Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. —Acts 13:38-39
On this day long ago, Jesus died on a Roman cross. We thought he deserved it. The truth was, we deserved it. But he took it, as from God, for our sakes. It was in his death that our guilt was punished. We go free, just by receiving his death as our condemnation. God wants everyone to know how good he really is, and the cross of Jesus most clearly reveals God’s goodness to the undeserving and the guilty. This sacred table is where we remember his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us. At this table, the risen and living Christ serves us as our gracious host. But first, we turn to the gospel to savor the meaning of it all.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,
This is a royal proclamation: “Let it be known to you!” The King of the universe proclaims complete amnesty for all his enemies through Jesus his Son. It doesn’t matter how hostile and arrogant we’ve been, all he asks is that we trust him enough to come back to him. This royal proclamation doesn’t say, “Forgiveness of sins is negotiated with you.” We don’t negotiate with the King of grace. This proclamation doesn’t say, “Forgiveness of sins is forced upon you.” We have to open our hearts. God is proclaiming his policy of forgiveness through Jesus. All the response he’s looking for from us is that we would believe the proclamation. We don’t believe it because we deserve it; we believe it based on God’s testimony alone. We look at our sins, we look at our failures, and we think, “God couldn’t forgive me. God shouldn’t forgive me.” But the gospel calls us to stop listening to ourselves and start listening to God. We turn from ourselves and our own moral reasoning, we turn back to God and hear his proclamation and by faith we defy our guilt, because God says we’re forgiven through Jesus. Gerhard Forde, the Lutheran theologian, put it bluntly:
We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age-old question, “What shall I do to be saved?” the gospel’s answer is shocking: “Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!”
What is the message being proclaimed in the gospel? Paul sums it up: “Forgiveness of sins through Jesus.” I can’t imagine anything more healing, more freeing, more cheering than the all-holy God above proclaiming his forgiveness of our sins through Jesus. We are irrelevant, except that we contribute the guilt. All that matters to us now is what Jesus did and what God proclaims about it. This church exists for sinners to be set free by the power of his divine forgiveness. This church exists for you to feel forgiven and live again and breathe again. The King is proclaiming to us tonight forgiveness of sins through Jesus. God is saying, “You don’t have to cover up and hide and bear it yourself any more. Every sin, and especially the worst sin you ever committed and you’re so ashamed and so aghast and so wounded and so frightened, especially that sin – you are forgiven in Christ. You can stop bearing the guilt of that sin, because Christ bore it for you on the cross.” We are not here tonight to make sinners shape up. We are all here tonight to receive God’s proclamation and be awed by it. What God proclaims is blood-bought forgiveness, costly forgiveness. It isn’t glib and shallow and off-the-cuff. It is sacred. It’s as sacred as Jesus himself. This deep forgiveness is so full, so free, so unqualified, so final, so satisfying, so freeing, it cannot be human. It is more than psychological relief within, though that’s included; this forgiveness is the decree of the King above. This is the forgiveness only God can give. Let’s receive it, right now, with the empty hands of faith. What else can we do?
and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything
Do you believe that Jesus is your only salvation from everything damning about your life? If so, you are what the Bible calls a believer. And here is what God wants every believer to know: “Everyone who believes is freed from everything.” Everyone who believes is freed from everything. What do you need to be freed from? What do you so wish you had never done? What do you wish you had done? What makes you say, “Oh, if only I could go back and relive that moment”? Listen to the proclamation of God: “By Jesus everyone who believes is freed from everything.” The greatest gift we can give to our city is to be a church where sinners are freed by God from everything. How sweet God is, to define our futures as freedom from everything that shames us and makes us sad.
from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses
The law cannot free us from condemnation. We all sense what we have coming to us. We feel it in our guilty anxieties and our shame. We all have at least a suspicion that we’re not acceptable, not as we are. But we might think the law of God is our second chance. We might think that doing the right thing from now on will free us from our past. But the truth is, the law can make us worse. After all, what is our deepest sin? It isn’t this behavior or that. Our deepest sin is that we put ourselves at the center, and we expect God and everyone else to orbit around us and adjust to us and please us. The law can’t save us from that. But obeying the law and doing the right thing, we tend to think we’re obligating God and others to comply with our selfish desires even more. The law, even the holy law of God, complicates us. It doesn’t set us free.
Everyone needs a new life that cannot be condemned. Everyone needs a non-accused and non-accusable life. Everyone needs space and safety and freedom. How do we get there? Paul tells us twice: “through this man” in verse 38 and “by him” in verse 39. Not by the law, but by Jesus. “Through this man” and “by him” we can come to God as we are, without cleaning up first, without figuring out first how to stop being selfish. We might think, “I need to live a better life first.” When we think that way, we’re not listening to the gospel. We might think, “I have to stop doing this or that first.” But the Bible says, our only part is to believe the proclamation of God about Jesus. I don’t know your background, but I do know what the Bible says. Every one of us is more evil inside than we’ve ever acted out. I’m not interested in what you’ve done or haven’t done. All God wants me to say to you tonight is this: “Let it be known that through Jesus forgiveness is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything.” If you believe in Jesus as your only salvation from what you’ve become and what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do, you are right with God. Now. At this moment. In your mess. God is satisfied. The law is fulfilled. The cross is bloody. The tomb is empty. A place is being prepared for you in the Father’s house. All your sins are erased completely from your record, as if you’d never sinned at all, and the perfect record of Jesus is yours now and forever as you stand before God.
From his cross our Savior was saying to us, “I am the punishment of your sin. I am the fulfillment of the law. I am God’s proclamation to you. Something greater than your sin has come – my mercy.” Will you believe it, and thank him for it?