Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
The divine promise of the gospel follows the divine command. God commands all men everywhere to repent. Then, to those who do obey (by repenting and being baptized), God makes this astonishing promise of the forgiveness of all their sins. That is the supreme demonstration of the power of Jesus’ name. He came to die to clear all the guilt of his people’s sins, to make atonement in the presence of a holy God for them all. At Pentecost, when Peter’s preaching was over, at least 3,000 men had been convicted of their sin and hurried to Peter and the people of God asking them what they must do for crucifying the Son of God. They were told to repent of their sins and be baptized entering the communion of association of the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. Such repentance and trust in Christ would be the channel whereby they received comprehensive forgiveness.
What an unbelievable reality is God’s forgiveness! Jerusalem sinners had crucified the loveliest and best of men – he was God the Son, and they had even mocked him in his excruciating torment. But if such hell-deserving sinners turned from that sin in Jesus’ name God would take all that guilt and throw it into the depths of the deepest sea. He would remove it from them as far as the East is from the West. He would remember their sins against them no more.
Are you grasping this? Do you think that these words of forgiveness are simply religious platitudes, or what they are in deed and in truth because of the crucifixion of the Lamb of God a breathlessly glorious reality? Forgiveness is man’s greatest need. Without it we are doomed to spend eternity in hell, but through God’s forgiveness we are offered eternity in a new heavens and a new earth with Jesus Christ. Even those who shouted for our Lord to be crucified and mocked him in his dying agony – if they repented, believed and were baptized into the body of Christ – every one of their sins would be completely forgiven. So how is it with you? If you know you’ve not yet been forgiven by God, and recognize that you dare not come into his presence unforgiven, then cry to God that he will give you a repentant spirit. Trust in Jesus as Saviour without delay, for now is the appointed time; now is the day of salvation. The only time you can guarantee is this moment. Jerusalem sinners needed great forgiveness, and God set this before them by setting before them in the words of Peter the greatness of their sins – “Your wicked hands killed the Prince of life.”.
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
You might think that that is a unnecessary question. You think that everyone knows what forgiveness is. When someone has wronged you then you expect them to come to you and apologize. “I’m sorry,” they say to you, and you say to them, “That’s OK.” Then that’s forgiveness isn’t it? No, it’s not forgiveness. That is an action masquerading as forgiveness. Now you may be mildly surprised. You thought that forgiveness was a concept unlike other religious concepts which men debate, like the gifts of the Spirit, or like predestination, or like the millennium – convictions that Christian argue about. You thought that every Christian knows what forgiveness is. You are thinking that I should have got on with Acts chapter 2, and could have glided over these six words in our text, “for the forgiveness of your sins” because you know what that phrase means, and everyone else in the congregation knows what it means and I am dragging it out.
I am afraid you are mistaken. For example this business about ‘apologizing,’ let me ask you this question, “How often does the word ‘apologize’ occur in the Bible?” The answer is not once. Not once in the Authorized Version, and not once in the New International Version. Biblical writers never equate ‘apologizing’ with seeking forgiveness. Apologizing is the world’s substitute for forgiveness. I am saying that it is a good thing that here in the sermon on the day of Pentecost Peter spoke of forgiveness because we all need to understand today what it means.
i] Forgiveness is not a feeling. Is there anything about ‘feelings of forgiveness’ in the Bible? No. They are as absent from Scripture as the world ‘apology.’ So how can we approach ‘forgiveness’? Let’s consider the great words in the letter to the Ephesians chapter 4 and verse 32; “Forgive one another just as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” In other words God has given us a template of forgiveness, a standard and example by the study of which we can understand it and learn how to forgive. Listen!
When God forgives he does not simply sit in the heavens and emote. He’s not a God who feels better when he forgives. Jehovah is a God without parts and without passions. So forgiveness isn’t a feeling. If it were, how would we know that God has such feelings when he forgives? What do we know about the change in feelings of the God of heaven? Absolutely nothing. We can’t pull aside the curtain that hides the God of heaven from us and say, “Ooh, God is smiling at us today. He has forgiven us and he feels better.” No, when God forgives what does he do? What procedures does he adopt? He sends his Spirit into the minds of prophets and apostles to preach his character, his hatred of sin and then his mercy in sending his Son who came to become the Lamb of God who died for our sins. Then he speaks further and he tells the world it needs to repent and be baptized into the forgiven people of God. He promises that he will no longer hold our sins against us if we repent and put all our hopes in Jesus Christ. This is the divine procedure. God causes the prophets and apostles to write down in black and white that through Jesus Christ our scarlet sins are now whiter than snow, and that as far as the East is from the West so far God will remove the guilt of those repenting from them. Then they will be forgiven, all forgiven, he says, every one of them. He writes it down in Scripture and tells his servants to proclaim it to the world. If forgiveness were simply a change in the feelings of God in heaven then we’d never know about it. The angels might notice the divine joy, and comment on it to one another, but we can’t. We cannot see through the veil that hides God from us. But we do know about the joy in heaven when sinners repent and God forgives because God has written about it in his word. God declares very clearly, “If you confess your sin I am faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” God has gone on record to make such a promise in his word, in this case, through his apostle John, though there are many others like it. So forgiveness is not just a feeling. God writes out a covenant promise; he signs and seals it; it is a solemn oath. Let us look at that . . .
ii] Forgiveness is a promise. God our Creator who spoke the universe into being continues to speak, and he makes exceeding great and precious promises. We have the Bible which is the word of God. “Thy Word is truth!” We have this great intrusion from another world. When our God forgave Jerusalem sinners for murdering his Son by crucifying him he didn’t stop with the sign of a rushing mighty wind because after the wind came a great calm. He didn’t stop with cloven tongues of fire resting on them, for those flames flickered out too. He didn’t stop with the miraculous ability to speak in a language people had never known before that day because when Peter preached to them all he did so in the lingua franca that they all knew. God made his mercy very plain, telling them through his preacher Peter that if they repented and were baptized then all their sins would be forgiven in Jesus’ name. Then God in a few years’ time caused Luke to write Peter’s words down here in the book of Acts. God tells every generation for 2000 years that if we trust in his Son that he is prepared never to remember our sins against us again. That good news is here, often spelled out in the word of God. Listen to Jeremiah 31 and verse 34, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Here are two of the great “I will” promises of Scripture – I will forgive . . . I will remember their sins no more. And do you dare to even think, “But not my sins”? Yes, your sins; and even worse, the sins of the very worst sinner that this world has seen. When that man looked to the Lord, and repented of his sins and was baptized into the gospel fellowship then all his terrible wickednesses were forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
You ask, “But how can the God of the Bible who knows all things, past, present and future, equally clearly, at this very moment, how can he ever forget anything? How can he forget our sins?” He doesn’t. Yes, the inspired word says he won’t remember our sins, but that is not the same thing as forgetting our sins. Of course God is omniscient and he forgets nothing, but God can choose not to remember any incident, any action, any pain caused, any hypocrisy, any hurt we’ve given to those who love us the most. “I choose to blot that out of my memory,” says Jehovah.
Forgetting is passive and that is something that we happens to us, especially as we get older and memory cells are not as sticky as they used to be. But not remembering something is active; it is a promise that one being makes to another. “I have chosen not to remember your sins against you.” You lie down in bed together, husband and wife, and you talk and then you start to say, ‘I’m so sorry for what I did when . . .’” And your spouse cuts you short, saying, “I don’t remember it. It is all gone. That water can’t flow under the bridge again. It’s all passed away.” And when the spouse tries to raise his fall again, then the same reply comes again, and never, never, never is it mentioned again. It is as if it never occurred. It does not control or modify their relationship at all. It has all disappeared from the scene. It is never brought up even when there are tensions and bad behaviour and anger – that past sin is forgiven sin and it will never be resurrected again. It is buried. In fact it is described as being cast into the bottomless pit, and every day it is falling faster and faster, deeper and deeper, further and further away, impossibly distant and unreachable. How distant is your sin from you? How far is the east from the west? Immeasurably far; in fact it is as utterly unattainable as reaching the end of the rainbow. If you could know how far the east is from the west then you could know precisely where your sins are in the sight of God today. But you can never know, and that is as far as forgiven sins are from the sinner and from God. God says that he will never take hold of them from their total lostness, retrieving them to lay them out before us in three dimensions, and wrap-around Dolby sound, and in glorious Technicolor, and cry to us, “See! Look at your sins, miserable creature!” Satan will do us and we can foolishly allow our minds to wander back and think of our sins, but God does so never. They are all forgiven and all unremembered. Even when we act as meanly as a Christian can possibly act, God will not pull aside a curtain and open a window and show us how wickedly we have behaved, and what happened to those we hurt, and rub our noses in our past. God will not do this. Never! Not once should he be feeling malicious and mean. He never is! He will remember our sins no more. So forgiveness is not a feeling, and forgiveness is a promise.
iii] Forgiveness is a reality and a blessed state we enter, obtained for us by the Lord Jesus Christ. How can God be able to remember our sins no more? How can God – who is just and holy and sin-hating – swear on an oath that he will never hold our sins, even the worst of them, against us again? There is one reason and it is this, that he has held the guilt of those very sins of ours against his Son on the cross of Golgotha. He has condemned his blessed Son for those sins. He has spared not his Son from the consequences of that very sin you often remember and groan about. The price was paid for that sin by the Lord Christ. The Lamb of God has taken away that sin and all your other sins. They are gone for ever; cast into the cosmic incinerator and totally consumed in the majestic rectitude of a sin-hating God. All that those sins deserve, to the very last atom of condemnation, has been loaded upon the Lord Jesus. Oh Christ, what burdens bowed your head; our load was laid on you. And the consequence of that is that we, for ever and ever, are whiter than snow. It is a magnificent and even an incredible concept, that no sin at all is held against us because the Lord Jesus Christ once took their guilt in his own body on the tree and bearing responsibility for them stood in the naked flame of the holiness of God until all their guilt and blame had been annihilated. He has put away all my sin. He remembers my sin no more because he remembers mercy. We often pray, “In wrath remember mercy” and God does because his Son, the incarnation of mercy, is there at his right hand ever pleading for us.
I am not sure that my conscience believes it, but if only I could let this truth be the whole truth about the way that things truly are today between me, a repentant believer, and God. There is no guilt whatsoever; there is no condemnation whatsoever; when I must stand before the loving God there will be no judgment at all. It is all forgiven; it is all removed from me and dealt with justly. There is absolutely nothing left, do you know? What happened in the death of Jesus Christ is all that matters. Nothing else is relevant. Your forgiveness by a thrice holy God all has been accomplished by what our Saviour did. The way you feel; the way you struggle and how often you feel guilty and a failure is utterly irrelevant. The one thing relevant is what the Son of God did upon the cross. He made a good and decent and proper job of the work of forgiving sinners that his Father gave him to do. He didn’t do half a job on Calvary, he didn’t do 90% of the job and left us to do the rest. He took the blame and shame of all in whose place he hung and suffered on the cross so that they are pardoned sinners, as righteous as Christ himself. God would as soon condemn his Son as condemn any of his children. You and your sin can be separated – sin can be extracted from the sinner – through Jesus Christ.
There is nothing left undone that you have to do to get your sins forgiven. It is all in Jesus’ name. You are not forgiven by God enabling you to do something. You are not forgiven through God inspiring you to choose. You are not forgiven through God encouraging you to repent. You are not forgiven through God challenging you to discipleship. You are not forgiven through God exhorting you to repent and be baptized, because if your standing before God depends today on your repentance, and your faith, and your baptism and your holy living, then before God you have no hope. You are going to hell, but Jesus did something all by himself, and I want you to see what God the Son achieved in his cross-work to obtain your forgiveness and that you should be absolutely satisfied with that. Let your conscience be satisfied with that. Let your intellect be satisfied with that. Let your feelings be satisfied with that. Let your past be satisfied with that. If God is satisfied to forgive you your sins in the name of Jesus then you can be satisfied with that too. Never set your sin above the forgiveness which comes from God in the name of Jesus.
iv] Forgiveness is received only by repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ. How do I get this forgiveness? How does this wonderful blessing become mine? What price must I pay to possess it? What sum must I spend? So many think that there is something that they have to do in order to be forgiven. They must have some input into it. What must I save up and pay? God the Father did so much. The Lord Jesus Christ did so much to obtain our forgiveness. Our hearts and minds ask, “Are we expected to match that? Am I required to do something commensurate so that my input matches what the Father and the Son have done? What price must I pay? What burden must I bear? What mountains must I climb? What self-mortification must I endure? How long must be my fasting? What rituals must I go through? What services must I attend? How many prayers must I pray? How many confessionals must I attend?
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins!” Negatively, change your mind, turn your back on your unbelief and your lukewarmness, and your ignorance and your selfishness, and positively, trust in the name of Jesus Christ, ask God for forgiveness through who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. Whoever repents and whoever believes will be forgiven.
You know it is so absurd. It is so disproportionate and asymmetrical, that God should give up his Son to Golgotha’s agony and anathema and spare him not. What magnanimity in God to forgive sins. That is his input, and mine? It is to repent and turn from my sins and trust in him. My faith; my little faith; my flawed faith; my inconsistent faith; my weak faith. You say, “You mean that’s all? God gave his Son, and I give nothing but my repentance and my faith?” That is exactly what God has said. It is written in his word. Forgiveness is without money and without price. All the fitness he requires is to see your need of him. Let us take God’s word as it is. You know the trouble with you sinners is that you want to go to God and obtain forgiveness for the wrong things you have done as self-made men and women, with your heads held high, but God says, you just take it as I offer it to you. You do not buy forgiveness, you receive it as a gift of God. There is no price at all. We’re all too much inclined to imagine that there is some great achievement needed, something matching God’s input. No, God is saying, “Please take my offer of forgiveness. It is without money and without price. It is absolutely free. It has been bought for you by Jesus Christ the Son of God and all you can do with a gift is receive it or reject it.
What sort of person do you need to be today to be forgiven? You need to be a sinner. That is all, and my great problem is that I cannot find sinners. Sin is easily committed; it is not easily confessed. Everyone I meet protests that they are not sinners, or they say, “Well, we are all sinners.” The sinner’s self-judgment and the sinner’s feeble excuse. The beginning and the middle and the end of a sinner is pride. We want to earn our forgiveness; we want to qualify for it; we want to deserve it in some way or other. I will just say one thing about that. What kind of person do you need to be today to receive the forgiveness of your sins? And I say this, “Just as I am . . . I come to God in the name of Jesus.” I would not pollute my lips by confessing my sins to a man, but oh how sweet it is to confess sin before a sin-forgiving God. A sin-forgiving God! Yes, you may confess your sins to him in shame, but don’t be ashamed to confess your sin. Go to him just as you are pleading nothing but the invitation from God to tell him how grieved you are for what you have done, and waiting not to rid your soul of one dark blot, going to him who can cleanse your soul of every spot, you go to him. You don’t go to him when you yourself have painfully removed every single one of your spots, and cleared the darkness out of your souls, and then when you have made yourself very white then you feel that you can go to him on your own terms and ask him for forgiveness. I say that if you can make yourself lily white then what need do you have of coming to Jesus Christ. You come, I say, just as you are, poor, wretched. blind, to get sight, riches, healing of the mind, yes more than all of that in him you find. O Lamb of God I am coming to you. You have been thinking that you cannot come to so august a God because you are poor and wretched, but the gospel says that only those aware they are poor and wretched will come to Christ. The Bible says that all you need you can find in only one place and that is in the name of Jesus Christ.
I am asking you today as heaven watches us, and Jesus himself stands in our midst, and the angels peer down, what are they all now hearing your inward voice saying? “I am coming Lord to Thee”? I am coming because you offer sinners who repent and trust in Jesus Christ forgiveness of sins. Well I know this, that one day God will ask you if you are a sinner. He may ask you whether anyone told you that you were a sinner, and did anyone ever tell you that his Son is the Saviour of the world. You will then say, “Yes.” Did that preacher tell you that forgiveness for your sins came through Jesus Christ, that it is through our Lord that sinners who repent come to God? Did he make that clear? Did he then ask you to come to God? Did he invite you to come to him? Did he beseech you? Did he plead with you to get your sins forgiven by the Almighty Creator through his Son? “Well, yes.” And then God will say, “Did you come? Did you keep crying to me until you knew I had answered you? Did you get your sins forgiven?” Let us come today and bow before the Lord and say to him, “And forgive me my trespasses because of Jesus Christ the Lord.”
THOSE WHO ARE TRULY FORGIVEN SHOW IT BY FORGIVING.
You know this don’t you? Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible speak of the duty of Christians to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt them. In the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” In the Lord’s Prayer he taught us to pray like this, “Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Or there is the verse in Ephesians chapter 4 which I quoted earlier to you, “Forgive one another just as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephs. 4:32).
Peter was rather dubious about this insistence on forgiveness and he asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone before saying, “Enough is enough. I can’t forgive you any longer,” Jesus replied by telling Peter the parable of the unforgiving servant. This man had been forgiven by his master for a debt he owed him of hundreds of thousands. The master told him he’d wiped the slate clean. He need not repay him a penny. Then, leaving his master, overwhelmed with thanksgiving, he bumps into a man who owes him a paltry sum of money but this wretched man demands its repayment then and there and when the man is unable to pay him he has the man thrown into debtors’ prison. The other servants angrily tell their master what they’ve seen and immediately he has the unforgiving servant thrown into prison in the hands of the tormentors. Jesus then warns his disciples about the consequences of not forgiving from their hearts everyone who has sinned against them.
If a film had been taken of all the things you’d done throughout your life, with nothing exempt, and all the worst episodes were projected on this wall today, then you’d be mortified. What deep shame you would feel. Then how wonderful it’s been for you to hear that God forgives all the sins of our past and declares that our scarlet sins are now whiter than snow. My sins, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sins not in part but the whole have been nailed to the cross and remembered no more. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul. Now if you are praising the Lord for the magnificent display of his mercy to you for your foul life, then that is going to show itself in your attitude to men and women who have offended you by their folly and stupidity. Maybe the one who has offended you is your preacher, and you will offer him forgiveness. Maybe he is one who was your best friend. Offer him your pardon! Of course if he remains stubborn and will not ask for your pardon he cannot enter a state of forgiveness with you, but your duty is to offer him a full pardon and a promise that then his sins will in no way modify or control your relationship, and that you will always be prepared to freely pardon and love him when he bows in sorrow in your presence.
“I have been forgiven so much for the terrible things I have done, and more than that, God has covered over those sins of mine so that no one knows about them. Forgiveness so amazing, so divine mercy demands that I will always be a forgiving person. Love never keeps a list of record of wrongs, but rather forgives 70 times seven. A forgiving spirit is the mark that God has indeed freely forgiven you for your great evil against him. Two things for you to do result from today’s word. One; to unbelievers; let us be sure that we have gone to God for mercy and have accepted God’s forgiveness. Two; to believers; let us offer forgiveness to every one who has offended us. May we be pardoned and may we pardon those who have sinned against us. The two go hand in hand; you can’t have the one without the other,
March 1st 2015 GEOFF THOMAS