A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, First Baptist Church, Pastor, Amarillo, Tx., on September 25, 2011
Ernest Hemingway began one of his short stories entitled “The Capital of the World” with the following lines:
Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is diminutive of the name Francisco, and there is a Madrid joke about a father who came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Papa,” and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.
The joke is about the ubiquity of the name “Paco” in Spain. But it works only because of the underlying longing of so many to be forgiven by the father.
We all want to be forgiven, don’t we? Whether we’re sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, friends or colleagues. And no relationship can be mended without forgiveness, including our relationship with God.
I remember being shocked when I was a kid the first time I saw a man with a shackle around his ankle – a short chain and a heavy bowling ball type weight connected to the end of the chain. He was doing road work. He was restrained by the torturous ball and chain. The purpose of the weighted chain and even heavier ball was to impede the prisoner’s movement and, thus, prevent escape. I remember thinking, even as a kid, how could anyone go through life dragging the weight – the dead weight – of that heavy ball on the end of the chain.
In reality, unfortunately, I fear that each of us is a prisoner – chained by guilt, shame and memories of our sins of yesterday. Failures of the past entangling our every step. Submerged in sins that are nearly as old as we ourselves. Like a traveler bent over by the weight of a sack of rocks, we’re no longer free to run, jump, or dance with the freedom of a liberated soul.
Oh, I’ve got my old sins, too – my rocks that I try to carry.
Oh, this little rock here – it is the first one in my collection. That one happened in kindergarten. I went to kindergarten at the Hampton Heights Baptist Church. We were going down the slide at recess and I cut in front of David, pushed him down, and told him it was my turn – when I knew it wasn’t.
I was self-centered. I was cheating, breaking in line and I was unkind by pushing him down. That started the rock collection.
This rock here happened in the fourth grade. Mrs. Cothren was my teacher’s name. Her name started out as Miss Campbell but she got married and her name changed to Mrs. Cothren. I think I called her Miss Campbell on and off all year long. It is hard to change what you call your fourth grade teacher.
Lewis Hicks was scared to death the day we were going to get shots. I don’t know what the shots were for but they had a new method of firing a gun into your bicep. Like prisoners, marching through the infirmary, we were marched across the cafeteria stage as we watched in succession as each student was literally shot in the arm by the needle.
I think they have come up with better ways to give shots now. I sure hope they have. We all started dreading the gun days before the actual shot. I was scared to death but I wasn’t about to cry. Not in front of other people.
But Lewis Hicks was so scared that he cried like a baby. He cried the minute we lined up at the door of our fourth grade classroom and headed our way for the dreaded cafeteria, the makeshift medical team – the firing squad.
As we proceeded through the line, Lewis’s cries and screams could be heard echoing through the elementary school hallways. By the time you are in the fourth grade, you hope to be cool.
But Lewis lost it and at lunch that afternoon I made fun of him in front of everybody else. “Cry baby, cry baby! Lewis is a cry baby!” He wanted to forget. He had embarrassed himself. But somehow I took it upon myself to make sure that not only did he not forget but that the entire fourth grade didn’t forget.
I’ve been carrying this stone ever since fourth grade, since I was nine years old. That’s 39 years I’ve been dragging this rock.
This stone here is a little heavier, a little harder to explain. It came from high school. There were times in high school when I was more worried about whether or not I was sitting with the “in” crowd than I was worried about building up other people.
I was so focused on surviving myself, in the system of peer pressure that I’m afraid to get to the top of the mountain, sometimes I was pushing and clawing others below.
I’ve been carrying this rock around because of the people I passed over so I could sit beside Jeff Burns or Jennie Ellis in the cafeteria. I have had to carry this rock for trading up friends.
Look at this big rock! Oh! The greatest burden in the bag. I’m too embarrassed to even tell you what brought this on. In fact I’m not going to tell you but I’ve had to bear this rock a long time.
But I’ve noticed, I’m not the only one dragging a bag around. I’ve noticed most of you walk with a limp yourself. It’s not just a limp that is seen in your gait. I see weary eyes, wrinkled souls and defeated spirits walking through our hallways.
In the novel The Human Stain, Philip Roth used “stain” as a metaphor for evil. “It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark… The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding.” As we live in the world, we leave a stain trail. There is no other way to be here. (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge)
It must surely break God’s heart to see his children bearing their baggage through life. He has sent His Son to die on the cross, that we can be absolutely, completely forgiven for our sins. And yet despite the fact of His good grace and His wonderful gift we insist on carrying our baggage ourselves. And in doing so we reject the gift of God’s grace.
The author of Hebrews was trying to urge Jewish believers to move forward to remind them that they could not go backward to an inferior faith, to an inferior system. Rather, now they had to move forward in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Look at Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 2-4. You need to know the law could not save, he says. You need to know the shedding of the blood of lambs and goats does not save.
Verse 2: Otherwise, they would have ceased to be offered, would they not, if the worshipers had been cleansed once for all, they would no longer have any conscience of sins. In those sacrifices there is an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Instead of removing sins, the sacrificial system, in some way, just reminded the ancient Israelites of their sins. The sacrifice uppermost in our author’s mind is the annual sacrifice on the day of atonement. But the continual, annual sacrifice, along with the other sacrifices, just served to remind the people of their sins.
But unlike the ineffectual sacrifice of animals, which accomplishes nothing, there is a once and for all sacrifice of Christ.
Look at verse 10. And by His will we have been sanctified “once for all” through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. God becomes man. Jesus is born in order that the sin, your sin and my sin, the sin of the world may be put away by the offering of His body. As God, He lacked a back to bear our burdens.
Sometimes our author speaks about Jesus’ body, sometimes His blood, but in both cases, it is the incarnate life of Christ that is meant—a life yielded to God in obedience, obedience which is maintained all the way to death on the cross.
And so perfect was this final Lamb of God that no repetition is either necessary or possible. For Christ was offered once and for all, the true Lamb of God. So much so that John the Baptist would declare at the beginning of His ministry, “Behold the Lamb of God,” as he points to Jesus, “who takes the sins of the world.”
Look at verse 11. The priest repeatedly makes sacrifices. Unlike those sacrifices, the character of the sacrifice of Christ is unrepeatable. The Aaronic priests never got to sit down in the sanctuary. They remained standing through the whole performance of their sacred duties. That’s a token says the author of Hebrews, that their work was never really done. Their sacrifices always had to be repeated.
Look at verse 12. But the real high priest, Christ, offered one sacrifice for sins, one effective forevermore, then took His seat at God’s right hand. He was able to sit because His duty was finished, the sacrifice was made effective once and for all.
Look at verse 17, our text this morning. “I will no more remember their sins and iniquities. Now where these are forgiven, there is no sin offering any longer.
Is the author of Hebrews saying sin is no big deal? Of course not. He is saying that sin is such a big deal that no sacrifice before the sacrifice of Christ was able to accomplish its removal. It’s only in the shedding of the blood of the precious Lamb of God, the Son of God, that sins are forgiven.
Sin is a huge deal. So, don’t think for one moment that the author is saying that God grades on the curve and nobody is perfect and so sin doesn’t matter. He is not saying that.
Rather, he is saying that God does not grade on the curve but He demands justice and through that justice Jesus Christ stepped up and paid the price all the way to the cross. And because of His obedience all the way to death, we are freed to life. God is willing to forgive those who claim the gift of the grace of God through Christ Jesus.
Miroslav Volf said he used to be offended by the idea of God’s wrath, but eventually had to give in to it. You see, he was from Yugoslavia. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3 million were displaced. Volf’s villages and cities were destroyed, his people shelled day in and day out – some of them brutalized beyond imagination. And then, Miroslav Volf said, he could not imagine God not being angry. Volf, now a professor at Yale Divinity School, says that while he used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, after what he experienced in the former Yugoslavia he came to think that he would have to rebel against the God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of evil.
God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love. And once we accept the appropriateness and undeniable nature of God’s wrath, condemnation, and judgment, there is no way of keeping it out there reserved for others. And then we have to realize God’s wrath is aimed toward us and the evil within us too.
But when God forgives, God forgets. How many more ways does He have to say it?
In Isaiah 38:17 it says, “For you, O God, have cast all my sin behind your back.”
Micah 7:19 he says, “You will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea.”
Jeremiah 31:34 he says, “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more.”
Isaiah 43:25 he says, “I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake and I will not remember your sins.”
In Psalm 103:12 he says, “As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.”
God has said that because of the death of His Son, Christ Jesus, He will forgive and He will remember our sins no more.
May I ask you what more do you want God to do, if you insist on bearing the burden of the baggage in your life, if you insist on remembering and being damaged by and damaging others by your sins of the past. Do you mind my asking, “What more do you expect God to do?”
To God, the Creator who sent His only Son to die in your place, said He can forgive and cease to remember your sins and yet you yourself try to bear your sins, making a mockery of the meaning of the cross. I ask you, “What more do you want God to do?”
What would be required of God that you would be willing to lay down your sins at the foot of the cross, that you would be willing to bring that baggage and lay it right there at the foot of the cross where the blood of Jesus can cleanse you from all sin and from all unrighteousness?
What would it take today for you to understand what it means for God to love you enough to pin His own Son to a tree and for the Son to bid you to come and bring your baggage and your burden, your sin and your sorrow to the cross and leave it there?
You can walk away, never to look back because God himself has forgiven and forgotten your sin.
What would it take for you to not heed the reminders of Satan concerning your sin? What would it take for you to run free and seize the grace of God, to live your life free of the debt which He has already paid for you.
When you continue to carry the guilt and the burden for your sin, in that you minimize the power of God. You have said, “God, I realize You are Creator and God, I realize that you are my maker, but I want You to know that the cross of Christ Jesus is not powerful enough to take away my sins. God, I don’t really trust You. I don’t trust your plan of salvation and so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll give lip service to the gospel but I’m going to continue to bear my burden of sin myself.”
There are some of you here today, this sermon is for you, you need to hear it and you need to heed it. You need to bring your sin and lay it at the foot of the cross today. You need to bring your sin of jealousy and lay it at the cross.
Some of you need to bring your sin of adultery and lay it at the cross. Some of you need to bring your sin of gossip and tearing down your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and lay it at the cross. Some of you need to come and bring your sin of materialism and self-centeredness and lay it at the cross and take on the heart of generosity in a spirit of giving.
Some of you need to come and bring your sins of sexuality and lay them at the foot of the cross of Christ Jesus. Some of you need to come and bring your sin of half-heartedness and lay it at the foot of the cross and take on a zeal for God and for His church.
Verse 19, “Therefore brethren we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,” using the continuing metaphor of the priest and entering the holy of holies, and using the metaphor of the day of atonement, he says that we can do the unthinkable.
“God will no longer remember our sins.” God has a holy amnesia; God has forgotten; He has cast our sins into the depth of the sea. We can enter into the holy of holies. We can go to the very throne of God through the blood of Jesus with confidence. Head high—not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.
God has done everything to allow you to be in His presence, to have a relationship with Him, even in boldness and confidence, yet we go around bearing our baggage, our heads downcast, our spirits defeated.
What more do you require of God to enjoy the forgiveness He intended for you? What more are you going to ask from the Almighty that you might run and not be weary? What more are you going to ask from God that you would really be willing, really be willing to forget the same sins that He has already forgotten?
I’m confident that many of you are standing on that threshold today. This sermon is for you. This word is your word—it’s God’s word to you. He is saying to you, my friend, I’ve sent my Son to die on the cross. There is nothing else for me to do. You have to take me at my word. You have to lay down the burden of your baggage and move on for I have remembered your sins no more.
Thank goodness for God who forgets.
There is a story about a lady who claimed to speak to God, who claimed to have visions in her dreams. She visits her priest to talk with him about it.
“Okay,” said the priest, “if you have visions from God and if you speak to Him in your dreams, ask Him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.”
She came back several days later. “Did you speak to God? Did you ask Him? Did He remember?”
The lady replied, “He said He forgot.”