First Mennonite Church
July 24, 2016
The Blessedness of Being Forgiven
Text: Psalm 32:1-6; Romans 3:21-26
1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
We use euphemisms to soften the bluntness of some words. We say, “hard of hearing” for deaf, “visually impaired” for blind. Or we say, “when my time comes for me to go” meaning when I die. For some terrible acts, we speak of these of as “anti-social” acts.
Our preference for euphemisms can explain why the Bible is not a favorite book of many. The Bible does not soften its language when it comes to calling sin, sin. No one likes to have his or her faults pointed out. And the Bible does that in many ways. In fact the concept of sin is presented with a wide range of vocabulary. Throughout the Old and New Testaments we encounter words such as: transgression, iniquity, rebellion, unrighteousness, injustice, lawlessness, wickedness, imperfectness, desire of the flesh, the old nature and so on. All of these words are used in reference to human activity that goes against the will of God. God’s words and actions are the measuring stick against which human action approved or reproved. But just as the Bible abounds with references to humanity’s inclination towards sin, it also abounds in its affirmation of God’s desire to guide humans away from sin. The purpose of the Laws given to Israel through Moses was to keep Israel on the right path. The prophets voiced God’s constant admonition when Israel stranded away from God’s will. In fact, the whole Bible is the story of God’s constant intervention in not only guiding his people away from sin, but also in rescuing them from the consequences of their sins. The Bible is the long story of God’s continuous effort to redeem humans from sin and its destructive effect.
The basic meaning of sin in the ancient Hebrew language is to fail to meet a required standard, to miss the mark. In the Hebrew Bible– the Old Testament, there are 3 words used to refer to sin. These 3 words appear in our passage for today. The Hebrew word “hatah”—sin, denotes the basic concept of “missing the mark” (Psalm 51:4). This can be from doing something wrong, accidentally or deliberately. The other word is “awon/avon”—iniquity. (The next time you see an Avon product, remember this word in Hebrew means “iniquity.”) Iniquity is wrongdoing of worse degree. Iniquity means “to twist”, “to bend” or “to distort” something on purpose. Israel was accused some times of twisting the laws of God to cover-up its wrong doing. Sometimes Israel’s idolatry was compared to immorality and infidelity against the Lord and that was considered an act of iniquity. Adultery and immorality were considered acts of iniquity. When David confessed to God his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he prayed, “Wash away my iniquity . . . .” (Psalm 51:2).
The third Hebrew word is “pesha” –rebellion. Willful acts of defiance to a clearly stated way of conduct were considered acts of rebellion. It is like lifting up the fist and saying to God, “I do as I please and you cannot tell me what I should do.”
Every human action in measured against the righteousness and holiness of God. This assessment of our actions and intentions against God’s holiness and righteousness determine if what we do is sin or not.
For the most part the Old Testament speaks of sin as concrete wrongful actions. Therefore, in order to violate the commandment a concrete act of wrong doing must occur. From the Old Testament perspective, sin is the failure to obey a stated command. Sin is failing to live according to God’s expectation. James, whose letter draws heavily from Old Testament concepts also holds this idea. Therefore James writes: If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (4:17).
This same idea is reflected in the writings of the apostle John. “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness,” reads 1John 3:4. Again, John writes: All wrongdoing is sin (5:17). But if you were to read the whole letter of First of John, it becomes clear that the overarching message is that every act not motivated by love is sin. The apostle Peter coincides with this idea when he says that “love covers multitude of sin. Therefore, John and Peter define sin as the product of actions done without love. Sin is the result of acting selfishly.
Jesus on the other hand, speaks of sin not only when a wrongful act has been committed, but even of the evil intention that leads to committing the wrongful act. That is what we find in Matthew chapter 5. Murder is sin not only when the act of killing someone has taken place, but even when anger rages in the heart against another The sin of adultery is not only when the physical act is consummated, but even by lustfully looking at a woman (Matthew 5:21-30).
It is however, the apostle Paul who defines sin as more than wrongdoing or the intention that leads to sinning. For Paul, sin is something embedded in the human nature, which nothing can remove. Sin is a power that rules in the body when God’s Spirit is not in control of the person. For that reason Paul say that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin (Romans 3:9). It is therefore, by nature no one does what is good. No one has the inclination to seek God. And in Romans 3:23, Paul comes down to this conclusion when he writes: For all [have] sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In Paul’s understanding, sin is part of the human genes. We inherited this from the first Adam and it is only the second Adam—Jesus Christ, who can redeem us from it. Sin is master of the entire human race. From this master only the Jesus, who is Lord of lords can free us. In his flesh, Jesus overcame sin, by being without sin. And in his resurrection he defeated the power of sin, which is death and now everyone who believes in him can live a life in the righteousness of God. That is, everyone who believes in Jesus enters into a relationship with God, which otherwise is not possible. Jesus conquered and destroyed sin and its sting, which is death through his resurrection. God made Jesus the place where we meet him—God. God made Jesus’ death on the cross the sacrifice offered to atone our sins.
Psalm 32 perfectly describes the believers’ experience of being forgiven. The first word translated blessed can also be translated “happy,” or “fortunate.” Yes, God’s forgiveness is a blessing like no other. Nothing material is able to give us peace of heart and mind. By acknowledging and confessing our wrongdoing before God, we open ourselves to the rest and peace God offers. This idea is captured in the very word for forgiveness in the Hebrew language. In Hebrew “to forgive” is to “lift up” something. God “lifts up” our sin—forgives our sins. God removes the heavy burden of guilt we carry when we have not been forgiven.
Psalm 32 is a word of comfort to God’s people and to everyone. No one should consider himself/herself free from sin. In the same manner, no one should feel excluded of the possibility of being forgive by God.
Paul gives this word of comfort another name, “God’s revealed righteousness,” whom he says is Jesus Christ. And both David and Paul remind us that not only do we live surrounded by sin, but that sin is embedded in our very being. But in Christ, God came to reconcile us to himself. Therefore, to be made righteous before God does not mean we are sinless, but forgiven. But the fact that we have been made righteous by God in Christ also means that we are to display the grace and mercy of God. We cannot boast on the fact that we have been made righteous before God. The state of being righteousness before God is an act of grace.
Let us rejoice that God has forgiven us. Let us be grateful and surrender ourselves to the Lord. Let us display God’s grace so others would want to experience the blessedness of being forgiven too. Amen!
 (h)emarton: indicative, aorist, active, 3rd person, plural –sinned. It is not a perfect tense verb—“have sinned.”