The Blessing of Forgiveness
In the early 700s BC Jeremiah prophesied of a coming day of which God said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah …” (Jer 31:31ff). He specified that the covenant would be of a different nature from the previous one (31:32). He goes on to describe other features of this new covenant, saving the best for last: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (31:34).
Fast forward 700 years to a conversation between an angel of God and a young man who just found out his betrothed wife had become pregnant without his involvement. The angel reassures him that she has not been unfaithful, but what is happening is the work of God: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
Later, following the divinely announced birth of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, John’s father Zacharias was inspired by the Holy Spirit to say, “And you, child will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Lk 1:67, 76-77).
On the eve of His death, when observing the Passover with His apostles, Jesus “took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26:27-28).
After Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, He spent a month with His apostles teaching them and giving instructions concerning their coming mission. Before His ascension Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-48).
Ten days later, while waiting in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles to empower them to preach the good news of salvation from sin (cf. Lk 24:49; Ac 1:8; 2:1-4). Peter delivers a strong, convicting message for the Jews’ complicity in Jesus’ murder, and this elicits a cry of despair from the crowd, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37). Peter’s answer: “Repent, and let ever one of you be baptized for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:39).
After this, Peter miraculously heals a lame man in the temple which draws a crowd of curious onlookers (Ac 3:1-11). Peter takes the opportunity to give the people a brief history lesson of the OT prophets, showing how this was all fulfilled in Jesus (3:12-25). But he concludes with this observation: “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (3:26).
However, no good deed goes unpunished. Peter is arrested twice for this “crime,” and in the second hearing indicts his inquisitors: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins …” (Ac 5:30-31).
As the Bible student continues to study further into the NT, noticeably absent are any references to the Jewish people relative to land promises; i.e., their continuing ownership of the OT land of Canaan (Palestine, in the NT). Also missing are suggestions that OT prophecies concerning Israel as a nation are outstanding. Rather, Jesus Himself said that He had come to fulfill all the prophecies relative to the physical kin of Abraham (cf. Mt 5:17-18). Putting it another way, there are no prophecies that apply to evicting the Romans from the land, or a literal Davidic throne being reestablished, or the renewed glory of Israel via military dominance. Such a special status was eclipsed by the institution of a new covenant.
Instead, what IS promised to Israel is clear, and it is the greatest promise that God could have issued to them or anyone else: “I WILL FORGIVE YOUR SINS!” Throughout sin’s reign of terror over all humans throughout their history, mankind has stood in dire need of a complete, permanent solution to this problem. Abraham’s descendants lost sight of this and came to see their existence as a nation and their territorial aspirations as the be-all and end-all. But it wasn’t, and God never intended for it to be; hence Jeremiah’s foretelling of a new covenant.
People respond to their sins in various ways, most of them intended to avoid the issue (repression, excuses, blame-shifting, conscience-searing, denial, etc.). But for those who are truly penitent and desirous of being restored to fellowship with God, the idea of real forgiveness is spiritually uplifting, emotionally comforting and joyous.
My sin – O the bliss of this glorious tho’t! –
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Only those who feel the depth of their sin – its shame, reproach, damage, and fear – are able to experience the joy and relief of forgiveness. And they are the ones who will humbly submit to God, redouble their efforts to honor Him and urge others to live in gratitude for such a wonderful gift. To the guilty, the forgiveness of Christ is difficult to accept, and it challenges our concept of God’s grace: “How can God be so merciful and loving to someone like me?! Such forgiveness is humbling, the proper default setting of mind for the one who knows his only hope lies in God’s grace.
I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer,
But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom.