Allen Jackson - Forgiveness - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. Our topic is "Spiritual Power and Authority". You know, there's no greater power available to a human being than spiritual power. And I believe in economic power or military might. They're legitimate, but they don't compare with the power of Almighty God. And I think so often, as Christ followers, we're confused in how to give expression to that. Does it mean you have to be bizarre or weird, or that you have to pray crazy prayers or behave in some odd way? I don't believe so. I think something as familiar to you and me as forgiveness unleashes the power of God. We have to receive forgiveness, and we have to be willing to forgive others. It's an expression of God's power. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart to the Lord today.
I want to pick up a study. We won't complete it in this session. We might complete the outline, but if we don't, no problem, because I want to continue the study a little beyond today. I want to spend a little bit of time with you unpacking the biblical perspectives on spiritual power and spiritual authority, particularly in the context of forgiveness. The greatest power that's available to a human being is spiritual. It's more powerful than governmental authority. It's more powerful than economic authority. It's more powerful than military might. I'm not suggesting that those other things aren't real. I'm suggesting to you that spiritual power is greater, and the church has lost sight of that.
In one of the greatest expressions of idolatry, I think in the history of the church, we look to the government, imagining they will secure our future or forfeit it. I look forward, as the church wakes up to the true source of power in our world and in our lives, where the political leaders come back to the people of God to ask for direction, because they recognize a greater power there than the ones that they wield. That's a common thread throughout Scripture. We have come so far down that path of idolatry that we've lost the imagination. We think it's fanciful language or just the ruminations of somebody that's paid to say that, that it couldn't be grounded in truth or authority; and, in reality, it is the greatest power that's available to you is spiritual power.
Power is the ability to do something, accomplish something. Authority, on the other hand, is the exercise of that power. The power is God's. It resides in his kingdom. But God's people have been invested with authority, and that's really the substance of this discussion is how do we utilize the authority that has been given to us? You know, the holiday season, kind of the formal kickoff, at least in my imagination, is this week. We begin with Thanksgiving, and it flows into the Christmas season, and all of the activities and events that go with that. And for the first time in several years, we begin the holiday season without being threatened by the pandemic. That's good news. And yet, if you're aware and awake, and you're willing to acknowledge it, I think the equal reality is we don't really feel comforted.
We're grateful to be out of some of that drama, but there's still a tremendous amount of anxiety, and uncertainty, and apprehension. Simple questions, like are our children truly safe? Is our future protected? Are we gaining momentum in the best direction for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, for our nation, for our churches? Or are we careening downward into chaos? It's not easy to answer that question? I want to make a suggestion these next few weeks. Our schedules are going to be different. Your lives will be different. Your travel, you'll be gathering in some new ways. I want to ask you to include in all of that, and I know that you're already busy, to spend a little more time with Jesus.
And the method I would suggest for that is reading the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark is only 16 chapters. It's not a heavy lift. A couple of extra minutes a day, and you can read through Mark in a week. I'm not asking you to try to build a systematic theology or to do Greek word studies. Just imagine yourself in the crowds. Imagine you were in Bethlehem when the story started to circulate around the community that the shepherds out in the fields had some bizarre night. You know shepherds. Something about angels and kings, and I don't know. They were babbling, and they were really jacked up. I'm not sure. You imagine the people in Bethlehem made a connection between the shepherd's reports, and the rumors about something, and the babies that Herod murdered in their city. I bet most of the people didn't.
Imagine you're in the boat when Jesus comes walking across the lake, and the disciples were a little stressed, and Peter says, "I want to try that," and the other 11 are rolling their eyes, going, "I hope he drowns". Just read through the Gospels and put yourself into the scenarios. How would you have responded? How do you see it? Just spend some time with Jesus. It'll change everything. Folks, we've gotta get closer to him. It's essential. It's important. Spiritual power and authority expressed in our lives through participating in forgiveness. Did you know forgiveness is one of the greatest expressions of spiritual authority that's available to you? It's miraculous. It required divine intervention. It's so significant.
Luke chapter 5, you don't have this in your notes. I've got the deluxe version, but you can check me later. It's Luke 5:24. Jesus is speaking. He said, "'That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,' he said to the paralyzed man, 'I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.'" Jesus said in his journey under the sun, while he was incarnate, while he had an earth suit, he had been given the authority to forgive sins. And he understood that to be greater than the ability to bring physical healing to a paralyzed man. He said, "The healing seems rather insignificant in comparison to the ability to forgive your sins. And so that you can understand the authority I have, be healed". And the man was healed. We're gonna process personal forgiveness, what it means for you and I to receive forgiveness, you and me. We're going to talk about forgiving others.
See, the Word has been cheapened. I've seen several articles written and headlines lately about the need to forgive officials for the pandemic. Or I've read articles about forgiving debt, canceling an obligation. The truth is we have kind of a sloppy indulgent attitude regarding this whole concept of forgiveness. In so many cases, if the consequences of our actions and our choices are uncomfortable, then someone should just extend forgiveness. After all, it's the Christian thing to do, we're told. Well, that attitude contributes to the deterioration of our character. It's not always helpful. Actions have consequences. And if negative consequences can be completely mitigated without much response from the individual responsible, we forfeit a great deal.
You see, in reality, we should be very grateful and attentive to the process that enables any of us to be forgiven of anything. Jesus gave us some very clear instructions in a very famous prayer that we've all prayed, I suspect hundreds of times. It's in Matthew 6. The disciples asked for some instruction regarding prayer, and Jesus gave them a template, not just a template for a single prayer, but template for a whole group of categories of prayers. "This is how you should pray," he said, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name". Prayer starts with worshiping God. Did you know worship is prayer? "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
People say to me all the time, "If I just knew what God wanted me to do". There it is, plain language: go do the will of God. Go be an expression of what you know God wants done on the earth. "I meant something specific". That's pretty specific. "Give us today our daily bread". That one bugs me. I mean I understand that's God's plan, and we learned it in the Exodus story where they got manna every day, and they got two days for the Sabbath, but if I got really honest with you, I don't want daily bread. I want all the bread I'm ever gonna need for all my days, and I want it locked up in a warehouse, and I want the key, and I want a Segway, so every afternoon I can go for a ride around my pile of bread. And if I get really honest, I think it'd be fun if my pile of bread was bigger than your pile of bread. But Jesus told us to pray, we would have what we needed today. It's difficult to learn to be content.
And in verse 12, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one". And verse 14 goes back to revisit verse 12. It's the only one of those categories in there that is immediately revisited. "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins". Did you know your choices have enormous spiritual implications? Your choices have enormous implications regarding spiritual authority. Are they for the good or the bad? See, some of you are still stuck back there on spiritual power being the greatest power that's available to you.
Now we're going to amplify that by saying that you've been given spiritual authority, and your choices are an expression of that. You say, "Well, you know, I don't believe that". Well, that's why we're reading some Scripture today. Jesus's death on the cross, his redemptive work on the cross, his death, burial, and resurrection was God's way of dealing with the shortcoming of humanity and making it possible for any human being who chooses to, to participate in his eternal kingdom. That's really good news, but in order to benefit from what God has done, we have to make a choice. We're watching culture deteriorate. At least Western culture will deteriorate. And the church has an assignment in the midst of that. We're not powerless, and the resolution to this deterioration is a change on behalf of the church.
I'm not sure we've got the stuff it takes to do that. The outcome isn't clear to me just yet. I am certain from the story of Scripture that God is willing to help, if we'll turn our faces to him. There's a grand deception that has been unleashed upon the people of God. It's not new. We're not the first generation to struggle with this. I could've brought you several examples, but I chose, the ones I brought are from the book of Revelation. You know the book of Revelation? It's a revelation of the conclusion of this age that was given to Jesus, and he entrusted it to John, his faithful friend and servant. And at the beginning of the book of Revelation, there's a message to the seven churches. You didn't get the message unless you were a part of a community of faith.
I don't know if the online version's got that or not, but...I'm kidding. Don't...I really am. But I brought you a part of the message to these three of the seven churches. And I could've brought more, but I thought the three was a good enough sample set. Revelation 2 is the church in Thyatira. These are the words of the Lord to his church. He said, "I know your deeds, your love and your faith, your service and your perseverance, and that you're now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. And by her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality, the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I've given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling". That's written to a church. He said, "I know you're doing some good things". But he said, "I need to talk to you about something. You are sponsoring immorality. You're condoning it. You're cheering for it. You're covering for it".
This is the church. And lest you think it's something unique, chapter 3, "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds: you have a reputation of being alive, but you're dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God". That's a church. He said, "You have a reputation for being alive and vital, and you're dead. Wake up". Asleep, we talked about this a good bit in recent months, asleep is not a critical, it's a part of a normal cycle of life. But when you're asleep, you're unaware, you're uninvolved, and you're unconcerned.
If you ask me for a description of the church in recent years, I would have to say we've been asleep. We've been uninvolved, unconcerned, unaware. COVID didn't start most of these things that we see as pressing problems today. We just weren't paying any attention; and God, in his great mercy, has begun to awaken us a bit. If he's awakened us, now we have some responsibilities to engage. Not a new thing. It was a problem in Sardis. Revelation 3, this is the church at Laodicea. "You say, 'I am rich, and I've acquired wealth, and I don't need a thing. But you don't realize that you're wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked".
Three examples of churches that made the book, churches that are recipients of this great revelation of the end of the age. They have an assignment, a role to play, and yet, they have been overwhelmed by this grand deception. They're totally unaware of their own need for forgiveness. They think they're good to go. In each case, it's said a little differently. "I have this against you. You are supporting immorality. Or you say you're vibrant, and there is no life in you. Or you imagine yourself to be affluent, and accomplished, and having achieved a great deal, and you're blind, pitiful, poor, and naked. You need help, and you don't know it".
If I had to look for kind of a single sentence description of contemporary American Christendom, that's pretty good. We're blind to our need for repentance. We're kind of comfortable in our faith and our practice. You know, I would submit to you, my best estimation, we are perilously close to God's judgment. It's a grand deception. It's not new. It's so effective. It's all through the Gospels, Jesus talking to the first century Jewish community. He gives the parable of the Pharisee that goes to pray in public, and the biggest thief in the community, and the thief acknowledges his need for God, and the religious leader acknowledges he has no need. It's a malady of religious people. And if you're in church on Sunday, you're religious. If you're livestreaming, you're really religious, 'cause you've got 103 channels, and you chose this.
Folks, we need forgiveness. Now, why is forgiveness necessary? Why is this such a big deal in the religious, and as a matter of faith and a matter of our relationship with God? Can't we all just forgive? I mean, at the end of the day, can't we just be overlookers? Not that big a deal. You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe, and let them believe what they believe, and let's just all hold hands, sing kumbaya and move along. Well, if there is no God, perhaps you could sell that idea. But if there is a God, and I believe there is, and you would like to have a relationship with him, then we don't have the privilege of dictating the terms of that relationship. We have to enter into that relationship with him based on his character and his nature, not based upon our own. We are his creation. We're the sheep of his pasture.
And then we take some rather mistaken ideas about God or some incomplete ideas about God, and then we use it to manipulate these words around forgiveness. You have heard it said that God is a God of mercy, a God of grace, and a God of compassion. In fact, the Bible says that God delights to show mercy, even to the wicked. Well, if that's the case, why is it such a big deal about forgiveness? God likes to show grace. He likes to be merciful. Just chill out. Well, the Scripture also tells us, and this is important, then it's equally true that God is a God of justice, and he's a God of integrity, and he's a God of truth. And if that is real, then you have to anticipate that as much as he delights in showing mercy, God intends to punish evil. He's not neutral.
You see, we've expanded this middle area, this gray area, as if there's some option between good and evil, right and wrong. And in God's perspective, I don't find that. God is holy. God is righteous. There's no darkness in him. And to be in relationship with him, we have to be like him. We don't just sit in churches, and wear Sunday clothes, and have a Sunday vocabulary. We don't just have behaviors that we think are inappropriate for a sanctuary, but they're pretty much appropriate everywhere else. To be the people of God, we have to begin to reflect the character of God, the nature of God. That's why Jesus taught us to pray, when he was teaching us. We read it just a moment ago. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth, like it's done in heaven. I assure you God's will carries the day in heaven.
Well, who exactly do you think he's recruiting to do the expression of his will in the earth? That would be us'ns, y'all, if you're not from around here. Look at 1 John 1 and verse 5. It says, "This is the message we've heard from him and declare to you: God is light; and in him there is no darkness at all". So, we can't purposefully tolerate darkness. We can't accommodate it. We can't be welcoming of it. 1 Timothy 6 and verse 15, "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever, amen". I love the majesty that's attributed to God and the language that Paul is using when he's writing to Timothy.
You see, we've diminished God. We've made him into kind of a mini us with just a few more tricks in his bag, but he's not like us. He's the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. He alone is immortal. He lives in unapproachable light. No one has seen him or can see him, and to him be honor and might forever. So, if we're going to be in relationship with him and come into his presence, we're not bringing our junk. We can't bring our death and our darkness and our immorality. It has to be addressed. It's got to be acknowledged. It's got to be resolved. There's no alternative. And we're not gonna work it out. He's not gonna grade on a curve. It has to be addressed. This is significant. We've treated it pretty casually.
So, we're casual with the truth. We're casual with our morals. We're casual with how we deal with one another. We are a race of rebels. We're introduced to that in the first chapters of Genesis. Those first three chapters of Genesis establish the tone of the rest of the book. We're rebellious by nature. And even when we're born again, and we're converted, when we're saved, and we find our way into the kingdom of God, we still have that earthly Adamic nature that makes us fundamentally rebellious. Don't tell me what to do. Don't tell me I can't. Don't tell me I shouldn't. Folks, it's easier to see in the children, because they don't have as many filters in place, yet. Right? If you want a child not to do something, and you tell them not to do it, what did you do? You just ensured they're gonna try, right?
If you really don't want them to do it, you tell them to try it. You know they won't do that then. Whatever you do, don't make your bed. And as we grow, we get a little better at putting the filters in place. We're a little more sophisticated at hiding our rebellion, but it's not hard to look around us and see we're redefining terms, there's so many expressions of this. Romans chapter 5 and verse 12, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned". No one's exempted from this. This isn't about race, or nationality, or gender, or social status, or economic status, or the jobs we perform, or where we live. It's just universal.
Romans chapter 1 and verse 20, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities, his power and his nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made". There's a revelation of God in creation, and the conclusion of that is that last phrase: "that men are without excuse". Every human being knows there's a God. Now, we're responsible for the knowledge that we've been given. If English is your first language, you have greater opportunities in understanding the kingdom of God than any group of people that have ever lived on the planet.
If you're gonna be a serious student of Scripture, English language is still a requirement. So, we have many blessings that come to us simply by the circumstances of our birth that we did nothing for. So, we have some heightened responsibilities that come with that, but the reality is that every person has a revelation of God. There is no excuse. Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". It was true in those churches in the book of Revelation. It's true of the church in our nation today. We are a people in need of forgiveness. We need the spiritual power to be given as an expression of authority in our lives to deliver us from the impacts and the influences of ungodliness.
Satan is an accuser, and he's a liar. So, one of the things that we have to process routinely is God's forgiveness for us and not yield to the condemning accusations of the enemy. He's a liar. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that through the blood of Jesus you have redeemed us out of the hand of the devil, that we have been justified, sanctified, set free through the blood of Jesus. We've been forgiven, and we receive it, in Jesus's name. Amen.