Making Peace with Your Past

Making Peace with Your Past

Matthew 9:9-13

Dr. Jim Denison

We’re discussing today the topic, “making peace with your past.” There’s apparently a lot of past to make peace with.

For instance, this week’s New York Times reports on the growth of the armored car industry. Car makers are producing vehicles with windows two inches thick, armor plating, gun storage, and smoke machines to obscure the car during gun battles. They are all the rage right now. One manufacturer said, “One-third of the people who buy these cars are under threat, one-third think they are under threat, and one-third want to be in the first two categories.” Armor-plating your car is one way to deal with your past.

No one is immune from the issue.

John Bolton’s nomination for ambassador to the United Nations was attacked this week by an associate who criticized Mr. Bolton’s past dealings with subordinates.

Officials at the National Health Institutes are being accused of sexual harassment spanning the last several years.

Last Sunday, two Florida families opened fire on each other, part of a long-running feud. When a girl from one family began dating a boy from the other, the battle began. Two people are hospitalized. The past can be deadly in the present.

What about your past are you most grateful we don’t know today? What about your past most bothers you this morning? There is an authentic, transforming way to make peace with your past. Let’s discover it together.

Give your guilt to God’s grace

Our text describes the call of “a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth” (v. 9). It seems appropriate for us to meet a tax-collector on the Sunday after April 15. But IRS agents and tax preparers today bear no similarity to Matthew’s profession.

In the first century, tax collecting was the most profane and immoral work a man could do, akin to prostitution for a woman. The Empire employed locals to take money from their neighbors, sending a portion on to Rome and keeping the rest for themselves. Even Roman writers considered these turncoats and traitors to be destined for hell (cf. Cicero, De Officiis 1.42; Lucian, Menippus II).

Matthew’s sins were on public display in Capernaum, the fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee which served as Jesus’ ministry headquarters. To invite such a man into his movement was unwise at best. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and Matthew did. After this notorious man gathered his equally notorious friends for a party with his new Master, the self-respecting Pharisees asked why Jesus would eat with such “sinners.” His reply: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). That’s good news for us all.

God’s word is clear:

The Lord “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3).

Micah asks, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).

David, a man who knew something about sin and forgiveness, rejoiced in this fact: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). In fact, God promises, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).

Now, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession does not earn his grace–it positions us to receive it.

Our holy God can forgive us because in his Son “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Sin separates us from our perfect God; the consequence of this separation is death. Jesus’ sinless death fulfilled this consequence, paying this debt, so that God can be holy and just in forgiving us. Such is the grace of God.

By contrast, our society is built on works. Materialism–the belief that the material is the ultimate reality–has been at the very heart of our culture from its beginning. Success is quantifiable. The more you do, the more a success you are. If you fail, you’re a failure. You are how you perform. Isn’t that true of every dimension of your life–work, academics, sports, music? Performance equals success. Past crimes cannot be forgiven, only punished.

Even if others won’t punish us, we’ll punish ourselves. We inflict guilt on ourselves until we think we’ve paid enough penalty for our sins. For some of us, such self-inflicted guilt has plagued us for years. But you need to know that guilt is not of God. He forgives and forgets, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

You may have seen this week’s news report from the World Health Organization, announcing that nearly 5,000 labs in 18 countries were mailed samples of the Asian flu virus, a strain which killed between one and four million people 50 years ago. The labs are urged to incinerate the samples immediately.

The sins of your past can be incinerated in the furnace of God’s passionate love for you, before they infect your soul and poison your life. You don’t have to pay for them–Jesus already has. You don’t have to work them off, doing time in the jailhouse of guilt. Today you can give your guilt to his grace. Name that failure or sin which most troubles your conscience. Confess it specifically to your Father. Ask his forgiveness, and trust him to keep his word. Know that the One who loved Matthew, loves you. Give your guilt to his grace, this morning.

Give your soul to his Spirit

Matthew hears Jesus’ call, and gives his life to it. He “got up” from his tax-collector’s booth and “followed him” (Matthew 9:9). He exchanged his old life for the new, his previous failures for God’s future. So can we.