Greeting: Praise the Lord, O my soul. He forgives all your sins.
Text: 34) I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Introduction: God makes many kinds of promises to us. Those various promises have much in common. All of them flow from God’s love and grace, apart from our deserving. All of them are true and reliable. All of them are positive and useful. But God’s promises are not all of equal value. Some of the things that God promises us are more important than others. For example, it is important for us to have God’s provision for our earthly lives and His guidance and protection through life. But there are things God can and wants to give us that are more precious than those. Today we consider the greatest promise that God can make to us – the promise to forgive our sins.
To some people, the forgiveness of sins does not seem like such a great gift. To some forgiveness appears an outdated, impractical and unnecessary thing. But, in fact, the forgiveness of sins addresses the greatest need that people – as sinners before God – have. Forgiveness is the gift that God most wants to give us. It is the prize that the devil least wants us to have. Martin Luther said of this promise: “The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins is the most important, and it is of all the most comforting. To Satan, it is truly the worst, and it is the most hateful. Satan tries so hard to rob us of this faith. As long as we live on earth, we shall have enough to do to learn the article of the forgiveness of sin. No one need look for anything new, anything higher, anything better.”
Today we consider this brief, but beautiful promise of our God: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
1.He Will Make You This Gift At His Own Expense
Human sin is a very obvious, painful and stubborn truth. All of us are sinners by inherited nature. In addition, we commit numerous, actual sins by personal choice. We have all fallen short of God’s holy standards and divine approval for our lives. We have conceived terrible thoughts, spoken damaging words, and committed improper deeds over and over and over again. We have wished people harm. We have told people lies. We have damaged people’s property. We have left some duties undone. We have failed to deliver on promises we made. We have denied God the love of our hearts and the works of our service. We have sinned in countless ways. Perhaps, we thought little of our sins and our sinful ways. But to God, our sins are an extremely serious matter. Each sin betrays that love He has shown us and offends His holy nature. Each sin we commit incurs more guilt on our record and adds more punishment for our persons. We have put ourselves in a terrible fix. We have no one to blame for this but ourselves.
Unless our sins are removed from us, we live under the curse and penalty of divine wrath and rejection, a condemning conscience and unending, unbearable punishments in hell. What makes it worse is that neither we, nor any other human, have a way to get rid of our sins.
That is why God’s promise is so every important to us. Where we are doomed and powerless, God lovingly steps in and announces: “I will forgive your wickedness and will remember your sins no more.” God promises forgiveness for our sins. The primary Old Testament word for “forgiveness”, the word that is used in our text from Jeremiah 31 is the word “Calach.” “Calach” is used fairly often in the Bible, 46 times. Its use is reserved for something that only God does. “Calach” basically means “God’s pardon for sin in which He sets aside His anger toward the sinner, withholds the punishment He could rightfully inflict, and restores the offender to His favor.” God forgiveness includes these key items: He sets aside His anger toward us. He does not inflict His punishments on us. He freely bestows His favor toward us. This is the precious gift God gives when He pardons a sinner.
Although God freely offers this gift to sinners, the gift is extremely costly. Martin Luther explains this cost in an Easter sermon he preached. He said: “If God’s wrath is to be taken from me and I am to obtain grace and forgiveness, this blessing must be earned from Him by someone. For God cannot be kind and gracious to sin, and cannot remove punishment and wrath, unless sin has been paid for and satisfaction has been rendered. Now no one (not even an angel in heaven) was able to do away with the eternal, irreparable damage and the eternal wrath of God, which we had earned by our sins, except the eternal Person of God’s Son Himself. And this He did by stepping into our place, taking our sins upon Himself, and answering for them as if He were guilty of them Himself.” In an Advent sermon, Luther adds these thoughts: “This merciful forgiveness did not take place without having been merited; a Mediator appeared who earned it for us and in our stead. He is Christ, our Lord. For, after all, God wanted satisfaction made for sin and wanted to have His honor and justice satisfied. This we were unable to do. But Christ did it. Because of the unfathomable mercy of the Father, Jesus was sent and came to us in order to carry out this work.”
The forgiveness for sins we need, something that is impossible for us to gain by ourselves, is the very thing God made possible and achieved by paying for it Himself through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. It is a gift we receive by faith, by believing what God says about our sin and His forgiveness. By taking to heart His Words, such as those in Isaiah 43, where God tells us: “You have burdened Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offenses. But, I am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Or as God tells us in 1 John 1: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
Our natural inclination is to look to ourselves for solutions to our problems. But that doesn’t work when it comes to the problem of sin. If we look to ourselves for answers to sin, guilt, and punishment – all we will find is more unrighteousness, powerlessness and hopelessness. For forgiveness, we have to look away from ourselves. We have to look at the perfect life and sin-cancelling work of Jesus Christ. There we will find righteousness and salvation, comfort and peace. God promises sinners that He forgives them for the sake of Jesus Christ. He makes this a gift that He has paid for at His own expense.
2.He Will Forgive Constantly And Completely
God’s promise to forgive is a reliable promise. We can count on it. It is also a comprehensive promise. It covers all our sins. In his commentary on the Book of Jeremiah, Doctor Theodore Laetsch makes this interesting observation about the Hebrew tenses used in our text. He says: “When God tells us that He ‘will forgive and not remember our sins,’ He chooses to use the Hebrew imperfect tense that denotes continuing and thorough actions. Dr. Laetsch highlights that fact that God’s forgiveness for our sins is both constant and complete. We have learned to express this truth in Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. When we confess the work of the Holy Spirit, we say, “In this Christian Church, He daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers in Christ.” Some of us remember the older wording: “He daily and richly forgives.”
In His promise to forgive, God tells us that He does not leave the work of forgiving us undone. Jesus is no temporary or partial Savior. He does not have a limited time frame on our forgiveness. He does not say that He will forgive us for 60 years worth of sins, but no more than that. He does not say that He will forgive us for morning and evening sins, but we are on our own for the sins we commit in the afternoon. God forgives continually; round the clock, day and night, year after year, from our birth until our death.
Nor does God place a limit on the number of sins He will forgive. Jesus did not pay for some of the sins of all people or most of the sins of all people or even the vast majority of sins of all people. Jesus paid for all the sins of all people. Saint Peter tells us that Jesus’ sacrifice was “once for all.” Saint John tells us that Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus has paid the full price of all the sins of all people. When God promises to forgive us, He promises to forgive not just some, but all of our sins. The fact that God forgives us daily and fully, continually and thoroughly, constantly and completely brings us the greatest comfort and unending joy.
We have God’s great and solemn promise: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” With this promise, God meets our absolutely greatest need. He solves our problem of sin. He restores us to His loving favor. This promise is sure because it was purchased by the perfect, completed work of Jesus Christ. It is God’s free gift to us and does not at all depend on our imperfect efforts. This promise covers us all the time for all our sins. We are constantly and completely pardoned.
So we can rejoice with Micah the prophet who said: “Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of His people. You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You have compassion on us. You tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Because of God’s great promises, we are many things, but most of all, we are graciously, freely, thoroughly forgiven for our sins. Thanks be to the God of grace for this indescribable gift. Amen.