Knowing Forgiveness

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Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

These words are just the tail end the very first of Paul’s sermons recorded in the book of Acts. The bulk of his sermon covers what we might call “salvation history.” He takes us all the way back to the Patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He traces Israel’s history in Egypt, the wilderness, and the Promised Land, up to the time of its first kings.  Then he takes us through the life of Jesus. He retells the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Now he draws the application.

There are many lessons we could learn from this broad sweep of history. But what Paul earnestly desired for these people was that they know Jesus forgives. Everything else in the Christian message hinged on this one central truth.

“But pastor,” you may think to yourselves, “we hear it all the time. We already know that Jesus forgives.” Do we? The Greek word for “know” here means more than learning information. It is more than the head knowledge we gain from hearing or studying. This is knowing that involves our head and heart and whole person. This is a more intimate knowing, a knowing that changes us.

How might lives be different for people who know–this kind of deeper knowing–that Jesus forgives? When someone does something really thoughtless and inconsiderate, something that creates a huge inconvenience, how would you react? It could be someone cutting you off in traffic and making you miss your exit. It could be someone not showing up when they promised. It could be someone leaving you with all the work. How would you react?

I commit countless sins every day. My sins didn’t merely inconvenience Christ. They cost him his life. They hung him on a cross. Still, Jesus forgives. He doesn’t get so irritated that he rips us up one side and down the other. He doesn’t develop an attitude or go off and sulk. He doesn’t subject us to the silent treatment. He forgives. If we know the break that we have been given over and over again, day after day–if we take it to heart–might we be less annoyed at the people around us? German pastor Friedrich Zundel once noted, “It is no help to an unrepentant one to be annoyed with him. What he needs is seeking love.” How about us? Do we consistently know Jesus’ forgiveness this way?

What about when trouble strikes? How easily we despair when misfortune comes. We are out of work and staring at the bills. We have been suffering through chronic pain, and now we are waiting for the test results. We are being mercilessly persecuted by someone at work or at school. What starts going through our heads? Is God paying me back for something I did? Has he stopped loving me? Is he going to let me go to my doom? Isn’t he unfairly singling me out for bad treatment? All kinds of fears flit through our minds.

We would know that none of those things is possible if we knew, with all our heart and soul, that Jesus forgives us. After giving up heaven to suffer hunger, and cold, and heat, and rejection; after enduring hell and his heavenly Father’s abandonment; after giving up his life to take away our sins, now he is going to turn against us? Maybe we think we know Jesus forgives us. But if we harbor anger, if we struggle with fear and worry about our future, we still don’t know it well enough.

If we are starting to know it better, then we know there is no sweeter message in all the world. It’s like a favorite song that strikes a chord inside of us every time its is played. The first time we hear it, at one and the same time it creates a sense of satisfaction and fills us with a hunger for more. It’s not enough to hear it just once. We could play it over and over again. True, we may get tired of the song. But Jesus’ forgiveness? That we always long for. It’s like the love of a good marriage. It matures from the initial infatuation to the steady, dependable, and comfortable support and care of committed partners.

Like Paul, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” He has removed all your guilt. You stand, at every moment, under a loving God’s grace and mercy.

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