Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

You Are Forgiven
March 2, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ISAIAH 53:1-6; 1 JOHN 2:1-3

Last week, the first Sunday in Lent, I preached a sermon on the basics of our beliefs. Because of all the pressure and confusion by so many groups in our society, I decided this Lent to look at some of the basic doctrines of our church. Last week, we looked at the question—what is a Christian, what are the basic requirements? I told you how the Moonies abducted a youth from Manteca and just yesterday, we had a call from a couple from Minneapolis who still are in a church where I was the Associate Minister. Their 21 year-old son is now a member of the Church of Scientology. His first attitude towards his parents a few years ago was one of defiance, hostility and resistance. This past Christmas, he and his wife were back home but now the relationship was one of fear. He was in fear for his mortal life. He and other members of that group are threatened with murder. He is psychologically, emotionally disturbed and is completely brainwashed. As the parents related to him over Christmas, he began to come out of it. He began to become his normal self, but he went back into that fold again. 

I say this not to frighten us, but to realize what kind of times in which we are living. Young people are harassed, intimidated and confused. How crucial it is for parents to give their children the best Christian education they can so there is no vacuum, no hole, no gap that some other group can come along and harass, victimize and intimidate. How important for you and your children to be in this worship service every Sunday, to hear the word as it is preached. How important it is for our young people to be in Sunday school, and discuss and wrestle with our beliefs. How important it is for them to be in youth fellowship meetings where they learn to socialize with with other Christians, where they're confronted with our beliefs. How important it is for them to participate in our music program. Our church is doing a tremendous job of providing a ministry that is full. Take scouting, Sunday school, music, and our worship service, and we've got a well-rounded program. It’s up to you to take advantage of it. 

I am preaching this series of sermons on some basic doctrines of our church. Last week, I took the text, Romans 10:5-6, “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” That's all there is to it—no other restrictions and requirements. Believe that Jesus Christ is the unique self-act of revelation from God, believe that our access to God is through the grace of Jesus Christ, and confess Jesus as Lord—put Jesus as top priority in our heart and in our mouth. That's what it is to be a Christian. 

Today, let's look at his death—why he died on the cross and what is the meaning of his death? What does it mean to say that Christ died for you, that Christ died for our sins? Our text is 1 John 2:1-3, “If anyone sins, we have an advocate who will plead with God on our behalf, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven. Through the centuries there have been many theories, theologies, doctrines developed as to what this means. Let's look at three this morning. 

First is sacrifice. Many ancient religions practiced sacrifice including the Old Testament, believing that to atone for sins, to make restitution, make amends, make up for, compensate, sacrifice was necessary. They sacrificed food, animals, even humans. However, the Old Testament never practiced human sacrifice. When Abraham was willing, and took his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, as was the custom of the day, God spoke to him, interrupted the process and said, “That's not for you.” So the Hebrew religion never practiced human sacrifice. They used lambs and sprinkled blood upon the altar. The blood was to atone, to make up, to make amends for the sins so that the people could be forgiven. 

Those who believe in the sacrificial theory of atonement say that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, that Jesus is the perfect lamb, that he is the Lamb of God who willingly offered himself and lay down his life. His blood was poured out and sacrificed. Through his blood for the sacrifice, we can be forgiven. 

A second popular theory of atonement is substitutionary atonement. Sin has alienated people from God and because God is just and God's justice demands that no sin can be in his presence and no sinner can be in his presence, punishment and restitution are required in order for God's sense of justice to be appeased. Substitutionary atonement believers say that God needs to be changed and placated. Christ willingly took our place, took our sins upon himself and substituted himself to take the punishment. Therefore, those who believe in substitutionary atonement say that Christ died for you means Christ died instead of you. Christ took your place for death is required, death is demanded because of God's justice. Christ takes our place and substitutes. 

Now the difficulty with these two theories, according to my thinking, the difficulty with sacrificial atonement and substitutionary atonement is they presuppose that God needs to be changed, that God needs to be placated, that something has to be done with God's wrath in order to make God feel more loving and forgiving. Therefore, a lamb has to be slain, or blood has to be sprinkled, or something has to be done. This idea of God seems to me quite primitive, and is not in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. I don't see that kind of a God in Jesus’ ideas. 

Jesus said that God is like a shepherd who lost his sheep. God doesn't sit up there in judgment, and demand punishment, but God goes out, seeks and looks for that sheep wherever, through all the brambles and bush to find that sheep. 

God is like a woman who lost a coin and is not content to sit there, but goes through the house searching to find that last coin. 

God is like the father of the prodigal son who wasted his life, wasted his fortune, squandered the father's hard work over the years. He lost it, he wasted it, he squandered it. And when he found himself in humiliation, despair and depression, he decided to go home and seek reconciliation. And when he went home, he did not find a stern judge who demanded restitution. He didn't find a stern judge who demanded punishment. He didn't have to kill any lamb and sprinkle any blood. He didn't have to send in a substitute to take his punishment because there really are no substitutes. No one could take his place. He had to come to himself. He had to take responsibility for his own life. He had to come to terms with what he had done and who he was. He had to take humiliation on himself, go back home and ask forgiveness. He had to do it, no one could substitute for him. And when he got home, he found his father with wide open arms. That's the kind of God we have, a God who seeks us out, searches for us, and welcomes us with wide, open, loving arms of forgiveness. 

So, why did Jesus die? What does it mean to say Christ died for you? The third theory of atonement, which I would like to suggest to you as being the one that agrees most with my thinking, is that Christ died on the cross to show us, to demonstrate to us, to express to us how God bears the cost of forgiveness. Some say, “Why can't just God forgive? If God is loving and is willing to forgive, why can't just God forgive us? Why must there be atonement?” Why did Jesus have to die? Because forgiveness is costly. It's not cheap. Reconciliation is costly. If you step on someone's toe, you can say, “I'm sorry, forgive me.” They probably will and you can go on being friends. Or, you can break someone's window and say, “I'm sorry, forgive me. I'll pay for the window. I'll make restitution.” No doubt that relationship will continue. 

But, when you hurt someone you love and who loves you, when you let someone down, when you disappoint someone, when you betray the relationship, forgiveness and reconciliation is costly. The prodigal son strained the relationship—he wasted, he squandered. But, when he went back home, he was greeted with open arms. Do you think it was easy for the father? In that embrace was years of agony, years of sorrow and hurt. In that embrace was years of anxiety—Where is he? What's happened to him? What's he done? What's going to come of him? Why did he have to make such a fool of himself? In that embrace was years of suffering. If you've ever let anyone down, or have been let down by someone else, you know what suffering is. When you watch someone you love make wrong choices and they won't listen to you—they just won't listen, they can do it themselves— all you can do is suffer and wait. 

When you look at the cross, remember God is suffering in agony over our alienation, our separation, pride, our arrogance. Our sin causes God anguish and suffering. To rebuild a relationship with God meant that God had to suffer, bear the cross, bear the cost. You ask why did Jesus have to die? He was innocent. Why did he have to die? A lot of innocent people suffer because of what you and I do. A lot of innocent people suffer in Cambodia in the refugee camps because they are victims of that whole situation. A lot of suffering is laid upon innocent people. 

I suppose Jesus didn't want to make the story complicated, but what would it have been like if there'd been a mother and she suffered through the years? Or, if the son had been married and left his wife? Perhaps he got in a fight with the old man, couldn't stand the restrictions anymore and just had to leave, had to get out of there and wanted to take what was his, and so he leaves in a huff. He leaves behind other victims and other innocent people. He leaves behind a mother suffering. Sometimes it takes the suffering of innocent people to bring us to our senses. Sometimes it's the praying, the anguish and the hurting of a mother or a spouse or a good friend to bring us back. How this couple from Minneapolis is suffering over their son! They know what the cross is. They suffer in agony as innocent people not involved in the primary relationship, but certainly involved in the secondary. 

When we look at the cross, we see an innocent person suffering on our behalf. There are two words used in the scripture lesson about Jesus. One word is translated “advocate”. We have an advocate with God. An advocate is one who pleads the cause, or who stands by our side. Jesus took that role upon himself willingly to stand by our side and is standing by your side, Jesus takes that upon himself to plead for you, to intercede on your behalf, to suffer with you and to suffer for you. Jesus takes that willingly as an innocent person. The other word in the passage is translated “propitiation”, or “expiation”—-taking it upon himself, bearing the price himself, taking the suffering willingly on our behalf because God agonizes, God sorrows. When you look at the cross, you see a demonstration of the extent of God's love for you and for me to bring us back, to reconcile us. 

Our response to the cross should be, “Oh my God, what have I done? I want to be in unity with you. I want to be forgiven. I want to be one of your people.” God has borne the cost, God has done the suffering to make that possible. When you come to Communion and you partake of the body and the blood, remember Christ died for you. 

When we sing the closing hymn, may we sing confidently. 

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, 

My richest gain I count but loss and poor contempt on all my pride.


See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, 

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?


Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small,

Love so amazing and so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris