FORGIVENESS (LESSON 4)
This is our final lesson on forgiveness. But before we get to it, we want to ask you guys a question: Have you ever been lost? Maybe as a little kid you were at an amusement park, and you weren't paying attention and somehow got separated from your family. Then you looked up and no one familiar was around, and you were scared because you didn't know what to do. You were lost! Or maybe you were driving a car or you were with someone else driving a car, and you guys made a wrong turn, and eventually you realized that you didn't know where you were or which way to go. You were lost!
What happens to a lost person who doesn't ask for direction, someone who won't admit that they are lost? They waste time wandering around. What will happen to a lost person who keeps going in the wrong direction? They get farther and farther away from where they are supposed to be.
Well, a lot of people (maybe yourself included) are lost right now. You were born as a little baby, God had plans for your life, but as you've gotten older, you took a wrong path, started sinning, and now you are far away from God. You are uncertain about what your future holds. You are just kind of wandering around aimlessly, wasting time, lost. And if you never admit that you are lost and never repent and ask for Jesus' help, you may just end up dying in your sin and going to hell.
With all of that said, let's look at two men in the bible. Both of them started off on the wrong path, got lost in sin, but eventually made their way to the Lord and received God's forgiveness. They went from being lost to being found.
The first man we will read about was a liar, a thief; a man who cheated people out of their money and was hated and looked down upon by almost everyone in town. He had the job of head publican or "tax collector." Let's see what happens when he meets Jesus.
Luke 19:1-2, "And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich."
Interestingly, throughout the bible, whenever you read about the publicans, they are always referred to as heathens, sinners. Their job was to collect tax money. If you owned a business or owned property or just lived in town, you would have to pay city taxes. Well, the publicans were the ones who would come and collect the tax money, and they would overcharge you, pocket the extra money, and there was nothing you could do about it.
And this guy Zaccheus had obviously been a publican for a while. It says that he was "chief" among the publicans, a high-ranking publican. He had gotten rich off of scamming money from other people, overtaxing people. He had probably spent a lot of years away from God, lost in his own power and greed. He was successful by the world's standards because he was rich, but does having money make you successful in God's eyes? No. Is God impressed by your power and status? No. If you are a sinner who has made a name for yourself in the neighborhood and you have a reputation as a tough guy, is that going to save your soul? No. As a matter of fact, the bible says: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). So although Zaccheus was rich, he was still lost -- lost in sin. But his heart is about to change. Somewhere along the way, Zaccheus heard about Jesus. And now that Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zaccheus wants to meet him. Let's read on.
Luke 19:3-4, "And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him; for he was to pass that way."
Now, Zaccheus wasn't some kid. He was a grown man. But he was willing to look silly and climb a tree in front of the whole crowd. Whatever it took, he wanted to be able to see Jesus.
Luke 19:5-6, "And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully."
Although everybody in town hated Zaccheus and looked down upon him as a crook, Jesus saw something different. He saw that Zaccheus had a new heart. Jesus saw that Zaccheus was sincerely seeking him out. Zaccheus came seeking the Lord's forgiveness, he came seeking for direction, and Jesus told him then and there that he would come spend time with him at his house. Let's see what the crowd had to say when they heard Jesus say that he was going to Zaccheus' place.
Luke 19:7, "And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner."
Yes, Zaccheus was a sinner, and everyone knew it. But if you are sincerely willing to turn from your sins, Jesus will forgive you and save you. But this takes more than saying a few words. If you truly are saved and born again and forgiven, that will show itself by your words AND your actions. Let's read on and see how we can tell that Zaccheus was truly a new man.
Luke 19:8-10, And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Zaccheus was truly a changed man. He didn't want to continue stealing people's money. He had gone from being someone who did wrong to becoming someone who wanted to pay back all of the people he had stolen from, with interest! Zaccheus was born again. He went from being lost to being found!
And if you still wonder whether or not you are truly saved, ask yourself: After I asked Jesus to forgive me, did I stop sinning? Did I try to make it up to the people I stole from, lied to, disobeyed? Or did you continue to add sin on top of sin? It might not be possible to repay everyone you ever sinned against, but if you are truly grateful to Jesus for accepting you and forgiving you and dying for your sins, you would want to start living a life that Jesus would be proud of. That is evidence that you have truly been born again and saved. Zaccheus may not even have known that he was lost, but he obviously knew that something in his life wasn't right. Fortunately for him, he went to the right person (Jesus Christ), and Zaccheus went from being a known sinner to becoming a child of God!
Now let's read about a second man who gets lost in sin and later seeks forgiveness. Jesus shared this account with his disciples, so there is a lot that we can learn from it. We will be reading from Luke 15.
Luke 15:11-12,"And he (Jesus) said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living."
In ancient times, a father would split his land and possessions between his sons when they reached a certain age. But here we have this young man who rudely comes to his father and requests that he receive his inheritance right now. This would be similar to if your mom and dad told you that when they die, they were going to leave you the house. But instead of waiting, you went to them and said, "I want my share of the house now. Even though you are still alive, mom and dad, why don't you take out a second home loan so I can get what's coming to me!" This young man was obviously disrespectful toward his father and also ungrateful. How many of us have broken God's commandment that says, "Honor thy mother and father," and have instead been disrespectful to our parents? Or how many times have you been disrespectful to God Himself and behaved disobediently?
Anyway, the father in the story did what the son asked and gave him his share of the inheritance. Let's see what the young man did after he received the money. Luke 15:13, "And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living." This young man just partied and wasted all the money his father gave him. As soon as he got out of his father's house and out on his own, he immediately looked for all the trouble he could find. He wasted the money on prostitutes and fast times.
How do you think his father would have felt if he knew how his son was living? Sad? Disappointed? Angry? Hurt? How does God feel when we do everything we can to get away from him -- we don't pray, don't read our bible, don't go to church, don't tell Him thank you -- and instead we waste our energy, resources, and time getting into trouble and doing things to harm our bodies? Well, this young man is about to hit rock bottom. And if you stay away from the Lord too long, one day you too will hit bottom. Let's see what happened next.
Luke 14-16, "And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him."
This young man went from being loved for and cared for in his father's house to being alone with nothing. He was just lost and alone in some strange city. No friends, no money, no family. He was so down and out that he was wishing that he had the food that the pigs ate. And if you keep rejecting the Lord and running from God, sooner or later you will realize that you don't have anything either. Your friends won't be able to help you when you stand before our Holy God. You can't take money or possessions with you to the grave. Well, hopefully, you will come to your senses before it is too late. That is what this young man did. Let's read that.
Luke 15:17-19, "And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."
This young man went from being an ungrateful son who felt that he had all the answers to being someone who now saw himself for what he really was. He realized that he was wrong and that he should have been obedient to his father, and now he is ready to go home and sincerely ask for his father's forgiveness. And we can tell by what the young man said that he is sincere. This young man is willing to humble himself before his father. He no longer even feels worthy to be treated as a son. He wants to be no better than a hired servant. He just wants to do whatever he can to make it up to his dad. He has truly repented.
Have you ever REALLY asked God's forgiveness? Not just saying the words, but where you were so sorry to God that you were ready to pay whatever price God wanted you to pay? Whether that meant leaving your friends alone, or doing even more time in jail, or never getting high again, whatever God wanted. If you have not, I hope that you get that mindset before you die. Because when you reach the place where you are really ready to serve God and follow His rules, then you truly are born again and a child of God.
Now let's see how this boy's father treated his lost son once he came home. It is a picture of how God wants to welcome you home if you will turn from your sins.
Luke 15:20, "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." (Explain)
Luke 15:21-24, "And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry."
The father didn't tell the son, "I knew you would be back, you no good so-and-so." The father didn't try to make the son feel bad, and he didn't reject him. And if you sincerely ask God to forgive you, and turn from your sins, He will accept you back too. God won't bring up your past mistakes. He will give you a fresh start.
Everything the son could have ever wanted was right there in his father's house. The son was lost for a little while, but fortunately he didn't die in his lost state. Jesus is seeking and waiting for His lost sons too. But if you never return to him from the wilderness and you die apart from him, it will be too late for you then. I hope that all of you guys come to your senses and seek the Lord while he still may be found. Jesus is still watching and waiting!
Ezekiel 34:16, "I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment."