This week we begin a five week series looking at forgiveness. Today's message, part one of our series, talks about the different levels of forgiveness, and the how we can find the ultimate forgiveness, forgiveness from God.
Today we are kicking off a brand new series called--Forgiveness: the Real “F” Word. I called the subtitle of this series The Real F Word for two reasons. First, it grabs your attention, when you hear it, you think “what”. But second, forgiveness really is a word that many just don’t understand. Most people don’t understand forgiveness, there are a lot of strange ideas of what it means and what it requires – and like the last guy in the video, some actually run away from the idea of it. So the real F word in the title might fit. Most people don’t want to talk about forgiveness, fewer will admit that they need forgiveness, and fewer yet freely give forgiveness.
As we start, we need to understand that there are really three levels of forgiveness and we are going to explore these more over the next few weeks. The third level of forgiveness, what we might call the basic level of forgiveness, is forgiving ourselves. We often hear that it’s important to forgive ourselves, but we don’t realize how much baggage we carry around with us because we haven’t forgiven ourselves. This is really important, and it’s such a basic issue in living our faith, that we are going to spend next week’s message talking about forgiving ourselves.
One level higher, what might be considered level two, is the issue of forgiving others. Now, a lot of people think this is the area of ultimate forgiveness because it’s so difficult to forgive others. Many of us have experienced pain and hurt, and we might think we could never forgive them for what they did. I could never forgive so and so, what they did just hurt too much. Truth is, most of us have some serious misconceptions on what it means to forgive somebody else. So in two weeks, we’re going to look at that. How can we really forgive others?
But the ultimate level of forgiveness is the forgiveness that you and I need to receive from God. Level three and level two are forgiveness that we offer. It comes from us, and sometimes it’s hard. But you need to understand that the reason it’s so hard is because we haven’t properly been forgiven by God.
If you don’t experience this ultimate level of forgiveness, you are never going to experience the freedom that comes when you forgive yourself and you forgive others. You see, God offers us ultimate forgiveness. When we experience forgiveness from God, it’s the highest level of forgiveness possible, and when we receive that, then we are able to forgive others.
That’s what I want us to look at today, I want us to explore this top level of forgiveness—ultimate forgiveness. And to illustrate that, we will be looking at the story of the Prodigal Son in our reading this morning.
Before we really get into this, let me set the stage here. Parables aren’t just great stories. They represent something else, they teach us something of how God works. This story is such a great story because it illustrates man’s decision to turn their backs on God, to sin against God, and to ultimately leave what is best for us. This story is an illustration of our need to find forgiveness, because we’ve all sinned against God. In the parable, the son makes a decision to return home. Home, with the Father, is where we all need to be. It’s where we are all meant to be.
As we study this parable this morning, will you open your mind to the possibility that you just might be in this story? Would you open your mind to the possibility that you might be the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal Daughter who needs to return home to you loving Father? Would you consider, for few moments, that God really is a loving Father who desires to restore a relationship with you, Who wants to forgive you, Who wants to welcome you fully back into the family even though you may have turned your back on Him.
You and I can be forgiven. We can return home. We can start anew. With that in mind, let’s look at our story, in the context of finding ultimate forgiveness.
1. Recognize I need God. The first step in making anything better is always to recognize the need. In the parable, the famine set in, he ran out of money, things were really hard, and he began thinking about home. How much better things were at home. That’s when he recognized his need to return to his father.
Verse 17 is in your notes, it says, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’” So what did he do? Well, he began to realize that the life he was living wasn’t the best life available. There was something better available to him. He recognized that he had settled for something less than it could be.
What does that mean for us? Will you circle in your notes the words “came to his senses.” He came to his senses. He woke up and said the hired men back home have it better than I do. I left the best and settled for something far less. Here he is in the pigsty. Just picture that in your mind. He’s handing out the slop to the pigs and he wakes up and he says this is dumb. This is so much harder than it needs to be. I need to go home.
There’s a spiritual reality that’s worth seeing here. It’s the illusion that sin offers. He wanted to go and see the world. He wanted to live it up. He didn’t want any limits. So he left and did what he wanted, squandering his wealth on wild living. Wine, women and song. A sinful and lavish lifestyle. It sounded really good. Sin always looks like an attractive lifestyle. It always sounds good. And for him, it sounded great!
How about for you? Has sin sounded great? Have you been tempted by something that sounded really great, but you know it was wrong? Maybe you did it anyway. And you’ve regretted it. Understand, the sinful life may sound great, but the allure doesn’t last long, and we sink a little lower each time. Sooner or later, you have to pay the price. Our sins have consequences. You might think nobody will notice. And maybe nobody does, at first. But God notices.
Sometimes God allows us to sink to the point where we need a wakeup call, so that we will come to our senses and realize that there is so much more to this life than what we are experiencing. We need to wake up, we need to come to our senses. God is offering a life that is so much better than you will ever experience without Him. And God has already taken the first step toward coming to you. John 1:14 tells us this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus became a man; He came to earth to live with men. To show us the way to the Father.
We all probably know John 3:16; the first part of this verse says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son. . .” When you wake up to the realization that you need God, you find that God has already done all that He needs to for you to come home and experience that better life. Which brings us to the second point.
2. I have to return to the Father. The first step in finding forgiveness is to recognize my need for God. But just recognizing my need isn’t enough. I have to take action. I have to return to the Father. When the son got in trouble in a foreign land, the father didn’t chase after him and force him to come home. The decision to return home was the son’s decision to make. God loves us so much, He gave us the ability to choose for ourselves. And He honors that, even when what we choose isn’t the best for us. We always have the freedom to choose to come back to God. It is our choice, and God won’t make that choice for us. But we always have that choice.
So the hero of our story is caring for pigs, realizing the pigs have it better than he does, and he makes his decision. He says, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
One step. And if you take that one step toward God, the Bible says, that God will cover the rest of the distance. How do we take that one step? How do we go home to our Father? We already saw that John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Let’s read the next part of the verse out loud together, it says, “so that everyone who believes in Him”, All we have to do is believe in Jesus. Really believe, so that you trust Him with everything. Which brings us to the last step.
3. Receive God’s forgiveness through Christ. Someone said that love is an act of endless forgiveness. When the son returned home what happened? In Luke 15:20, and it’s in your notes, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Why don’t we return to the Father? Why do we hesitate so much? Do we really think that what we did is so unforgivable? Do we think God will give us a big lecture and condemned us? Nowhere in the Bible doesn’t say anything like that. The father in our story, who is symbolic of our Father in heaven, “ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”
I don’t know what you may have done. I don’t know what you might be struggling with this morning. But I do know that God is not mad at you. Like the father in our story, when you take the step to return to Him, God runs to you and He welcomes you back. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. God will always welcome you back when you recognize your need, return to Him, and receive His forgiveness through Christ, who died for you. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection proves that God is not mad at us. In fact, it shows just how far God is willing to go to forgive us.
Notice what the father did. He did more than just tell the son he was forgiven. Luke 15:22-24, in your notes, “The father said to the servants, ‘Quick, bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. We must celebrate with a feast for this son of mine was dead, and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”
In your notes, there are four words in bold. Let’s look at them and see what they’re telling us:
A lot of people misunderstand what it means to receive forgiveness and then get eternal life. In John 3:16, the verse that we have been looking at this morning, as we have read it, it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone that believes in Him”, and now let’s pick it up in your notes, the last part of John 3:16, “will not perish, but have eternal life.” Circle those words “eternal life”.
A lot of people think that means a life that never ends. You see, when some people think of eternal life, they just think of never ending life. But I think this is talking about more than just a life that never ends, it’s talking about an abundant life that continues in Heaven. But it also has consequences for the here and now. Eternal life implies that when you return to God and you receive forgiveness through Christ, you get the best life possible, both here and in heaven. A life that is better than you ever dreamed of. God wipes your slate clean and He invites you back home and He offers you this forgiveness and abundance of life. That is the power of ultimate forgiveness.
Are you ready to make the decision today to receive God’s forgiveness? Let’s look up here on the screen for our last verse. It’s a memory verse for today, summarizing all that we have talked about. I encourage to spend some time with it this week and try to memorize it. It says, “Jesus was handed over to die because of our sin and He was raised from the dead to make us right with God.” Do you understand what that means? It means Jesus has already done everything for us. There is nothing left for us to do except to recognize our need, come to the Father, and receive His forgiveness.