Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, August 1, 2021

Shavuah Tov,

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)

Sun 1 Aug 2021 23rd of Av, 5781

De 11:26-12:10 Ez 42 1 Ch 22 (Jn 9) 1 Ti 6

Two of God’s Amazing Gifts – Grace and Mercy for Forgiveness of Sin

by Dr. Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: In last Sunday’s RR, I began a discussion of sin. The Bible teaches the universal nature of sin (Romans 3:23): … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The Bible also teaches that a person must overcome (must be forgiven of) sin. Why? Only “overcomers” (of sin?) can enter Heaven, according to The Revelation (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21, and 21:7).

Does this mean that Heaven will be lonely, populated only by the Triune God and angels? If all humans are unworthy sinners, what becomes of us? Why should we not live sin-filled lives and not worry about the inevitability of Hell? God, knowing His children will fail, provided a way so that we can overcome sin and be worthy of Heaven.

In today’s RR, I will present the Bible’s formula for forgiveness of sin. These steps may seem cumbersome at first, but they become easier with practice.

You may think you know all of these steps, but there may be at least one step (Step 2, following) that many Believers forget. It is easy to ask forgiveness, but not so easy to forgive others. Since this step is an essential component of forgiveness, how, then, can we be sure we are forgiven of sin?

STEP 1… ACCEPT YESHUA  AS YOUR SAVIOR: Yeshua serves as your:

● Advocate– Yeshua argues your cause on your behalf before God, similar to having a heavenly Lawyer: As your Advocate, Yeshua  defends you before God the Father (read 1 John 1.8 – 2.2).

● Mediator– Yeshua represents you before God: As your Mediator, you can have the only One, Yeshua, who is worthy to represent you before God (read 1 Timothy 2:5-6a and Revelation 5:12). 

● Head of the Body of Believers– Yeshua is Head of the Body in which you reside spiritually (read Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18).

● High Priest in Heaven– Yeshua is the only Priest through whom you pray. You do not pray through any human priest, pastor, or rabbi, or through Miriam (Mary), or through any saint (read Hebrews 2:17 and 1 Peter 2:9).

Concerning this first step, why would anyone even ask to be forgiven of sin, if he/ she had not accepted Yeshua as Savior? An unsaved person might as well ask an oak tree for forgiveness.

STEP 2… FORGIVE AND LOVE OTHERS BEFORE SEEKING FORGIVENESS FOR YOURSELF: This step may be the hardest of all and is the step ignored by many Believers. Often, the person we need to forgive is a relative (spouse, ex-spouse, parent, child, or sibling), complicating forgiveness.

In Yeshua’s Model Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:10-13), Yeshua told us to pray for forgiveness. God’s willingness to forgive is conditional upon our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6:12): [Yeshua prayed] “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” [Debts, from Greek ὀφειλήματα (transliterated opheilēmata), is properly translated “debts,” but may be used metaphorically as “sins.”]

This part of the prayer was so important that Yeshua explained only this sentence in the next two verses (Matthew 6:14-15): [Yeshua explained] “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” [Transgressions, here, from Greek παράπτωματα (transliterated paraptōmata), may be translated “transgressions, sins, misdeeds, falling from truth.”]

In another teaching, Yeshua emphasized reconciliation of disputes in order that we may be in the proper attitude to approach God (Matthew 5:23-24): [Yeshua said] “Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” It sounds as though Yeshua was saying (my paraphrase): “God will not hear your prayer for forgiveness of sin, if you have not, first, forgiven those who have sinned against you.” This teaching is harmonious with other teachings of Yeshua. He repeatedly told us not to expect better than we were willing to give, including the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12): [Yeshua said] “So in all things, do to others what you would want them to do to you– for this is the Torah and the Prophets.”

In this Matthew 5 teaching, understand the significance of “altar.” Sins can be forgiven through prayer. In the Apostle John’s vision of Heaven, he saw prayers of the saints being burned on an altar before the Father (Revelation 8:3-5): Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden incense burner. He was given much incense to offer up along with the prayers of all the kedoshim upon the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the kedoshim, rose before God from the angel’s hand. [Kedoshim (Hebrew) = Hagiōn (Greek) = Most Holy Ones, or Saints (English).] Several Bible verses compare pleasing acts before God– and placing our sins on God’s golden altar asking for forgiveness surely must be pleasing– causes a sweet-smelling (pleasing) aroma to waft up to God’s nostrils.

STEP 3… CONFESS YOUR SIN WITH A CONTRITE HEART: [Contrite = feeling sorrow, guilt, need to repent.] Because of your sorrow in not following God’s wish for your life, you must sorrowfully confess that sin to God and ask His forgiveness. See:

● (Isaiah 57:15): For thus says the High and Exalted One who inhabits eternity, whose Name is Holy: “I dwell in a high and holy place, yet also with a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and revive the heart of the contrite.” 

● (Isaiah 66:2): For My hand has made all these things, so all these things came to be,” declares Adonai. “But on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word.” 

● (Micah 6:8): [Adonai] has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. 

● (Luke 18:13-14): [Yeshua said] “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, wouldn’t even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home declared righteous. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

STEP 4… ASK FOR FORGIVENESS: In Yeshua’s model prayer, He told His followers to ask for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12a): [Yeshua prayed] “And forgive us our debts….” 

But, this plea for forgiveness has an important contingency. In the very same sentence, Yeshua added an important qualification (Matthew 6:12b): [Yeshua continued] “… as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Note the change in verb tense. I am trying to remember my English grammar classes from Bearden High School in the late 1950s, and, if I remember correctly (forgive me, Mrs. Reynolds), “Forgive us” our debts is present tense and as we “also have forgiven” our debtors is present perfect tense. I believe the conditional (“as we have already forgiven”) continues from action which began in the past, and is not based on future promise (“as we promise to forgive”). I admit I often speak/ write English as though a second language, and my explanation my be lacking. At any rate, there is a different tone in forgiveness embodied in this prayer.

By asking for forgiveness, we seek justification. [Justification =  faith has made a person righteous– made a person acceptable to God– removed his/ her sin accountability. Justification has been simplified to mean it is “just as if I had not sinned.”] 

The price for justification was paid by Yeshua on Golgotha’s cross. There, Yeshua paid all sinners’ debts in full. As pointed out in other RRs, Yeshua’s last utterance before death has been translated, “It is finished.” This phrase, which translates the Greek text  Τετέλεσται (transliterated tetelestai), was borrowed from the first-century business world. A merchant would write Τετέλεσται on a bill, contract, or invoice to indicate the debt had been paid in full. “Debt paid in full” is more correct theologically than the usual translation of “it is finished.” A sinner owes a debt to God for disobeying Him. Our perfect blood sacrifice– our Passover Lamb Yeshua– paid our debt in full. No other sacrifice is required or will be acceptable.

But, we will continue to sin. How are our sins forgiven after salvation? Yeshua serves as our Intercessor before the throne of God. Our acceptance of Yeshua’s blood sacrifice through faith serves as (substitutes for) our personal blood sacrifice. Yeshua’s sacrifice through death was a sacrifice that should have been paid by our death. Because we have such an Intercessor, our High Priest Yeshua, we can approach God boldly, asking for forgiveness (Hebrews 4:14-16): Therefore, since we have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua Ben-Elohim, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance. For we do not have a kohen gadol who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways– yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need. [Kohen Gadol = “High Priest” || Ben Elohim = “Son of God”]

STEP 5… REPENT OF YOUR SIN: [To repent = to change the mind, actions, and thoughts from a sinful state to a sinless, or sin-forgiven, state.] Repentance is a 180-degree turn from a life or belief that goes away from God but, then, returns to God. Is it enough to say to God, “I’m sorry,” every time you commit the same sin? If you “repent” on Monday for Sunday’s sin, and “repent” on Tuesday for the same sin committed on Monday, and “repent” on Wednesday for the same sin committed on Tuesday, and so forth, have you really repented? Repentance requires you to make an honest attempt not to commit that sin again (Galatians 6:7): Do not be deceived– God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he also shall reap. 

STEP 6… RECEIVE JOY, RESTITUTION (RESTORATION OF SOMETHING LOST),  AND HEALING OF GUILT: This step is similar to Step 8, following. God has promised to forgive us (Hebrews 4:14-16) – quoted in Step 4, above.

Forgiveness of sin should restore a person to a better life (Titus 2:12): [The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men] training us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live in a manner that is self-controlled and righteous and godly in the present age. 

Yeshua will help us bear any load (Matthew 11:28-30): [Yeshua said] “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and ‘you will find rest for your souls.’ For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

With God’s forgiveness, Yeshua’s help in bearing our load, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can experience the peace of God which is greater than any other peace (Philippians 4:6-7): Do not be anxious about anything– but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the shalom of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. 

STEP 7… DO NOT BLAME GOD FOR YOUR SINS AND PROBLEMS: Some persons continue to question God for bad things in their lives, and, perhaps, even blame Him for their sins. Please do not do this. God is holy and without sin. He will neither commit your sin nor lead you into sin. You– you, alone– are responsible for your own sin (read Deuteronomy 24:16b), and you are responsible for seeking forgiveness of that sin. Others cannot pray away your sin. There is no Purgatory, as taught by some Believers’ congregations, whereby you can be purged of sin after death. When you die, your “sin account” is closed until future inspection.

Do not expect an easy life, merely because you are a Believer. Yeshua asked us to follow Him, but in the same breath He also said, “take up your cross [the instrument upon which He was crucified],” if you want to be His disciple (see Luke 14:25-33). Yeshua foretold a world of tribulation (pressure, trial) for His followers, but He (and His followers) will ultimately win life’s battles (see John 16:33b). Paul and Barnabas spoke of many tribulations we must endure before entering God’s kingdom (see Acts 14:22b). Paul suffered greatly for Yeshua’s Gospel, but he knew he would emerge victorious in the next life (see 2 Corinthians 4:8-9). All of Yeshua’s apostles, except John, died horrific deaths, and John was imprisoned as penalty for his faith. Early martyrs went to their deaths joyfully because they knew a better life awaited them. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Fox’s Book of Martyrs (ccel.org) , records some early Believers’ persecution.

STEP 8… FORGIVE YOURSELF: You may go through the right steps for sin forgiveness, but seemingly cannot (will not) forgive yourself. Failure to forgive yourself is called “guilt.” Guilt is not an emotion from God, but may be planted in your mind by Satan. Satan is your Accuser (see Revelation 12:9-11a). If Satan’s accusations cause you not to work effectively for God, he has accomplished his evil goal.

Remember important, reassuring promises of God (Psalm 103:8, 10-12): Adonai is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and plentiful in mercy. |…| He has not treated us according to our sins, or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 

God promises that a forgiven sin is a forgotten sin (Isaiah 43:25): [Adonai said] “I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins.”

When you accepted Yeshua as Savior, your sins were nailed to Yeshua’s cross  (Colossians 2:14): [Yeshua] wiped out the handwritten record of debts with the decrees against us, which was hostile to us. He took it away by nailing it to the cross. 

Picture the reality of crucifixion with the symbolism it represented. As Yeshua was  nailed to the cross, His blood– the new Passover Lamb’s blood sacrifice of the New Covenant– flowed over our sins nailed to the cross. Our sins were eternally covered by Yeshua’s blood, and God will not look for them there. Our forgiven sins are eternally removed from God’s consciousness– as far from Him as the east is from the west. 

If God has forgiven us, we should not continue bringing these sins to our minds. God has forgiven and forgotten those sins, and so should we! We should not allow Satan to deceive and accuse us. We have been redeemed (redeemed = bought back at a price– the price of Yeshua’s sacrificial death). Yeshua paid our debt in full.

There is a practical reason for us to remove the guilt of sin from our minds. As redeemed children of God, we have been called to lives of service. We have promised  joyous, victorious lives as our heritage. We have been called to proclaim the Gospel and to be Yeshua’s ambassadors that others might see His light in us. If we continue to be remorseful (continue to feel guilt) about past sins, we cannot serve the Lord as effectively as we should. We should, first, make certain our sins are forgiven. Then, we should spend our lives in joy, victory, and service to others! We must not let the accusing, lying Satan deprive us of our heritage in Messiah (Hebrews 12:1-2a): Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith…. 

SUMMARY OF STEPS TO RECEIVE FORGIVENESS OF SIN: I repeat the steps for sin forgiveness:

● Accept Yeshua as Savior ►

● Forgive and love others before asking for sin forgiveness ►

● Confess sin with a contrite heart ►

● Ask for forgiveness ►

● Repent of sin ►

● Receive joy, restitution, and healing of guilt ►

● Do not blame God ►

● Forgive yourself.

A FORGOTTEN STEP? If I have forgotten to include a step in this outline, please notify Rabbi Weiner. He will notify me, and one of us will make the needed correction. 

GOD’S WONDERFUL GIFTS FOR US: Our Heavenly Father has showered us with many gifts– so many that they cannot all be listed in this RR. Two gifts are His grace and mercy. 

Grace is God’s unmerited favor– His forgiving kindness to us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned it. Closely related to God’s grace is His mercy– His refusal to punish us for any forgiven and forgotten sin.

In summary, grace and mercy are somewhat similar, but are definitely different.

● Grace = God’s favor that we DO NOT DESERVE.

● Mercy = God’s sparing of punishment that we DO DESERVE.

In both instances, Yeshua’s vicarious death on the cross at Golgotha secured both God’s grace and mercy for us. What a Savior!

No matter how we disappoint God and no matter how prodigal a life we live, He stands with arms wide open to forgive and welcome us home, perhaps gently saying something like, “Welcome home, my child. I have missed you. But, your past is now forgiven. We will think only about your present and future.” The Bible assures us of these gifts from God (1 John 1:9): If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. What a Heavenly Father!

Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.