Your Sins ARE Forgiven (January 19, 2020)
Your Sins ARE Forgiven
Hey you! Yes, you. I want you to know that your sins are forgiven. I’m talking to you, and you, and you. I’m talking to everyone in this room. I’m talking to everyone tuning into the livestream. I’m talking to anyone reading this sermon online or in print. Your sins are forgiven. It doesn’t matter who you are. “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Ac 13:38).
You might be wondering how I can say that – how I can make such a blanket statement to every single person who ever listens to or reads these words without knowing first who they are. I can make such a blanket statement, because it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done. There is forgiveness found in Jesus apart from any kind of law, works, or status. There is forgiveness for you.
I think that’s so hard for us to believe because we all feel the weight. We feel the weight of the things we have done. We feel the guilt of things we’ve not done. And in all other spheres of life there is a reckoning that needs to be had. There’s something that needs to be done to make it right. Either making up for the things we’ve failed to do or making right the things we’ve done wrong. It just makes so much sense that something needs to be done. Nothing is ever given for free. And if something does appear to be free, well, you are bound to it for life. But here it says, “Through [Jesus] everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Ac 13:39).
Can you imagine what that meant to Paul’s audience – a largely Gentile area, yet most churches were still predominately Jewish? A time when you had to first convert to Judaism before receiving the gifts of grace? The way it was written – our English sentence structure can’t quite do it justice – the way it was written, acknowledges this burden. “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. All those things you never really feel you’ve made right according to the law, through him everyone who believes is set free from all these things – from every sin” (Ac 13:39). The Law of Moses can never make you feel acquitted, or justified. The law of morals, getting what you deserve, and making up for wrongs still never quite clears me of my past. It’s still hanging on, it’s still burdening with guilt, it’s still pressing charges. How can I ever be free? Even for us today, we feel the burden of making up for our wrongs. And many people walk away from Christian churches because they feel they are too judgmental. As long as our connection is only with the law of Moses, its demands and requirements, we will never be free. We will continue to break the law of God and find no means to remove our sin and guilt.
To truly be free, you need to look elsewhere. Look at what Jesus has done already. Hear John’s cry and “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). In this title, the “Lamb of God,” see two different pictures both taken from the Old Testament “Day of Atonement” (Lev 16). Two lambs or goats were taken and presented before the Lord at the entrance of the temple. One lamb is sacrificed as a sin offering for the people. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The other lamb is presented alive before the Lord. The priest would lay both hands over the lamb and confess over it all the sins of the people, and then send it out into the wilderness. Look, the Lamb of God. In Jesus, the Lamb of God, your sins are paid for completely before God. They are removed from you forever and sent away. “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Ac 13:39). It’s like seeing the last of all your sin and guilt. Like seeing it all vanish like fog in the hot sun of grace and pardon in Jesus as though you had never sinned.
This is why it is possible to say to everyone and anyone, “Your sins are forgiven.” Because in Jesus, because of what he has done on the cross, everyone is forgiven already. Everyone is acquitted, declared innocent. It’s like being handed a check with the amount paid in full and the name line left blank. It’s already been signed by Jesus. The amount is more than sufficient. It’s a blanket statement for all people. And, it’s a statement, a full payment, for you personally too. Your sins are already forgiven.
What are you going to do with that check? It’s sitting in your hands. Given to you already. Paid in full. Do you believe it’s real? Do you believe it’s really for you? Or are you going to rip it up in disbelief?
When the congregation gathered before Paul and Barnabas heard this news – this forgiveness for all people, no strings attached – they were excited! “The people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath” (Ac 13:42). Some even followed Paul and Barnabas out the doors and wanted to hear more that very day! Can you imagine, these people couldn’t get enough church! They couldn’t get enough of that good news! But, when they gathered again the next week, things were a little different. They drew such a large crowd that it says, “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Ac 13:44). But, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him” (Ac 13:45).
I think, for some, this news was a little too good. Sure, if we have a few newcomers in the congregation that’s all well and good. But when there appeared to be such an influx of people into the synagogue, all hearing that they do not need to convert to Judaism first to be saved, well then let’s pull back on the reigns a bit. We might lose the identity of our congregation then. And we just can’t have that. You see, they saw Paul circumventing all the things they had become accustomed to. They saw Paul circumventing all the sacrifices, and rituals, and festivals which were meant to honor and revere God. They thought that Paul was dishonoring the Law of Moses handed down to them, and dishonoring God the giver of that Law. Telling people they are forgiven apart from the law, that they are free from the Law of Moses is just too simple. And although I think it was mostly about doing what they thought honored God and his law, I think there was a part of them also that feared for the loss of their traditions – the loss of the way we’ve always done things.
The truly sad part was, God was handing them eternal life in Christ. But they decided that they were not worthy of that gracious gift – that they could only receive such a gift through sacrifice, and ritual, and festival. God was handing them the gift of forgiveness, but they rejected it. God’s offer of mercy is always sincere. It truly is that simple. He’s already paid the ransom price to set you free. But it is possible to reject his gift. And so, they themselves act as judges in their own case. They do not want the gift – the blank check. Their judgment, therefore, is that they are not worthy of the eternal life which Jesus himself proclaims. In his grace, God regarded them worthy to receive that life through the Savior. But they regarded themselves unworthy.
That’s why Paul uses a stern warning from one of the prophets, “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if someone told you” (Ac 13:41). That “something” is Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins. That “someone” who told them was Jesus himself, and here in Acts 13 it was the apostle Paul, and today it’s me. I’m telling you that your sins are forgiven already. There’s no ritual you need to perform. There’s nothing you need to do to make up for the past. You don’t need to convert to Judaism as the Jews in Paul’s day were saying. This forgiveness is for all people, given by Jesus. Believe it!
Many did believe it that day. Many Gentiles rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord that was spoken to them and believed the Good News! And although the Jews thought God was only honored when he is approached through rite and ritual, God says otherwise. God said through the prophet Isaiah, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel” (Is 49:6). In other words, being the Savior of only one nation is too small a thing. Therefore, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6). And in this way, people coming to Christ for forgiveness and salvation, God is honored.