Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”
Forgiveness was the heart and center of everything Paul preached and taught. He understood that everything else in the Christian message hinged on this one central truth. Today, it is still your pastor’s earnest desire for you to know Jesus forgives.
“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 is a word which means more than learning information. It is more than the head knowledge we gain from hearing or studying something. This is knowing that involves our head and heart and whole person. This is a more intimate knowing, a knowing that involves personal contact. This is 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 puts you out and creates a huge inconvenience for you, 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, or making more work for you. 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 are given over and over again, day after day–if we take it to heart–might we be not so annoyed at the people around us, not so vindictive? 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?
Or 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 some chronic pain, and now we are waiting for the test results, or they reveal an incurable condition. 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 forgotten about me? 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.
But wouldn’t we 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? Now he is going to let us slip through his fingers? Martin Luther once said in a Christmas sermon that if we believed Jesus and his grace are ours, then “a man becomes suddenly so strong that to him life and death are the same.” That’s what the Apostle Paul felt when he said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” How can it be any other way if Jesus has taken our sins away and saved us? Maybe we think we know Jesus forgives us. But if we harbor anger and find it hard to forgive, if we struggle with fear and worry about our future, we still don’t know it well enough.
And if we are starting to know it better, then we know that there is no sweeter message in all the world. It’s like a favorite song that strikes a chord inside of us every time it’s 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. The only difference is that eventually we may tire of the song. But Jesus’ forgiveness? That we always long for. It’s like the love of a good marriage that 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. None of us can hear it too much or know this too well.