“Back to the basics: The forgiveness of sins”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
It was a perfect, sunny day, on Saturday, February 1st of 2020, as seven children were taking a walk down their quiet, suburban street in Sydney, Australia to get some ice cream for a cousin’s thirteenth birthday. But what should have been an innocent and enjoyable outing suddenly turned into tragedy. For that’s when a driver, high on alcohol and drugs, driving three times the legal speed limit, veered off the road and hit them.
When their parents, Danny and Leila Abdallah, arrived a few minutes later, they said it was like entering the aftermath of a war zone. Three of their six children were dead, (half of their family!), along with one of their nieces--their small, fragile, delicate bodies almost unrecognizable--a scene, they said, that couldn’t have been scripted in a horror movie. They didn’t know which one to turn to first.
And as police and paramedics and fire engines arrived, they put crime scene tape up and pushed them out of the way. And from far away, they saw them cover first one and then another and then another, until four of the children were hidden beneath white sheets. In their hearts, they said to God, “This is bigger than we are. We surrender it to You.”
Four lives lost. Two families shattered. An extended family devastated. A community in disbelief and a nation in mourning.
So what would you do if you were Danny and Leila Abdallah? Would they take the path of destruction or the path of construction? Would they choose to numb their pain with drugs and alcohol or would they embrace their pain? It was a nearly impossible decision to make.
So what did they do? They chose to forgive. They said: “We forgive the driver that killed our innocent children. Though his actions will be met before the earthly and the heavenly judge, we have decided in our hearts to forgive him--for our sake, for our children’s sake, and more so, for Christ’s sake. No matter the pain or despair, God will be a safeguard through this dark valley. He is in control, and eternity sits in the palm of His divine hand.” And they said, “Finally, and most striking of all, the Cross brings compassion.”
The book of Colossians chapter 1 talks about forgiveness too. This is what it says: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14).
It’s been said that, throughout all of Christian history, the Apostles’ Creed has never been just a series of propositions to be believed in our heads, but as precious truths that comfort and console our hearts. It’s a soothing balm for weary and hurting souls.
And less like the blueprint of a house, and more like the house itself, the Creed is a place of refuge from the trials and troubles of this world. It’s a blaze of fire giving warmth and light to the whole house, confessing and acknowledging a belief in God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--and all that He has done for us. There’s really nothing quite like it in all the world.
And nowhere is that more evident or more profound than in our words today: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.”
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “Although the grace of God is secured through Christ…on account of our flesh we are never without sin…yet though we have sins, the grace of the Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other.”
And all this is found in words as simple as these: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.”
It’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it--forgiveness of sins. It’s something you won’t find in any other religion in the world.
Take Islam, for example. The only way for a Muslim to become righteous is if he prays, fasts, obeys all the teachings of the Quran and gives to the poor. And even then, Allah may or may not have mercy. In fact, the Quran teaches that everyone, both the righteous and the unrighteous, must first go to hell before they can even hope to go to heaven (Quran 19:67-72).
Even Muhammad himself couldn’t be sure he was saved! That’s why, whenever Muslims say his name, they always add the words, “Peace be upon him.”
And while we Christians talk about sin and salvation, Hindus believe in karma and rebirth. And the only way to achieve moksha, (that’s their word for salvation), is to have your soul travel from one body to another and to another, over a long period of lifetimes, all the time hoping your good deeds will outweigh your bad ones, until finally you are free--what they call a “blissful awareness of body and mind.”
And Buddhism isn’t any better. For them, salvation comes only when we awaken our true nature, our Buddha nature. And only then can we go from bad to good and turn violence into compassion.
So how amazing it is for us to say in the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.”
But in our world today, sin doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore.
Remember Hugh Hefner? Sure you do. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine. When a reporter asked him how many girlfriends he had, he answered, “Six.” He said, “It’s just like an ordinary relationship times six. A lot of single guys and women date more than one person. The only thing that’s different there is that we do whatever we’re going to do together. It’s very nice.” “Makes it like a little family,” he said.
Or how about Heidi Fleiss? Now fifty-six years old, she once ran a rather lucrative business back in the 1990s, making her first million dollars in only four months. She said, “I took the oldest profession on Earth and I did it better than anyone on Earth. Alexander the Great conquered the world at 32. I conquered it at 22.”
As one author wrote, “Instead of killing our sin, we feed it. Instead of loathing our sin, we love it. And instead of destroying our sin, we desire it. And the result? We belittle the cross and deceive ourselves.” And he said, “The quickest way to lose the wonder of the gospel is to lose sight of the depth of our sin.”
In the words of an eleventh-century pastor named Anselm of Canterbury, “You have not yet considered the heavy weight sin is.”
What does the Bible say about sin? It says it’s lawlessness, rebellion, transgression, evil, missing the mark. It’s treason against God.
Isaiah wrote: “We are all unclean, and all our righteous deeds are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Paul wrote: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And John wrote: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
What started so small with a man and a woman and a forbidden tree, soon turned the world upside down. Think of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers.
And it certainly didn’t end there. Every single problem we face in this world today--divorce, broken homes, violence, poverty and international tension--every one is a direct consequence of sin. What was once so beautiful has become nothing more than a hostile world full of danger.
And what are the consequences of sin? Solomon wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name, “O. Henry,” told the story about a young man who went away from his village to a large city. In the village, he had been brought up in the innocence of a good home and a good school. But in the city, he had taken to petty crime, becoming a fast pickpocket and an arrogant man. And as the years passed, he became rather proud of himself.
Until one day, just after he had done another smooth job of picking a pocket, by chance, he happened to notice a girl.
But she wasn’t just any girl. She was one from the old village days he had sat next to in school, whom he had known and loved--a childhood crush. And though she didn’t see him, he saw her, just as fresh and innocent as she had been when he had known her in the village.
And taking a long look at her and then at himself and his cheap and tawdry crimes, he leaned his forehead against the coolness of an iron lamppost and said, “Oh, how I hate myself.”
So where can hope be found? It’s found in the Son of Joseph and Mary, the One they named, “Jesus,” because He would save His people from their sin.
He’s the One who said to a man lying paralyzed at His feet, “Your sins are forgiven,” who took bread and wine at His Last Supper and said, “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and who, when He died on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“I believe…in the forgiveness of sin.”
As most of you will remember, a little over forty years ago, back in March of 1981, John Hinkley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster, he drew out his .22 long rifle blue steel revolver and fired five times, not once hitting the president.
But on the sixth shot, the bullet ricocheted off a window and lodged beneath his left arm, collapsing a lung, and stopping less than an inch from his heart. Moments later, when Reagan realized he had been hit, he was taken to George Washington University Hospital.
Then after undergoing two hours of surgery and losing more than half of his blood, he survived. And as he began to recover in the hospital, his pastor, Donn Moomaw, came from California to visit him. And he asked him, “How is it with you and the Lord?”
“Everything is fine with me and the Lord,” answered Reagan.
His pastor asked, “How do you know?”
He answered, “Because I have a Savior.”
We have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have forgiveness of sins.
We thank You, dear Father, for the life and hope and blessings You pour out on us each day. Grant us true sorrow over our sins and joy in Your forgiveness, for Jesus’ sake. Amen