April 2, 2000
The Gospel’s amazing narrative centers on Christ’s work on the cross. We are born in sin and have offended a holy God—but, as Alistair Begg reminds us in this sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t have to live in guilt. Instead, we can experience the blessed relief of forgiveness when we trust in Christ. God, our creditor, has Himself intervened, provided a propitiation for us, and adopted us as His children.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, routinely we pause to ask for your help, sincerely we stop to ask for your help, expectantly we bow to seek your help. Grant to us a laserlike fastening upon the truth of your Word. May we hear your voice, and may we never be the same again as a result of having heard it. For Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Some weeks ago, now, we began to study the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, on that first occasion those of you who were present will remember that I said it wasn’t my purpose to go through it on a phrase-by-phrase basis, but just simply to fly over at about twenty thousand feet. How successful one was at that can be determined by the fact that we’ve been here now for a number of weeks, and we have made it just through a couple of verses. We’re at the fourth verse, where our focus this morning is on the request “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Can we take just a moment and remind ourselves of what we’ve said before: that nothing is more important, and nothing more important to maintain, than a personal prayer life—an approach to prayer that would be diligent, sustained, organized, Spirit-filled, and one that engaged in would give to us the sense that we are actually doing what the Bible had bid us do. The reason this is so important is because prayer is really the key expression of the fact that a man or a woman has a living, personal relationship with God . More than any other thing, it is in prayer that we identify the fact that we have been enabled by grace to call God “Father.”
The devil knows this, and that’s why he attacks us so fiercely when it comes to the matter of prayer. Some of us have wondered why it is that prayer is so difficult to be established and to maintain. And it is because it is the very pinpoint of spiritual warfare. For the Evil One knows that he needs to fear the response of the Father to the prayers of his children, and therefore he seeks to so work in our experience that we will leave off the issue of prayer, or, if we do determine to pray, that we will pray in such a way that our prayers are just mechanical, they are careless, casual, and we may even say that they are purposeless—that we have established a pattern whereby we are going through things, and we’re halfway into the business before we recognize that our minds are not even engaged in what is going on and our hearts seem to be so removed from that which we’re endeavoring to say.
Well, this form of words, this layout that Jesus has provided, has come in answer to the request of an individual that the disciples be taught how to pray. And we have been learning from this; I know that a number of you have expressed the helpfulness of our having paused purposefully, and I’m not surprised, because I have found myself helped at the same time.
We’ve been discovering in the various phrases a picture of what it means to be a Christian. There are all kinds of ways in which we might describe the nature of Christian living; sometimes they are obvious, and other times we have to just look a little more carefully, as in these phrases. For example, we discovered that a Christian is a trusting child. If you are a Christian today, then you’re part of a group of trusting children. How do we give expression to our trust? By calling upon God as our Father. As a Christian, you have become part of a company of reverent worshippers, our worship being declared in the phrase “Hallowed be your name.” As Christians this morning, we are loyal citizens of the kingdom of heaven, our loyalty being expressed in part in our use of the phrase “Your kingdom come.” As Christians, we are unashamed dependents, praying each day that we might receive our bread, that we might receive that which is necessary for our physical sustenance on an ongoing basis. And then this morning we discover that the Christian is not only all of this, but also a Christian is a forgiven debtor—a forgiven debtor; that sin puts us in God’s debt, a debt that we are unable to eradicate, and one that, if it is to be dealt with thoroughly and finally, is going to have to be dealt with by our creditor—namely, God himself.
I wonder if you’re struck by the way in which Jesus moves from food, which is our most basic physical requirement, to forgiveness, which is our primary spiritual need . Says Jesus, “Pray this way: ‘Give us our daily food, and grant to us daily forgiveness.’” Forgiveness. What a world of difference as a result of learning forgiveness! It changes the heart of an individual, removing bitterness and resentment, a grudging spirit, a temptation always to do down the other person. For the forgiven soul, recognizing that the debt that I had incurred was so vast, like the man in the story, that I would never be able to eradicate it, having discovered that God would be prepared to do that for me, surely then I will be prepared to forgive those who have offended against me at a far less significant level.
What a difference forgiveness makes in a home: dealing with those sullen silences, those hasty outbursts, those dreadful recriminations between parent and teenage child, that settled, smoldering, fuming fire that is just there somewhere in the house that in a moment can become a great conflagration as people go back to issues that were once apparently dealt with and over simply to stoke up the fire a wee bit and create flames. And why is this? Because of an unwillingness to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” What a dramatic change is brought about in a church family when we are prepared to set aside all bitterness and resentment, all envy and jealousy, when we are prepared to embrace the pattern and plan of God for his church. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” How would we grieve him? By entertaining bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. You understand what an impact that can have on a worshipping community? Do you realize that the real expression of worship is that which emerges from hearts that are engaged by God, having discovered his forgiveness, and hearts that are forgiving others as a genuine expression of our relationships with one another? Do you realize that a worshipping community cannot emerge in any sense of meaningful wonder and adoration as long as rage and malice and anger and bitterness are tolerated, even on the smallest level amongst apparently small groups of individuals?
So, “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” says the Spirit through Paul to the Ephesian believers, “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And what a difference there would be in our world today—and there is in our world today—when men and women who are trapped in the dungeons of their own creating are liberated as a result of the discovery of forgiveness. You think of making your way on the road early in the morning and discovering some of the most foulmouthed people you could ever imagine. Have they stayed up all night practicing these words and these gestures? Or did they emerge from sleep with such a violent rage within them? Is it possible that we can walk into our workplace and immediately be confronted by all of this? Why is this? I would like to argue a case—indeed, I think I can—that the reason for all of that chaos, and all of that resentment, and all of that bitterness, and all of that vitriol that spews out of men and women is a result of the fact that they have never learned to pray in reality, “Father, forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
So vital is the matter of forgiveness that material benefits, personal relationships, and life in general mean very little when we do not know what it is to have our guilt assuaged and forgiveness our reality . There isn’t a place you can go and eat, there isn’t a meal you can be served, a car you can drive, a vacation you can take, a job you can secure, an academic credit that can be conferred upon you that will be able to mitigate the sense of a guilty conscience. Now, you don’t have to be a genius to understand this. You just have to be a human being. Every child knows that in relationship to their mom and dad. As long as they harbor that within them which they know they need to disclose and to repent of and to turn from and ask forgiveness from, their bedroom, no matter how magnificent their PlayStation, no matter how wonderful their large-screen television mechanism, no matter how enjoyable, is like dust in their hands. Why? Until they know themselves to be forgiven! “Give us our food.” We need it. “Grant us forgiveness.” We need it.
So, what are we saying? We’re saying what the Bible is saying—namely, that forgiveness is a priority. Indeed, forgiveness is the priority. Turn back in your Bible to chapter 5 and let me remind you of a scene that we considered some months ago now. As soon as you see it you will remember. I’m sure you won’t remember the sermon, but you will remember the scene. Most of you don’t remember last Sunday’s sermon, so how you’d remember from months ago I’ll never know. Don’t feel bad, I can’t remember it either myself.
But the seventeenth verse of Luke chapter 5 describes the circumstances in which Jesus finds himself in a house teaching, and you’ll remember these people come down the street, and they’re carrying one of their friends on a bed, on a mattress. Everybody, as they went down the street, would have said, “Wow, there goes the gentleman on the mattress. We’ve seen him before.” And they would have said to one another, “How kind of his friends to carry him along the road; that’s nice of them, taking him to see Jesus.” Obviously, the reason he is going to see Jesus is because Jesus is a healer, and hopefully he will be healed and no longer have to be carried around on that mattress. Certainly, that was the expectation of the friends. Unable to make the normal pathway of entry into the home, they go up onto the roof, they take the Eastern roof structure apart enough to be able to let the mattress down on ropes right in front of the Lord Jesus. And everyone in the room, and the friends who had brought him, and the people up the street would all have said to one another, “Aha, we know what’s going on, now. We know what this man’s need is. The need of this man is that his paralysis would be removed and that he may be able to walk back up the street.”
Now, that would be a fair analysis, would it not? Now look at verse 20: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Isn’t that an interesting response? Now, the people would have been justified in saying, “No, no, Jesus. We’re not bringing him here for the forgiveness of his sins. We brought him here for the really significant issue in his life. I mean, we all walked here. But he can’t walk here. The reason we have brought him here, Jesus, is because of the fact that he can’t walk.” That’s implicit in it. And Jesus says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
Why does he say that? Because that is the primary issue. One day this man’s body would die. Jesus goes on to set him on his feet, but that’s not the real priority. Because if he sets him back on his feet to walk down the road, Jesus knows that this man has a soul that will never die—that when finally his refashioned legs crumble into dust, his soul will go to the bar of God’s judgment. And therefore, as Jesus looks upon this scene and sees the faith of these individuals who believe that Jesus is capable of dealing with the physical concerns of the man, Jesus says, “Let me address for you, son, the real issue of your life. I want to forgive your sins.”
Now, if you turn back another page, that explains why Jesus, after his disciples had come to him in the early hours of the morning and said to him, “Jesus, the whole place is going crazy after you did those healings last night. You laid your hands on so many people, and demons came out of people. People were shouting, ‘You are the Son of God.’” And the inference is, “Jesus, this is off to a tremendous start. We’ve really got a revival going here. Let’s just go back and do more of the same.” And then Jesus says in verse 43, “‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” Why did he go out preaching the message of the kingdom of God? Because forgiveness is the priority.
Do you know forgiveness this morning? Have you had your conscience cleansed? Or are you relying on some religious mechanism to make that happen, even coming along with routineness to a worship event such as this? “No,” you say, “I’m thinking these issues out.” Well, I am glad that you are, and I count it a privilege to be able to help you to think along. When Peter in the power of the Holy Spirit addresses the privileged opportunity of proclaiming the gospel—in Acts chapter 2 it’s recorded for us—and the people in response to his preaching ask the question, having been cut to the heart, “What shall we do?” Peter replies in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is the priority—the forgiveness of our sins.
This is why we go around the world in missions. Of course we are involved in medical missions! Of course we fly planes in with mercy and with food and with clothes! Of course we touch the issues of floods and famines! But listen: those that are saved from the famine as a result of the rescue of a helicopter’s winch and those who are saved as a result of the provision of food are now not any more better set in relationship to eternal matters unless they come to understand forgiveness. This is not a social agency that Jesus set in motion. “Jesus, you should stay here and heal people.” Jesus says, “I’m going. I’m going preaching.” “Peter, what should we do in relationship to your sermon?” “Repent. Be baptized. Turn from your sin. Display it in your baptism. Be filled with the Spirit of God. You will receive the forgiveness of your sins.”
In Acts chapter 10, you find the very same thing. And I don’t want to weary you with references; let me just give you this one further reference. Once again, Peter is explaining—it’s in the context of Cornelius’s house—and Peter explains what it was that Jesus demanded of his followers. Acts 10:42: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” He says, “If you want to know what it is, this message that we’re proclaiming, we are proclaiming what the whole line of the prophets pointed to. They pointed to the fact that all of the symbols of sacrifice in the Old Testament would finally coalesce in the one who is the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world. And now we are proclaiming to you this Lamb of God,” he says, “that those who turn in repentance and faith may receive the forgiveness of their sins.”
That’s why in the whole Bible you have this emphasis. We quote all the time Psalm 130:3–4, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, [which of us] could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” Forgiveness is a wonderful thing! This is unique to Christianity. Islam has ninety-nine names of God, but there is not in all of Islam the name Father, for a Muslim does not know what it is to discover God as Father. For Allah for the Muslim is way up there somewhere, unknown and remote. For the Buddhist—and it’s trendy to be Buddhist—there is no experience of this. Listen as I quote to you from Buddhist doctrine: “Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, not if we enter into the clefts of the mountains, is there known a spot in the whole world where a man might be freed from an evil deed.” Do you hear that? “There’s not a spot in the whole world where a man might be freed from an evil deed.” Do you mean that, like Lady Macbeth, I have to keep all of this stuff on my hands all the way to the grave? That like Macbeth, as he goes to the doctor and he says, “Surely there is something that you can give my wife to deal with this,” as she stands before the mirror and bemoans her sorry lot? What is she trying to eradicate? She’s trying to eradicate a guilty conscience. She’s longing for forgiveness. But she cannot find a spot in the whole world where her evil deed may be set aside.
This is Christianity. Oh, I know a place in the world. Do you? “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” Indeed, we used to sing in Scotland in our Crusader class on Sunday afternoons—the class that I was determined at the age of nine that I would never go to, till my father dumped me there one Sunday afternoon and ran away before I could get back in the car. And how I resented him for that for all of an hour. And how I thank God for his memory and that I can quote to you this song that I learned on these Sunday afternoons. Says the Buddhist, “There is not a spot on the whole earth where a man can receive freedom from his evil deed.” Listen:
I know a fount where sins are washed away;
[And] I know a place where night is turned to day.
[And] burdens are lifted, [and] blind eyes made to see;
There’s a wonder-working pow’r in the [cross] of Calvary.
Is it any wonder, then, that forgiveness comes at the top of David’s list when in Psalm 103 he sits down to pen his great satisfaction for all of God’s goodness, and he writes it down, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”? Do you think he had to think for a moment about what he would put top of the list? After his sorry disaster chronicled in Psalm 51, after the mess within his home and the situation with Bathsheba, and all of the chaos that had ensued, what do you think he put at the top of the list? “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins.” Forgiveness is the priority. Forgiveness is the message. Forgiveness is the need.
Now, somebody says to me, “Well, why is it in one Lord’s Prayer we say, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’?” Because that largely follows the Anglican Prayer Book from long ago. Why is it, then, that in another place, such as in Parkside, we say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? Why don’t we just say what it says here, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? Well, actually, that would be as helpful as any, and we can do that if you like.
But the picture in relationship to the Greek word is a clear picture. And what it does is, it pictures sin as an unpayable debt against God—that we have incurred debt as a result of our rebellion, as a result of our casual indifference, as a result of the fact that we have turned our own way, there are things we do that we shouldn’t do, there are things we say we shouldn’t say, there are issues that we should do that we don’t do, and so on, and frankly, we’re in a dreadful mess. And every day that passes, the interest compounds and the debt gets worse and worse and worse. Indeed, the Bible says that we’re in such a dreadful predicament that only if the creditor intervenes will the debt be able to be canceled. That’s the significance of the hymn,
Not the [labor] of my hands
[Could] fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow.
All for sin could not atone.
I am unable to come up now with enough cash, as it were, in the bank of heaven in order to place my merit and offset against this dreadful indebtedness that I now have. Well then, are we stuck? Yes, without the intervention of the creditor.
And that’s the good news: that God, against whom we have offended, intervenes at great cost to himself. Forgiveness is an act of God, the divine judge. It is not that God has chosen to excuse us like a benevolent grandfather may do when, having babysat for the evening, the mother comes home—his daughter comes home—he says, “Well, he spilled ink all over the white couch in the living room and he smashed two windows in the greenhouse out back, but he’s fine. I gave him ice cream and sent him to his bed, and really, don’t worry about it at all. It’s fine.” And some people like to think that that is God—somehow a benevolent grandfather who simply looks at the circumstances and says, “You know, don’t worry about that. I can excuse everything.” He can’t, because his character is such that justice must be served. Nor is it that God simply decides to smooth things over: “There, there, now. It doesn’t matter. Let’s put a blanket over that. Let’s cover this. Let’s pretend that that didn’t happen,” the way we’re tempted to do and think that actually we’ve forgiven other people—which is to anticipate where we’re going with this study.
If you or I think for a moment that an attempt to excuse behavior or to smooth things over equals forgiveness, we’re flat out wrong. And that’s why some of us live with such a thing in our gut, because we have never actually forgiven people. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not a feeling, it’s a choice. Enabled by the Spirit of God, I determine that I will not tell you about that again, I will not tell her about that again, and I won’t bring that up before God again, because I forgive you. It’s not the same as pulling a big blanket over stuff and saying, “Well, we won’t worry about that. Let’s just push it into the corner of the garage, you see.” Do you think that’s what God does? Winks at sin, pushes it over in a corner, and says, “It doesn’t really matter, just go on with your life”? No. That is not forgiveness. God does not overlook sin.
Well then, what does he do? The answer is, he provides propitiation for our sin. Anybody want to write that word down? Let me try and spell it for you. You need to write it down. You need to know about propitiation. If you do, you need a reminder. If you don’t, you need the information. Propitiation: P-R-O-P-I-T-I-A-T-I-O-N. (I’m glad I was never in a spelling bee.) Propitiation. Here is the good news: God, the righteous judge in whose debt we find ourselves as a result of sin, has provided a propitiatory sacrifice which fully squares with his justice and the demands of his law, so that my guilt and my liability may be removed and that he may declare me not guilty.
You see, this is absolute rubbish to much of Christendom. That’s why you need to know about it, because it is a cardinal doctrine in the Bible. Many of our friends and neighbors who embrace a quasi- form of Christianity have got no notion of a substitutionary Savior. They regard that as a bloody and horrible idea, that a man would die in the place of sinners. “We don’t believe that,” they say. Or that God in his justice must be served by the meting out of his wrath upon sin. “We don’t accept that either. We accept only that God is love.” Well, what are you trying to do? Create your own God? Or do you want to meet the God of the Bible? How does God reveal himself to us? Absolutely perfect in his holiness, judge meting out wrath upon sin, and calling men and women to account at the bar of his judgment. We’re all going to meet Jesus. We’re all going to the judgment. The only question is whether we meet him as our Lord and Savior or whether we stand before him as our judge.
Now, if you want this in a verse, let me just turn you to 1 John 2:2. And interestingly, the NIV interprets for us this propitiatory sacrifice by phrasing it “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” First John 2:1: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin…” I bet you’re glad that phrase is in there, aren’t you? Or is it just me? “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” We have an advocate with the Father. Who is this? “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Now, remember in 1 Timothy 2, just in passing, what Paul tells Timothy: “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” There is nobody else can act as advocate before the Father except Christ the Son. Mary can’t, the saints can’t, Buddha can’t, Krishna can’t. Only Christ who is the Son can. Now, “Jesus Christ the Righteous One,” what is he? He is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That’s the word there. He is the propitiation for our sins.
God’s holy anger against sin, which both his justice and his law demands, fall upon his Son, Jesus. The fact is, we deserve God’s wrath on account of sin. Punishment is not politically correct anymore. Everybody has a condition; they don’t have a bad attitude. Everybody is painful; they’re not sinful. Everybody’s environment has confused them and distressed them and so on. And so, who are we, who are any of us, ever to exercise judgment? That’s why it’s so very difficult to get any kind of exercise of justice in a court of law, because it has broken down from the very heart of things. Until a man or a woman, until a family, until a boy or a girl, or until a culture acknowledges that we deserve God’s wrath on account of our sins, it will be virtually impossible to exercise jurisprudence in any meaningful way at all.
The justice of God demands that our sin should be punished. The death of the Lord Jesus fully satisfied God’s holy judgment. “And God demonstrates his love towards us,” says Paul in Romans 5, “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Now, let me just try and draw this to a close, because I can see some of your eyes glazing over. In fact, I’ve seen it for quite a few minutes. For those of you who are thinking these issues through, and as we come to this time of Easter and you’re saying to yourself, “Why was it that Jesus on the cross cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Aren’t these the questions our children ask us? “How can God forsake God?” they ask us, just when we thought we had them over for the night. Just when we thought their eyes had closed, they open up again and they go, “How can God forgive God?” or “How can God forsake God?”
Why is it that the Father turns his face away from the Son? Because “He who knew no sin”—was perfection—“became sin for us.” Jesus Christ did not become a sinner. He was never a sinner. He became sin. For all of the sins of our lives were transferred, a la the scapegoat in Leviticus 16, onto the very life of Christ, and he embodied sin. And as he bears our sins in his body on the tree, the Father, who is too pure to be able to look upon iniquity, turns his face away from the Son. And that was the first and only occasion when Jesus was separated from the Father. For they had lived in unbroken communion in eternity, and he had walked in communion with his Father all through his earthly pilgrimage. “Do you not know?” he said to his earthly parents. “Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”—even as a twelve-year-old boy in the temple in Jerusalem. But now he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
What’s the answer to that? It is that he was our propitiation—that all of the wrath that I deserve, that all of the hell that I have to pay, that all of the royal mess that I have made, was borne in Christ. And it is because of that cry that his other cry comes with such profound impact: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” You see, he was forsaken in order that we might be forgiven.
Are you forgiven this morning?
Oh, I remember Sunday afternoons—I’ve told you of it so often—and those dreadful LP records spinning around that put my father to sleep and kept the rest of us as children all awake. And how I resented those records as well, and those Sunday afternoons. And yet it’s all embedded in my brain now. Like this:
You ask me why I’m happy, and I will tell you why:
Because my sins are gone;
And when I look at others who ask me where they are,
I say, “Hey, my sins are gone.”
They’re underneath the blood of the cross of Calvary,
As far removed as darkness is from dawn;
In the sea of God’s forgetfulness, that’s good enough for me.
Praise God, my sins are gone.
That’s the message. This is the gospel. Would you not believe the gospel? Do you want to be religious, or do want to know forgiveness? Do you want to attend church, or do you want to know God? I can’t imagine coming here and listening to this stuff and walking out of the door routinely. If I could make you a Christian, I would come to you individually and lay my hands upon you and drag you into the kingdom, but I can’t. I cannot convince you. I cannot coerce you. I can simply lay the message before you.
Twentieth-century song, in the words of Glad, I think it is: “Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad.” Remember that one?
Every debt that you’ve ever had,
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord.
Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad.
Oh, I don’t care how rainy it is—oh, I’m not going to say, “I don’t care.” I’m going to say, “No matter how rainy it is,” no matter how daunting April 15 may appear to be, no matter what, in a very unsuperficial fashion, the Christian ought to walk out saying, “I am so thankful to God for the immensity of his forgiveness. He brought my name up on the computer screen, and he clicked on the thing that says ‘All’”—when you go in the Edit section, click All, or whatever it is (you can tell what a Philistine I am on this stuff) and it makes it all go blue, and then you hit the Delete, and it all goes away. You say, “That is a miracle!” Now, the fact is it hasn’t really gone far away, as I’ve discovered. And there are geniuses that can go and get it back. ’Cause I sent it away when I should have kept it, and they went and got it back for me. But when Jesus hits the Delete key, it never comes back up on the screen. He never brings it back up. It’s gone! If he was using a Mac, he would trail it to the Garbage icon and dump it in there, and it’s gone. Gone!
Who brings it up? Satan brings it up. Tell him to go back to hell where he belongs. Who brings it up? We bring it up. Look away to Christ. Who brings it up? Others bring it up. “Oh, we do?” Would we not forgive one another the way God in Christ has forgiven us?
And then, just when we think he’s falling asleep, he says, “Dad, last week you said that God was omniscient. That means he knows everything, right?” “Yeah.” “This week you said that he forgets. How can an omniscient God forget? How can you know everything and forget stuff?” Because an omniscient God may choose not to remember. See, we can’t choose not to remember, ultimately. ’Cause things jump up and bite us, at the most unlikely times. You’re driving in the car, and it comes again. You pass a corner, and it confronts you again. But I want to tell you on the strength of God’s Word this morning that God doesn’t bring it up. God doesn’t raise the matter. God looks upon the pardoned sinner as if they’d never sinned.
When—and with this I close—we get to chapter 15, if we ever do, and to the story of the prodigal son, we will remind ourselves then as I point out to you now this amazing truth pictured for us in the response of the father. Imagine for a moment that we as fathers have given to our children; our children have taken from us, and they’ve gone off and they’ve made a real mess of things. When they come back up the road in repentance—let’s be honest, now—don’t you think we might be tempted to say, “Well, it’s nice to see you, but I want to have a wee talk with you about the tragic disobedience that you’ve just been displaying. And when we’ve gone through that, I want to talk to you about the dreadful consequences of your tragic disobedience. Look at your tattoos. Look at your face. Look at all the pain and all the grime and all the dirt.” I mean, even a loving father might be tempted to do that, right?
But when the prodigal shows up, is there any of that? No! Nothing! The father doesn’t say, “Now, let’s sit down and talk about all the things you’ve done while you were down there.” No mention. He doesn’t say, “Now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to have just a little while on our own, and we’re going to deal with all of the tragic consequences that have been as a result of your rebellion.” No. He says, “Could you please bring me a gown and put it on him? Shoes for his feet! Rings for his fingers! Kill the fatted calf! Start the band! Turn on the shower! This my son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and he was found.” He hit the Delete key. It was gone.
Did you ever come to Christ and ask him to hit the Delete key? Says Donald MacLeod, “The prodigal went back to his father not primarily because he was tormented by a guilty conscience, but because he was driven by the hope of mercy.” He didn’t go back primarily because of a guilty conscience. See, because he could have had a guilty conscience and stayed in the pigsty, right? He could have been just as guilty in the pigsty. Or he could have tried to reform himself in the pigsty. Or he could have found a halfway house for the guilty conscience. What was it that took him back to his dad? His father’s eyes, his father’s arms, his father’s love, his father’s heart, his father’s forgiveness.
Well, this has become a series within a series here. I sense there may be some this morning who need to bow down before the Lord, and give up the sword of the rebellion, and ask him to make the reality of forgiveness and cleansing real within your heart. If you’d like to talk in our prayer room through the doors to my right and your left, there will be folks glad to talk and pray. If you’d like to make time to talk, that’s fine too. And if you’d like just where you’re seated to call out to God, then he hears the cries of the penitent.
Father, we thank you that we have the Bible and that we’re not left having to root around and try and find sermons in Newsweek magazine. We thank you that in the Bible we have your unerring truth; that we don’t have to try and make it sound better than it is, it’s fantastic; that we don’t have to make it more comforting, because it couldn’t be more comforting, nor more cutting, because it couldn’t engage us more dramatically than it does.
Will you look upon us in your mercy, we pray? And whether as a result of the entanglements of a guilty conscience or the wooing of a father’s love, will you today forgive our sins? For Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
 Luke 11:2 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 18:21–35.
 Ephesians 4:30 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 4:31 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 4:32 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 4:43–44 (NIV 1984).
 Dhammapada 127.
 William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, 5.1.
 Traditional spiritual.
 Oliver Cooke, “I Know a Fount.”
 Psalm 103:2 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 103:2–3 (NIV 1984).
 Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776).
 1 John 2:1 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 2:5 (paraphrased).
 1 John 2:2 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 5:8 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 27:46 (NIV 1984).
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (paraphrased).
 Luke 2:49 (paraphrased).
 Luke 23:34 (KJV).
 N. B. Vandall, “My Sins Are Gone” (1934). Paraphrased.
 Michael Kelly Blanchard, “Be Ye Glad” (1998).
 Luke 15:22–24 (paraphrased).
 Source unknown.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.