Forgiveness is at the heart of the Easter message. This is because it is fundamental to the nature and character of God.
These two assertions raise the same questions that were prompted by the first article in this series on what Easter is all about: What do we mean by forgiveness? Why is it necessary? How is it connected to the Easter story? How does it apply to me? What, if anything, do I need to do?
In order to answer these questions we need to go back to the beginning. The Bible tells us in the book of Genesis that in the beginning the relationship between God the Creator and the first man and his wife, Adam and Eve, was perfect. God gave them the freedom to live, with one condition: that they were not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Sadly, they disobeyed. This brought Divine judgment in the form of banishment from God’s presence and spiritual death; in other words, separation and death. The Bible says: ‘The soul who sins shall die’. (Ezekiel 18:20). They had incurred the wrath of God. Their action had far- reaching consequences. It meant that all of humanity lived under the anger of God.
Yet throughout the Bible, God is described as slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin (Numbers 14:18). Throughout the Old Testament, as we look at the sacrificial system in the life of the people of Israel, we see typological and symbolic pointers of how God was seeking to extend His arms of forgiveness to man, and ultimately deal with the problem of humanity’s sins which needed to be forgiven.
Forgiveness requires two things. First, it cannot be given or received unless it is asked for. That request must come from one whose heart is genuinely contrite. As we look at the system of sacrifice in the life of ancient Israel, we see that forgiveness required a sacrifice; typically, a spotless animal or bird was killed, and its blood shed as a substitute for the life of the one making the sacrifice. Remember, the soul that sins shall die. So, the animal’s life was given in place of that if the sinner. The Bible says: ‘…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’ (Hebrews 9:22b)
However, the Old Testament system of sacrifice was inadequate. We read this in the book of Hebrews: ‘The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.’ (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11).
The good news is that Jesus provides the perfect answer. That is why when John the Baptist saw Him approaching, he spoke these words: ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). Again we read: ‘Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, my God.’” But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:5-7, 15a, 18). What all this means is that the death of Jesus on the cross is the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Because of His sinless life, He was the spotless Lamb of God, able to pay the price for and take away the sins of humanity – once for all.
‘How does this apply to me?‘, you might well ask. The answer is that mankind is sinful by nature. God loves you too much to allow you to destroy yourself and go to hell. Your life of sin is an offence against the God who created you and placed you here on earth. You need His forgiveness. You cannot earn and do not deserve His forgiveness. In His love and mercy God sent Jesus to provide the perfect sacrifice. Only Jesus was qualified to do that for us. God has made a way. Jesus is that way. Jesus Himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is forgiveness personified. Forgiveness was at the heart of everything he did and is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. He taught and showed it during His earthly ministry and ultimately through His death on the Cross. He demonstrated forgiveness.
All you need to do is first acknowledge that your sins have put you in a place of rebellion against God. That must be confessed. Second, believe that Jesus has paid the price for your forgiveness. Ask Him to be the Saviour and Lord of your life.
We live in a hostile world, one that is low on tolerance and forbearance and high on retribution and vengeance. As I write these words I am very aware that there will be people reading this article that have been grievously hurt and wounded by others. The wound may be long-standing, recent, deep and fresh. You are finding it hard to forgive. Can I plead with you to forgive, as Jesus did. Jesus was uncompromising in His call for us to forgive. ‘Seventy times seven’, He said (Matthew 18:21). In other words, He calls us to forgive without limit. As He hung on the cross He prayed for your’s and my forgiveness, for those who persecuted Him. The Bible says: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32) And again: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13).
Easter is about God’s message of forgiveness. That forgiveness comes through faith in His Son Jesus. Having been forgiven, He calls us to forgive; because it is in the place of forgiveness that we can truly begin to live. What is your response to that message of forgiveness this Easter?
Copyright Emmanuel Mbakwe 2013©
If you have read this article and you are not a Christian, I would like to invite you to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord in your life by praying this prayer: ‘God in heaven, I acknowledge that I am sinner and deserve to be punished for all the wrongs I have done. I am truly sorry. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to this world. I believe He lived, died and rose again for my sins. I repent of all past sins and ask you to forgive me because Jesus. I confess and ask Jesus to come into my life and be my Saviour and Lord. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me to obey you and lead me to follow you all the days of my life. Thank you God for giving me eternal life through your Son Jesus; Amen!’
If you have understood and sincerely prayed that prayer, then visit this link and drop a note. One of our team of counsellors would be glad to contact, pray with and offer you further guidance on how you can continue with your new found faith in Jesus. God bless you.
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