Mark 3:20-28 “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and he is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.'”
This passage is about people who want to live their lives without having to face up to the interfering claims of Christ. They want to banish him from their lives. Two different groups dismiss him, the first claim that Jesus is crazy, and it is his own mother, brothers and sisters who say that; the second group are the religious leaders of his day and they say that Jesus is inspired by the devil. So the institutions of family and church were both opposed to the Lord Jesus.
It has been a few months since our Lord began his ministry of preaching, healing and delivering people from Satanic influences. Already tens of thousands of people want to meet him. Thousands have been healed by him, and the crowds are getting enormous. Mark gives us one simple illustration of just how impossible it was for the Saviour to live a normal life any longer. He returned to his home from spending some time at the side of the lake, and the crowd followed him. He entered his house, but the people actually followed him in – right into his kitchen. They packed the passages and rooms, wanting to touch him and speak to him, no one giving way. He could do nothing in the presence of such hysteria. It was even impossible for Jesus to get some food ready. Mark tells us that he and his disciples weren’t able to prepare a meal for themselves – they were being prevented from eating by this crush of spectators in his own home. If he were out of doors the crowds pushed forward to touch him – it was life-threatening (vv.9&10). If he tried to get away from them by going indoors they’d push the doors open and in they’d press, filling the house. This was what happened when God became incarnate. Let us examine these two opposing groups.
1. JESUS’ OWN FAMILY CONSIDERED HIM MAD.
This immobilisation of Jesus seems to have gone on for a little while, because his family who lived a day’s journey away in Nazareth got to hear about it, and his half-brothers and half-sisters, who would have been men and women in their twenties, decided that they had to go to Capernaum and take him away. “Make way for us! We are his family. His brothers and sisters, and we are here to deliver him, because he is out of his mind.” That is how they judged what they had seen and heard, that he was deranged, or as people say, he was having a nervous breakdown. His mother Mary was as confused as the rest of them. Think of it from their perspective, Jesus had suddenly upped and left his home, his loving parent, his siblings, and the family business. This carpenter had started to preach in the open air and the synagogues. He was also leading a healing mission, and spending nights on a mountain in prayer, and to cap it all he had started an organisation choosing twelve men to work under him. There was considerable controversy about his message, and activities; his family were worried sick. So many people wanted to see him that he couldn’t turn around in the kitchen to cook food for himself or sit down for five minutes to eat it. People had to see him and touch him everywhere, at every time. He doesn’t have a moment to himself. “Our dear sweet holy Jesus has lost it,” his family judged. He has religious mania, and they have come to take him home to look after him.
It is significant that a year earlier men were not saying about Simon the Zealot, that Simon’s Jewish nationalist zeal and ambition to be a freedom fighter had made him mad. Nor were they saying then that Matthew the tax-collector’s zeal to make money and gather customs’ dues had made him mad. They don’t say it today about media people and pop-stars and sportsmen who need bodyguards, and are followed everywhere by screaming masses of people. No one says that they are out of their minds. People say, “Lucky dogs!” They’d love to be famous, they imagine. They want to live in a fantasy world rather than their own real world. But let a man be overwhelmed by the wonderful honour and glory of God; let a man have a vision of the greatness of the Lord and proceed to speak to people in an animated and lively manner about him; let him stand in the open air and preach; let him give up a career to go to Bible College; let him say that in his life he wants to serve the one living and true God, then that man certainly faces the danger that some in his family will think that he has lost it.
So some men and women have always judged a person who has been converted from living for sin and the world, to begin living just as seriously for Jesus Christ, that he has become a fanatic. When the apostle Paul preached before Festus, then Festus cried out in response: “You are out of our mind Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.” When Saul of Tarsus had been truly mad with rage about the spread of Christianity so that he sat down and watched as his friends murdered a young man by stoning to death – what madness – then nobody at all called them mad. But let him preach the gospel and reason with a king about righteousness, self control and judgment to come and immediately someone will say, “He’s mad!”
You remember the legend where a man climbs across a high mountain range and descends into a deep valley and discovers a tribe of people living there who are all totally blind. They have never come across anyone who talks about light and darkness and clouds and rainbows and butterflies and mist and moons and shadows and colours and birds. They quickly conclude that he must be mad to talk like that, and that they will cure his madness by cutting out his eyes. He flees from them climbing the precipitous sides of their valley. Those blind valley people were just like Jesus’ family who heard him speak of God’s kingdom, and they thought him out of his mind.
Of course, let every young person who becomes a Christian seek to be so considerate, kind, wise and careful in his witness to his family and friends, that he or she does not give unnecessary offence. Playing loudly CDs of Contemporary Christian Music is not helpful. Leaving gospel tracts all over the house is not wise. Arguing for the Christian faith so that you always have the last word is not the way to win your family for Christ. Giving up a job and going on the dole is not a good witness. Talking only about religion is fanaticism. The best way forward for you is to store up knowledge of Christ, grow in love and be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for your hope. Since knowing God for yourself there must be a reality about you, that you walk in love and thoughtfulness before your friends. But don’t despair if they still think you are extreme. Expect it. Didn’t the Lord Jesus always live in exemplary love and gentleness with all his family for thirty years? But his kid brothers and his mother said so cruelly to people in a strange town about him, “Our Jesus is out of his mind, and we’re coming to take him away.”
So some of your friends and family might think that you are getting too religious if you should give up a good job because of Sunday working, and cease having ‘fun’ in the club with the lads, and that you say to them that heaven is more important than this world. Won’t they consider you an old fogey, and a fanatic? Some will, but only some. Others will be impressed. There was once a good man named Mr Innes whose son became a Christian and he told his father that he was going far away to become a missionary. Mr Innes loved his son deeply, and grieved over that decision, but he said to his friends, “Some people are troubled with a bad son, but I am troubled with a good son.”
In 1976 the Annual Methodist Conference was held in Preston and one afternoon they had the customary open air service as a peremptory tribute to their origins. The preacher, as usual, was Donald Soper whose gospel was socialism, who believed that as long as England was saddled with an evil capitalist system God was bound to make allowance for our failings as men were making the best of a very bad job.
So Soper delivered this message and then invited questions. A young woman put her hand up: “All this talk about socialism is all very well, but what must I do to get to heaven?” Soper parried the question by telling her that there were some people who were more interested in getting to know about the furniture in heaven than getting to know their next door neighbours. She would not be put off and repeated the question: “What must I do to get to heaven?” This time he told her that she was rather young to be worrying about this sort of thing. She would not be put down so easily, and she asked him the third time how could she know she was going to heaven. He told her this time that he would have to have a chat with her after the meeting was over. Some people were seen to approach her after this politician had stopped speaking and they talked to her, I believe, about the good news of salvation through entrusting ourselves to the Lord Jesus.
Now there we see two people; one is anxious to know about heaven, and the other never mentions it. Which of those two is the mad person? Did Jesus Christ actually talk to his disciples and tell them that for some people who suffered for Christ great would be their reward in heaven? Did he not tell us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven . . .”? Did he not say that in his Father’s house were many mansions and that he was going to prepare a place for us? Did he not preach of the kingdom of heaven? Yes he did, then who is really mad? Isn’t it the person who won’t tell people how to have that reality of which the Son of God spoke? That is madness. Not the person who is earnest to know, as the years are flying swiftly by, how she can have hope in death, she is surely not mad. Are we mad to have hope in death? As day by day it comes nearer and nearer to us all, and here is Christ the Son of God who rose from the dead on the third day, isn’t it madness to ignore what he did and said? You are mad if you remain silent, and you are mad who mock us, and you are mad not to prepare for heaven. What good is an open air speaker if he can answer every question under the sun except the one thing that is needful?
2. RELIGIOUS PEOPLE THOUGHT JESUS WAS POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL.
His family came from Nazareth and thought him mad, but the teachers of the law came from Jerusalem and said, “‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.'” (v.22). Sinclair Ferguson says that Marks gives us here is “his equivalent of modern television’s ‘split screen’ (as for example, in a golf tournament, the two leading competitors may be shown playing on different holes at the same time). Mark introduces scene one, which centres on the concern in Jesus’ family circle over the publicity his ministry is receiving. Their instinct was to take him home quietly, because they were convinced he must have lost his senses. The second scene pictures the Jerusalem theologians who had come down to Capernaum in order to declare the city ‘seduced’ by Jesus. One of their arguments for this was that Jesus was exorcising demons by the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebub (v.22). The parallel between the two events is significant for Mark. They present us with the only possible interpretations of Jesus which are open to us: he is either mad (the family’s view), or bad (the Pharisaic theologian’s view), or he is what he claims to be, divine (Mark’s view)” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.45).
There are some oft-quoted words of C.S.Lewis from his book “Mere Christianity” that seem to fit in here so well. Professor Lewis wrote, “I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really silly thing that people often say about Christ: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That’s the one thing that we mustn’t say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d either be a lunatic- on a level with the man who says he’s a poached egg – or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But don’t let us come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open to us. He didn’t intend to” (C.S.Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” Fontana Books, London 1955, p.52).
It is fascinating to see that nobody at all in Galilee was denying the fact that the Lord Jesus taught the things that he did as a mighty preacher. Everyone agreed that no man had ever spoken like Christ. There was no dispute about that. Neither was anyone denying that disease had been driven out of Capernaum, and that Christ hadn’t failed to heal a single person, no matter how desperately ill that person might have been. Neither were they denying that people whose lives had been gripped by unclean spirits had known deliverance and peace by the work of Christ. No one in his family, and no one amongst the Pharisees were denying that these things had happened all over Galilee. The dispute was over this: how these things happened. So the family were feebly saying that their oldest brother Jesus was a sick, disturbed man while yet teaching more profound truths than Moses himself, and doing all these extraordinary works! They decided that Jesus needed to be taken away and locked away in peace somewhere – the village idiot. While the Pharisees were saying that it was through the power of the devil that Jesus was preaching . . . the Sermon on the Mount, and giving sight to the blind and delivering people from the influence of devils.
The Lord Christ answers them with two parables. As is often the case he begins with a question: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” (v.23). A civil war will destroy that country, like it has destroyed Congo and Cote d’Ivoire and the Balkans. A kingdom divided against itself cannot thrive. Then the Lord brings it home to us in a picture of a divorce, of which, sadly, we’re all aware: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (v.25). Think of the pain of a divorce and the sale of the house, and dividing up the home, and the disputes as to which spouse takes which pieces of furniture and the household articles. So Jesus says that “if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come” (v.26). Certainly something is happening to Satan’s kingdom if a devil can’t remain when Jesus stands before him. Whose kingdom is coming in with power? How incredible, and hilarious to suggest that Jesus is using the mighty power of the devil to divorce and drive out . . . the devil himself!
Then the Lord gives another parable: “no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house” (v.27). You see the mean and angry farmer with his shotgun, peering from behind his curtains, the razor wire on the walls around the farm, the security lights and cameras, the padlocked gates, and locked doors and windows. There are the rotweilers roaming the yard; how carefully the old man is guarding his farm from thieves. Think of all a robber will have to do to get through those defences and tie up the man and rob his farm. He will have to be smarter, and more ruthless, with greater fire power than that farmer. About whom is Jesus talking? Himself! Jesus has come into the kingdom of darkness. He has taken on the god of this world, and he has carried off his possessions. Every time he delivers a man or woman from demons he is carrying off Satan’s possessions. How could he do this? Because in the wilderness, after forty days of prayer and fasting, he had a full frontal confrontation with Satan himself and licked him! The devil failed to make any impact on him. Jesus Christ is stronger than Beelzebub. He will one day prevail over him definitively by submitting to crucifixion and by being raised from the dead. Jesus is going to disarm those demonic powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross, and so he will rob Satan of an immeasurable company of his captives. All of Galilee, and all the theologians from Jerusalem can see a new power and a new kingdom has come into Israel. See the dismissive way Jesus sends every kind of evil spirit – even the most horrific and malicious – back to the pit. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).
The gospel of Christ is a great chain that the Lord Christ has wrapped round and round Satan. The devil can no longer deceive the nations as he did all through the Old Testament years. Now his servants go to Latvia, Kenya, Austria, Taiwan, the Philippines, Argentina, Peru, and the utmost ends of the earth. Satan cannot prevent it happening. He is a chained and defeated creature and all over the world this day are multitudes who have been translated out of his kingdom and brought into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Jesus Christ has achieved this by his triumph over this strong man who has totally failed to keep his possessions.
So his family considered that he was out of his mind, and the religious people judged him to be an instrument of the devil, but what about ordinary sinners?
3. SINNERS ARE GLAD TO HEAR THAT JESUS OFFERS FORGIVENESS FOR EVERY KIND OF SIN.
We now meet for the first time a certain refrain that is going to occur for about a dozen times in Mark’s gospel. The refrain is this: “I tell you the truth” (v.28). Does he? This is the biggest issue confronting anyone who meets with Jesus Christ: is he telling the truth? The issue is not whether we will have a happier life if we live the way he teaches. There is no denying that. The issue is not if we can have better marriages and great experiences by going to church and putting the Christian teaching into practise. The issue is not whether our country would be a stronger and more caring society if many people did what Jesus Christ told us to do. All those things may be true but they are not the important issue. The important issue is this, does Jesus Christ tell the truth, because if he does and we believe him we go to heaven, but if he does and we reject him we go to hell. But if he is not telling the truth then everybody has to work out what they want to believe and do in life, and what Jesus says is just one option amongst a hundred. A dozen times in this gospel of Mark the Lord Christ is going to pause, and though all he says is true, he is going to summon us to heed what he says with these words, “I tell you the truth.” Is he a sick deranged man? Is he from the pit of hell? Or is he the Son of God?
What is he saying to us? “all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them” (v.28). Let’s end by thinking today about that promise of Jesus. There is no sin so terrible that it cannot be forgiven, says Christ. Is that true? “May it be true!” says the paedophile. “May it be true!” cries the murderer. “May it be true!” cries the pervert. “”May it be true!” cries the father who has abused his own children. “May it be true!” cry thieves, and torturers, and wife beaters, and gamblers, and drunkards, and adulterers. “May these words of the Son of God be true, that all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.” The grace of God is greater than all our sins. Though our wickedness has abounded God’s grace is much more abundant. Then have you gone like David the killer and adulterer and asked for mercy? Have you gone like Paul, the chief of sinners, and asked for pardon? What hope there is for you if you have. There is grace abounding to the chief of sinners. Its depths the angels cannot sound. Mercy for you and your sins however terrible they are in the name of Jesus Christ.
Let me illustrate this forgiveness by telling you what happened to the father of a pastor whom I know and have talked to named Nigel Lee. In July 1994 Nigel’s father, who was almost 86, was robbed and left for dead in his home in Barrydale, South Africa. His mother (having lost her mind and the use of some of her bodily functions) was permanently hospitalised. One week after being assaulted, his father died in the local hospital and went to be with the Lord.
Upon Nigel’s arrival in South Africa, he headed for Swellendam (where his mother was still in hospital). There he learned that the police had apprehended a young man in connection with the death of his father, and that the young man had signed a statement acknowledging that he alone had attacked his father. He was being held in jail in Swellendam, while awaiting a preliminary trial. Nigel immediately contacted the jail, requesting permission to come and speak to the accused (of whom it was being alleged that he had also killed someone else before attacking Nigel’s father).
Nigel went to the jail and was escorted to a room where three armed policemen and their officer were doing clerical work. One minute later, the accused was brought through the door into the room and stood there in front of him. He was a strongly-built medium-sized man, answering exactly to the description given by Nigel’s father to the police. He stood there, just looking down at the ground. Nigel silently prayed to God for guidance as to what to do next. Then he got up from his chair; addressed the man who had killed his father politely by his full name; greeted him with a handshake; thanked him sincerely for granting him the interview; and requesting him to sit down before Nigel again did so.
This is how Nigel Lee reported the conversation: I then said: “Mr. W., are you getting enough to eat here?” He replied: “Yes, thank you.” I said: “Have you peace of mind here?” He replied: “Sir, I am very unhappy. I have been praying to God in my cell for the last three nights, but it’s as if my prayers bounce back off the ceiling and don’t get through.”
I then said: “Mr. W., I am the only child of the old man who was left for dead behind the front door of his house in Barrydale on the 10th of July whom you are accused of having assaulted. I had been looking forward to spending a week with him in September, but as you can see this is now impossible.” The young man nodded; looked down; and said nothing. I then continued: “Mr. W., my father was not a Christian many years ago, but there came a time in his life when he turned from his sins and received Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. That is why he is now in heaven, and waiting for me to join him.
“I assure you Mr. W., that if you make your peace with God whether you die right now of a heart attack; or are to be put to death for murder; or die naturally later on you too will go to heaven. I also assure you that my father, whom you are accused of having murdered, will then be the first to welcome you there. However, Mr. W., if you do not repent and if you die in your sins, I assure you that you will spend eternity in hell-fire and damnation forever!
“Mr. W., whether you repent and become a Christian, or you harden yourself and die in your sins, know for sure that if found guilty by the court I would want you to receive the maximum penalty. I will plead no leniency whatsoever for you, even if you become a Christian, but I am offering you everlasting life in heaven after you die, if you will repent and come to Jesus. Mr. W., three men died on a little hill called Calvary. Two were guilty robbers; but the One in the middle, the Lord Jesus, was innocent. Robbers, as you know, include those who go around beating up old people and leaving them for dead after stealing from them. Both of those robbers jeered at the innocent Jesus crucified between them.
“But then one of the robbers repented, turned to the other, and said: ‘We are being condemned justly. For we are receiving the punishment due, for our deeds. But this man (Jesus) has done nothing amiss!’ Then the penitent robber said to Jesus: ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!’ So Jesus said: ‘Truly, I tell you, today you shall be with me in paradise!’ Mr. W., do you not see yourself as one of those two robbers next to Jesus on Calvary? Will you die in your sins and go to hell like the impenitent robber? Or will you, like the other robber, repent of your sins; receive Jesus as your Lord; and be a ssured by Him that you will go to heaven when you die?
“Mr. W., if you wish, I will leave this jail right now. But if you prefer, I would be privileged to show you right now how you too can become a Christian. Which is it to be?” Mr. W. then tried to look in my eye. He said: “Sir, would you please show me how to become a Christian?” I then realised that the four policemen in the room had all put down their pens; had stopped working; and were straining their ears, listening to us. So I said: “Officer, could you kindly get us a Bible?” The officer went galloping out of the room, and immediately returned with a Bible and put it on my lap with great respect. I opened it at John 3:16, and asked Mr. W. if he could read. When he so indicated, I handed him the Bible, and asked him to read it. Loudly and clearly, he read it out, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Then he said: “I am too big a sinner!” But I replied: “Mr. W., it says here: ‘whosoever’; and that includes you too, if and when you put your trust in Jesus.”
The atmosphere was electric. All in that room felt something of the presence of God the Holy Ghost. The silence was terrifying. Then I said: “Mr. W., will you come to Jesus?” He replied: “I will!” So, two wicked hell-deserving sinners Rev. Prof. Dr. Nigel Lee and his father’s slayer Mr. W., then went down on their knees in that jail together. I put my arm around his shoulder, and prayed first. I thanked God for our meeting; (re)confessed all my own fresh sins to the Lord; and then asked Him to have mercy on Mr. W., for Christ’s sake.
Mr. W. then prayed. He said: “Lord, I’m a miserable sinner! Please don’t let Satan destroy me! I am sorry for all my sins. Forgive me, for the sake of Jesus who died for people like me!” We then got off our knees. I assured him: “Mr. W., if you really meant that, you are now my brother. In that case, here is my right hand of fellowship. I will help you in any way I can. Here is my address in Australia. If you write to me, I promise to reply to every letter you may write, for the rest of my life. When is your trial?”
He replied: “Thursday 22nd September.” I promised to pray for him on that day (when I would be overseas), that justice would be done and that he would continue to receive God’s grace whatever the outcome. I then again shook his hand and left the jail to the astonishment of both the grateful police and the bewildered convict there who just kept on staring at me in amazement.
Driving back to Barrydale, I praised God and sang His psalms the whole time, realising anew that God is not dead but very much alive on this great planet earth. For God had revived my soul, and, I trust, those of all in that room in the jail. Four days later, I visited the jail again. This time Mr. W. was waiting for me with a smile. He had been reading the Bible since I last saw him, and claimed to have peace. I urged him to speak to the other prisoners about what had happened to him; to tell the full truth at his trial. I also urged him to work and witness for the Lord for the rest of his earthly life (be it short or long). He then prayed for both of us; thanked God for my visits; and boldly asked the Lord to bless me wherever I went and God has heard his prayer.
I E-mailed Nigel Lee on Friday and asked him to bring me up to date about this man. He replied today and said that he had visited him several times, and that they corresponded for many years. Nigel sent me a copy of the entire correspondence running to 32 pages. The murderer was not condemned to death. He pleaded guilty as charged, and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. “Did he keep the faith?” I asked. “Yes, at least up to the time I last heard from him. He became very sick and diseased in jail, and the jail authorities are notoriously unhelpful in communicating with ‘outsiders’ like me,” Nigel replied in today’s letter. So this man will soon have completed his sentence.
Now there are two questions that come to all our minds here. The first is this: on whose authority could Nigel Lee offer to this man who had murdered his own father forgiveness for all his sins especially the terrible sin of homicide? I answer that the warrant to offer pardon to sinners comes from these words of the Son of God in our text. Listen to them: “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.” Did the Lord Jesus say, all except murder? He did not. Don’t you make any exceptions where he makes none. All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. The warrant for us to believe in complete eternal pardon from a sin-hating God are the words and works of Christ. “His works?” you say. “what are his works?” The Son of God became the Lamb of God on Golgotha when he hung upon the cross and died. He is the only person who has breathed the air of this planet, who has been subject to the temptations and trials of this life, who never himself sinned in any way, and yet he willingly and freely gave his life as a substitute for sinners. He bore our sins in his own body on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Where are they today? They are away from all who believe in Christ. They are far away. They are as remote as the east is from the west. Have we taken them there? No. He has taken them away. They can never haunt us again. They can never give us guilt or pain again. They can never condemn us again because of what the Lord Jesus has done. It is on the authority of what Jesus Christ has done, and what his plain promises are that we can know that all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.
The second question that comes to our minds from that account of the forgiveness that Nigel Lee could offer to the man who murdered his father is this: how could he find the strength to forgive that man for that sin? How important that question is, because it answers one of the commonest criticisms anyone can make about the Christian message. “It is easy to be a Christian,” people say: “You can live a depraved and wicked life, doing whatever you fancy, trampling all over people, leaving them hurt and bewildered, and then all you have to do at the end is repeat these words of Jesus and say, ‘God forgive all my sins,’ and they will be forgiven straight away. What an easy religion!” Many people think like that, and they are wrong.
The Jesus who promises us forgiveness for any and every kind of sin, and who urges us to pray and say, “Forgive us our trespasses” is also the one who added this to that prayer, “as we forgive them that trespass against us.” In other words, those who are truly forgiven forgive! There is a change of life in those who’ve been truly forgiven. Christ’s salvation not only deals with our status, changing us from guilty to pardoned sinners, it also inevitably changes our natures too. It gives us power to resist the sin of an unforgiving spirit. It enables us to love those who despise us and say all manner of evil against us. It enables us to go the second mile and turn the other cheek. All who have been washed of their guilt and shame have also been given strength to pardon other people their sins. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. The new pardon and the new power always go together. You can’t have the one without the other. Nigel Lee had himself been pardoned for his sins and so by the strength of the indwelling Spirit of God, and by the love Jesus Christ directed to him he could offer forgiveness to the man who had robbed and murdered his beloved father.
What about all your sins and blasphemies? Yours! What you have done against other people, some of whom have depended on you the most. What about your blasphemies against a God who has been so loving and good to you? Where are your sins and blasphemies today? Are they on you? Then they will go with you to death and the judgment and they will condemn you. But there is one other place where they can be. Only one place in all the universe? Yes. On the Lamb of God on that one central cross. God has set there the guilt and shame of all his people. Is your sin there too? Is your blasphemy there too? How can you tell? Only one way, by taking responsibility for your sins; by ending the excuses, blaming your upbringing and companions and any other influences; by stopping thinking of yourself as a victim, and acknowledging you have sinned. Then asking God to forgive you in Jesus’ name. Cast yourself on his mercy. All for whom Christ died cry to God for pardon in Jesus’ name. Every one of them. They do! The Lord Jesus did not die for them in vain. Grace is effectual in them all, and finds them and makes them do it. That is one of the marks that atonement has been made for them, and a covering provided to hide their shame for ever, and a knowledge of mercy, immense and free. Are you asking God to forgive you for Jesus’ sake? Ask him! Don’t let another day, nor hour go by without saying to God that your sins are many and all of them need to be forgiven. You are coming to God, and you are in business, and you are not going to stop praying until you know that God has forgiven you. Start now, in your heart, in your own words. Confess to him your depravities and wickednesses and addictions and everything you know you have done wrong. Bring a full slate of sin to Christ and ask him to pardon you now, and keep crying to him until you know he has heard you. Plead his word, “All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.” There can be no activity you can engage in that will ever be more important than this. Your eternal destiny hangs on it, and your joys and usefulness in this life. Don’t go on as you are, half a religious man and half a worldly man. Come to God for mercy in Jesus’ name, and when you leave his mercy seat, leave him as one new man.
16th March 2003 GEOFF THOMAS