The desert tabernacle of Moses and the later Jerusalem temple used various metals. The altar in the courtyard and its utensils were bronze, while the inner articles such as the Ark of the Covenant and the lamp were made of gold. For our purposes, we want to look at the altar. That was where the burnt sacrifices were offered, and forgiveness received.
I find it interesting that bronze was used since it is an amalgam of copper and tin, in and of itself that is not amazing. But when we consider that forgiveness is also an amalgam, we learn something fantastic.
We understand that forgiveness is the removal of guilt. Now, guilt may be removed in many different ways. We can pay our way out or provide some variation of sacrifice. The passage of time can reduce our feelings of guilt. And sometimes, we successfully rationalize away our guilt. None of those contain the other necessary ingredient of the amalgam, The ingredient of grace.
By simple definition, grace is receiving something we don’t deserve. Closely related to grace is mercy, which is not receiving the punishment we do deserve. Paul wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7–8a, NASB95) In this verse, we see the amalgam of forgiveness and grace.
That is the true mystery of God’s forgiveness of our sins. God, in Christ, provided through His blood our forgiveness. We no longer bring doves and lambs to be killed at an altar to secure our forgiveness. God provided the sacrifice, and lavishly offers release of our guilt through His grace.
For some, this grace feels too good to be true. In a way, it violates the cause/effect rules of the world, which demands a reaction for every action. But that is why it is grace—a gift, free and clear with no strings or demands attached. We don’t earn it and can never repay it. All God asks is that we receive it through Christ.
And likewise, having received God’s gracious forgiveness, we are to forgive others with grace. But forgiveness freely given fights against our desire for justice and fairness. We feel that offenses must be paid for before the guilt is released. But grace-filled forgiveness says otherwise. No, they don’t deserve it – that’s the whole point of the forgiveness God showed us. No one deserves forgiveness, which is why it must be given with grace and mercy.
In practical application, we need to look at our forgiveness of others. Do we give it grudgingly or lavishly? Do we withhold forgiveness until they repay something (no matter how small that something is)? Do we receive forgiveness as a grace? So often, we refuse to give up the guilt that forgiveness seeks to remove. When our offers of forgiveness are rejected, do we revert to holding their guilt or walk in forgiveness towards them? This kind of forgiveness costs us something. Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. Our forgiveness was purchased in the blood of Christ. The forgiveness of others requires us to give up our perceived rights in the face of their wrongs.
Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are tightly forged together. Removing either of them from the mix is like removing tin from bronze, resulting in a weaker metal. But all three together is powerful and effective.