…and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46-47 (ESV)
This text is from the discourse Jesus had with his disciples post-resurrection after he interpreted the scriptures to them. He showed them how all the scriptures refer to him, and then he sent them with the message that carries the power of God’s word. Their mission was to simply proclaim what was true based on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God had invaded history in a radical way. For centuries the Jews had been accustomed to the intricate sacrificial system that addressed sin but did not abolish it. The temple sacrifices had foreshadowed the final Lamb who would forever settle the sin-issue. That Lamb had come. He had been sacrificed. He had arisen. Sins were forgiven. This was news and very good news. It was so new that it was difficult for sin-stained hearts to embrace it. It still is. We have grown accustomed to feeling disqualified because of our sins or “issues” as we prefer to call them. For many Christians, there might as well have never been a cross. They are living with the same mentality as the Old Testament believers. Sin is still hanging over them, and they aren’t real sure if they are forgiven yet. If there is full forgiveness, it is in the future. They are fearful that they won’t qualify for it.
It was a far-fetched concept that the disciples of Christ preached. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It sounded like blasphemy. Surely it was presumptuous to believe that the issue was settled now, even before we lived the remainder of our lives. Again, the gospel seemed too good to be true. It would be enough if Christ was the final Lamb and we didn’t have to sacrifice any more animals. (That is real messy and expensive.) Then we could spend our lives seeking to prove our sincerity about being sorry for our sins, anticipating that in the end God would judge us worthy of being forgiven. We could become very meticulous in noticing our sins and keeping a strict record of them so we could confess them regularly, hoping that we weren’t overlooking any. This sin-conscious living passes as holiness among those who haven’t yet seen the glory of forgiveness.
But instead the final High Priest has entered the ultimate holy of holies and made the final sacrifice and stated for the last time, “It is finished.” Wow! No wonder this message is explosive. No wonder those who heard it at Pentecost wanted to know immediately, “What shall we do?” And, of course, Peter answered that they were to repent and receive the grace of God in Christ. Ah, so there is the sticking point — we must repent in order to receive the forgiveness. But how repentant do we have to be?
That opens the door for more good news. Repentance is a gift — just like forgiveness (Acts 5:31, 11:18). When forgiveness is proclaimed, the Spirit opens the ears of hearers, and they not only are able to believe but are excited to believe. They can actually see beyond the obstacles of flesh-driven religion and believe that God in Christ Jesus has forgiven them forever. Of course they want that and embrace it by faith. It changes the way they think about God and about themselves. As the love of God gets entrance into their hearts, they begin to be transformed by it until they are loving the same way.
Forgiveness costs God a lot. We should never treat it casually. We honor him by embracing it and enjoying the restored fellowship we have because we have been reconciled to God. In Christ you are forgiven. Believe it! Walk in it!