I want to begin this morning by clarifying some misconceptions about God and His involvement in the events of that day and then tie this anniversary in with out text for today which talks about forgiveness. First, some questions and misconceptions concerning the events of that morning.
There is usually the question of “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God allow this to happen?” and the answer that is sometimes given is that this was God’s way of punishing America. The problem with this question and answer is that it fails to understand God and Christianity. And, interestingly enough, we have been discussing God and punishment in Bible Class lately. First we need to understand that there are basically two types of punishment, eternal spiritual punishment or hell, and temporal punishment, or consequences of actions. As for the first type of punishment, eternal spiritual punishment, that is why Jesus was born, lived, suffered and died, to pay the price, the wage of sin, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place so we do not have to. So, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, faith given to us, we, as Christians will never suffer this punishment, eternal spiritual death or hell. As for the second type of punishment, temporal punishment, or consequences of our actions, we may at times suffer some such punishment. An example would be that if we steal we may be put in jail. If we do drugs we may get sick and die a physical death. As for the attacks on September 11, these attacks were not so much a punishment of America as they are a continuing sign of the curse that was placed on our world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the world. Remember, death was never a part of God’s original plan.
Moving on; a second question often asked is “Where was God and why did He allow this to happen?” Interestingly enough, if we look at the details, what we see, time and again is that God was there protecting as many people as possible. I have heard story after story of how people missed their ride, missed the bus, were running late and how many people were actually saved from the impending doom that lay ahead in the twin towers. God was there protecting as many people as possible.
One sentiment and statement that drives me crazy is the idea that all those who died in the terrorist attack went to heaven. I am sorry, but that goes against what God tells us in His Word. It is not the way in which you die that determines your eternal destiny, it is faith or no faith. Jesus rightly tells us that He is the only way, the only truth and the only life and that apart from Him there is no eternal life. This fact does not mean that God is not loving, He is loving that is why He sent Jesus to suffer the eternal punishment for our sins for us. This fact does mean that He is just and right and truthful, and He means what He says in His Word. Think about it this way, if there were many ways to heaven, if it did not matter what or in whom you believed, then we should feel sorry for Jesus, because He is a lunatic for His suffering and dying. Why bother suffering and dying if there are many ways to heaven? I am sorry to bear this sad news, but only those who died in faith were and are saved, reminding us of the importance of minding our own faith and sharing our faith with others.
For many people, this event was a sign of the end times, and I would agree, but probably not the way in which they intend to mean. The fact of the matter is that we are and we have been living in the end times since Jesus came and ushered in the end times. And Jesus continually reminded us that the signs of the end times are wars and rumors of wars, famine, earth quakes, “natural disasters” and the like. Actually, just about every generation has thought theirs is the worst and we must be close to the end.
So, why did these events happen? Simply stated, these events happened because we live in a sin filled world. Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and with their disobedience the perfect world of all that was good and very good now was broken. The once perfect world is now filled with sin and as God Himself tells us, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). And as Jesus tells us, “[20And he said,] ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:20-23). As King David reminds us, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Sin is our nature and the nature of humanity, we are conceived and born wicked and sinful.
Interestingly enough, following the events of September 11, most everyone noticed that there was a bit of a change in the behavior of many Americans. People became a bit more helpful, a bit more courteous, and there was even an increase in church attendance and people’s “spirituality.” But, unfortunately, as time moved forward, those changes went back to “normal.” This change and reverse change remind us that unless there is a true change of one’s heart, the change of one’s behavior is only temporary. It is only as the heart is changed that one’s true behavior will be changed.
So, what is our response and answer to these events? And what is our Gospel tie in? Our response, first and foremost is to forgive, and also to be vigilant. This morning Jesus teaches us about forgiveness. You might remember that Jesus’ teaching was prompted by Peter’s question of “How often should I forgive my brother?” And Peter thought he was being generous if he were to forgive his brother seven times. In order to help us to understand true repentance, Jesus tells the parable of the servant that owed the king and the other servant that owed his fellow servant The point of Jesus’ parable was to help His disciples and us to understand the difference in what each owed and the greatness of His forgiveness.
The comparison in Jesus parable is that the king is God and we are the servants in the parable. What we owe each other is truly nothing compared to what we owe to God. And if you do not think you are a sinner, or that big of a sinner, let me remind you that if you only sin three times a day, when actually I believe the number is perhaps more than thirty times a day, but let us just say we are really good people and we only sin three times a day, only breaking three of the ten commandments, when we multiply three times 365, the number of days in a year, that is over a thousand sins in just one year, and if we count it as 30 sins a day, that would be over 10,000 sins in a year. So, now we have to multiply that number times how old we are and we get the idea, we are pretty sinful people. And the price for sin, the wages of sin, is death, eternal spiritual death or hell. That is what we owe to God.
Interestingly enough, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we understand that this is not a deal we are making with God, but that our response to God’s forgiving us is that we willingly forgive those who have sinned and sinned much less against us.
Too often when discussing sin and forgiveness we hear a fallacious encouragement of pointing to oneself, in other words, I could point you to yourself and suggest that you need to do something, you need to change or change yourself, you need to be a better person, you need to be the person God’s wants you to be and I might even suggest that you can be the person God wants you to be, but I would be lying to you, because the whole problem of pointing you to yourself is that you cannot do it yourself. Remember the passages I just cited? You cannot be the person God wants you to be by yourself. For me to tell you to do it yourself would be like telling a drowning person to save themself.
When it comes to sin and forgiveness, the truth and the freedom of the Gospel is that it all depends only on Jesus. The very reason Jesus gave up the glory that was His in heaven and took on human flesh and blood, being born as a human child, was so that He might live perfectly for us in our place, because we cannot live perfectly as God would have us to live. Jesus lived perfectly, even fulfilling all God’s commands and promises, all His prophecies concerning the Messiah, for us. After living in perfection, Jesus, who was without sin, took our sins upon Himself and then He suffered and died, paying the price, the complete price for our sins. To suggest that there is anything else we need to do to earn our forgiveness or to deny Jesus complete work of paying for our sins is to deny the message of the Gospel. The fulness of the Gospel is not simply that Jesus died for our sins, but that He actually lived for us. It all depends on Jesus, that is why I will always point you to Jesus. Jesus forgives us and He moves us to forgive others. He moves in us a change of heart. As always, it begins, continues and ends with Jesus, just Jesus.
Let me encourage you, although the world will continue on in chaos because it has been cursed by God, remember God’s promise is to be with us always. That fact does not mean life will be easy, nor that you will never have to suffer.
Even so, we do forgive those terrorist who attacked us, as we have been forgiven and only because we have been forgiven. At the same time we continue to be vigilant, keeping watch and even seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus with those who would continue to persecute us and attempt to terrorize us.
As a reminder to always look to Jesus, I will leave you with Paul’s words from our Epistle lesson for this morning,“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.