First Mennonite Church
September 20, 2020
Salvation Involves the Forgiveness of Sins
Text: Acts: 13:13-17
In some way, today, I will be elaborating on what I spoke about last Sunday—doing the will of God. But what is the will of God, you might have asked yourself? I will tell you in a nutshell, but this sermon is an elaboration of that answer.
When the Jews asked Jesus the question, “So what is the work, (the will) of God?” Jesus replied: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
My dear brothers and sisters, doing the will of God begins by believing in Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior. Doing the will of God begins by appropriating for ourselves the gift of God’s forgiveness of sins through his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the heart of my message today, based on the first sermon Paul preached according to Acts of the Apostle chapter 13.
Acts 13 is a fairly long chapter. So, I will only read certain verses that highlight Paul’s sermon as he gave it to his Jewish audience. But first, I want to place Paul’s sermon in its context. After Paul had his encounter with the Living Christ on the road to Damascus, he was introduced to the church leaders in Jerusalem by Barnabas. Barnabas means, “Son of consolation” or “encourager.” Then Paul moved back to Tarsus where, after much searching, Barnabas found him again. They went to Antioch in Syria, where there was a great revival and a gathering of prophets and church leaders. While they were praying, God commissioned Barnabas and Saul to go and preach to the Gentiles. And that is where we begin today: verse 13-17.
13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” 16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Here in Antioch in Pisidia, Paul begins his sermon by recounting the Israelite story, their liberation from Egypt, the rise of the monarchy, and David’s lineage from which Jesus was born. Paul says that the coming of Jesus was God’s fulfilled promise of sending his Messiah to his people. And then Paul goes on to explain the death of Jesus in verses 27-29.
Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28 Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
Paul reiterates the innocence of Jesus. Jesus’ death was not a punishment for wrongdoing; his death was a murder. He was killed, as Paul affirms. But what his executioners did not know was that everything about Jesus, including his innocent death, had been prophesied in Scripture. See Isaiah 53.
After Jesus had died on the “tree,” as Paul says, his body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb.
But God raised him from the dead; 31 and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus;
God’s intervention in raising Christ Jesus from the dead is one of God’s clearest signs of approval of Jesus: his life, teaching, and complete obedience to the will of the Father. The resurrected Christ did not remain a secret to his followers. Jesus came to them, ate with them, restored them, and commissioned them to carry on with the work he had begun. Thus his disciple became his witnesses to the people. The proclamation of a risen Christ was based on the fact that his disciples saw, heard, and touched Jesus after he came back from the dead. The convincing proofs that Jesus was raised from the dead prompted the apostles to speak about him boldly. They put their lives on the line for Jesus sake. They were willing to die for the sake of their message.
Paul is also a witness. Christ appeared to him. Therefore, Paul joins the line of witnesses by proclaiming the message of the good news. And so he charged his audience:
Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
The message of the gospel is that there is forgiveness of sin for all who believe. However, I must admit that there might be some resistance to this kind of message. The idea of forgiveness might sound, not only unappealing to some, but even irrelevant. That is because the pervasive degrading of morality that has creeped into every sphere of human life, think of diminishing importance given to marriage vows, think of the violation, in its many forms, of the sacredness of human life, and think of the extreme value given to materialism, but even more, the superimposition of self as the center of the universe, has basically eliminated the concept of wrongdoing—of sin, to use the biblical language. The idea of forgiveness presupposes admitting wrongdoing. But if there is no sense of transgression, if there is no violation of rules or moral principles, it is impossible for people to see the need for repentance or for asking forgiveness.
Forgiveness of sin only appeals in direct proportion to the amount of guilt the person feels before God. Forgiveness of sin only become a desperate need when our sense of God’s holiness is awakened. And these two elements are necessary if someone were to ask for forgiveness. These two elements only come through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (Will see how the Spirit works to bring this to happen, next week)
One of the greatest lies men and women have forced themselves to believe is either that there is no God to whom we all must render an account for our lives, or that all there is to life is what we have here on earth. But the truth is that there is a God to whom we all must give an account for what we did in this life. This God of all love is the same God who is just and will judge the world, accordingly. For that reason, at the heart of the gospel message of God’s love is that there is forgiveness of sin to everyone who believes in Jesus.
Jesus’ forgiveness restores everyone to a full relationship with God. Thus Paul, in his earnest appeal to his beloved audience he warned:
40 Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
41 ‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’”
My dear and beloved sisters and brothers, I would also like to appeal to you: you can go home ignoring God’s offer of forgiveness of your sins or you can humbly accept his offer here and now. I appeal to you, be reconciled with God. Receive God’s offer of forgiveness of sins through his Son, Jesus Christ. By doing so, we not only avoid the prospects of facing God’s judgement, but even more, we begin to enjoy the favor and love of God offered to everyone through Jesus, his Son. Let us receive God offer to us in Christ. Amen!