Whiter Than Snow
Matthew 18:21-35: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. ‘But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. ‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.’”
In 1970 a woman by the name of Katherine Power who was a student at Brandeis University in Boston and a leader in a radical organization called the Radical Student Strike Force planned with several others to raise money in order to buy arms for the Black Panthers by robbing a bank. They attempted to carry out their plan with Katherine being the getaway driver but the robbery went askew.
During the robbery a silent alarm was triggered which was quickly responded to by patrolman Walter Schroeder. Unfortunately one of Katherine’s accomplices fired several shots at Schroeder, leaving him dead.
That night Katherine began what would turn out to be 23 years of life on the lamb. She was listed as armed and “very dangerous” and was put on the FBI’s most wanted list but she was never caught.
In the late 1970’s she moved to Oregon in an attempt to build a new life for herself. She assumed the name Alice Metzinger, bought a home, got started in the restaurant business, got married and gave birth to a son. She was also a very active participant in her community and from all external appearances seemed like she had it all together.
However at the age of 44 Kathy Power was desperately tired, tormented by guilt, and chronically depressed. Finally in September of 1993 she did the only thing she knew to do to assuage her guilt – she turned herself in to the Boston police.
There are a lot of people today just like Katherine Power; people who are tormented by guilt, racked by guilt, because of the things that they have done; who would do absolutely anything if they could just experience relief from their guilty conscience.
One such individual was the famed murderer Gary Gilmore, who before he was executed by the state of Utah wrote a letter to his girlfriend in which he said; “I want to get even, to be made even, whole, my debts paid (whatever it may take!) to have no blemish, no reason to feel guilt or fear... I’d like to stand in the sight of God. To know that I am just and right and clean. When you’re this way you know it and when you’re not you know that too. It’s all inside of us, each of us.”
Now fortunately there is an answer for man’s guilt and that answer is the forgiveness of God. And in relationship to this theme there are a couple of issues we’d like to deal with, the first being:
1. What God Has Done For Us
In spite of the fact that on many occasions we groan and complain about the troubles, the trials, that we sometimes experience in life, God has done so much for each of us, hasn’t He? And we should be so grateful for it. The continual cry of our hearts should be as we read in Psalm 126:3: “The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.”
We can reflect upon the physical blessings that God has provided us with, about the fact that we can see and hear; and about the fact that we are mobile. Some not as much as others, but all of us can at least get around.
We can reflect upon the material blessings that God has provided us with, about the fact that we have food to eat and water to drink, and a roof over our heads, all of which come from the hand of God. For as we read in James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” God indeed has done so much for each of us.
And yet if you are a believer in Jesus Christ the greatest thing that God has done for you is to provide you with forgiveness for all of your sins, past, present, and future, which of course is that which everybody needs. We read in Psalm 130:3: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” “But…” the next verse goes on to say, and what a wonderful but this is: “…there is forgiveness with You…” (Psalm 130:4).
Now when the Bible talks about divine forgiveness, about all of our sins past, present, and future having been pardoned by God what does it mean? Very often one person will say to another, I forgive you, and yet the wrongdoing done by the offending party is never ever forgotten and at some point some sort of consequences however small ensue.
It’s like the man who was telling his friend about an argument he had with his wife. He said: “you know Joe I hate it. Every time me and my wife, me and the missus argue, she gets historical. Joe replied: “you mean hysterical.” “No,” the man insisted, “I mean historical. Every time we argue she drags up everything from my past and holds it against me.”
Now that is not what the forgiveness of God is like. No God not only forgives but He forgets. We read in Hebrews 10:17: “…Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
In the Bible we read about so many wonderful things that God has done with our sins which illustrate for us just how total, how complete His forgiveness is.
We read in Isaiah 44:22 that God has blotted out our sins like a thick cloud. Just like a big, thick, ominous cloud can dissipate, can disappear when exposed to the heat of the sun so God has caused our sins to disappear from before His eyes.
We read in Isaiah 38:17 that God has put all of our sins behind His back.
We read in Psalm 103:12 that God has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west which means that God has put between us and our sins the distance of infinity.
We read in Micah 7:18-19 that God has cast all of our sins into the depths of the sea, “Who is a God like You. Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.”
It wasn’t too long after I came to Bloomfield that I found out that a number of the members here are scuba divers, and that caused me some concern because I was afraid that they were going to go down into the depths of the sea and find my sins. Actually it’s not too bad because I have come to understand that scuba divers can only go down a limited amount of feet so they’re not going to get to the depths of the sea to find my sins.
Believer aren’t you glad that God forgives and that He forgets, that when it comes to your sin problem the slate has been wiped clean?
Of course for God to be able to do that required an awful lot. It cost Him the death of His Son, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). But because Christ did what He did, you believer have been delivered.
You’ve been delivered first of all from the guilt of your sin so that you no longer have to be haunted by the memories of your past. In fact for you to be so is an affront to the work of the Lord Jesus who suffered in order that you might be relieved of that very burden.
How sad it is when Christians dredge up their past and engage in self-condemnation for the sins that they have committed. Believer you have no right to do that no matter what you have done. No we are to leave our sins buried in the depths of the deepest sea. We are not to dig them up and rub our noses in them so to speak.
Because Christ did what He did and because we have been forgiven by God we have been delivered from the guilt of our sin so that we no longer have to be haunted by the memories of our past.
We’ve also been delivered from the penalty of our sin so that we no longer have to be haunted by the fear of the future, by the fear of death, which is a fear that ever unsaved person has. We read in Hebrews 2:14-15: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Oh how wonderful it is to be forgiven. How wonderful it is to be able to declare that statement every time we repeat the Apostle’s Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” and to know that that is something that you have personally received.
How wonderful it is to be able to sing like we so often sing, “My sin – O, the bliss of this glorious thought! - my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Can you sing that? Can you truly sing that with confidence? What a shame, what a pity if you are not able to do so.
Now the second issue that we want to deal with in relationship to God’s forgiveness is:
2. What Our Response To Him Should Be
In light of God’s marvelous forgiveness of all of our sins past, present, and future, to use a book title, “How Should We Then Live?” How should we conduct ourselves?
To begin with out of supreme gratitude to God we should be faithful people. Which is exactly what Paul says in the opening portion of Romans 12: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God (In light of the mercies of God, in light of the forgiveness of God. In light of the fact that God has forgiven you of all of your sin past, present, and future) that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Years ago the famed preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse told an interesting story. He had been holding a series of meetings on a college campus and after one of those meetings a young professor at the school came to talk to him.
During the course of their discussion Barnhouse found out that this young professor was a Lieutenant in the army during World War II, and that he had gone to France where he had fallen in with some bad company. He was not a Christian at the time and he began to live an exceedingly promiscuous life.
However after he returned home to the States he got saved, and had met a wonderful Christian girl whom he wanted to marry. Yet he was reticent to marry her because he was concerned that post-marriage he would fall back into his old patterns of life.
Barnhouse counseled this young man that he should come clean with his girlfriend so that there would be no barriers between the two of them and so that she could help keep his weaknesses in check. And then he told him a story.
He said: “Some time ago I dealt with a man whose story was not much different from your own. He too had lived a life of sin and had been converted under conditions similar to those existing in a rescue mission. He had then married a fine Christian woman to whom he had briefly told his sordid story.
He said that after he had told his wife this she kissed him and replied; John I want you to understand something very plainly. I know my Bible well and I know something of the workings of Satan. I know that you are a thoroughly converted man John, but I also know that you have an old nature to which Satan will certainly appeal. He will do all that he can to put temptations in your way.
The day may come - I pray that it never shall - when you shall succumb to temptation and fall into sin. Immediately the devil will tell you that you’ve ruined everything, that you might as well continue in sin, and that above you all you should not tell me because it will hurt me.
But, John I want you to know that this is your home. This is where you belong. I want you to know that there is full pardon and forgiveness in advance for any evil that may come into your life.”
As Barnhouse told this story the professor put his head in his hands. Albeit at the end of the story he lifted up his head and said very reverentially, “My God if anything could keep a man straight that would be it.”
Let me ask you; how is it that so many times we as Christians are able to trade on the forgiveness of God? Are able to exploit the forgiveness of God? Are able to have the attitude, well since all is forgiven I can just do as I please. After all there is no condemnation to me because I’m in Christ. I’ve been saved, sanctified, redeemed and justified, and forever reconciled. I know where I’m going some day.
Instead God’s glorious unlimited forgiveness should keep a Christian straight, should cause a Christian to live a life of total devotion in thought, word, and deed. And should cause a Christian should he sin, and he will sin, to keep short accounts with God, to quickly avail himself of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (That’s family forgiveness. In an ultimate sense we’ve already been forgiven as we’ve been talking about. But family forgiveness puts us back in fellowship with God.) and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Now in light of God’s marvelous forgiveness of all of our sins past, present, and future Christians should not only be faithful people we should also be forgiving people.
Believer what about you? Are you a forgiving person?
Unfortunately those who know the Lord so many times are like this unforgiving servant whom we read about in this parable in Matthew 18. They have been forgiven so much and yet they forgive so little.
This unforgiving servant whom we read about here was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents which he owed to the king. Which in today’s currency it has been suggested could be over a billion dollars. And yet he went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii, which represented 100 days wages, for your average blue collar Joe, your average blue collar worker.
And yet look again what he did to this man. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt” (v. 28-30).
In spite of the fact that this is the method of operation of many believers, this is not to be our method of operation. No we are to practice forgiveness. In fact we are to do so according to verse 22 of Matthew 18 up to seventy times seven; in other words as much as is necessary.
Now that does not mean for example that if a believer does you wrong you are not to confront them. We read in Luke 17:3: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
And this does not mean that we are not when necessary to exercise church discipline, obviously not!
But what it does mean is that we are always to conduct ourselves not vindictively but in a spirit of grace and love, being cognizant of the fact that we ourselves have been pardoned an absolutely enormous amount.
One time a shame faced employee of a company was summoned to the office of the senior partner in order to hear his doom. The best that he could expect, or so he thought, was a blistering dismissal. On the other hand he realized he could actually be thrown into prison for years because of what he had done.
When he got to the office the old man called his name and asked if he were guilty. The clerk stammered out the fact that he had absolutely nothing to say in his own defense. But then the senior partner said: “I shall not send you to prison. If I take you back can I trust you?” The surprised and broken down man gave him the assurance that he could.
And then as he was about to leave he heard him say: “You are the second man who has fallen and been pardoned in this business. I was the first. What you have done I did. The mercy you received I received.”
What a great illustration that is of Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Have you been forgiven of all of your sins, past, present, and future? Has your guilt been assuaged, alleviated? “Are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
If you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, if you have been forgiven of all of your sins, then in response to God’s marvelous forgiveness are you a faithful person, and a forgiving person?
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).