Remission of Sins…
That brings us to the next part of our text: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…” (emphasis added). Because forgiveness is the greatest need of mankind, Christians have the greatest news to proclaim!
Any Old Testament Jew should have echoed the inspired sentiments of Psalm 130:3: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The idea of standing in the Old Testament often carries with it a judicial connotation. Psalm 1:5a, for instance, says, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” And if you cannot stand in the judgment, i.e. ‘in a place of righteousness, having been acquitted’, you are in a dreadful place. Even as Psalm 76:6 reads:
You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry?
The most fearful possibility for any human being is to eternally unforgiven by God, and as a result to have to bear His righteous indignation for all eternity in the lake of fire.
But Christians carry an incredible proclamation – there is forgiveness to be found, had, and enjoyed! The word “forgiveness” used here is aphesin and it carries the connotation of ‘sending something away’ or a ‘release.’ Interestingly, the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word aphesis eleven times in Leviticus 25, the chapter that speaks about the year of Jubilee. It was in the fiftieth year in which freedom or release was to be proclaimed throughout the land of Israel. One of the aspects of the Year of Jubilee was that those who were indentured servants would be ‘set free’, released from their indebtedness, and able to return to their families. So, in many ways, the year of Jubilee was a cause for celebration for the formerly indebted in Israel.
I don’t know if you have ever listened to the Dave Ramsey show but there is a segment each hour of the three-hour radio program where people who drove to Nashville, Tennessee stand in the lobby, just outside of the studio where the radio show happens, and they do their ‘debt free screams.’ So, they are essentially interviewed by Dave Ramsey, tell their story of how they were in debt and how they got out of debt, and then at the end of that they join the chorus of many others throughout the years who have shouted their debt-free scream saying, “We’re debt free!!!!!”
We can understand the celebration behind the Year of Jubilee in Israel, and we can understand the celebration of a family that is no longer in debt, but how much more should all Christians be able to let out ‘a sin-debt-free scream!’ Think about it. If David could exclaim, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin!” shouldn’t we, who have seen the cross exclaim in amazement and excitement: “You forgave the guilt of my sin!”
What was impossible with man was made possible by God through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sins have been carried away! How did they get carried away? 1 Peter 2:24 tells us: [speaking of Jesus], “who Himself bore [Gr. anapheró, meaning “to carry up”] our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” Our sins are carried away because He carried them in His body on the cross. Where did our indebtedness go? According to Colossians 2:15 “[Jesus] canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:15 NIV). The punishment that our sins deserved fell upon Him (Isa. 53:6). We can say like the prophet Micah,
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever because he delights in steadfast love. (Micah 7:18a)
There’s a brief story in the New York Times archives headlined SUNK BY ITS OWN TORPEDO published on March 25th, 1918. It recounted the unlikely story of a German submarine that was destroyed by one of its own torpedoes which, after it was fired, boomerang back and sunk the sub. Apparently, on that day a statement was released by Captain Frewen of the British steamer Flixton. He declared that while on his way from Havre to a Welsh Port, “a German U-boat discharged a torpedo which, when a short distance from the steamer, was deflected, and, describing a semi-circle, struck the submarine and sank it.” Can you imagine what that captain and anyone else on that ship saw? Apparently, the U-boat had risen to the surface and the captain and his men knew that impending doom was coming their way. And then, somehow the torpedo malfunctioned and went back towards the German submarine. You could imagine them saying, ‘How can it be?’ And with that, we get a little bit of the sense of what our reaction should be to the glorious message of the forgiveness of sins. We don’t celebrate a submarine sinking to the bottom of the sea, we celebrate, as the prophet Micah wrote, that our sins have hurled into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19)!
And as an aside, it’s worth remembering that the believer need not harbor guilt over past sins. It’s like Corrie Ten Boom said, it’s as though out by those waters God places a sign that says, “No Fishing Allowed!” In other words, today’s guilt over yesterday’s sin should be gone and not sought.
So whether we are doing missions domestically or internationally, whether we are engaged in an evangelistic conversation individually or proclaiming the Gospel corporately, we can be encouraged that the written and necessary message of repentance unto forgiveness is the greatest news that brings about the greatest result -forgiveness. It’s always been a part of God’s plan, and believers today get to play a part in it! The proclamation began in Jerusalem, is still continuing to cover the ends of the earth today, and it will continue to do so until the Lord returns. May the Spirit of God continue to empower you to fulfill your role in this written-and-necessary mission.