For the Forgiveness of our SIns
Readings: OT. Ps.130:1-
Supposing that someone was to ask you why Jesus died. What would you say? What would your answer include? And more particularly where would you begin?
There are many different reasons why Jesus died -
Now to most, if not all, of us this is a very familiar idea. But there are still many parts of the world where this message remains unknown. There are many people living in our own country who have no real understanding of this fundamental truth of the Christian faith.
The fact that this idea is not new to us should be a cause for rejoicing. How could it be otherwise for those who have believed that Jesus died not merely to secure the forgiveness for sins in some general way but that for our sins?
And yet it is all too easy for us to take things with which are well acquainted for granted. When we do that truths which are really extraordinarily good lose something of their shine and we begin little by little to come to regard them as ordinary.
We have an expression for this in everyday life, don't we? You know it I'm sure:
"Familiarity breeds contempt" we say and we mean that when we experience someone or something a lot, we lose our respect for them.
Now it is a wonderful truth to know that God forgives sins and in particular to know that he sent Jesus to die in order to secure the forgiveness of our sins, but it is a terrible thing to slip into imagining that this is somehow God's duty, to think that God's role is to forgive our sins!
The Psalmist's understanding of a God who forgives sins was very different:
Ps.130:4 "But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared."
This might seem rather strange – surely forgiveness shouldn't lead to fear!
But the Psalmist knew that pardon produces filial fear and love – this is not the cringing fear of panic, of rejection, of failure, but the respectful fear of reverence and honour. Judgment without the hope of pardon creates fear and dislike but the sense of forgiveness, so far from producing carelessness and indifference towards sin instead produces holiness.
We must take care that our enjoyment of forgiveness leads to just this sort of reverence – and one way to help us do so will be to think often about such a wonder.
While the exact expression "forgiveness of sins" is not found in the OT the notion most certainly is. In many different places and in many different ways God's kindness in being willing to forgive sins is repeated again and again.
He is described over and over as a God who forgives sins a God who pardons sins.
And God's people were confident of this goodness:
Is.55:7 "let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
Indeed he is the God who made all the necessary provision so that the sin of his people might be covered. The entire sacrificial system found in the OT was not the fruit of fertile human brains desperately trying to work out what they might do in order to cajole a reluctant God to look upon them with favour; it was due to a Holy God providing generously and graciously the way whereby a needy yet undeserving people might be restored to fellowship with him.
Yet the OT remained incomplete. God forgave sin but the grounds whereon he could do this were not yet made clear – indeed they couldn't be because Jesus had not yet died and Jesus' death was and is the only basis according to which our sins can be finally forgiven!
When we turn to the NT the term 'forgiveness of sins' is used in my Bible 10 times and terms like forgive and forgiven abound.
When John the Baptist burst onto the scene he preached just as his father Zechariah had prophesied. Zechariah had declared that John would show the people how to be saved:
Lk.1:77 "(you will) give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,"
And John went about this by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness or the remission of sins. (The older word remission is perhaps a little more helpful than forgiveness because it points to the cancellation of a debt whereas forgiveness does not automatically carry this same meaning.)
The problem is that our sin is a debt that needs to be settled, it can't simply be overlooked it must be paid if we are to go free. The trouble is that we all have this debt caused by our sin and to pay it is simply way beyond our means – if the debt is to be annulled it must be paid by another who has greater merit than we do.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Christ and it was the Christ, Jesus, who would be able to pay that debt for us but it would cost him his life to do so!
Jesus began his ministry preaching a similar message of repentance and very early on both claimed and demonstrated his authority to forgive sins:
Jesus would later explain to his disciples just how it was that he could be so sure about his ability to forgive sins. He knew that he had come to die and that it was precisely by dying and shedding his blood that the forgiveness of sins would be secured for all those who would look to him with faith and trust.
In his wisdom Jesus explained this clearly as he instituted the Lord's Supper. In doing this Jesus ensured that throughout Christian history his followers would be reminded of these things:
Mt.26:28 "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
At the end of his earthly ministry Jesus explained to his apostles by means of a Bible study that his suffering, death and subsequent resurrection had been necessary in order to validate the call to repentance and the offer of forgiveness of sins:
It wouldn't be long before these same apostles were active in just such a proclamation!
Acts 2:38 "And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Dragged before the authorities and charged not to preach any more in Jesus' name, these apostles would continue to declare their confidence that forgiveness of sins was to be found in Christ alone:
Acts 5:31 "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
Years later the apostle Paul would similarly find himself brought before hostile accusers and would similarly be bold in his declaration:
Acts 13:38 "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything"
Before yet another tribunal hearing Paul recounted his testimony and told how when he was encountered by Jesus on the Damascus Road Jesus said to him:
Acts 26:18 "I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins".
For whom is this Good News?
The forgiveness of sins is wonderful news for those who have been convicted by the Spirit of God that they are sinners. This is a major part of the Spirit's work in our lives and he has been sent specifically in order to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
When the Spirit does convict of sin he changes our whole attitude towards our God and our behaviour.
Small views of sin are replaced with much more profound views.
Sin which had been regarded as a mere trifle, something that was not all that bothersome now comes to be regarded as a grave overwhelming problem that is too big for us to handle by ourselves.
Sin which could be dismissed lightly on the grounds that everyone does it now is recognised as blocking access not only to heaven but to God himself.
Sin which offers only passing pleasures is now seen to pay us back with an eternity of horrible exclusion from God's living presence.
I wonder how you react to talk about sin. There are many people in the world and sadly they are found in churches too, who don't like sin to be talked about. They say they don't want to hear it mentioned again all they want to hear is how they positively enrich their lives and how they might live satisfying lives in the here and now. And there are the Joel Osteens of this world ready with a message that doesn't talk about sin.
You see forgiveness of sin is of no interest to people who think they are fine as they are. Forgiveness of sins is of no interest to people who think that God must be pleased to see them. The more our views about sin align with the thinking of the average worldling the less important the whole notion of the forgiveness of sins will be.
But let the Spirit show us our sin and tell us that it is serious because it is rebellion against a God who is pure and holy, so holy that he cannot look with approval at sin, then we'll begin to realise the value of forgiveness.
And then recognising how we have forfeited all claims upon the goodness of God the fact that he has nevertheless in his mercy and grace provided for us so wonderfully we will rejoice in the forgiveness of sins. We will marvel that the Only Perfect sinless man to have lived on earth was willing to lay down his life in order to secure the remission of our sinful debt to God. And we will want to be reminded again and again of the old, old story the one that tells us of the love of Jesus and the wonderful redemption of God.
Fashions come and fashions go in the Christian world. We hear criticisms of the church's message and we're told by the media that our message must be brought up to date and made acceptable to the modern world. But there is no message more up-