Thursday, May 16, 2013

Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins

“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)
Luke summarizes forty days worth of teaching here in one paragraph. We find this when we look at Acts chapter 1 when Luke tells us Jesus spent forty days with the disciples. Luke doesn’t talk about what they did for those forty days, just summarizes it here. You can spend a life time digging into these teachings, especially the first. Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures to understand that they were all written about him, the law of Moses, (the Pentateuch) the Prophets (including such books as Kings and Chronicles, being as these books contain the words of prophets) and the Psalms. The entire Old Testament is a compilation of predictions, types (pictures) and allusions to him. The entire Old Testament finds its fulfillment and meaning in Christ’s death and resurrection. The Old Testament becomes quite an awesome book when you read it with that in mind. It gets ignored too much today. People want the New Testament and they get stuck there, but that is like reading a commentary on a book, without reading the book. It leads to seriously skewed ideas of what the New Testament actually means.
But now that it finds fulfillment in the death and resurrection the disciples learn and realize that it is for the whole world, not just Israel. They will go to Samaria and to the ends of the earth preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This is a classic text for Lutherans in discussing the distinction between law and gospel, the law is to bring about repentance, prick your conscience etc. and then comes the forgiveness of sins which creates faith and sustains repentance. I say it sustains repentance, because repentance can’t be separated from faith anymore than the Gospel can be separated from the law. Finally there is no repentance where there is no faith. This is crucial in our day. We think repentance is giving up womanizing, drunkenness and adopting the habits of middle class America, or at least the ones they espouse. At best these are fruits of repentance. But they should not be confused with repentance, because they can actually occur without any repentance whatsoever. This all because people live lives of the middle class virtue without faith in God all the time, they are everywhere. I meet “good” people everywhere, really good people, who have no time for church. They tell me they can be “good” without it. They are faithful to their wives, they are diligent at work, honest and forthright neighbors who work for the civic good. Except for their car parked in the driveway on Sunday morning you can’t tell them apart from a Methodist or a Mormon, they will even lecture you on the glories of sobriety, and church ladies will look at them with admiration. Yet the whole schtick is a shield against repentance. “I can be good without church, without God.” I mean that is the lie of Satan right there. You aren’t good, and the chief indicator of that is you don’t have time for God and think you are good, you don’t think you need his forgiveness. This is as bad as those who think forgiveness is a onetime slate cleaner, giving you a second chance to show you can be good. No, repentance deals first and foremost with the first commandment, repentance is realizing that you are not good, and therefore can’t be good. Repentance is the realization that your “good works” are nothing but filthy rags without the forgiveness of Christ. Repentance is finally faith that Christ has done it for you on the cross, and the forgiveness of sins is the freedom to live life, the freedom to love life, your life and your neighbors.
That’s just it. Christ loves your life. He loves you. He died for your life, that he would save it. Yes your life, the life you at times hate. Without Christ we do. We hate life. We hate it even when we think we love it, but it isn’t so much a love for life as a lust for it. Frankly without Christ, we don’t even have life to love, all we can do is lust for it. We lust for life because death plagues us and we know it. It all seems futile because we end up in boot hill. Our attempts at being good are attempts to cheat the grave, and feeble at that, so is the lust for life ethic, the get all you can while the getting is good, “live fast, die young leave a good looking corpse.” This is who we are. Our old adam, the sin that dwells within us runs circles around us, and we do wrong by trying to do right. We go too fast, we go to slow. We let fear dominate, or we override fear with bravado. And we find it hard to live with ourselves, much less with others.
Love God? Love our neighbor as ourselves? These are commands that are impossible for sinners to follow, because sin is the opposite of love. We are incapable. All the manifistations of sin in our lives are manifistations of this. We hate ourselves, and so we hate our neighbor. Hate is a strong word they say. Yes it is. Sin is hate. When we sin against God, we show him our hate for him, and here is the kicker, when we sin against our neighbor, we sin against God. When we dishonor our parents, we sin against God, and show him our hate. When we murder, injure, or wish our enemies death, we show our hate. When we commit adultery, indulge in porn, get carried away in romance novels, lust after our neighbors, we show our hate. When we steal, and betray our neighbor, gossip and badmouth we show our hate. When we covet and scheme to attain our neighbors goods, (ever day dream about your inheritance?) we show our hate. Feeling guilty yet? I am. That was painful. I hate myself.
But how is that going to help? That isn’t repentance. I can hate myself all I want, and when I realize my sin, I have plenty to hate. And I have plenty of reason to believe God hates me. By all accounts he should. He is holy, and I am a sinner who even manages to sin in my best attempts to keep his commandments. And yet the essence of God’s holiness is this, he is love. His holiness can’t tolerate sin, but his love overrides. He loves. And he loves you. He loves your life. He loves this world corrupted by sin. He loved it, he loved you, he loved your life enough that he was willing to die for it, to redeem this world, to redeem you, to redeem your life. So he gives you life, he gives you forgiveness. He rose from the dead. He rose from the dead and now death has no power over you. He conquered it in your name. Now you have a life to love, because your life has been loved and is being loved. Now you are good, not because you say so, not because you try your best, but because God says so, and forgives your sins. Now we have something to bring to the world, the love of God. And the Spirit, the promise of the Father comes to clothe us with power from on high, that we sinners would have the strength to do it.

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