THE PRECIOUSNESS OF FORGIVENESS
A Sermon preached by Mr Jonathan Northern on Easter Sunday, April 2003, at Baldock
‘Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.’ Acts 13.38,39.
This is part of a sermon delivered by the Apostle Paul to people in what is present-day Turkey. I want to speak this morning on ‘the preciousness of the forgiveness of sins,’ and firstly, why it is that people do not seek true forgiveness.
Forgiveness is meaningless to us unless we have a clear view of sin. Most people do not grasp that it is like a great debt. If we have a red telephone bill we know we have a debt to be settled, or have the line cut. Sin is like a great debt that must one day be settled or our soul will be cut off from God. Sin is to fail to keep God’s law. The problem today is that sin is dismissed because God’s law is dismissed. God’s law is dismissed because God is dismissed. Unless we are convinced that there is a God and we have a deep conviction within that we ought to take God seriously, then forgiveness is a meaningless concept.
I begin by urging each of you to take God seriously. We live in a world where there is a wonderful testimony to a great Designer. We are surrounded by evidences of a true creator God. Yet people say ,everything just happened by chance.’ There is evidence of design all around us. GOD IS REAL. If having a God that is real is impressed upon our thoughts, then we would begin to take His Word, the Bible, seriously. The Bible is another evidence of God. It is a tremendous book which encapsulates in the Old Testament truths which were fulfilled in the life of Christ, in some cases 600 or 700 years later.
Someone has calculated that there are 25 prophecies which were made by the prophets in the Old Testament (sometimes in great detail) concerning the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Within the space of 24 hours during the crucifixion of Christ all 25 separate individual prophecies were fulfilled. Now that is an amazing fact which proves we cannot disregard the Bible. IT AUTHENTICATES ITSELF TO BE TRUE – TO BE THE WORD OF GOD.
If you and I are going to be interested in this subject of forgiveness, then we must be convinced that there is a God. Read the Bible and I believe that if God helps you to understand what you read, then you will be convinced that there is a God, a real God. There are many people who will say to you they believe in God, and yet at the same time they arenot interested in forgiveness. That is because they have a view of God which is fundamentally flawed. We must take seriously God’s holiness and justice. Many people have a false view of God which is very convenient. They say, `I believe God is a God of love and a God of tolerance – He will overlook my faults and failings.’ That is not the God that we find in the Bible. As unpalatable as this might be to our thinking, I have to tell you, God is a lover of holiness; God is a lover of justice. God’s law guards the gate of heaven. God will not allow one sinner into His holy presence in heaven. NONE OF US WILL ENTER HEAVEN WITH OUR SIN.
God’s justice is an inflexible justice. It demands that every sinner should pay the price of their sin. We don’t like that thought, do we’? When justice is not seen to be done in our society we are outraged. When we are wronged we expect justice to be done, but when we have wronged God we expect to rely on God’s leniency. Now we have sinned. The Bible tells us we have sinned. Our consciences tell us that we have sinned. The Bible tells us that God must judge sin. If you don’t believe that, think of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God views sin so seriously that the only way that He could grant forgiveness to sinners like you and me is to put His own Son to death upon the cross. That is how seriously God takes sin. God cannot deny His own holy standard; justice has to be done or God must deny His very nature. The only way that sinners like you and me can ever be cleansed, pardoned, and received is for God to put to death His own spotless Son in our place. That is how seriously God treats His own holiness and justice.
I wouldn’t want anyone to go away thinking the God of those Baldock Baptists is a very stern, despotic God. I also want to tell you about the goodness of God; we must not overlook that goodness – God has provided for all our needs.
Rebellion against God is part of our fallen nature. We have turned our backs upon God. We have mocked God (I don’t necessarily mean us as individuals but as a society) yet God in His forbearance has not crushed us. As individuals – perhaps we have had little time for God and yet God has spared our lives. He has not cut us off. He could have sentenced us in our youth yet he has given us perhaps 20, 30 or 40 years of adult life. We have not been cut off even though we have hardly acknowledged Him. God is not only a forbearing God, but He has provided a way whereby sinners like you and me can be cleansed and changed and made His dear children. God is a God of goodness and we are told in the Bible that every sinner who repents and turns to Him will be received. That is amazing grace. John Newton wrote that hymn `Amazing Grace’. He was a man notorious for the foulness of his language, crude jokes, and mocking the Bible. Even the ungodly sailors that he was with were repulsed by him. He nearly died through having malaria, and then at one stage it looked as if the ship he was on was
going to be wrecked in a storm. During that storm John Newton cried out for mercy. He began to see what a rebel and rogue he had been. God changed his life and he became a preacher in Olney, Bedfordshire. He pleaded with God for mercy and he found that mercy – God changed his life. So God is not only a God of justice but of tender grace and mercy to those who turn to Him and seek Him.
There is one other area that we must understand deeply if we are going to take the message of forgiveness seriously. We must understand the dreadful character and consequences of sin itself. Sin sets us against God. Sin makes us rebel. Sin makes us unthankful. When Adam, the first man, sinned by choosing a path of disobedience, sin entered the human race and infected every member from then on. We are infected by sin. We are under its dominion; we cannot stop ourselves from sinning. Have I not proud thoughts, greedy thoughts, covetous thoughts’? Can we keep ourselves from saying things which are unpleasant’? No, of course we can’t. We are all sold under sin, as the Apostle Paul described himself. Our hearts have been infected and our lives have been smeared and ruined by sin itself. That is just the character of sin – the consequences are far more serious. Sin brings death. It will bring death in three ways. The Bible tells us, `the wages of sin is death.’ Sin has brought spiritual death.
Have you ever seen anyone with a withered arm? There was someone in the Bible with a withered arm. If you can imagine someone’s arm that is withered, they cannot use it, it just hangs limp down one side. Perhaps the nerves in it are not functioning any more and the muscles have wasted away. They cannot do anything with it, it doesn’t work.
We haven’t got withered arms this morning but we have got withered souls until God changes us. It is a part of our being which is dead – spiritually dead. The day that Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their souls died. They no longer related to God as once they had done and none of us can relate to God as we were built to originally. We cannot understand the things of God; we do not have an eternal perspective to our lives. We only live on an earthly plane; our withered souls do not function properly. We need the Lord to change that because we are all dead spiritually.
We will all die physically one day. I remember when I was little being told, `The day you were born you begin to die.’ The ageing process begins and the one certainty of life is death itself. That is `the wages of sin.’
There is another way in which we shall die unless the Lord brings us to forgiveness and that is eternal death – to be eternally separated from God. `It is appointed (said the Apostle Paul) unto men once to die and after death the judgment,’ and it is described in the word of God as the second death. To die eternally is a very solemn thing, isn’t it? But it is the effect of sin itself.
Now here in these verses in Acts chapter 13.38,39 we are told, `through this man, is preached unto you, the forgiveness of sins.’ What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness means to have our sins removed. Here the Apostle Paul is explaining how sinners like you and me, who have died spiritually, who will die physically, and who are in danger of dying eternally, can be forgiven. Now you say, “I’m still going to die, what is the difference?” Remember – `the wages of sin is death.’ If sin is taken away, if it is removed, then the wages of sin are no longer due to us. Eternal death will be removed and that is the message that Jesus preached. `I give unto my people eternal life.’
Verse 39 says, `All that believe are justified from all things.’ Justify is a legal term and it means for God to look upon us as if we have done nothing wrong, to stand before God as if we had never sinned. It’s a precious thought, isn’t it? So forgiveness and justification belong together.
Look again at Acts chapter 13.39. `Through this man.’ Who is this man?
Paul has been talking about Him in the sermon that he preached. In verse 23 he spoke of a Saviour. This man is the Lord Jesus Christ through whom you and I can be forgiven. He is God’s eternal Son. Holy, spotless, undefiled, the only One who is acceptable to God. We are not acceptable, we are all sinners. We all deserve judgment and not mercy. The Son of God became man, He had no sins of His own, He lived a life of perfect obedience and yet He was put to death. `Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.’
Who put Jesus to death? Humanly speaking He was taken by wicked hands and crucified, but we are told in the Bible that He was delivered by the predetermined will of God. God had appointed that He should be put to death and whilst He hung upon that cross at Calvary, the greatest pain that He had to endure, the deepest agonies that were His, were not the nails piercing His hands, not the exhaustion that He felt as He cried out saying `I thirst,’ but they were the pangs of His mind. He had been made a sin-bearer and He felt the weight and guilt upon His soul – He knew what it-was to be banished from His dear Father and He cried out, `My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and while there upon that cross He endured the weight of an eternal hell on behalf of His people. You see, He has borne the price, the penalty of sin. While He was there upon the cross He endured all that was due to each and every one of His dear people. He was put to death and then raised by God the third day, which was a demonstration that His sacrifice was an acceptable sacrifice. All that He has suffered has paid the price of sin. Death could not hold Him.
What the apostle Paul declares is for us, as well as the people of Antioch, to whom Paul was preaching. Just briefly look at verse 26.
‘Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham (that was the Jews who were in the congregation) and whosoever among you that fears God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.’ Do you fear God? You know that you have offended Him by your life of sinfulness and disobedience, God has a message for you, for all who know Him and fear Him, `unto you is preached the forgiveness of sins.’
How can this forgiveness be mine? Verse 39, `All that believe are justified from all things.’ It is to those that believe. What is it to believe? Does it mean just to believe that Jesus was a real man? That He really did live here upon the earth, that He did do some wonderful things while He was here, that He did die and that He was raised again by the Father and He did go back to heaven? Well, to believe is all those things but it is much more. We must believe what the Bible tells us. It tells us we are lost and ruined by sin. You know that you will die, but do you believe that you will die because you are a sinner – lost and ruined by sin?
We must believe in God. It is an obvious statement, isn’t it? But we must desire to be at peace with God. You know, if we really believe in God, and we believe that He is our Creator, that He is the God who is eternal, the God who is ultimately the God of heaven and earth, we shall want to be at peace with Him. Who would want to be at war with such a mighty God? – None of us surely! We shall want to please Him, we shall approve of all that He is and we shall approve of His justice. We shall accept the testimony that God has given concerning His Son, that He is the sin-bearer, that through Him alone we can be forgiven. We shall be willing to see Him as the Son of God and Lord of our life. If we believe in Him, that He is the only One who can gain forgiveness for us in heaven’s high court, then we will trust Him, and we will want to follow Him and please Him, obey Him and yield to Him – that is to believe.
Are you a believer? -A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? You say, `I know I am a sinner, I want to be at peace with God, not stand before Him as a rebel to be judged. I want to know that one day I shall be received into heaven as one who has been made different.’
God changes those who truly believe. How does God change one that believes? First of all the Lord puts new life in our soul, so that the withered soul becomes a living soul. We begin to know the Lord and relate to Him, and love Him. We are drawn to Him and want to please Him in a way that we didn’t before. Those who are true Christians will tell you that conversion is to have a life-changing experience, to see things differently, to have different tastes and different desires. It is spiritual life that is one of the blessings we obtain when we know God’s forgiveness.
We will still die, but for every true believer physical death takes on a new meaning. When a believer dies, it is to be delivered from the effects of sin. Whilst we are here upon the earth Christians are not perfect; we
have an old body still infected by sin, but when we come to die, we are bidding good-bye once and for all to an old sinful body and so `death is swallowed up in victory.’ Paul speaks of that in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, towards the end of the chapter. `This corruptible (rotting body) must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.’ That is what death is for a believer, it is not judgment, it is victory.
Seasoned believers that understand God’s word will tell you in their old age, `I am looking forward to death. Death is not something I fear because I know death will be a transformation. I will lay aside all the sorrows and miseries of this life and I will be with the Lord for evermore.’
The third way in which we die will be done away with. A believer will never die eternally. A believer will be with Christ in heaven, a place which is designed for a believer’s eternal happiness.
`Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.’ Are you interested this morning or do you say, `No, I’m not interested in forgiveness, I haven’t got time for it?’ Why not? Is it that you do not believe in God’? Is it that you do not take Him seriously in His holiness and justice? Is it that you do not really believe in the effects of sin? If you believe these things I urge you to turn to the Lord God and say, – ‘Lord, please receive me and pardon me, cleanse me from all my guilt and make me a new person with faith to believe. I yield all to the Lord Jesus, prizing Him above everything here in this world, that He may be my Saviour for time and eternity. Then death will not be something I fear but something I welcome.’