Luke 1:76 “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”
Why do people resist going to the doctor when they don’t feel well? Why do they tolerate the pain as it grows worse, hoping that it is going to go away? The excuse might be, “The doctor is expensive.” Perhaps. More often the real reason is this: They fear the diagnosis, that something is seriously wrong with them. And because they fear the diagnosis, they fear the cure as well.
It is similar with forgiveness. People fear the diagnosis for which forgiveness is the cure. If I have to be forgiven, that means something is wrong with me. I have actually known people who became angry when they were told, “I forgive you.” “You forgive me? You are saying that I am the one at fault, that I have done something wrong? How dare you judge me that way!” “Don’t judge me,” is a very, very popular sentiment. To receive forgiveness is to agree with the judge, to accept his judgment. I am humbled, maybe even feel humiliated, when I have to admit that I have failed, and there is something wrong with me that needs to be forgiven.
Forgiveness can be hard to accept for another reason. With God, it doesn’t come cheap. God is still a just God, and someone had to pay the price. In the book of Hebrews we read, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). God impressed this on his Old Testament people with all the blood that was spilled in the animal sacrifices that took place in the temple. John the Baptist was the first to make the connection between Jesus and those sacrifices: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, paid the price God’s justice demanded for our sins.
We would feel better about ourselves if we could offer a milder solution of our own. But this is the true way of salvation. Zechariah says in this passage that his son John would “give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” Forgiveness does not mean that God excuses our sin. He never says, “That’s okay,” because it isn’t. It is hurtful. It is deadly. Real forgiveness fully recognizes this. And yet, God does not hold our sins against us anyway.
Forgiveness is not merely a kind sentiment on God’s part. It’s not that he lets his affection for us get the better of him and overrule his good sense. He is not an overly indulgent parent coddling his naughty child. Forgiveness is based on a historical event, and it results in God’s decisive action. The historical event, as we just mentioned, is the crucifixion of God’s own Son Jesus Christ.
As a result, God has taken decisive action with our sins. He forgives them all. In the Old Testament he gave his people beautiful pictures of forgiveness. He inspired David to write, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He sent Micah to preach, “You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” When even God can no longer remember our sins, we truly have a reason to be happy.
In the New Testament we have the greater beauty of Jesus speaking a word of forgiveness so freely, so liberally, it almost seems too good to be true. To a paralytic who didn’t ask for it he says, “Son, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven.” To the woman with the bad-girl reputation (well-earned it seems), crying over his feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee he promises, “Your sins are forgiven.” About the soldiers, fastening his arms and legs to the cross, driving nails through them, doing so with no apology, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Even in our lowest, wickedest moments he has left us the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
It makes no more sense to resist forgiveness than to reject the doctor’s medicine. It is the one cure our sin-sick souls truly need.