The Empty Cross: Pardon
1 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. 2 You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. 3 We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. 4 Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, 5 he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!
If you are not a computer or internet user, you might not know what the internet web browser is. It is a program that you can have on your computer that allows you to type a word or phrase and search millions and gazillions of websites out there. You know that I am a big fan of Google. Right? Google news everything. Yes, like Google, Yahoo, Bing, those kinds of deals. we can search anything we want, find anything we want to know. So again, you might not be familiar with a feature on your internet browser at your computer. It’s a feature that is under the tap, history. If you click on that tap and click on your history, it will tell you all the websites that you have visited on that day, or the week or the month…whatever period you asked to look at. Now here’s what I know because I’ve done that, too. I’ve been there, too. Teenagers know about the history feature because they don’t want mom and dad to know what pages they’ve been surfing. So they can go to the history feature and they can delete their history. It’s easy. Just click the “delete” button and it’s all gone. Tada! Wouldn’t that be cool if life had a history delete button? Wouldn’t that be cool if at least item by item we can go through our life history and just delete the ones that we don’t really like. Wouldn’t that be cool? I like that! So this week as I was working on this message, I thought about what I would want to delete in my history. We have several different categories when we talk about the things that we want to delete in our lives, right? Some of them are cringey moments that we really want to forget. Actually this week I had a hospital visit. The social walker of the hospital left me a message that there was a patient that was a member of Milledgeville UMC. But the name was new to me. I never heard of the name before, so I had to open the church directory to see if there was that name in the directory. And yes, his name was in the directory. It seemed like he hadn’t been in church for years. But when he claimed himself as a member of the Methodist Church, then I am his pastor, right? So I drove down to Sterling to make a visit to him. While I was driving, I had a small mint candy from the mint box that I always keep in my car. I like eating the mint candy when I drive because it helps me staying awake and I like the mint taste, too. So I had one candy in my mouth, arrived in the parking lot, went into the hospital. I still had the candy in my mouth all the way down while I walked up to the second floor where the church member was. I was a little nervous because I didn’t even know how he looked like. So, I went into the room and fortunately he knew who I was. Being an only Asian girl is sometimes helpful. There are many times that I don’t even have to introduce myself to people. Well anyway, so we were talking about how things were going with him and his surgery and how terrible this weather had been. Just those kind of stuff. And at some point I was laughing about something he talked about and I laughed too hard not realizing that I still had the mint candy in my mouth. The candy literally flew out of my mouth, drawing a beautiful curve between him and me and it fell on the floor somewhere between him and me. ‘Oh, God.’ That was the first thought I had. If I knew him really well, I would’ve just laughed at myself and quickly picked up the candy and just thrown that into a garbage can, but it was the first time I met him and I just flew the candy out of my mouth in front of a stranger. Oh, God- It was so awkward and I really didn’t know what to do. For a moment, I thought about finding the mint candy that I just spitted out that must be somewhere under his bed, but that would be really really awkward, so I decided not to. So I pretended nothing was happened. So I acted like as if I didn’t spit anything out of my mouth. I had a short talk with him, prayed for him, and left the room hoping that he didn’t have good eye sight so he didn’t see that I spitted the mint candy out of my mouth. It was like a space shot that a space shift shot by NASA. After I got out of his room, I covered my face with my hands screaming silently, “You stupid!” If I could delete things from my life history, I want to delete those kinds of cringey moments. I have numerous moments in my history that still make me cringey!
Also, this week I was surprise to myself as I was working on this message. I thought about the people whom I haven’t forgiven, or the ones I don’t want to forgive because today’s message theme is about pardon, forgiveness. And I was really surprised by how many people in my life that I don’t want to forgive. It is a big shock. How many times have I talked about forgiveness in my messages? And I still have people that I don’t want to forgive. Even the reasons that I don’t like them are not real big things, just petty things.
So from today for the next 4 weeks we are going to talk about at least four important understanding about the cross. Easter is all about hope, right? That is why starting today and the next three Sundays we are going to have a very hopeful series to help us understand the hope that Jesus’ empty cross gives us. I would like to talk about “the empty cross.” What does the empty cross mean to us? Why is the empty cross hope for us? What does Jesus’ empty cross really mean for us? We start the series today by talking about “pardon.” Because part of what the empty cross cries out for this world is, “I forgive you.” God says that to you and me.
Easter is all about hope. Here is the reality. One of the deep inner needs that we have as human beings is to experience forgiveness, pardon. This week I was reading a study from Iowa State University. It was the study that was being done on therapists, by therapists and their clients. This study was on forgiveness and therapy. It said among more than a thousand people that they interviewed, 75 % of the people said that they had deep need and desire to forgive somebody. When I read this part, I thought, “Then what about 25% of them? They don’t want to forgive people?” Isn’t that interesting? Who want to hold grudges forever? Anyway, I believe we all have the desire not only to give forgiveness but also receive forgiveness. We have to receive forgiveness in order to forgive others, right? So to us, the empty cross says this, “God forgives you.” God says this to us through the empty cross, “I want you to experience the long-lasting, meaningful, never-changing forgiveness. I am all ready to offer it to you. All you need to do is receive it.”
But we live in a forgiveness-challenged world, don’t we? But please remember that when Jesus was hung on the cross, the Bible tells us there were seven phrases that he gave and one of those seven phrases was this (slide) “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus himself as he had himself nailed to the cross, he was dying in the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them.” He says that because everyone of us has deep need for pardon from God. And Jesus and Easter is all about forgiveness.
So here is the question I want to try to answer for the next four weeks. (slide) How can I experience the pardon of Jesus? If the cross proclaims that we can be forgiven, we can be pardoned, We can be forgiven and we can forgive. How can I experience it? Here’s the first way we can experience God’s pardon. Let’s read it out loud. (slide)” 1. I have to admit that something is wrong.” We all know, right? It is not news that anybody in this world messed up, right? We all messed up in some way or the other. And you know what? The Bible uses the word, “sin” to describe that something is wrong in life. We know that it should be better in life, right? We all know that. Look with me Ephesians 2:1-2. Let’s read it together. (slide) It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.” This is kine of “This is my way of life. My way is high way kind of way of life,” right? We don’t trust God, but trust ourselves and do in our own way. When I stayed over at my friend’s house, the next morning when I went down stairs for breakfast, my friend’s son saw me and ran down to me. He is a really cutie, he gave me a big hug and gave me a kiss on my cheek and everything. And by accident, he exhaled his breath onto my face and oh boy, that smell was terrible! That was too early for him to brush his teeth so his morning breath was fetid. He told me, “Emo- (Emo means mom’s sister or mom’s close female friend in Korean.) I love you.” with that terrible morning breath. I dearly love him, but that smell was unbearable. “Okay, thank you.” then I pulled him away from me. I sent him to his mom. Yes, it is like that. What we’ve got in us is what others see in us, what people see from us, right? It is hard to conceal. So the starting point to experience God’s pardon in our ives is admitting that something is wrong in our lives. Let’s read it out loud. (slide) 2. I have to acknowledge I can’t fix it. There is a survey that says 87 % of Christians in America believe the doctrine of sin but 57% of them do not believe they are sinners. What? They believe others are sinners, but they believe they are the good ones. Right? Well, I admit that I have tendency to think like that, too. What about you? Look with me the next verses in the letter to Ephesians that we are looking at. (slide) “We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.” Ephesians 2:3 (The Message) I kind of like this verse. It levels off. It says we all what? We all did it! Everyone of us! And some of us, including myself, think “Well, I don’t know about you, but I am kind of a minor league sinner.” I am one of them! But regardless where you think you are, just little sinner or big sinner, the reality is from the pulpit to the pew, everyone of us is sinner. Let’s read number 3 together. (slide) 3. Accept we are sinners! Yes we admit that we are messed up and we admit that we cannot fix our problems on our own. And we accept that we are sinners. Then where is grace? This is after Easter sermon, then where is grace? You know what? Accepting the fact that we are sinners means that we also accept that there is God’s grace for us. Without GOd’s grace, we are so doomed and our lives would be so miserable, aren’t we? Let’s read Ephesians 2:4-5 together. (slide) “Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!” Ephesians 2:4-5 (The Message) Particularly I like this part. “Immense in mercy” Do you know what mercy is? Mercy is when God doesn’t give me what I earned. I don’t know about you, but I am talking about myself. I know what I’ve earned in my life. I’ve earned hell in this life, and I’ve earned hell in the life to come. That’s what I’ve earned because I have been far too selfish, too self-centered in my life. It is the same boy that I talked about earlier. He is now, I think, 8th grade. His parents and I went to the same church. One Sunday morning I wore a dove color skirt and as soon as he saw me in the church lobby he started rushed toward me. He liked me a lot, so he always gave me a bug hug. But I soon found his face was all covered with chocolate and I tried to stop him before he hug me, which I failed. He hugged my legs with his two hands all covered with chocolate and he rubbed his chocolate covered face on my skirt calling me “Emo!!” Like I said I dearly loved him, it took me a long time to be okay with that. See how selfish I am? Can we see how stinky I am? My breath smell should be terrible, right?z However immense in mercy and with an incredible love, God embraces us. Would say “immense in mercy” like it really means it. “Immense in mercy” and with an incredible love, God embraces us. We are not perfect. We are all messed up with our lives and we cannot fix it. But God embraces us as we are. It is really important. Let me say this again. With the immense grace and an incredible love, God embraces us. God takes our sins and God makes us alive like God made Jesus alive. And you just accept it. Do you know the old hymn “Jesus paid it all”? The first verse is on the scree. I really love this hymn and looks at the lyrics. “Sin had left a crimson stain, Jesus washed it white as snow.” Can we sing it a cappella? Sometimes I love to sing a song in a cappella. “I hear the savior say, thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all. ‘Cause Jesus paid it all, All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow
Our sin had left a crimson stain, but Jesus’ grace washed it like white snow. Yes, Jesus paid it all, and we are now free from all our sins. Even though we messed up with our lives, even though things that we did in our lives have been gone so wrong and we cannot fix it, with immense in mercy and with an incredible love, God embraces us as we are. Now with the empty cross, with the cross that Jesus has left, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God! Amen.