One of the hardest things is to hear someone tell us we are wrong, or we are doing something wrong, or that there is something wrong with us.
In a job performance appraisal, a manager can sandwich an employee's one weakness between ten strengths but all they hear is what they're weak at.
You have a great night out and you come home and you see spinach in your teeth and you forget about all the fun you had and you reinterpret the whole evening with a clenched gut, thinking everyone saw the spinach.
If someone pops into the room and you're watching or eating or doing something you're not proud of and your first instinct may be to hide it, deny it, get mad at them for not knocking.
We do this because of shame. We are afraid, embarrassed. We don't want to look bad or be thought less of or judged or fired or in trouble.
Today, our Lord Jesus Christ tells the world that He's come to forgive our sins and to give us new life with the Father in glory and forever. He says,
Isaiah 43:25 I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
This is good news. We trust Jesus for this and it's awesome.
Yet, when we speak to others about the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, many are offended, "Are you saying that I need forgiveness? Are you insinuating that there's something wrong with me or bad about the choices I've made? Who are you to judge me?!"
The most common way that our culture deals with sin and guilt is to deny the notion of sin.
But the Bible is clear both about specific sins and the fact we sin in general,
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us… 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us.
Our impulse is to take offense at God. Argue. Justify ourselves. We don't want to admit our bondage to sin. Nobody wants to hear that we aren't good enough for God. It makes sense.
But if you hear Christ's offer to forgive your sins, yet you protest, "There's nothing wrong with me or what anything I do!" God gets it, but you're rejecting His love, and your own freedom, plus new and everlasting life.
There's something odd yet profoundly liberating when we allow Jesus to define our spiritual state.
Luke 5:17 One day [Jesus] was teaching… and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. 18 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
The reason they went to Jesus was for a miracle, a healing. Make him walk. Their faith was for Jesus to heal their friend of his paralysis.
Yet Jesus acted on God's behalf and forgave His sins. He restored the man to God. "Friend, your sins," Jesus said, "are forgiven!"
The guy doesn't argue, "No, I wanted my legs healed!! I don't need to be forgiven; I haven't done anything wrong; just make me walk again!" He gladly accepts Jesus' judgment of his greatest need. "Friend, your sins are forgiven you."
He was happy to hear this, happy to receive this.
That your sins are forgiven is the sweetest news to those living in bondage to sin, whose consciences are hostage to guilt or shame, who realize this isn't who I am or what I really want.
In another story, a woman plagued by horrible life choices. Self-loathing. Bondage to sin.
But one day, she met Jesus. The conversation is not recorded for us but she trusted Jesus to forgiv e her. And He forgave her sins. In Luke 7, it's evening, and she dares enter into the home of an elite and powerful man yet Jesus is there and she is compelled thank and worship Jesus.
Luke tells us she made quite a scene. She washed Jesus' feet with her tears; she kissed His feet; she thanked Him over and over again; she dried His feet with her hair (her glory); and she anointed His head with sweet smelling perfume. She treated Jesus like a hero, a god, a great and wonderful man.
The wealthy and powerful Pharisees balked at her display.
Jesus shares the reason for her worship and love.
Luke 7:47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven [i.e., she sinned a lot and yet every sin is forgiven her... and she knows it, you can tell], for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Jesus says, she demonstrated her love and gratitude and worship because she knows she has been forgiven much. My forgiveness is real to her because her sin is real to her. She knew the pain of her choices. Her inability to get out of the mess she made. She knew her life didn't earn God's love or forgiveness…
Yet she trusted in God's grace. In her longing to be freed her from the life and consequences of her choices and her estrangement from God and just tired of justifying herself but knowing better, she met Jesus and He forgave her sins.
Luke 7:48 Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" [They felt little need to be forgiven.] 50 And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Jesus tells her she has peace with God. There's no condemnation. Stop hiding. Rest in this promise.
He adds, it was her trust in Jesus Christ to forgive her sins and restore her to God, not her act of worship, not her tears, or her emotions. Each of these acts of love and devotion were the result of being forgiven not the cause.
She accepted Jesus perpective. She was sinful and condemned. She is now forgiven and righteous by faith. No condemnation, only love. Now she is free from hiding, through hating herself, done hating God.
Jesus loves us and He sees great harm and pain and evil in sin. He doesn't say, "There’s nothing wrong with what you do; don’t feel guilty." He paid for our sins and offers complete and eternal forgiveness to whoever believes.
Later, Jesus retreated far away from the religious leaders incessant hassling.
Matthew 15:22 A Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."
Notice, she expresses her faith that Jesus is the Son of David, the Christ who can help her. She expresses her need. And rather than just assume Jesus should help her because of who she is, she relies only on God's mercy.
She doesn't argue, "Lord, I deserve this, my daughter deserves this. If you are truly good you'll help her immediately." Rather she relies on Jesus' merciful heart. "Have mercy on me, Son of David."
To ask for mercy expresses a need, without offering any justification for the other person to meet it.
Matthew 15:23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24 But He answered her and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
At this point early in His ministry, Jesus came to offer Israel the kingdom that is promised through David. When He sent out the twelve and the seventy He told them to preach only to the house of Israel. It wasn't time to bring blessings on the Gentiles before these were offered first to Israel.
Matthew 15:25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26 And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs."
This could be taken so bad then and today. Her pride would have been insulted. Our pride. Our sin nature. Jesus sounds intolerant. But this is where we need to trust Jesus. He's not being intentionally rude. He's making a life-or-death distinction. Jesus accurately identifies her religious state with God.
He describes a family gathered around the dinner table with some family pets around. Yet with limited supplies, mom and dad rightly choose to feed their children (i.e., Israel), before the dogs (Gentiles). Jesus basically just acknowledges that she is currently outside of God's intimate family.
Rather than take offense, "that's rude!" and leave (with her daughter yet possessed and now mom would be permanently angry with God), she humbly accepts Jesus' diagnosis, she submits herself to Jesus' righteous judgment, and she relates to Him according to His true perspective.
This is such a beautiful move on behalf of this woman. Listen to her words, starting with "Yes, Lord..."
Matthew 15:27 But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
She submits to what Jesus says. "Well if that's the way it is, I don't want to rob the children of anything but please, like the dogs that lick up the crumbs on the floor, throw me a crumb, give this unworthy dog a crum; please, heal my daughter."
Rather than argue, she trusted Jesus, His perspective, His judgment. It's not good news. But God gives grace to the humle. And her submission to Jesus, accepting His perspective allowed Jesus to fantastically bless her.
Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.
This story can cause us offense to our pride. Our flesh can question God's goodness. Justify ourselves. We can blame God, dislike Him, and walk away from God. And He allows that.
But this woman shows us a better way. Accept what He says as loving words. Allow Jesus to tell us the truth about our spiritual standing. It's scary. But Jesus does this for our good.
Whenever anyone submitted to Him they were blessed. Healed. Forgiven. Set free. Brought close to God. Given eternal life.
We don't want to admit our bondage to sin. We don't want to hear that we're weak, we can't fix our lives, our lives aren't "fine" or acceptable to God.
But when Jesus is the One speaking, we can trust that He is good and full of love and He has our best in mind.
As a church, let's remind each other that God fully loves us and Jesus Christ has paid for our sins—even the ones we each still struggle with, even the one that our culture denies are even wrong. As we do, God will heal us. We will love Him more.
As a church for Northampton and the communities we live in, let's share this message and give our friends and coworkers the opportunity to believe. Many will scoff, but like the one woman in the room who believed, for her it's worth it. And we'll help people to be set free, to be redeemed to God, and we shall live and act as Christ's church with a powerful message for a city and a people in need.