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Holy Saturday

“Unforgivable” book

March 30, 2024

We spend a lot of time preparing for things. We practice and rehearse. No athlete runs a race or throws a ball without first spending hours and days preparing, training, and practicing. No musician plays a note until he learns and prepares the music, tunes his instrument, and warms up.

Without preparation, the best we can do is instinctively react and barely keep up. Lack of preparation costs winning games, throws off rhythm, and may even cost us pain, broken limbs, scrapes, and cuts.

Well, when it comes to proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, it is no different. We must prepare.

You don’t know what the reaction to the proclamation may be, and you cannot simply react impulsively should a person not respond as you expect.

So, first things first. In preparing to proclaim forgiveness, you must understand yourself and this includes your limits, your knowledge, and your own sinful nature.

See, we human beings are quite good at pointing out the sins of others. And please understand that pointing out the sins of others isn’t necessarily wrong. Jesus doesn’t say, “don’t try to pick the speck out of your brother’s eye,” no, but He says, “FIRST remove the log from your own eye so that you can more rightly pick the speck out of your brother’s.” This sort of gets into that whole “Don’t judge me” mentality of modern society. See, Jesus never forbids “judging” or calling sinners to repentance, He never once forbids this. He does forbid hypocritical or prideful judging, and He certainly says we should not bother judging the unbelieving world.

So, Before you can proclaim forgiveness…before you can approach a person or persons and say, “You have wronged me, but I forgive you,” you must first look at yourself in the mirror of God’s law and recognize your own sins and shortcomings. Because when prideful sin gets in the way, forgiveness will always be weaponized, it’ll become contingent and with limits and restrictions; it’ll never truly be forgiveness.

Jesus teaches us that we must first examine ourselves before we go about examining others, calling them to repent and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. And yes, repentance must be part of the conversation in some way, shape, or form. A person running headlong toward a bottomless pit isn’t going to stop running no matter how many times you say, “I forgive you.” Sometimes it’s important to tell the person, “Stop, turn around, that’s a bottomless pit!”

So, as you prepare to proclaim forgiveness of sins, be sure to know yourself, your limits, your own sins and shortcomings, so that you approach the sinner to be forgiven with humility, as a servant to a master and not as a lord to a slave. St. Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” and this is precisely how our Christian life should be and this includes our proclaiming forgiveness.

Secondly, understand that not everyone is going to receive your proclamation. It may be that a person refuses to repent, it may be that a person refuses to be forgiven, it may be that a person doesn’t believe he can be forgiven, that his sin is too great.

Understanding yourself and your own sins is most important, but understanding the mind and the heart of the other person is a close second.

Imagine sitting in the waiting room of a hospital ER and you hear part of a conversation between a doctor and a patient in a room across from you. The doctor tells the patient that he will have to lose his leg because of the car accident he was in. The patient screams very loudly, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, my leg is fine, don’t you dare mess with it, don’t judge my leg, I want to leave.” What would you think? Well without a bit more context, it’d be hard to conclude much, but likely you’d think that the patient has got some issues, not only in his leg, but in his head, and that the doctor is just doing his job and trying to save his life.

Well, believe me when I say that when you approach a person, even with humble intent and with the hope of proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, that person may not want to lose his dying leg; that person may not want to repent.

Does a person who refuses to acknowledge his sin and refuses to humble himself, does that person need the Law of God or the Gospel? Well, the person doesn’t believe he needs forgiveness so what good would the gospel do him? Instead, he needs the law; he needs to hear that his continued sinning will lead to eternal death and that he must repent.

We see this in the Scripture all over the place. Christ our Lord, as He interacts with the pharisees, He doesn’t preach the good news to them, but he warns them, often sternly, that their refusal to repent is leading to nowhere good. The rich young man who thinks he is righteous by his own works of keeping the commandments, Jesus gives him clear law when he shows him that he is actually a law breaker, and not as good as he thinks. The impenitent does not need the Gospel, he doesn’t not need forgiveness proclaimed, but he needs the Word of the Lord which shows him his sin and the consequences for his sin. You must know the person’s mind and heart, and you know his mind and heart by what he says and does.

On the other hand, the person who knows he needs his leg amputated, he will look to his doctor and say, “Do what you must to save my life,” even though it may be painful and hard, but he puts himself in his doctor’s care.

Likewise, a person who knows his sinfulness, who knows that he has done great sinning and harm to you or others, who even despairs from what he has said or done, that person does not in any way need the Law of God, but the pure Holy Gospel of Christ, the forgiveness of sins. As sinful people, we do get these things confused all too often, proclaiming the gospel to people who need to hear the law, and the law to people who need to hear the Gospel. Thanks be to God that Christ Jesus our Lord gets it right and teaches us how to get it right.

See, the Gospel is the good and great and assuring and comforting and enlivening news that God, the creator of all things, HE has forgiven you, HE no longer holds wrath against you, HE calls you His beloved child. And our goal should always be to preach this forgiving Gospel to all. What greater news is there than a loving God who sent His son to die so that we, the sinners, could be saved and brought back to a life in the way it is meant to be? We can never proclaim the forgiveness of sins enough! But we must proclaim it in the way it’s meant to be proclaimed, to hearts broken by sin and fear and not to prideful hearts who refuse to repent.

So, number one, remember that you are a sinner, and you must approach the person who has sinned against you with humbleness and gentleness. Number two, you must know the person you’re approaching, whether he needs the Law of God or the Gospel. Never proclaim the Gospel to the impenitent, the person who doesn’t think he needs it, and never proclaim the Law to the penitent, the person who is crying desperately for mercy. Know the person.

Finally, be patient. The unrepentant person may not repent of his sin for years. He may continue to live sinfully, deny that he’s doing anything wrong, build great walls of separation and cut ties with you for even mentioning that he’s sinning or that he’s hurt you. Be patient and wait on the Lord because it is the Lord who changes hearts, not your words or your tact, but the Lord. As you wait, pray for the person that God would draw him to repent and make him ready for the Gospel of forgiveness, and pray for yourself that you do not grow callused or indifferent as you wait.

It may be that the person never repents in your lifetime; there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s no magic words or no special song and dance you can do to change a person’s heart or mind. That’s God’s work alone.

Why some people simply refuse to repent of their sins and ultimately die in their sins, I don’t know. This is what is called the “crux theologorum,” the “cross of the theologian,” why some people are saved and brought to repentance, and others are not, we don’t know. And it’s sad, and as a pastor I get a very unique view of this sad reality.

But this reality shall not cause us to despair or lose hope. God is still saving sinners and calling sinners to repentance and faith even today and the Scripture says that until the last moment before the Day of judgment, he will continue to draw all people to Himself. He allows us to take part in His wonderful work of salvation and forgiveness, but it is His work to do.

But He calls us to do it right: know yourself and confess your sins; know the person to which you wish to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, whether he needs to hear the Law or the Gospel, and wait on the Lord in prayer and supplication.

For it is by this very means which the Lord has saved you. While you were still in your sin, Christ died for you. Amen.