a theological truth. It’s a personal gift. It’s a gift from God because of the miracle of mercy and it’s the best renewable resource ever.
Let’s look at some aspects of God’s forgiveness that we often fail to realize. First of all, GOD WANTS TO FORGIVE YOU. He’s not obligated to forgive you. He’s not forced to forgive you. He’s not somehow required to forgive you. Nobody pressures him to forgive you. He does so because he wants to. The Bible says, “You are a God of forgiveness, always ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and full of love and mercy.” (Nehemiah 9:17) That’s God’s nature. That’s his basic character. God wants to forgive you. And he’s always ready to forgive us. My mentor, John Gerstner would always say, “He stands ready to forgive you.” God is not reluctant to forgive. He loves to forgive. He is full of mercy and it overflows from him. Unlike us, he doesn’t harbor resentment. He doesn’t hang on to his anger. The Bible says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)
Here’s another thing: GOD FREELY FORGIVES YOU. You can’t buy his forgiveness. You can’t earn God’s forgiveness. It’s a gift freely given to you. The Bible says, “All of us have sinned… yet now God declares us ‘not guilty’ of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who freely takes away our sins.” (Romans 3:23-24)
It may be free to us, but it was not free to Jesus. It cost him his life. He purchased our salvation with his life. He paid the price that we could not pay. That’s what the cross of Christ is all about. And because we are all guilty of disobeying God’s will we are all in need of forgiveness. It is our greatest need. And it is God’s greatest gift to us. Why would anyone refuse God’s gift of forgiveness? I suppose one reason is they don’t know about it. You can’t receive something you don’t know about. That’s why it’s so important for us to tell others about God’s love and forgiveness. Another reason is because they don’t believe it. It sounds too good to be true. But Jesus’ death on the cross proves it.
Some people don’t receive God’s gift of forgiveness because they don’t think they deserve it. “It there is a God, how could he possibly forgive me?” Because he wants to! No one deserves his forgiveness. There’s not a single person sitting here today who deserves God’s forgiveness. If you’re sitting here thinking God couldn’t possibly forgive you, you’re wrong. Look around you. You think all at all the nice church people sitting here today. I have news for you. They’re not nearly as nice as you think they are. I’m not kidding. The truth is we all have our stories. We all have our secret sins. We all struggle. But here’s the good news: God’s forgiveness is greater than any sin. It’s greater than any past. God freely offers you forgiveness. Not one of us deserves it. That’s why it’s called a gift. And it’s a gift God wants us to experience. He wants us to enjoy it. The Bible says, “In him we enjoy this freedom—the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:14)
Here’s something else about mercy. It means GOD IMMEDIATELY FORGIVES YOU. The moment you trust in him for forgiveness, he immediately forgives you. He doesn’t hesitate. God will never say, “You know that sin of yours, that was pretty bad. I think I’ll let you suffer for a while before I forgive you.” No. God immediately forgives you, the moment you ask and believe. I had an elder in one of my churches who never should have been an elder because he just didn’t get how God forgives us in the same way we forgive others. My son was about twelve and he corrected this man about something in public and this man blew up at my son. My son came to me sobbing. I tried to comfort him, but he was crushed. I assured him it was ok, but he needed to ask the man for forgiveness. So the next day at church he privately asked the man for forgiveness. The man said, “I’m not ready to forgive you.” That man should never have been an elder. He didn’t get it. God immediately forgives us when we ask and we are to do likewise. The Bible says, “God is merciful and quick to forgive.” (Isaiah 55:7) When we blow it by disobeying God’s will, he doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt and shame. He wants us to run to him, confess our sins and know that we are immediately forgiven.
There’s one more thing about God’s mercy and it’s my favorite. GOD COMPLETELY FORGIVES YOU. His forgiveness covers everything you’ve ever done. He totally forgives you. The Bible says, “God forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14) The record of your sins had been stamped PAID IN FULL. It can no longer be held against you. Your debt has been satisfied. God is never going to bring it up again and use it against you. God has absolutely and totally erased the record of your sins. The Bible says, “You will have mercy on us again; you will conquer our sins. You will throw away all our sins into the deepest part of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) They are irretrievable. God is not going to bring them up again. If God has forgiven you completely, you need to forgive yourself completely and put your sins behind you, far behind you, so far behind you that they can never be brought up again. Until you recognize that God has completely forgiven you, you’ll want to hide from God. You’ll want to avoid the presence of God. But when you realize you are forgiven completely, that frees you up to enjoy the presence of God. The Bible says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13) Mercy forgives.
THE SECOND SIDE OF MERCY IS THIS: IT MEANS WE ARE TO FORGIVE OTHERS. We are to forgiven them in the same way that God forgives us. We are to want to forgive them. We are to freely forgive them. We are to immediately forgive them. We are to completely forgive them. We can only forgive like God when we know we are forgiven by God. When we don’t feel forgiven, it makes it really hard to forgive others. But when we understand the mercy of God and how he forgives us, we are set free to forgive others.
Another reason we struggle with forgiveness is because we don’t really understand what it is. First of all, FORGIVENESS IS NOT CONDITIONAL. We can forgive someone without their asking for it. It’s better when they do. Then we know they know what they did wrong. It’s good when they do because it promotes healing. It also shows you and the offender that growth is happening. Confession is important. Confession is good for the soul. But God forgives us before we ask and we are to do the same. Forgiveness should not be conditional. The Bible says, “Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Why are we to forgive others unconditionally? Because that is how God forgives us. His unconditional forgiveness is an expression of his unconditional love. And when we forgive like God, we become like God—full of love and mercy. I’d rather be filled with love and mercy than bitterness and anger. That’s what will fill us when we only forgive conditionally. Bitterness and anger will keep us from healing. It will keep us from the freedom we were meant to have. It will keep us from being a witness in the world to the love and mercy of God. It will carry over into our relationships, especially our relationship with God. We won’t be able to trust and enjoy the unconditional nature of God’s forgiveness when we fail to show it to others.
Another misconception about forgiveness is this: FORGIVENESS IS NOT FORGETTING. You can forgive without forgetting. I know we’ve all been told FORGIVE AND FORGET. But it’s not necessary and sometimes it’s not wise to forget what others have done. Sometimes we can’t forget the pain and suffering others have caused us. The good news is we can still forgive them even though we can’t forget what they have done. Forgiveness is not forgetting. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.” (2nd Timothy 4:14-15) Don’t miss what is happening here. Paul has forgiven Alexander the metalworker for the painful shackles he put him in. But he hasn’t forgotten the experience and he warns Timothy to avoid him. We know he forgave him by the way he says, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” That’s what it means to forgive. We give up our right to get even and entrust the person to the Lord, who says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)
Another misconception that makes it hard to forgive others is this: FORGIVENESS IS NOT TRUSTING. It is not the same thing as trusting the person who has harmed you. You can forgive them without trusting them to treat you any differently in the future. Paul forgave the metalworker, but he wasn’t going to trust him anytime in the near future. He even warned Timothy so that Timothy could warn all his converts to steer clear of Alexander. Trust is something that must be rebuilt and that takes time. When we forgive someone, it doesn’t mean we trust them again unless we have reason to trust them. And that may or may not ever happen. We can still let go of our right to get even and entrust them to the Lord.
That is what forgiveness is. FORGIVENESS IS RELEASING THE OFFENDER to the Lord and relinquishing the right to get even. That’s when you start to heal from the pain someone caused you. Revenge doesn’t bring healing. Paying back evil for evil doesn’t bring you healing. Harboring resentment doesn’t bring you healing. Refusing to forgive doesn’t bring healing. It just keeps the wound open and festering. It will take you to places you don’t want to be. You’ll find yourself saying things you never wanted to say and doing things you never wanted to do. When you hold on to hurt it becomes hate. It will make you a person you didn’t want to be. Only through forgiveness can we heal and move on with our lives.
On the evening of June 17, 2015 a young man full of hate walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and shot to death nine worshippers. At the arraignment a few days later a host of folks from the church, together with family members of the deceased, showed up and expressed the kind of forgiveness we aren’t used to seeing. Nadine Collier whose mother was killed said to the perpetrator, “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but …I forgive you.” You see, Nadine understood God’s mercy and mercy forgives. With forgiveness comes healing and without it there is no healing.
The New York Times reporter covering the event wrote, “It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another of the victim’s family members offered lessons on forgiveness; testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief.” And a writer from the Wall Street Journal called her response a miracle.
It was a miracle—a miracle of mercy. It sparked healing all over the state. For ten years there had raged a battle over the Confederate flag flying over the state capital and within days of this event it was taken down. Instead of sparking more violence and hatred, their words of forgiveness lead to healing and it united the people of Charleston. That’s the power of forgiveness. We receive that power to forgive from the Lord. It is evidence of God’s mercy at work within us. The Bible says, “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13)
It’s interesting to me that the only place the Lord tells us to go and do likewise is at the end of his story of the Good Samaritan. He says, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? “The one who showed him mercy,” replied the expert in the law. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37) The point of this story is not that we all go around looking for people beat up and left for dead on the side of the road. The point is that we are to show mercy to others. And MERCY FORGIVES.