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Description: Grace to Begin Again
Grace to Begin Again
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
When our little Yorkshire terrier died we really did miss him. When my dad died it was as if the
world would never be the same. It’s probably the same with you. The dog was dear to us but
detached. Your dad or your mom are kind of part of you so you feel it as part of yourself. God
made dogs and rivers, but you are not a dog or a river. To some extent the dogs and rivers are
detached from him, they’re things — creatures that he has made, but they’re not part of him. When
he made you, he made you part of his own Son. He made you part of himself. He gave you his own
life. He gave you his own heart. He opened his own home to you and so you are part of him. He feels
the same way about you as we would about our fathers or our mothers.
He actually opened himself to be hurt by you because he gave you free will — free will to accept
him or to reject him. And when he did that he gave you the freedom to crucify him. That’s what
giving free will necessitated. He had to be prepared to accept the worst that you would do to him.
When you think about it if he was really going to give us free will, he had to give us free will to
do what we wanted even if that meant to crucify him. And he had to be prepared to take the worst
that we could do to him. That’s what we were really talking about last week when we said that in
him, in Jesus, we had redemption through his blood.
Part of the cost and the responsibility that God accepted when he made us in his own Son, gave us
his own life, made us part of his own home, and gave us free will like his own, was being prepared
to allow us to do the very worst that we could do to him. And that meant if necessary, destroying
him. And if that was all we could have done, that would have been the end of everything for all of
us, including him. And so God had his own Son, and asked him to take that destruction. But he
himself in his son was reconciling the world to himself and bearing that destruction. It’s just
that he was still the Father. He was therefore able to raise the son, but he couldn’t raise him
without raising us also. And so he raised us up with him.
So when we talk about redemption through his blood, we’re talking about the thing that was necessary
for God (being who he is), to make free will agents (like us), he had of necessity, to bear the
worse that we would do. In other words, he is not the kind of God who can allow you to march
through the world murdering and destroying. He himself has to be inside that person that we
destroy. He himself has to be in his Son in every person that died in misery in the concentration
camp. He has to be in the little guy in your school that you spoke to so cruelly. In his Son, he
had to be in that little fellow. He had to bear the worst that the people whom he made could do if
he were to be true to himself. Because he is not the kind of God who can make the rivers and just
let them go. He can’t make the people and just let them go and do what they want. He has to bear
the worst that they could do and that’s what he did.
And so when we talk about redemption through his blood, we’re talking about the fact that not only
was Christ bearing the worst that we could do to him and his Father, but he was in us bearing the
just wrath of his Father upon mankind. So Christ was both God and man at that moment. He was God
bearing the dreadful things that we have done to him. As Jesus said, “If you give somebody a cup of
water in my name, you do it unto me.” Then when you give somebody a cut across the face, or you
give somebody a cruel word, you similarly give it to Christ and therefore to God. So Christ was not
only God bearing the worst of our sins, but he was also us because he is all of us. We were all
created inside him so he is us also bearing the destruction that God had to work upon that evil.
And it’s because of that that it’s possible to talk about redemption through his blood.
Now, it’s good for us to see that that’s what had to happen if God were to do what he all along
wanted to do. God, because of his mercy and his loving heart, all along wanted to forgive us. But
he could not unless all those things we talked about were satisfied. All those were involved.
That’s why we talk about that as atonement. Somebody has said, “It’s at one. It’s the bringing
into at onement of God and man.” That’s what happened, not just on Calvary, but in the heart of God
when the lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world. That’s where God faced all that
was involved in giving us free will.
He had to drink to the dregs of everything, the very worst that we could do to him. And we had to
drink to the dregs the very worst, or the just thing that he had to do to us. We drank neither.
Our elder brother stepped forward for us and drank it. That’s what we call redemption or the
atonement. That’s universal and for everyone. The atonement has taken place for every man and woman
that has ever lived or will ever live. All of us were in Christ in that atonement and that’s what
we talked about last day.
Today we talk about the second half of the verse which is something that is conditional upon
repentance and faith. But it’s something that is possible only in the light of the atonement. In
other words, God could not forgive unless all that was dealt with. If he had forgiven when all that
was not dealt with, he would have been pretending and he would no longer be the God of purity, love,
and justice. He would no longer have human beings who had free wills and who could enter into a
loving fellowship with him. The whole plan would be destroyed right then because he would simply be
indulging us in what we wanted to do. There would be no reconciliation, no coming together of him in
his reality and us in our reality.
I’ve often said to you, we need to be honest with each other. We need to be real with each other.
We need to say what we really think to each other. That’s partly because that is what God is. God
is real and true, he cannot act against his own nature or apart from his own nature and so all that
was needed. Now, what we come to today is what is called the forgiveness of sins. So look at
Ephesians 1:7. Verse 7a is about universal atonement, “In him we have redemption through his
blood”. We are bought back through his blood, through his death. Then secondly, we have, “the
forgiveness of our trespasses”. That is concerned with our response to the work of redemption, the
forgiveness of our trespasses.
It’s interesting that the word for forgiveness is not “paresis” which is found in Romans 3:25.
Romans 3:25 says, “Whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This
was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
Passed over is the meaning of the word “paresis”. It means overlooking.
You remember there’s another verse that talks about God winking. It isn’t quite the same as that
because that is concerned with a time of innocence when men didn’t even know what was wrong. But
overlooking applies to those who know the law, (in the Old Testament), who disobeyed and God
overlooked their sin. That’s what “paresis” is.
Or, it’s similar to the word Passover. It’s a passing over of their sins. Why? It’s because, the
blood of the lambs and cattle that were sacrificed in the Old Testament were simply symbols of the
actual death of us in Christ. And that death took place in the “lamb that was slain from before the
foundation of the world”. And so the Old Testament people did not really know clearly that that had
happened. They simply knew that the blood of the sacrifices stood for something. They would often
think, “Well, that pleased God.”
But because Christ had not yet been proclaimed clearly to them, God was able only to passover their
sins. He overlooked them as the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt.
He passed over, he overlooked them. So in some sense the Old Testament people never really did
experience forgiveness. They experienced an overlooking of their sins. From time-to-time you found
men like David who seemed to experience the reality of the lamb that was slain through supernatural
revelation of the Holy Spirit. But the bulk of mankind experienced what Romans 3:25 calls the
overlooking, or the passing over of the sins.
Now, that’s not the word that is used here in Ephesians 1:7b. The word for forgiveness is “aphesis”.
The last four letters are the same but it’s called “aphesis”. It’s the same thing that happened in
the Old Testament ritual where the priest had two lambs. He laid his hand on one lamb so as to
impart to him the sin of the congregation and then sent that lamb out into the wilderness. The other
lamb was sacrificed. This is from a Greek verb “aphiemi” which means to send away. Because of what
has happened to us in Jesus, God sends away our sins.
Another explanation is that the sins are removed from the mind of God. They’re sent away completely
so that they no longer exist. Some of the passages are very clear. Psalms 103:12 is one that we
know well and when you see the implications of it, it brings it home to you. “As far as the east is
from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” That’s far. It’s quite
interesting that one of the commentators says that it’s “not as far as the north is from the south
but as far as the east is from the west.” That’s because, the north and the south is a finite
distance that is measurable. But as far as the east is from the west is infinite.
It’s that far that God has sent away our sins. He’s removed them absolutely and utterly as if they
never were. It’s as if they never existed and are never to be dragged up again. That’s what
forgiveness is. He sends our sins utterly and completely away. Another verse is Micah 7:19 says,
“He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all
our sins into the depths of the sea.” That’s what forgiveness is. God casts our sins into the
depths of the sea so that you cannot get them up again. And that’s what Christ made possible for us
on Calvary. It’s that kind of absolute doing away with our sins so that even the memory of them is
So it’s a complete and an absolute change. It’s something that God does in a complete way. The word
for trespasses in French means to “fall off”. It’s a falling off, a falling of, or a falling beside
the way of right. It is important for us to be real about those because the forgiveness is
conditional upon our repentance and our repentance of course, is conditional upon us knowing what
our trespass was. We often think of trespass in the legal sense of trespassing upon somebody’s
property. But trespass is actually a finer word than that. In the heart of the word falling is the
heart of the word parallel – or the geometric symbol of it. So it’s just falling almost beside the
road of right.
It’s just falling off the road of right. It’s not plunging over a cliff; it’s just falling to the
side of it. I think each of us know how easy it is just to step a little aside, “I’m not just
rejecting God but I’m stepping a little aside. I’m not disbelieving in him but I’m believing just a
little more in my own existence at this moment.” That’s what a trespass is. It has something of the
meaning of the other word that is used for sin “hamartia” and it has the meaning of an error. It is
an error. It’s interesting; the translation is an error in the intention of the heart. So, trespass
has some of that. It’s not just murdering, it is not just cutting the person apart with a knife. It
is an error in the intention of the heart.
I suppose Karl Barth would say it’s just living as if you’re on your own. And that’s where all our
misery comes from because our full joy comes from realizing that everything is Jesus Christ.
Everything is our Lord Jesus Christ. For me to live is Christ. Then you’re living on a holiday from
yourself and joy just flows over you. But when you live as if you’re on your own, there’s a
heaviness about you and you’re weighted down with the cares of this world and all the things you
have to do.
So God is so gracious to us, he gives us all kind of signs that we’re falling off the way. But the
great thing is, that when we realize that (i.e. that we are falling away) and we turn from it to the
Lord and say, “No, we do not want that Lord,” then, because of what Christ has done, God forgives us
that trespass. He sended it away as far as the east is from the west. He casts it even into the
depths of the sea. That’s the complete change that God brings about and that’s what is possible in
Jesus, because he has been in a sense both the victim and he has also been the judge on Calvary. He
was God himself taking from us the worst that we could give him, and he was also us taking the full
brunt of God’s just wrath. And because of that we owe everything to our Savior. Let us pray.
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