Dr. Daniel Paavola—Professor of Theology

Concordia University Wisconsin

Mequon, Wisconsin

July, 2015



OPENING: I wonder how huge the cleaning industry is. Imagine how many millions and even billions we must spend on soaps, detergents, and pre-soaking solutions. A quick Google search this morning showed that Tide sales in 2014 alone were $1,195,300,000! It’s also an entire infomercial industry, each commercial making bigger claim, cleaning deeper and darker stains. And the commercials work. We have to try something against all that dirt.

We have so many choices for cleaning. To start our discussion, consider what you use for cleaning. You can describe either what you use for clothes or carpet and furniture. You can talk about something we all know—you will use Tide forever—or you can share your grandmother’s secret formula.

So when you have to clean something really bad, what’s your favorite method and product?

How did you find the product that works for you?

Have your best choices ever let you down?


This is the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the most interesting points is that Solomon knows that the Temple, for all its beauty and size, could never capture all the glory of God or entrap him. Nothing could match God. Yet there was a purpose for the Temple. That purpose was in the final words of v. 30:

1 Kings 8:30 "And listen to the supplication of Thy servant and of Thy people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place; hear and forgive.”

All the work, all the expense, all the greatness, it all comes to this: Here we pray, here you listen and when you do listen, you forgive us.

Forgiveness is our central topic throughout the faith. While we can speak of the many gifts of God and the many ways in which we can grow, our relationship with God depends on his

justification of us by grace which gives us peace and therefore no separation from his love, Romans 5:1, 8:1, 8:34-35.

In our three part study we will see six facets of the forgiveness God provides. Each of these images complements the others. We’ll pair them into natural associations, starting with the idea of cleansing and covering. If sin is a stain, let’s consider two approaches to that stain.


1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Psalm 51:7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice. 9 Hide Thy face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

This first image is one of restoration. We have the perfect clean shirt and it’s begging to be stained. No young mother wears perfectly white tops when the children are anywhere near. You likely wore multi-colored, earth tone sweaters for years when the children were little.

But one day, you were daring and wore the white top. Now look at that stain. It can be either the stain you saw coming or the one you just noticed at the end of the day.

When you have stained that new shirt, where do you look?

When the kids spill that can of Coke on the new carpet, what do you first look at when you enter the room?

Our eye is naturally drawn to the stain. I’m not sure why that is, but we focus on these points more than anything else. That room is 20 by 20 feet, 400 square feet of carpet. 399 feet of that carpet are just fine, only 1 foot stained, but we focus on that one foot.

Why are we focused on that one spot, that one square foot?

Our children, who dropped the Coke, would tell us to just look at the rest of the carpet that’s clean. Why don’t we?

Besides the focus on the stain, there’s a time factor.

How long can you wait to get to cleaning?

When you’re home and the stain happens, how fast do you want to get out the detergent or the sponge and start scrubbing?

God knows that our hands want to restlessly clean and always to examine how the spot is coming. It’s this way also with the stains on our record and our standing with him. Our memory of ourselves is often like a stained carpet or shirt. We are drawn to the failure and remember the sins. We ask repeatedly of ourselves, “What was I thinking?” We wonder if only we had done this or that, it might have turned out differently.

We need a clean record! Now re-read the verses at the start of this portion of the study, those verses that promise cleansing.

What is distinctive about his cleansing: his material and his perfection?

While this question is a good overall idea, notice three things especially in these verses. One is that God has a unique relationship with us. In David’s plea in Psalm 51, God returns to being the Creator, the one who can return us to a clean heart and a new, right spirit. None of us imagines that we will be new Adam and Eve, but we yearn for a new true start, as though we were. This is the appeal of David and the promise of God.

Also it is a cleansing by relationship of Husband and Wife in Ephesians 5. This perfection again is one of God’s doing and it’s one of his choice and sight. We have all been at weddings where the bride and groom look extraordinary in the eyes of each other. That wedding gown might not ever be on Say Yes to the Dress and the Men’s Wearhouse might not hire the groom to be their next tuxedo model. But it doesn’t matter to the bride and groom. They see each other with the eyes of relationship. Stain, wrinkle, spot or blemish? Completely unseen. So also God by choice sees us with this perfection, a perfect record by his choice of sight.

Finally, God has the cleanser for these stubborn spots on our record and conscience. 1 John 1:7 makes is clear that he uses the evil itself, the selfish, cruel crucifixion of his Son as the cure for our sins. He takes the harshest act, crucifixion, and uses the resulting blood of his Son as the cleanser. This makes no reasonable sense. We cleanse with the opposite—no one would pour motor oil on a stained carpet imagining that it would make it better. But God’s sacrificial death of his Son eclipses our sins and his elective focus on his Son’s willing sacrifice takes our sins out of his sight.

Given this cleansing, how is your look back on your past different?

Go ahead, look for those stains. Ask that your view of them be as God sees them, cleansed and removed. Notice how thoroughly God has washed and scoured them away. We might imagine that they are still there, at least in memory, but his assurance is that they are thoroughly washed. He who can see the smallest speck sees nothing on our record. That is forgiveness—at least one facet of it.


OPENING: While we are all for the complete cleansing of God’s washing, we still can at least imagine the stain of our sins. For that, God has another aspect of forgiveness in the covering of sin.

Some spots are just too bad to clean. Or, your cat tore into that carpet and it’s not so much the stain but the torn fibers of the carpet, the missing pieces, that is the problem. Or the dog’s dish and bowl have been in the same place on the vinyl floor for two years. And now that you really look, that vinyl floor is never going to look right again.

Covering is the only hope.

When has the stain, the torn carpet, the missing piece of vinyl needed covering?

When you covered the stain, how did you do it?

How permanent was the covering? Did it look the same as before—you used a piece of matching carpet over the stain—or did you go with something completely new?


Psalm 32:1 A Psalm of David. A Maskil. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Romans 4:6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."

1 Peter 4: 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

All right, we seem focused on the stain. So let’s admit it and even bring something more to it. Instead of avoidance or even trying to clean it, what if we add more to the stain. What if we cover it entirely?

If we were together, I would replicate the typical infomercial ad for a cleanser. Let’s put ketchup and mustard on a clean white shirt. Then put on the miracle cleaner, rub, rinse, and it would be gone, we hope. But what if there was still a shadow of the ketchup?

Then I would take the blackest wheel bearing grease from the tub of it that is in my garage. This is the absolute blackest stuff in the world, thick, black grease. Smear that over the ketchup stain. What happens?

Can you see the stain anymore? No, not one tiny bit. All you can see is the absolute blackness of the grease. Is the stain there? Yes, under that darkness.

Will the ketchup and mustard ever come through the wheel bearing grease? Never. The blackness of the grease will be all you ever see.

How is this covering like the covering of the cross, the three hours of absolute darkness during his death, and the darkness of his death and the tomb?

Where have our sins gone? While we know they are there, can we any longer see them?

How is this covering most effective for those sins which we can’t seem to forget?

By covering our sins in the darkness of Jesus’ death and the tomb, God has a clear place for those deeds that we’ve done. If we want to stare, go ahead. But we will be staring at the cross and the tomb, exactly the places and actions of God which guarantee our forgiveness. Our sins are inescapably contained, covered, and conquered by the darkness. This also is forgiveness—at least one facet of it.





OPENING: In our first unit, we saw that sin can be both cleansed and covered. That image works well with the ideas of sin as a stain. But sin can be seen as more. In this unit, we’ll find that sin is both that which is fixed in place and also that which has gone far out of sight.

As I write this, we learned last week that our beloved black lab dog has cancer. She has a tumor on the back of her left leg. I know, she’s only a dog. We got her from the animal shelter three years ago when she was already six years old. But she is the most loving dog I’ve ever known and has brightened up every day.

The vet says that the cancer might be in only this one tumor and if we remove it, she might live for several years. Of course, it might have spread in hidden ways. Wouldn’t it be good news if the problem were all in just one place?

When have you had that wish—all the trouble is fixed in just one place?

If you have only one place to look, one problem to solve, how would that be better than the unknown, the hidden and the innumerable?


Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Here God has a new image of forgiveness that is partner to our previous image of the covered stain. In our previous discussion, we imagined a stain that is covered rather than cleaned. It was covered by a much darker stain, a perfectly black cover. We are invited to look at the stain, but we’ll never see it as the dark grease has covered it completely.

Here also we’re invited to look at the stain of our sin, the record of our wrongs but they aren’t hidden. They are in full view, listing every detail. However, that is the key to our peace. They are gathered together and they are fixed in one place by one powerful hand.

First, they are gathered together. Our early discussion spoke of when we want a gathering of trouble. We want to hear all the bad news and get it over with. Don’t tell me something and leave more festering and waiting to come out later.

So God gives us the entire listing of all our sins in this image of Colossian 2:13-14. God himself has listed the full account of our wrongs for who else knows all our sin and who else is the ultimate judge to bring us to account? A companion image of this accounting is in Revelation 20:12 with the opening of the books listing all the deeds of all people. God has missed nothing in this listing of our sins.

When have you wanted to hear the whole news, the entire prognosis, even if it is the opposite of your hopes?

Then God takes this list and nails it to the cross. It is not merely that he dismisses it as we might have wished. We might hope that the Judge will say, “It’s not important. Case dismissed.” But then we might wonder if it won’t merely come back. Surely there is no statute of limitations on sin when the penalty is eternal death. So merely dismissing our sins, or putting them in a pile of lesser offenses isn’t enough.

Instead he takes it out of the way, off the court’s docket and away from the judge’s bench. He does this by nailing it to the cross. Notice that this is the one time when we see Jesus’ action on the cross as being active, not passive. Generally we think of Jesus’ death as his passive acceptance of the Father’s will and a passive acceptance of the cruelty of his enemies. But here the Carpenter takes up the hammer and does the nailing himself. The Carpenter nails down the edict that spoke against us. Whatever life and voice this list once had is now crucified. The voice of these records is stilled by the hammer blows.

Now we have something to see. Our sins’ records are right there in full view. But we have the iron judgment of God over them. They are all gathered—no boasting that more will come out. They have tried to shout their worst but none of that can be heard. They flutter futilely held down by the nails of the cross. The Carpenter has driven the nails holding them deeply beneath the surface and those nails will never be lifted.

This is forgiveness which invites us to see the full view of possible judgment. But the Judge and His Son have agreed: the bill against us goes only one place. The Son takes it in his calloused carpenter hand and nails it to his own cross. Go ahead and stare at its useless, silent accusation. This is forgiveness—at least one more facet of it.


OPENING: So far we’ve dared to look at our sin, the stain that we can’t forget and the charges against us. But what if want to put some real distance between ourselves and our failure? What if we want to move totally away, start anew, and never return to that place and time?

This is the geographical cure. It’s the timeless hope that if we move to a new state, the old problems won’t follow us. It’s the hope of parents that a new school will be the fix. It’s the hope of marriage that a new house in a new town will make the difference.

When have you tried the geographical cure for yourself or for someone else?

How did it work?

What is the attraction of this idea that a new school, house, town, or work will make all the difference?


Leviticus 16:21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. 22 "And the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

Romans 5:18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Psalm 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

With these images, especially the scapegoat, we have a new solution for our sins. The sin has moved! We can’t always move to a new place and even if we did, our sins would come with us, both the old and those yet to be done. But what if we could move the sins and we safely can stay here?

This movement with the scapegoat image is like the first image of cleansing. There the sins were taken away. But we have this question: where did they go? Maybe they are still lurking and waiting to resurface, like a bad, temporary cleaning.

The work of the scapegoat is more than cleansing because we know where the sin has gone. And yet the sin and stain are completely, permanently gone. It’s a perfect combination of safe distance and known location.

Consider the following aspects of the scapegoat as the one carrying our sins, marked by blood and then driven out of the Israelites’ camp.

How is this a distinctive image of forgiveness through the following two ideas:

The sin is gone with…

And, it’s not coming back because….

The joy of this image is that the goat has taken the whole burden. What a load! Isn’t it remarkable that this was fulfilled not by an ignorant goat but by the all-knowing Son of God who accepted this lowly place, and had the power to actually carry the sins of the world outside the camp of all? He was driven out of Jerusalem, driven out of the prison and into the tomb.

It’s the tomb that is the key. Imagine being in the camp the next morning after this ceremony of driving out the scapegoat. What is the last thing you want to see? The goat! Wouldn’t the goat bringing back our sins be our worst nightmare, a bad dream that we might know very well?

But drive the goat out of the camp into the wilderness. What’s going to happen to the goat? He won’t make it through the day and he certainly isn’t going to come back from the dead and back to camp. He’s dead and gone.

What a powerful image of the Scapegoat on Calvary who takes our sins. His death is the death of our sins. This is how God has separated us from our sins forever and we never need to fear a vengeful return from Him. The sins have gone on, over the horizon, to the ultimate geographical cure. But this cure isn’t an endless running from our troubles. Instead it’s the one, single separation of us and our sins. The Scapegoat has taken them to his lasting location and now wherever we are, it’s the place where he has cured us. Go ahead and look over the horizon to the east. Gaze all you want. The goat will never come back. His death is the cure, the answer to our restlessness. This is forgiveness—at least one more facet of it.



OPENING: Right now, YouTube is playing in the background on my computer. But you’d be hard pressed to hear George Strait. The computer speakers are tiny and I’m outside on the deck, a half block from County Highway D and a block from the end of town. In other words, George is being overwhelmed by semi’s hitting their brakes coming into town and Harley’s growling their way out of town. George Strait might as well be lip synching for all I can hear him. Good thing I know all his songs by heart.

One sound overwhelming another is our theme in this unit. We have all strained to hear one voice while another intrudes. It’s the concert you couldn’t hear because of the two talking behind you. It’s the announcement at the airport you couldn’t quite catch. It’s the directions at the meeting you never got since you were seated at the last table in the room.

When have you struggled to hear someone that was really important but someone or something else covered it up?

What do you do when you can’t hear—(The classic hand over the ear, the tilt of the head, the asking someone to repeat)

How often can you ask someone to repeat themselves before it’s just too much or plainly hopeless?


Romans 8:34-38 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

How much would it take to drown out the trucks and Harleys that are going past me? A lot more volume than my little computer has got! But imagine being at a great concert, front row, full volume, the band playing your five favorite songs. Somewhere in the background there’s a full interstate of traffic, semis and Harleys nose to tail. Can you hear them? Not a chance.

It’s time for us to turn up the music of forgiveness. Notice in Romans 8:34 that God has brought up his Son as the key witness in our trial. Though he could condemn, the Father instead hears the justifying intercession of Jesus for us. These are the words that continue endlessly for us at the throne of God. They are exactly the words that the Father has sent the Son to say. These interceding words are the foundation of our relationship and the reason that Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

But what if the other side is adding voices and volume? In the following verses, Romans 8:35 and on, notice all the potential accusers, the fault finders. These are tragedies and troubles that all say that our sins are not forgiven and that God is reserving his worst condemnation for us. We can all hear these voices. Sometimes, our guilty consciences join in as the backup singers for them.

But this is really no problem. Turn up the volume on the words of the Son. Go back to the concert image. Imagine you have control of the sound board and you control the volume. Still hearing that traffic noise from the Interstate? No worries. Turn up those speakers and you’ll never know those semis are there.

That is the challenge of this image of forgiveness for us. How often we listen to the whispering threats of illness, sorrow, and trouble, all telling us that we are not forgiven and that even worse trouble is coming because of our sins.

But that’s not the voice we need to hear. Instead turn up the volume, so to speak, of the words of the Son interceding for us with the Father. Know that he endlessly speaks on our behalf. He tells the Father that we are the lost children now found. He tells the Judge that we are the ones for whom he was willing to die. He doesn’t ask merely for a second or a thirty-second chance for us to do better. He asks for full pardon, complete forgiveness. And the Father agrees with every word.

Consider how this image of forgiveness gives us something unique:

How is this more than the covering of sin?

How is this a cooperative act of both the Son who speaks and the Judge who listens?

What are we to do while the Son speaks for us? Are our words and explanations needed? Will our promises to try harder tip the scales for us?

Here is a unique aspect of forgiveness. It’s daring to bring our enemies front and center and have them say what they want. Instead of silencing them, we simply reduce them to frustrated mutes because what they do say is completely overwhelmed by the Son speaking to His Father. Whether our accusers continue to shout, or they stalk off in frustration, the end is the same. This is like the covering of sin, but here it is the ongoing, active covering of the endless words of the Son for us. We listen to the Son intercede for us and we hear the Father say, “No condemnation.” This is forgiveness—at least one more facet of it.


OPENING: Imagine you walk out to your car and just as you get there, a teenage driver backs into your passenger door. The young man feels the hit, looks back, realizes what he has done and moves a bit forward. He gets out and so does his father. The boy is worried—his car is fine but your door is completely crumpled in. The father asks if the boy feels ok—he does. The father checks his own car’s bumper—it’s fine. Then the father says, “Well, as long as no one was hurt, it’s just a good learning experience. Be more careful now. O.k., let’s go, son.”

Wait a minute! You’re going to just drive away? The father says, “Well, yeah, no one was hurt.” But, you ask, “What about my car? Who’s going to pay for this? Someone has to pay!”

In the story of the accident, why might the father have thought he could simply drive away?

How would you have felt and what would have done if it was your car that was damaged and the father and son were about to leave?

When have you needed someone to pay for what’s happened?

Did you get the satisfaction of that payment?


1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Psalm 49:15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; For He will receive me.

Romans 3:21-26 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Someone has to pay. That’s the theme of our final facet of forgiveness. God assures us of forgiveness not by being an overly-indulgent parent. He assures us that forgiveness has a terrible high price but that he has paid that price completely.

Jesus as the ransom shows this facet of forgiveness. He has purchased us with the blood of his Son and that outweighs all the debts we have gathered.

The image of a Father protecting and valuing his son is the key. God wishes, as Romans 3:21-26 shows, to be both the forgiving Father and also the righteous Judge. He accomplishes this by making his innocent Son pay for the collisions and debts of us, his wayward children. If someone injured by sin cries out, “Hey, who’s going to pay for this?” God can answer, “My Son has paid already. I put him to death for this. Is that enough?” Of course, it is more than enough for what debt is not covered by that?

The loss of the Son is what makes this payment possible. Any parent can understand how God’s economy and justice works. The death of a child is the end of the world. What is the world’s treasure to a parent whose child has passed away? So the loss of the Father’s Son is the payment of the world, the price that all sin cannot match.

As our sins add up, how does the ransom price of God match this enormous amount?

Is the payment of God a multiplied wealth or is it a single payment?

This wonderful final facet shows that the Father stops at nothing to forgive. He withholds nothing, not even his Son. Forgiveness is not the accumulated patience of God or his gullibility to believe our repeated promises to become better. Forgiveness is the one astonishing payment, the loss that gains the world. This is forgiveness—our final facet of it.


If you have time for a few summary ideas, consider the six facets we’ve covered.

Who especially needs one of these images most?

Consider some of the possibilities:

The adult troubled over an ongoing struggle with sin, a Romans 7 frustration of the good not being done and the evil still continuing

The older adult who has lived under the threatening shadow of an episode from twenty years ago—the stealing at work that lasted six months

The casual sinner who confidently views his sin as nothing terribly serious. After all, he says, you can see something worse every day on Fox News

The parent who laments over the lost opportunities with her child. Now those years are gone and look at the trouble the child is in