Sermon: Forgiveness and the Perpetual Covenant of Peace

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Given 07-Sep-19; 34 minutes

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It is commonly thought that we pay no price for forgiveness, yet Scripture shows that God gives us responsibilities to be a part of His family. He calls us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12), imitating Our Elder Brother, walking in God's statutes, including forgiving those who have wronged us. Following Christ's and Stephen's examples of forgiving their enemies, we can realize that our enemies, blinded by hatred inspired by Satan, are woefully ignorant of the depth of their spiritual depravity, just as was Saul before his conversion. Because Jesus bore the sins of Israel in meekness and humility, we must also exercise humility, meekness, and forbearance for our fellow humans. As we make the covenant of peace (Hebrews 8:10, 10:16, Jeremiah 31:31), having God's Laws firmly implanted in our hearts, our obligation is to imitate Christ as He has forgiven us rather than to adopt the ways of the unjust servant, who refused to forgive a diminutive debt in comparison to the horrendous debt which was forgiven him. If we have anything against anyone, we need to soberly reflect on our own massive debt that Christ generously forgave. We need to forgive in the same measure Christ has forgiven us or we run the fearful risk of treading on the blood of Jesus Christ.

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Recently an email was sent to the church from a man and his wife, who had written to us a number of times in the past, stating that they had been receiving and using the Daily Berean (www.theberean.org) in their studies for a number of years and had found the short commentaries enlightening. However, they sent this particular letter because they took exception to something they considered a misleading statement. The email said, in part, "I have a comment/question on today's Berean. Mr. Ritenbaugh states, "Since the price they pay for forgiveness." The man continued, "I understand and agree with all the reading except that one line. We certainly have tribulations from time to time as a result of following Christ, however, we do not pay a price for forgiveness. Jesus paid our debt in full."

The person was referring to a Berean commentary cited from Part One of John Ritenbaugh's series of Forerunner articles titled, "Why Hebrews Was Written." This particular cited section was a commentary dealing with Romans 12:1 where the apostle Paul writes, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." John's cited commentary on this verse was in part, what follows:

The reality of the New Testament's teaching is that becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ obligates the person to a great deal of sacrifice, even to the point of becoming what the apostle Paul calls being a living sacrifice. The disciple of Christ is clearly the sacrifice. Why do the sanctified ones make these sacrifices since the price they pay for forgiveness is dedicated, obedient devotion to the leadership of Jesus Christ. This price requires the sacrifice of every function of a Christian's body, mind, and spirit to the way of God. It can be very costly. It may cost the Christian his employment because of work requirements on the Sabbath. He may lose his family attachments because the family may not accept his beliefs. He may lose his general acceptance within the community for the same reason.

This all seems pretty straightforward and right to us who profess personal responsibility within this process of justification and sanctification. However, as we approach the fall holy days, and specifically the Day of Atonement, we do not want to let ourselves, even subconsciously, deny our personal responsibility and cost within Jesus Christ's singular work to forgive our personally unpayable debt. Of course, it is only through the unmatched work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that debt is paid and we receive forgiveness. However, we do have a costly responsibility in order to show God our deep appreciation for the new lease on the eternal life that we have been given.

So my purpose today is to simply make sure we know, and know that we know, there is a very costly personal sacrifice that is now ours within the work that only God can do through Jesus Christ. We must not enter into the holy day season with any misunderstanding that could potentially be responsible for trampling on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Over the last few years, our Great God has been making it clear every week, clearer and clearer, the unique and singular work of Jesus Christ to bring us to the Father. It is all about Him and the work that only He can do. But through His work, we have already been given the abilities and opportunities to become part of the Family business that has been and will continue to be a personally costly operation that will continue to produce good fruit for eternity.

While clearly keeping in mind that the essence of love is sacrifice, I would like us to consider today one of the main apprentice responsibilities we have now been given that will determine whether or not we will continue in the Family business. That responsibility is forgiveness. Only God can forgive us or anyone else of our own personally unpayable debt for sin. But our forgiveness does come with a very substantial personal cost, because it is the most significant apprentice task that we have been given the ability to do now in the bond of love, which is training each one of us to think and act exactly like the Father and the Son.

So let us begin to prove from God's Word the personal price God expects us to pay for His personal, gracious gift of forgiveness, even though we can never expect to come close to the value of this debt. As I said, we should know all these things, but we need to make sure we clearly know how absolutely vital it is to our relationship with God and to one another. If we are not striving to act exactly like our older Brother and following His leadership as God has given us the ability and opportunity to do right now, we are falling down on our responsibilities to live as God lives and are not going to be Christ's at His coming. Not to mention we may be running the risk of treading on, treating, the sacrificial cost of the Son with passive if not active contempt.

Let us begin by looking at the truth about who alone has paid for us and forgiven our personally unpayable debt as a gift from God. As I said, what we are going to go over is hardly unfamiliar to us. But all of what we will be talking about in this sermon needs to be at the forefront of our minds if we are going to really show God how much we appreciate all the work of Christ Jesus and by our personally active participation in the Family business, that extends to much more than a perfunctory attendance at God's feast days and Sabbaths.

So with understanding how Christ's sacrifice applies across the board, let us begin in a place we may consider more in line with the spring holy days than now, although after the sermon that I doubt it, Turn with me to Isaiah 53. David [Grabbe] read part of the chapter but we will be reading the whole chapter. It is very important.

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of the soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Please drop down to Isaiah 54.

Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth.

Isaiah 54:10 "For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

As David said in the sermonette, this chapter is written specifically to Israel. It is subtitled in my Bible, "A Perpetual Covenant of Peace" and it is primarily intended for the physical nation of Israel after Christ's return. It is the covenant of peace that we who have been called into the body of Christ are under right now, which will see play out in a minute. Please turn with me now to Ezekiel 37.

Ezekiel 37:25-28 Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, and their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in the midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed, I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.

Ezekiel 11:19-21 "Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts follow their desire for their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord God.

We will now see that this same perpetual covenant of peace has already been given as a gift and responsibility to those called into the body of Christ. Please turn with me to Hebrews 8.

Hebrews 8:1-12 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who sits at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer these gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more."

And then let us turn over to chapter 10. I am setting up, brethren, in that we are now under this covenant that is going to be Israel's in the Millennium.

Hebrews 10:11-29 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment do you suppose will be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the spirit of grace?

I have taken quite a bit of time to go over something we already know because it is a vital part leading to the point of this sermon. Our only way to justification, sanctification, and glorification, and the covenant of a peacefully productive relationship with God, is as a gift of God through Jesus Christ. However, we need now to see what God expects from us along the way in spending all that we have to show Him how much that sacrificial offering means to us.

Now let us take a look at God's Word for the next step that God expects from those He has called, while keeping in mind Christ has done all the work so we can make the baby-step response in faith that begins the process of the chosen. That baby-step response is in keeping with Isaiah 66, verse 2, where God tells us as it is written in the Message Bible:

Isaiah 66:2 (The Message) "I made all this! I own all this! God's Decree. But there is something I'm looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say."

We will now take a look at two responses to that first step. One in the right direction in humility and one in the wrong direction in pride. Please turn with me first to Acts 2, and this needs to be the first response to our calling. This is towards the end of Peter's Pentecost sermon proclaiming Jesus Christ, after he called on the men of Israel to realize what they were witnessing that day was a partial fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel, of God pouring out His Spirit. In verse 22, we read these very difficult words for any man to swallow.

Acts 2:22-24 [the apostle Peter says] "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourself also know—Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it."

Acts 2:29-33 "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on the throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not to be left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear."

Acts 2:36-42 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know most assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." And with many words, he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in prayers [in their baby steps following their calling].

With this response, the first in a series of steps of humility and faith began for those people—as they did for us. They began a personally costly covenant of peace, a peace agreement to develop the mind and character of God. But I think it would be good here to see the antithetical reaction of the proud to the same message, because this is what those who make the covenant of peace with God face in the pride of this world. Please turn with me another very well-known scripture to Act 7. We will read the reaction of those who heard the same word of truth, but steadfastly stuck to the pride of their own lives. We will pick it up toward the very end of Stephen's preaching of Jesus Christ. When almost the same indictment Peter laid out to those the other men who trembled at God's Word with a humble spirit, Stephen lays out for them.

As a matter of fact, we will pick it up just as Stephen is reminding the men of Israel that the earthly tabernacle was merely a pattern of the reality that is only available through Christ Jesus as he quotes Isaiah 66:1 that led up to the verse we quoted in verse 2 and would clearly point to their diametrically opposed attitude of pride.

Acts 7:48-59 "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?' You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, as your forefathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

We see the same witness preached, but two absolutely different responses—the one in humility and trembling at God's Word, and the other in pride and an assault on the Word of God by an assault on the messenger. Forgiveness and walking under the leadership of Jesus Christ was an incredibly costly thing for Stephen, even to the point of his own life. Only Jesus Christ can pay the penalty for our sins and the price for forgiveness. But when we accept His gift we must be ready with a great personal cost involved in living our God-given opportunity in a world still driven by a prideful, carnal nature that is enmity against God and those that are now in His Family.

Acts 7:57-60 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

The cost of forgiveness that Stephen signed on for at baptism and the covenant of perpetual peace with God was incredible. But from his heart of flesh, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he continued working in the Family business all the way through his last breath. Just as Jesus Christ in His tortured condition said, as Luke records:

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."

Luke records practically the same words here as the last words out of Stephen's mouth. These were not mere words, but a very real plea for divine forgiveness from His heart. Brethren, as you know, whenever the ministry counsels people for baptism, one of the most important things we do is make sure that you are clearly aware everything is by the grace of God and a gift. But when you are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism and become part of the body of Christ, having made the covenant of peace with God, there is an extraordinary cost involved in learning to follow the leadership of our Elder Brother and learning the Family business.

Learning to forgive, as God forgives, may be one of the most difficult and costly lessons for us. Because although we are not of this world and are under the grace of God, we still live within it and carry with us our old carnal nature that can drag us back into it if we do not take Jesus Christ's admonishment about it seriously.

As we began to wind down, we will be turning to a few scriptures first from our Trailblazer Jesus Christ on this issue and then with a few words from the apostle who possibly orchestrated Stephen's violent death, but also saw and heard proclaimed that day the love of God and men. Please turn with me Matthew 6. Of course this is Jesus Christ's outline of prayer for us.

Matthew 6:5-15 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use the vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Carefully considered forgiveness that we have from God through Jesus Christ and the forgiveness we diligently express towards others is not only a key to successful prayer, but as we see in verses 14 and 15, it is a pivotal key in maintaining our covenant of peace with the Father. We see the same responsibilities expressed by Jesus Christ in Mark 11:26, within the context of faithfully believing God will answer prayer, but with a caveat in verses 25 and 26 that reads,

Mark 11:25-26 "Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

Could there be any clearer instruction than these from Christ Himself that our forgiveness through Him is very costly to each one of us because of our carnal nature that often will not let our pride let go of a fault.

For lack of time, we will not go to Matthew 18:21-35, which we are very familiar with, where Peter asked Christ, "How many times are we to forgive our brothers?" But Christ's answer may have floored Peter because His answer was that that amount of times is innumerable. He then gave Peter an example in the parable about the man who had an astronomically unpayable debt that was forgiven even though the debtor only asked for time to repay it. However, when this same forgiven debtor was asked for an extension to pay off a minor debt to himself, he mercilessly had that second debtor thrown in prison, which ended up bringing the original unpayable debt back on his own head until every dime would be paid.

Brethren, the really interesting thing for us here is that an unpayable personal debt is just that, and will never be paid. Therefore, this man actually would never be able to pay what had originally been given him as a gift. He committed the unpardonable sin and treated the original magnificent gesture with contempt. And in the last verse Jesus warns Peter and said, "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

Again for lack of time, will not be able to go into a few other very important issues relating to sincerely appreciating the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Family business work of forgiveness that we must be at right now through the awesome work of Jesus Christ. But we will pick up the subject again, God-willing, the next time I have been scheduled to speak to you in three weeks.

For now, please keep in mind what was said earlier in this sermon. Without actively seeking God's guidance to forgive right now as He forgives us, we run the risk of treating the sacrificial cost of Jesus Christ for our unpardonable debt with contempt. Also, as the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians and Colossians, putting off the old man and putting on the new man to walk as imitators of Jesus Christ in the perfect bond of love, is immediately preceded by forgiving, just as Christ has personally forgiven each one of us.

If we cannot forgive, if we cannot follow God's instructions in absorbing the cost to ourselves that is involved with forgiving one another, in humility, then we are actually contemptuously treading on the blood of Jesus Christ who dwells within our brothers, and will be bringing all of Israel, Judah, and the nations of the earth together with heartfelt forgiveness in the covenant of peace.

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