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Forgiven, Forgotten


Guilt runs rampant in the body of Christ. Though you already know you often feel guilty, it's important that we say it, because you would be surprised how often we miss it. In fact most of my pastoral counseling is offered to people who feel guilty. I did my clinical training at the Harvard Experimental Hospital in Boston. In almost every patient, I found a significant problem with guilt.

Defining the problem

Right now, many of you are feeling guilty about one thing or another: what you said to your wife last night; the time you spanked your kids and they didn't deserve it; the lustful thoughts in your mind. Or maybe you did something years ago and nobody knows. If a great sign should be put over your head, telling the world what you'd done, you'd absolutely die. Maybe it's lying or cheating on your income taxes. Maybe it was a little thing, but it's eating away at you, making you feel anxious, hurt, down, or depressed. But if you are a believer, hear me: you don't have to feel that guilt.

The requirement for forgiveness

First, before I go a step further, I want to say something to the unbeliever. You should feel guilt, because you have yet to take care of your sin. But, let me offer a word of hope to you. I want you to note in our text that the hope of forgiveness has been extended to you—but with a requirement. Hebrews 10:14: "For by a single offering he [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." The word "sanctified" means "set apart unto God."

Every once in a while, someone will come to me and say, "Pastor, I've been trying to do some of the things you say when you teach the Bible, and they simply don't work." Now, the presupposition of my teaching is that every word of the Bible is absolutely true. If I'm faithful in my teaching of the Bible and it doesn't work, the problem is not in the Bible; the problem is you. Many times when somebody has said that to me, I later found out they simply were not in a relationship with Christ. No wonder it wouldn't work! A lot of people try to make Christian principles work before they become Christians. But there's always a prerequisite in the things Jesus gives to his disciples, and it is that you must be his disciple. Jesus said, "My peace I give unto you." He said, "These things I've said unto you that your joy might be full." He said, "If you believe in me, you're never going to die." He said, "In my Father's house are many mansions, and if it weren't so, I would have told you. I'm going to prepare a place for you. And if I'm going to prepare a place for you, I'm going to come again. I'm going to receive you unto myself." But these things don't apply to the world. They don't apply to your friend down the street, the man with whom you work, or the students in the same classroom where you study. They apply only to disciples.

A typical approach of what I would American folk religion is to take wisdom set apart for members of the kingdom and apply it to the world. That is why we get the trivial nonsense at funerals about people who don't even know Jesus "going to a better life." Don't you believe it! The promises of God are written for believers.

Did you hear about the man who asked a mail-order company to send plans for a birdhouse? Instead of sending him those plans, they sent him plans for a sailboat. He tried to put it together, but it just wouldn't work. He couldn't figure what kind of bird was going to live in this dumb birdhouse. So he wrote a letter and sent the parts back to the people. They wrote a letter of apology and added this post script: "If you think it was difficult for you, you should have seen the man who got your plans trying to sail a birdhouse." A lot of people are trying to operate on the plans of Christ when they aren't even Christians. A word of caution: make sure you know him before you apply the principles.

The reality of forgiveness

Second, I want you to note the reality of forgiveness. Hebrews 10:1 says, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship." That sounds complicated, but let me give a simple explanation. The writer is using the thought forms of Plato.

Many of you are familiar with Plato's famous cave myth: You are chained to a wall wearing blinders, so you see only the wall in front of you. People are walking above you and their shadows are being reflected down on that wall. You do that for years and years and years. After a while, you form a certain perception of reality. When you think of a person, would you think of a real person? No! You would think of a shadow—the shadow on the wall. That would become reality to you. Plato said that the problem with us is that what we see is only a shadow of reality. In other words, the lectern from which I preach is not a real lectern. It's an imitation of the idea of "lectern-ness"—which exists in reality somewhere.

In a very sly way, the writer of Hebrews translates God's Word into the thought forms of the time—the same way an evangelist singing in the mountains of North Carolina plays country and western or an evangelist speaking at Harvard Square uses the music of Bach. The write of Hebrews is saying the law was the shadow, not the reality. The sacrificial system was only the shadow. It pointed to something that was absolute and real in time and space. Reality began when Jesus was sacrificed for sin forever.

Consider this: If I'm really thirsty, one of the most arresting pictures I can see is the picture of a glass of water. If I'm really thirsty, I'd think how I would like to have that cold, pure water. I can imagine in my mind how it feels to drink the water. I might even think about going to get a drink of water. But that picture is not the reality. The reality is the actual drink of water. The writer of Hebrews is saying that we've been given a shadow. If you'd been a Jew reading the Book of Hebrews in the first century, you'd see the shadow as a reflection of the reality of the sacrificial system. The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world is the reality. John 8:36 says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Why is that? Because that's a reality. No sacrifice of a lamb or a goat ever made anybody pure. But that sacrifice pointed to the sacrifice—the sacrifice of Jesus on a cross, vicariously bearing the sins of many. When it pointed to that, Moses was saved the same way you are. Abraham was saved exactly the same way you are—by trusting in the blood of Christ.

The remedy of forgiveness

Third, I want you to note the remedy of forgiveness. The second half of Hebrews 10:9: "He [Jesus] sets aside the first to establish the second." I have a lawyer friend who told me that there's a technical legal term—novation—meaning a substitution of one for the other. That's what we're talking about here. God abolishes the first, the law, in order to establish the second, Christ. "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 9:10).

Listen carefully: forgiveness doesn't come cheap. Any time anybody forgives anybody anything, it costs somebody something. We think forgiveness is no big deal. Just say, "I forgive you." But it doesn't work that way. If I go over and punch someone in the nose, they are faced with a choice. They could say, "I'm going to get you," and flatten me out on the floor. But if they are walking with the Lord, they might say, "Steve, I forgive you." Now, when they say that, what did it cost them? It cost them a punch in the nose! Whenever forgiveness is exercised at any point, it costs somebody something. Your forgiveness cost God his Son. It didn't come cheap. Jesus Christ died in your place on a cross.

During the Middle Ages, sometimes very wealthy men—nobles—would hire some peon to go into battle in their place. Historians point out that on at least occasion, a noble was taken to court after the man he hired to fight for him was killed in battle the first day. The prosecution stated that he had not in reality gone to battle—that he had not taken the death arrow. Therefore, the nobleman should be required to go to battle. However, the court ruled that the nobleman was not required to go to battle because the man he had hired had gone to battle for him and had died for him. When the substitute died, legally the nobleman died. When the substitute served his time in battle, legally, he served the nobleman's time in battle. That's not a perfect analogy, but you can begin to see what Christ did for you. Christ said: I'm going to take your place. You should be the one hanging on the cross, but I'm going to take your place. You deserve it, and I don't. It's going to cost me, but I'm going to take your place.

A Christian is never flippant about sin. I'll tell you why: we know what it cost. Jesus Christ died in our place on the cross.

Reliability of forgiveness

Fourth, I want you to note the reliability of forgiveness. Hebrews 10:12-13: "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool." When I was in seminary, I got an A on a directed study course—an exegetical study of the Sermon on the Mount. I should have gotten a C. Let me tell you why: Somebody told me that since I hadn't seen this professor in the directed study, he was going to flunk me out of the class. I got scared. I sat down and put a bunch of books on the subject on our dining room table. I wrote an 80-page paper in five hours, and I handed it in to the professor. The professor was so busy, and so impressed with 80 pages, that he didn't read it. He gave me an A. Now, when he gave me the A, did I go back to him and say, "You ought to read that paper, because though it was long, it really wasn't that good"? No! I accepted the A. Why? Because the one in authority had given me that A. It's the same way with Jesus Christ. If I tell you you're forgiven, that doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But if he tells you that you're forgiven, you are forgiven. After all, he's the king at the right hand of the Father. His enemies are his footstool. When he says it, you're forgiven. You can say you don't deserve it, but it doesn't make a difference. He says you're forgiven. You can say you're not very good, but it doesn't make a bit of difference. He says you're forgiven. You can say you haven't done anything to earn it, but it doesn't make a bit of difference. The one in authority has declared you forgiven and free. It's an abomination to God to say you're not forgiven.

The reach of forgiveness

Fifth, I want you to note the reach of forgiveness. My favorite verse in this whole text is Hebrews 10:14: "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Here are the most magnificent words in the entire world: Christ has perfected me. He has perfect you, if you're a believer. That's an exciting verse! In the single offering of himself, Jesus didn't say, "I'm going to forgive you of your past sins, and you've got to make it on your own from now on." He didn't say, "I realize you're a bad person. I'm going to forgive you of what you're doing right now, but after this, you'd better be clean, or you're going to be in bad trouble." He said he is going to take all the past, all the present, and all the future, and forgive it all.

I once heard Corrie ten Boom say, "God takes our sins—the past, present, and future—and dumps them in the sea and puts up a sign that says 'No Fishing.'" But Christians run around fishing all the time. A man came into my study not too long ago. His daughter was going to marry a young man he didn't like. He said, "If my daughter marries that man, I'll disown her." I said, "You don't mean that. You love her. Let me tell you something, sir. My daughters can't do anything that will cause me to disown them. Nothing. There is absolutely nothing in this world that Robin and Jennifer can do that will ever cause me to disown them." What have I done? I've forgiven them their past. They're still my daughters. I've forgiven them their present. They're still my daughters. And no matter what they do in the future, they will still be my daughters and will still be forgiven.

The reminder of forgiveness

Finally, I want you to note the reminder of forgiveness. Look at Hebrews 10:3: "But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins." Contrast that with verse 17: "Their sins and lawless acts, I will remember no more." In the third verse, the writer of Hebrews is saying something interesting. Every time the priest makes his trek up to offer a sacrifice for human sin, what do the people remember? Their sin. And they are reminded that because of their depravity, the priest will have to make that journey again an again, week after week, sacrifice after sacrifice.

A woman once came to me about something she had done fifteen years before. It was pretty bad. Her husband told her, "I want you to know I forgive you totally." She said, "I know he's forgiven me, because every week of my life, he tells me he's forgiven me." That's what the writer of Hebrews is saying about the sacrificial system in verse 3. The journey of the priest was a reminder of sin. In verse 17, though, note the difference. God remembers no more. The sacrifice of Christ is not a reminder of your sin but a reminder of your forgiveness.

A nun once confessed to her bishop that Christ had revealed himself to her in person. The bishop was surprised, but he knew this nun and the deep walk she had with the Lord. So he said to her, "Look, the next time he reveals himself to you in person, ask him about the sins of the archbishop, because I'd like to know some of the bad things that's he's been doing." Because he was her confessor, the nun said that she would act in obedience and do exactly that. A number of weeks later she came back. The bishop said, "Well, did he reveal himself to you?" She said, "Yes." "Did you do what I told you to do? Did you ask about the sins of the archbishop?" She said, "Yes, I did." The bishop said, "What did he say?" The nun replied, "He said, 'I don't remember.'"

A woman once told me she had gone to a Bible study. In that Bible study, the teacher said, "Did you ever try to hug a stiff kid? That's why we have so many problems in our life." Those of you working in youth ministry know what it's like. A teenager can be stiff if they're really ticked or rebellious. You try to hug them, but you might as well forget it. "That's why God doesn't want us to be stiff," she said. The woman then added that right after the Bible study, she had babysat a little 2-year-old who had been playing in the mud all day. She said, "When I walked into his room, he reached up to be hugged. You know what that taught me? It taught me that it's a whole lot easier to hug a dirty kid than it is a stiff kid."


You're probably dirty tonight. That's what it means to be fallen in a fallen world. But listen, Christian, you're forgiven at a great price. Remember the forgiveness, not the sin.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Steve Brown is president and radio teacher for "Key Life," professor of preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando, Florida, and author of Approaching God.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Defining the problem

II. The requirement for forgiveness

III. The reality of forgiveness

IV. The remedy of forgiveness

V. Reliability of forgiveness

VI. The reach of forgiveness

VII. The reminder of forgiveness