During this season of lent, we have been talking about the forgiveness of Jesus, and all the different ways that forgiveness transforms our lives. Forgiveness brings hope to relationships, it can bring real healing to our lives, it opens our eyes, and the eyes of our hearts, and it gives us all a second chance. Today we will see that it is the forgiveness of Jesus that can set us free.
Several years ago we talked about how sin, and a spirit of un-forgiveness, can literally weigh us down. Think about sin as a stone. Each time someone hurts us, or sins against us, and we don’t forgive them, a stone is thrown into the bag. Each time we sin against someone, and don’t ask for forgiveness, a stone is thrown into the bag. Each time we sin against God, and aren’t willing to seek forgiveness, a stone is thrown into the bag, and each time we sin against God, and don’t accept the forgiveness God offers, a stone is thrown into the bag.
Now multiply this by 365 days a year. Now multiply it by 18 years. That would be 23,360 stones. If we were to carry this bag in here with us today, we would be bent over. We would be struggling. This is a picture of how sin weighs us down, and how without forgiveness, it will cripple us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is what Jesus saw when he was in worship one day. Luke 13:10-11.
While this woman was physically bent over in pain, it also says she was crippled by a spirit, so there may have been some spiritual or emotional pain that was weighing her down. Maybe that pain came from unresolved and unforgiven sin in her life. She entered the synagogue on the Sabbath to worship God, but she was completely bent over, burdened, without hope, and with her face to the ground.
How often is this a picture of us? We enter worship bent over by the pain of those who have hurt us, burdened by our sin, without much hope, and with our faces looking at the ground. We come to God but aren’t expecting anything to change. Too often this is how we come to worship. Too often this is how we go through life.
When Jesus saw this woman, he set her free. Luke 13:12-13
The word that Jesus used here for being set free wasn’t a word that described healing as much as it described forgiveness, or the payment of a debt. This same word was used at the trial of Jesus when Pilate agreed to set free either Jesus or Barabbas. Both men were criminals commended to die, but Pilate was willing to release one of them, in essence, Pilate was willing to forgive one of them. He released Barabbas, and when he did he forgave his debt and set him free. When Jesus said, woman you are set free, he is saying, you are forgiven.
Jesus forgives. He laid his hands upon her and her back was straightened, her head was lifted, her eyes met Jesus, and her spirit was lifted up in thanks and praise to God. And this is what happens with forgiveness, it sets free, our burden is taken from us, our heads are lifted up, our eyes look to Jesus, and our hearts look to God with thanks and praise because the burden we were carrying is gone.
When this woman was set free, three important things happened.
She was set free to work.
She was set free to worship.
She was set free to wonder.
When this woman was set free, she was set free to work, and this wasn’t a burden, it was a blessing. Think about it, she could work to care for her family. She could help provide for her children or parents. She could work and add value to her community. She could work and help those around her. She could be a blessing instead of always feeling like a burden. When we are forgiven and feel the burden of sin lifted, we are also set free to work and be a blessing.
Forgiveness at home allows us to work and care for our family with more love. Forgiveness at our jobs adds more meaning and value to what we do. We have a greater sense of purpose. We are free to explore more and engage more with confidence in our ability.
Forgiveness lifts our lives and spirits in such a way that we want to serve in our community and give back in ways that help fill our lives. Being set free to work is not a burden but a blessing, because we all want our lives to be of value and we all want to know that we have something to contribute and give to help others.
When we are forgiven, we are also set free to worship. The reality of sin is that it separates us from God. Whether it is our failure to live for God, or our failure in the relationships we have with one another, or simply not living the way we want to live, our sin keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love. Our sin creates a barrier with God, but forgiveness tears that barrier down, and sets us free from the burden so we can lift our eyes to Jesus and our hands to God in praise.
When I was a pastor in Lewisburg, we had many college students attend worship and they often shared with me how hard it was to attend worship some weeks because of their sin. One young man told me that sometimes his guilt was simply too much to bear, and if that is all we experience in our relationship with God, it is too much to bear. But with Jesus there is forgiveness and that forgiveness can set us free to truly worship God in spirit and truth, to feel connected to God, and to feel God’s love and power alive within us.
The forgiveness of Jesus also sets us free to wonder. Not to wander as in being lost, and not to wonder as in being filled with questions or doubt, as in “I wonder what is going on”. Forgiveness sets us free to experience true wonder. I love this definition of wonder from Merriam Webster: rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience.
When a woman who has been crippled for 18 years is suddenly set free from that burden, there is astonishment and amazement at her new experience. All of life for her is now new. It is filled with new opportunities, new experiences, and new relationships. It is filled with wonder.
When we experience the forgiveness of Jesus, the door is opened for us to live a life filled with wonder. Guilt is gone. Shame is gone. We can look at our lives differently. We begin to see the value we have, and the value that we can bring to others. We also see the value we have in the eyes of God. We feel loved and are able to love. Forgiveness changes everything and fills us with wonder – a new experience – a new life.
The forgiveness of Jesus released this woman and set her free to work, to worship, and to experience all the wonder in life. The forgiveness of Jesus can also release us and set us free to work – to find joy in being part of a family and community. It can set us free to worship God in new and powerful ways, and it can set us free to experience deep wonder and astonished amazement in the life God has for us. There simply is nothing better – which is why Jesus forgave this woman and set her free immediately.
Did you notice in the story that Jesus did not wait for the woman to ask for any kind of healing, or forgiveness, and Jesus did not wait for a more appropriate time to offer forgiveness? He saw her burden and set her free, but he did it on the Sabbath which upset the religious leaders. Luke 13:14-17.
The religious leaders thought Jesus should have waited for the next day to set this woman free. Since healing was seen as work, and work was not permitted on the Sabbath, the leaders thought Jesus should have waited. Jesus didn’t wait, however, he couldn’t wait, his love and compassion compelled him to forgive and set this woman free right then and there.
For Jesus, the Sabbath wasn’t a day to follow rules, it was a day to celebrate the freedom God gives us. Think of it this way, the Sabbath was to be a day of rest, but for this women there was no rest. As long as she was carrying around this burden, she was suffering, her life was hard work not any kind of blessed work. Jesus sets her free on the Sabbath because that is what the Sabbath was all about – freedom and rest. Jesus couldn’t wait and he didn’t wait. He healed her immediately, which told the people then, and tells us today, that there is never a better day to be forgiven than today.
There is never a better day to celebrate freedom and experience forgiveness than today. There is no reason why we need to wait to be set free. There is no reason to carry around this burden one more day. Today is the day we can experience freedom from sin, and from the guilt and shame that comes with sin. Today is the day we can forgive ourselves and feel the wonder of new life.
Today is also the Sabbath, which isn’t a day to follow rules but a day to be set free so we can worship God fully. If you are here today but feeling like you don’t deserve to be here, please don’t leave with the guilt or sin and shame you came in with. Let the forgiveness of Jesus touch your heart and life so you can be set free. Hear that God loves you. Hear that God forgives you, not because we have asked for it or done anything to deserve it, but because more than 2000 years ago there was someone willing to pay the price for our sin. Jesus took our sin and shame and guilt to the cross so that we could experience the forgiveness that only God can offer.
Today is also a great day to be forgiven because it is Palm Sunday. Today is the day we remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem with crowds waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Now Hosanna means save us now, so when Jesus entered the city that he day he was agreeing to come and save them, not from the politics of their day, but from sin and death. When Jesus entered Jerusalem he was agreeing to forgive the people and set them free.
This point is driven home further when we understand that the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem was also known as Lamb Selection Day. This was the day all the Jewish people went out and chose the lamb they would need to celebrate the Passover. By entering the city on that day, Jesus was offering himself as the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus was coming to be the one who would sacrifice himself for our sin. The one willing to die so that we might live. The crowds shout save us and Jesus says, OK, I will. He entered the city, laid his life down on the cross, died our death, and then three days later defeated sin and death when he rose from the grave. He forgave.
So this is the perfect day to allow the forgiveness of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to touch our hearts and lives and set us free because it is the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem saying, I forgive you.
There is no better day and there needs to be no other day. This is the day that you can experience the forgiveness of Jesus and have your work, your worship and your world filled with the wonder of God’s power and love. We shout Hosanna. And Jesus says, here I am and you are forgiven.
A forgiveness that sets us free.
Connect with God
- What unforgiven sins and broken relationships weigh you down? Offer these to God in prayer.
- Jesus forgives us through his death and resurrection. Read this story in Matthew 26-28.
- Jesus sets us free to worship. Feel the hands of God lift your head, your heart, and your hands in worship.
- Take time to worship with the church during Holy Week. Additional opportunities include:
- The Easter Cantata (this afternoon at 4:00 PM).
- Maundy Thursday Worship (7:00 PM).
- Good Friday Worship (7:00 PM).
- Easter Sunrise Worship (6:30 AM).
Connect with the Church
- Jesus sets us free to work. What work can you contribute to the life of the church?
- Build relationships with others, and serve those in need, by signing up to help with Serving Our Seniors, April 27. Sign up in the lobby or online at www.bellefontefaith.com/sos/.
Connect with the World
- Who do you know that might be feeling burdened by life, or sin, and needs the love of God? Invite them to worship with you on Easter.
- Invite a person, or family, to join you for a meal over the Easter holiday.