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Maundy thursday slide

Maundy Thursday
“Unforgivable” book
March 28, 2024

In the Christian church we talk a lot about forgiving others their sins, and it is good that we do, and it’s right that we do because the Christian faith is built on the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s giving of Himself for us by dying on the cross was for the forgiveness of sins. Sins forgiven is what makes us right with God because He does not see us as condemned creatures any longer, but because of the righteousness of Christ our Lord showered upon us, He now sees us as holy, righteous, sainted people, much as He saw Adam and Eve before the fall. The tree of life is open to us once again and we have eternal access to the heavenly kingdom.

This is the forgiveness of sins, so it is certainly good and right that we talk about forgiving others their sins, and we talk about it a lot. As Christ has forgiven us, we too must forgive others.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean no consequences. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we can keep doing the very things of which God and others forgive us. I think sometimes we confuse forgiveness with affirmation and acceptance of sinful living. It’s not the same thing, not at all. God forgiving you does not mean God accepts your sinful living. Sin is still sin and is still quite destructive and as God’s children we must fight against sin so that we are not enslaved to it once more.

No, forgiveness isn’t about avoiding earthly consequences – eternal consequences absolutely! Forgiveness changes our deserved outcome of condemnation by giving us the robe of Christ to wear and to depend on for our salvation. But earthly consequences may still remain. No, forgiveness does not give us permission to live sinfully and go about satisfying the old sinful nature. Instead, forgiveness gives us the freedom and a new heart and a new spirit so that we can fight against the old nature and, with the help of God, daily defeat him.

Yes, forgiveness is a wonderful, heavenly, gift from God and it is the single most wonderful gift to know that God forgives us our sins, but MAN how it breaks down when we learn that someone is unforgiving toward us, especially someone who claims to be a Christian.

And let’s just be honest about this. Each of us knows of people who confess to be Christian yet REFUSE to forgive, or they CONfuse forgiveness with, like I said, affirmation or acceptance of a person’s sinful behavior. Neither of these represents true, godly forgiveness. Jesus does not accept our sinful behavior and affirm it; Jesus FORGIVES us our sins and calls us to live according to His Word, to abide in Him.

Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant. His master forgave him of an unsurmountable pile of debt – he didn’t say it’s wasn’t really debt but he FORGAVE him OF the debt, but that same servant could not forgive a small amount of debt that a fellow servant owed him. What does Jesus say about forgiveness through this parable? He says that if you are not willing to forgive your brother from your heart, that you likewise will not be forgiven and the Lord will judge you accordingly. Pretty steep call isn’t it, that we must forgive others as God has forgiven us.

And again: Forgiveness of sins is not the same thing as saying to a person, “I don’t care what you do; live your life as you please; I won’t hold it against you.” That’s not forgiveness, that’s something else entirely. Sadly, however, in today’s Christian church, there is a lot of liberal theology floating around which basically says, “God is love,” and never calls sinners to repent, and instead seeks to affirm whatever choices people make in the name of “love.” They forget to read the rest of the book of 1 John. The first chapter calls believers to walk in the light of truth and not in the darkness of sin, the second chapter talks about fleeing from sin and not loving and living like the world. The third chapter talks about loving one another and forgiving one another. The “God is love” chapter, chapter 4, also says that a Christian is to love his neighbor as God loves him. Then the fifth chapter says we are to strive to keep the commandments of God because we love God and we do it out of love. Then it says, “Anyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning because the evil one has no power over him.” And all of this is within the context of forgiveness and God’s love.

See, that’s repentance. It’s not, “Hey, I’m a sinner, sure, but I’m gonna keep on sinning because I just don’t care about what God says.” If we love God and God dwells in us, then sin becomes our enemy, not our most closest friend. And when we do sin, we repent and God forgives and hopefully those whom we sin against also forgive us because they, too, have the love of God.

But here’s the thing: say you know a person who claims to believe in the love of God, but that person refuses to forgive you. Your being forgiven in heaven by God is not dependent on that person’s willingness to forgive. Your forgiveness is in Christ and He does not stop forgiving; His blood doesn’t stop covering your sin; He doesn’t stop being the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, including yours.

See, even if every person on the planet, Christian or otherwise, refuses to forgive you of some sin or sins, this doesn’t change anything for you. Jesus forgives you; God forgives you, and it is only in Him where lies your confidence and peace and hope and assurance.

If your brother or sister in Christ refuses to forgive you, then it is not you who needs repentance, it is your brother or sister who needs to repent.

And what I’m about to say is fundamentally important: God’s forgiveness of your sins is not in any way, at all dependent on you. You don’t need to “really mean it” when you say the confession of sins, and what does that really mean anyway? How much “really meaning it” is enough? We are sinners; we will never “really mean it” enough if forgiveness of our sins were based on how serious we were about it. Or when you come walking up to this rail, God’s giving you the forgiveness of sins in the body and blood of your Lord is not dependent on how serious you are or how righteous you think you are, how “into it” you are or any such thing.

See, God’s forgiveness of sins is true forgiveness without strings only because Christ has died for you. Your righteousness isn’t found in you, in your works, in your confession, and it’s not found in your acceptance of others. Your righteousness is found only in Christ.

Your peace isn’t found in whether or not others forgive you; your peace is in Christ who most certainly forgives you.

Your hope isn’t found in whether or not others forgive you; your hope is in Christ and His promises of eternal life.

Your freedom from sin and death isn’t found in others’ acceptance of you, forgiving you, liking you, or praising you. Your freedom from sin and death is found only in Jesus.

We are all sinners, and let’s just be honest, sometimes we have trouble forgiving others. Yes, God says that we must forgive others as He has forgiven us, and forgiving others should be our goal.

Today is Maundy Thursday, “Command Thursday,” and what is our Lord’s command? That we do as He did and be servants to all, forgiving sins, helping, loving, serving one another as Christ has served and forgiven us. And His words are not just suggestive; we are to forgive. But because of our sin, we do sometimes forgive imperfectly.

I wouldn’t get too caught up in the unforgiveness of an unbeliever. An unbeliever cannot forgive as God forgives; an unbeliever does not have the Spirit of Christ; he is unable and unwilling to forgive. Don’t lose sleep over it. Look to Jesus. If a believer, a Christian refuses to forgive you – whether you ask for it or not, it shouldn’t be contingent on that – trust deeply in Christ who forgives you and then pray for that person, that brother or sister in Christ, that Jesus bring about a spirit of forgiveness in that person’s life.

You may have hurt another person, deeply, everyone of has at some point, and even Christians may struggle to forgive you for it. Be patient, look to Jesus and rest in Him alone, and pray for your fellow believers that we would all learn to forgive as our Lord has forgiven us.

Of course, the other important part of this night is the institution of our Lord’s holy supper. What’s it for, who’s it for, who receives it worthily, who receives it to their judgment. Do we take 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 seriously when Paul talks about the body and blood being received in common union, common confession of faith, or do we just sort of gloss over it and say, “all are welcome”? Do we take Paul seriously when he warns us not to approach the altar of our Lord without first repentance and self-examination?

First, the Lord’s Supper is for believers, not unbelievers. We do not cast pearls to swine. Second, the Lord’s Supper is for those who confess a common faith in this congregation, not for those of a different confession, even if they’re Christian. Finally, the Lord’s Supper is for penitent sinners who long for God’s mercy, not people who don’t think they need mercy because they don’t think they they’re sinning.

See, while none of us deserves this holy meal, not one of us, and we’re certainly not entitled to it, it is offered and open to anyone who believes in our Lord’s Words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” So, if you come up here tonight as a sinner who knows the depth of your sin and need for mercy, and you believe that what you are receiving is the food of forgiveness, the true body and blood of Christ under the bread and wine, then you are worthy and prepared for this meal.

Even if you’re struggling with a sin such that you know it’s wrong and you repent of it, but it just keeps finding its way back into your life, if you believe in our Lord’s words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” then as the tax collector in Jesus’ parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, you are rightly prepared to receive.

Even if you are struggling to forgive the sin of another, and you know you must forgive, but how that person hurt you makes it so very hard. If you believe in your Lord’s words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” then you are rightly prepared to receive.

Because the only people who are not worthy to receive are those who do not confess with the church what big deal stuff is going on at this rail – the true, real, literal body and blood of Jesus given in, with, and under the bread and wine – and those who do not think they need forgiveness or who do not want forgiveness, vis a vis, the impenitent.

As the church we have the “communicant member” status to help with the first one, that we teach people and prepare them before they can receive by teaching them all the doctrines of the faith as confessed in this congregation, and we also have confession and absolution to assure the second one, not that we do private confession and absolution anymore, but if we did, it would most certainly minimize the possibility of someone receiving God’s judgment at the rail rather than His mercy.

In the ancient, long-running practice of private confession and absolution, every individual member who wanted to commune would first meet with the pastor in private to confess sins and the pastor would absolve him. If the person told the pastor he wasn’t sinning or that he didn’t care if he was sinning, the pastor would not absolve him, and he would not be permitted to commune UNTIL he confessed and was absolved.

But like a lot of good things lost in the early to mid-20th century, this practice was also abandoned, and the “corporate confession and absolution” took prominence. That’s okay, but the potential trouble with corporate confession and absolution is its tendency to be scandalized; it becomes a boring formality, something to get through quickly, or a magic mantra that, if said in a “I really mean it” way, it makes God happy.

But whether it’s corporate confession or private confession, it’s not about “making God happy” or checking off the “I did my good deed of the day” box, but it’s about being honest with God and yourself, about hearing yourself say, “I am a poor, miserable sinner, and I need God’s mercy; I need help or I will be condemned forever,” and acknowledging your sin and transgressions and shortcomings, and your complete dependency on God. Not a popular way of thinking in this staunch, individualistic, western American ethos, but it is the truth none the less.

You are a sinner, and if you continue to live in your sin and treat it as your best friend, you will die. And believe me when I say this holy supper would not do you any good if you are in such a state but would only add to your troubles.

Instead, repent of your sin, look deep into that heart of yours and see the corruption going on, and fall on your knees confessing your sin and cry out for God’s mercy and He will most certainly give it without holding back; He will forgive you in full, no strings. Because Christ has died and taken the sin of the world with Him.

Forgiveness of sins. It is at the center of it all. Christ, the Lamb of God, He came to take away the sin of the world. His death accomplished this completely. Forgiveness from God does not require anything special from you; you do not earn His forgiveness by good works or self-righteous acts. Christ has earned it fully for you and it is received by faith when you repent of your sins and cling to His mercy.

You, in turn, should learn to consider God’s commandments not as burdens but as things done out of true love for God and neighbor; you should forgive others, serve others, and always consider others more important than yourself.

When a person refuses forgive you, trust in God’s mercy, hold fast to His promises, and take comfort in His grace because it is only God’s eternal forgiveness that gives you life eternal. And then turn and pray for that unforgiving person that he would repent and believe. Amen.