The truth of the Bible that we declare in our program today is found in the prophecy of Jeremiah 50:20. There we read these words of the living God: “In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.”
God proclaims in that verse that there is going to be a day that He will seek for sin, for the sins of His people, but will not find them. Sin will be sought, but not found.
Jeremiah was speaking of the day when the people of Judah would return from the captivity of Babylon. But we know, on the basis of God’s entire Word, that ultimately this refers to the day of salvation in Jesus Christ. It refers to the work of God in Jesus Christ – a work so complete that Christ has forgiven our sins, and they can no longer be found. The sins of the elect people of God, the people given to Jesus Christ and brought to a living faith, those sins cannot be found.
Let us ask three questions about this verse and try to answer them.
First of all, what does it mean: sins will be sought but not found?
Secondly, why can they not be found?
Lastly, let us ask the question, whose sins will be sought and not found?
A search is going to be made to discover sin. Sin should not be too hard to find, should it? That should not be too hard to find right among those who confess the name of Jesus Christ. It should not be very hard to find sin there, should it?
Notice, a very particular search is in mind. Not simply a search for sin in general, not simply a search for iniquity universally, but a search for iniquity and sin among God’s own children. The iniquity of Israel and the sins of Judah. The word “Israel” is, literally, “Prince with God.” And Judah means “By whom God is praised.” The search will be made among those whom God has made His own children – the people who are elect, the people who are chosen of God from all eternity, the people who are renewed (made alive) by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ and given faith in the Savior. God will search for sin among them, but will not find it.
Now, I say, it is not very hard, is it, to find sin among God’s people? It is not very hard to find sin in your life, is it, if you look? And, in a profound sense, our sins, the sins of those who confess to believe in God, are so much worse. The search that is in view in this passage of Scripture is not, “Well, let’s look among those where sin will be least likely to be found and perhaps not so blatant and repulsive.” The idea is not, “Well, if we look among the right group maybe we won’t find anything noteworthy and we could say that we really didn’t find any sins.” No.
But a search is to be made among the confessors of God’s name because there you will find sin which is even more glaring and stark and repulsive. That is because it is our sins, as the children of God, which are against knowledge, against the love of God, against His grace. In that sense they are so much worse. Men who live apart from the saving knowledge of God and who resist the light of God’s Word lest their deeds should be revealed for what they are, their sins, too, are inexcusable; and, in a real sense, they sin against knowledge too. Romans 1:32 tells us that all men know the judgments of God and yet deliberately they persist in sinful ways. Yet, by grace, a Christian confesses the light of Jesus Christ. We say that we have known the love of God, that we have come to the Father of mercy and have found His lovingkindness. Then we see in our sinful flesh that we sin against that. We know better. It is exactly as born-again children of God that we see how shameful and how wretched are our sins. We bring dishonor to God’s holy name. There, in the people of God, you find sin in its most wretched form. We sin in the face of God’s goodness, in the face of God’s mighty works.
Yet our text, this verse in Jeremiah, says, let the search be made right there among those who are brought to the light of Christ by electing grace. Let it be made in the house of the living God. Let a search be made for sins and for iniquity.
Now we ask the question: Who is going to make this search? The text does not expressly say so, so we do not need to limit it. The word means “to look for something diligently, to seek, to uncover, to dig up.” The devil, for sure, seeks for sin among the people of God. He is very good at it after all of this time that he has been around. He is able to detect and find sin.
The world also searches for sin among the people of God. The world says, “Oh, you are those who call upon the holy God? You believe in the just God? You believe that God hates sin? You claim to be His child? Let me tell you a little bit about yourself.” The unbelieving neighbor is never very far behind you when you fall into transgression.
Then, as people of God, our own consciences can search us out. Our conscience is made very active and very painful. And our secret sins become revealed to us.
Still more, God is the One who conducts this search for sin. Is it not God who, in the final sense, does the searching? Is it not God, in His judgment, who counts?
But listen. Even though this search is going to be conducted, sins will not be found. The iniquity of Israel shall be sought and there shall be none. And the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found. The search comes up empty. Nothing is found. Understand, nothing is found because there is nothing. It is not because something was overlooked. It is not because, somehow, sins got covered up. It is not because somehow sins got cleverly disguised to appear as something else. No. The search is made and no sins are found among the people of God.
Why? And what does that mean? How can that be? How can that be possible?
Understand that the answer is not: “Well, there were no sins and there were no iniquities to be laid to our account.” The answer is not that we have never sinned, that there is nothing in our life, as believers, that deserves punishment? You can say, honestly before God, that you have not sinned? No sin, no missing of the mark? Of course not! Sins are not found not because they never existed. The very opposite is true. The child of God confesses that he is a sinner and he has innumerable offenses.
Why are they not found, and in what sense are then not found? The answer is: God pardons them. They are not found in the sense that God has pardoned. We read, “For I will pardon them who I reserve.” “I will pardon, I will forgive, I will send away their sins. I will pardon by actually removing them so that they no longer exist, so they no longer deserve punishment, so that they no longer appear before my eyes calling out for judgment.”
This is the blessed gospel.
Now let us hear it! The pardon of sin proclaimed in the gospel is not that God says, “Well, we will simply forget all about it. Since you are sorry for your sins, I have decided to let bygones be bygones. And I will simply forget about it.” That is not the forgiveness of sins. The Bible proclaims that the pardon of sin is the actual removing of our sins, the actual vanquishing of our sins, the blotting out of our sins, so that when a search is made for them they cannot be found. They are gone. Forgiveness of sin is not simply that God does not punish, but sin still exists. Forgiveness of sins is the actual obliterating of my sins so that they are no longer to be found.
There is only one way for that to be done. There is only one way to take away the guilt, to pay the penalty. And that is to suffer what those sins deserve. When God pardons us in Jesus Christ He says, “I take away your sins by actually taking away the punishment that those sins deserve.” The cross of Jesus Christ was Christ demolishing, Christ obliterating, the punishment which was due to the sins of God’s people, by actually enduring that punishment Himself. God tells us that in the day He sends His Son upon Calvary He will accomplish that wonderful truth. God, through the cross of Jesus Christ, has actually taken away our sins so that they no longer exist.
Why cannot my sins be found? Because I have never sinned? Of course not! But because Jesus took them away. Why is there no guilt found on me? Because Jesus delivered me by suffering my guilt. And so completely has He done this that God says, “Search, look all over. Satan, you may search. World, you may look. Conscience of a believer, you look. Look for sin and iniquity, unpardoned, unforgiven sin. See if you can find one unpardoned sin among my children. You cannot! Because there is none.” Sin cannot be found among the people of God because God has erased them in the death of Jesus Christ, His Son.
Is that what you trust for pardon and forgiveness? Do you turn to a minister and trust in him? Do you turn to a priest? A minister and a priest cannot forgive you. A minister of the gospel can show you the path of peace. He can bring to you the Word of God. He can tell you where upon the pages of Scripture you can find it. But no minister and no priest has the power to wash away, or take away, or absolve your sins.
Do you look to sacraments, that is, to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? This sacrament cannot supply you with forgiveness, no matter how often you have come to it. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper confirms and strengthens faith in a believer who uses that sacrament because the sacrament points to the cross of Christ which takes away our sins. But the sacrament itself cannot put away your transgressions. Unless you look beyond the sign of the bread and wine to the thing which is being represented by the bread and wine, namely, Christ crucified – unless you look beyond those signs to the reality, the sacrament does you no good.
Will you look, perhaps, to your own works and to your own endeavors, to your own prayers and to your own deeds? Do you say, “Perhaps some of my good deeds can take away my sins”? Your good deeds and your prayers will never take you to heaven. Yes, the child of God who is saved is a praying person. The child of God who is saved is a person who wants to do good to the praise of his Savior. But understand well that those prayers and those good deeds are imperfect. Those prayers and good deeds of themselves can only add to our guilt of sin. They do not take us to heaven. They do not erase our sins. We do those things because Jesus has erased our sins. But we do not do those things believing that they will erase our sins.
Finally, will you try to trust in your own repentance? Do you say, “Well, I’m sorry for the past and I hope that God will be merciful”? Today’s sorrow cannot wipe away yesterday’s sin. Yes, it is true that a child of God who is saved in Jesus repents and now hates his sin and flees from that sin. But also that repentance is not the reason for the sin to be removed.
The pardon for sin is to be found in Jesus Christ and in His cross alone. If you trust in anything else, then those sins remain. If you put your trust in any of those things that I just mentioned other than the cross of Jesus Christ, then all of your sins must appear before your consciousness right now and condemn you. Where is pardon? In the Lord Jesus Christ! He gave Himself for us. He called for the wrath of God. God brought His wrath upon His own Son. And now our sins are gone. He purged our sins away (Heb. 1:3). He put an end to our sin. He finished our iniquity.
Because of the cross of Christ sin cannot be found in the people of God. It no longer exists to be punished.
There was one last question that we were going to ask today, and that is, For whom is this true? We ask the question, Is this true for me? If God looks upon me, right now, does He find unpardoned sin?
Jeremiah says in the verse we are looking at: “For I will pardon them whom I reserve,” or, literally, “I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.” The word “remnant” is often used by the Old Testament prophets. It refers to those who are taken out of the human race by the grace of God. A remnant is, literally, the left-over piece of cloth. It is something that is taken out. We belong to the soiled garment of mankind, fit only for the burning. But it is the grace of God which pulls out a remnant, washes that remnant, and forms it into a coat to be worn by Jesus Christ.
Whose sins cannot be found? Those graciously chosen of God, elected of the Father. Those who, by that same grace, are called unto Jesus Christ and humbled before Him. Those who come before God with weeping and seek the Lord their God and ask the way to Zion, and turn their faces to the living God and say, “Thou, oh God, art the greatest thing to me.” Those who now appear before God speechless, speechless before His Word when the Word says, “There is no sin found, not even one, among My people.”
What a wonderful word. What a word to bring home to our hearts today. My sins are gone in the precious death of Jesus Christ.
Praise be to God.
Let us pray.
Our Father we thank Thee for Thy Word. Thy Word is wonderful. Thy Word is greater than we can even imagine. We are astounded by Thy Word. And we are thankful for the precious work of Jesus Christ in the full and complete pardon of sin. In His name do we pray, Amen.