December 14, 2003: What Does It Mean To Be Forgiven?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we anticipate Your coming in the manger, we also anticipate the reason for that coming—to save our souls. This cold, cruel world has taught us that salvation of the body is meaningless unless and until the inner human, the soul, is also at peace and rest. Lord, you give such eternal peace and rest to us through Divine forgiveness for our sins. You purchased such eternal rest to our souls by offering up Your own body and soul for us on the cross. Lord, may each of us celebrate that forgiveness and never take it for granted. Amen

TEXT: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Waiting On The Savior:
A guilty conscience is never a good thing. And a guilty conscience stems from sin which has not been taken away. People come to church for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a guilt-ridden conscience. As I ponder those of you in attendance this morning, I’m also aware of the inner pain that you all experience. I’ve been your pastor for over 16 years. During that time many, if not all of you, have talked to me about sins you’ve committed and the guilt you carry around. Some of you have committed adultery, others have stolen, and still others have allowed frustration with another human being to spill over into a grudge. Some of you carry the burden of being unloving fathers or mothers toward your children. Still others mourn the past alienation from their parents—whom are long dead.

We cannot go back in time and redo the past. We cannot take back words spoken in anger or hatred. All any of us can do is learn from our past mistakes and put the pain they bring behind us. But, how do we do that? The answer is: we don’t! Instead, Christ does it for us through the Christmas gift of Godly forgiveness. Today is the “happy” Sunday of Advent, the day of jubilation. Yes, we can and should be jubilant, too, because the baby Jesus has come to take our inner pain away. With that in mind, I want to ponder this question:


First off, forgiveness means relief! Listen to the glorious words of the prophet Zephaniah and soak in the relief they bring. “Sing, O Daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.”

The daughter of Zion is an adjective for the Holy Christian Church. Israel is another name for the holy people of God—the Church. The daughter of Jerusalem is also another synonym for the Bride of Christ—the Church—you and me. Zephaniah reminds us here that we can sing, shout for joy, and rejoice. He reminds us that we don’t have to live in the past by continually carrying the weight of guilty conscience around. We’re free! We’re forgiven by God! For in Jesus God came to earth to take away our sins. He came to suffer our punishment in our place. That’s what happened when He died on the cross for you and me.

Remember when Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you because my yoke is easy and my burden is light?” His yoke is forgiveness. His burden is the truth that God has wiped away every single bad thing you’ve ever thought, said, or done. He wiped it all away with Christ’s blood. Today, right now, you and I stand before God totally clean and pure. Before His throne we carry no guilt. We carry no shame. For “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” as the Bible says. In view of that fact, how can you not be relieved?


“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hand limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.”

What does it mean to be forgiven? It also means joy! A guilty conscience breeds fear. Fear of failure, fear over being found out as a hypocrite, fear of that little voice inside which says: “Judgement is coming.” Well, my friends, judgement has come. God punished Christ in your place. Which also means judgement for you is gone. Without forgiveness our hands hang limp, as our text says. That is, we may put up a good front to the world, but inside we’re weak and listless. Why is it that we often fail to speak out against evil when we see it? Why is it that we’re silent when others mock Christmas, promote abortion on demand, or announce that gay marriage is now o.k. because the world has evolved? I’ll tell you why. We’re silent and weak because we feel the weight of our own sins and feel hypocritical when judging the sins of others. We feel that if we tell them they are wrong, they will tell us where we’re wrong. So, we do nothing.

The visible Christian Church today speaks with a faltering voice because most within her ranks don’t know what forgiveness really is! Most hope for some inner solace. Most would welcome such inner peace. But, most really do not embrace the baby Jesus as their personal Savior from sin. And as a result they have no joy.—But you do! Jesus is mighty to save. None of us is perfect, we’re just forgiven. But with that forgiveness comes joy. Joy that wants to announce to the world: “I am weak, but He has made me strong!”

IIIAnd with such forgiveness comes both commitment and confidence. Christmas is all about God’s commitment to us. He committed Himself to taking on our frail flesh and carrying our worry, doubt, and inner pain. He carried it all to the cross and left it nailed there, too. Yes, Jesus is our Savior! And because of His glorious work of making us joyous from the inside out, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

His commitment to us breeds confidence. Through faith in Jesus you know that heaven is your home. You know that humans can hurt you, but God cannot and will not. You know that God doesn’t hold a grudge against you. And since you know all that, now you can live it. Now you can begin each day without fear over some past sin that will come back to haunt you. And you can end each day with the confident joy that once more God has worked all things out for your good.

What’s a clean conscience worth? What’s a good night’s sleep without inner warfare worth? What’s a happy heart worth? Embrace the baby Jesus by giving Him your sins and receiving His forgiveness and you’ll discover the blessed answer! Amen