This never made it into my sermon 'Why the Cross?' It's a side thought raised by the question why God doesn't simply forgive us...
Forgiveness is always costly. Whenever people say ‘Why doesn't God simply forgive?' I often wonder what they mean by the word ‘simply'. Anyone who says forgiveness is simple has clearly never tried it. Forgiveness is always painful, costly, messy, heart-wrenching. Forgiveness always involves sacrifice.
Look at this verse from Proverbs:
Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Have you ever been in an argument where you're exchanging harsh words with another. And, as this verse describes it, anger is being stirred up and stirred up and stirred up. In that situation what is it like to answer a person with genuine gentleness? They speak harsh words to you - what's it like to answer with gentleness. It is painful, it is hard, it is a sacrifice. It is not just water off a duck's back. It's not a simple matter of forgiving and forgetting - it involves sacrifice.
And this proverb describes it is as a sacrifice. You see the phrase ‘turns away wrath' is a special phrase in the bible that's almost always associated with sacrifices. It's sacrifices that turn away wrath - anger is turned away from you because it's turned on the sacrifice. And this verse says: if you're in an argument and you answer someone gently it's like being a human sacrifice. If we've ever tried it, we know that's how it feels. Forgiveness is always sacrificial.
And nowhere is this more true than at the cross. In the bible, the cross is described as the place where Jesus turns away God's wrath. At the cross the wrath of God is turned away from us and turned onto Jesus. So think of the cross as the place where all our harsh words against heaven are met by the gentle answer of Jesus. His grace heals and restores us but it's costly to Him. The cross is the costly, sacrificial forgiveness of God. But there really is no forgiveness that's not sacrificial.
Think of it from another angle. When Jesus tells us to pray ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us' the prayer literally is ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.' Our sins are like debts. Now if you cancel someone's debt - that's great for them. But the debt doesn't just vanish. There's still a cost - it just means that now you bear the cost, rather than them. It still hurts, it's still costly, it's still sacrificial to forgive.
So again, think of the cross as the place where all our debts to God are cancelled - it's wonderful for us. It's massively costly to God - He absorbs the debt, He makes Himself liable, He pays off our arrears. That's the cross. It is free and full forgiveness for us, but it is a costly, sacrificial forgiveness, for God. Because all forgiveness is sacrificial.