“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21, NKJV)
Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18 helps us to understand forgiveness. His descriptions of debt give us an idea of the demands placed upon us and the leverage someone can have over us. The Bible, as a document of redemption, is filled with examples of the debt accrual of disobedience met with grace, mercy, and justice by a God who is both just and justifier of the ungodly.
Metaphors and terminology help us to get a handle on the meaning of forgiveness. Yet in one sense we can appreciate forgiveness in a fuller way by tracing out the life of Jesus Christ as God’s remedy for sin. Beginning with the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15, the Old Testament gives us previews, prototypes, and prophecies of this Redeemer, teaching us more about Him and His mission. We learn how God will combat sin and bring about forgiveness to reconcile a people to Himself.
The life of Christ can be understood in reference to sin. His advent anticipates a sin-bearer. He is born without sin. In the course of His life He never sins, not once, not in thought, word, or deed; neither in commission nor in omission. He arrives at the cross of Calvary without any sin of His own, a lamb without blemish, able to bear the sins of those He came to save. Though innocent before the judgment seat of the Roman governor and also before the judgment seat of the holy God, He dies the death of a lawbreaker. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
His resurrection from the dead would be God’s verdict of vindication. Guilty, vile and helpless we; spotless lamb of God was He. Ascended on high to reign, He forever lives to intercede for sinners saved by grace. One day He will return to free His own from sin’s presence as He has from its guilt and power.
To look at Christ is to see that forgiveness is no light matter. It is to understand the power of grace and the price of love. And all this not for the loveable, not for the deserving, not for friends, but for rebels, enemies of God! As we study the glory of God in the face of Christ we learn more about the wonder of forgiveness.
Next week, we will continue to explore the meaning of forgiveness through the vocabulary and images God gives us.
- How can we understand forgiveness most vividly in the life of Christ?
- What does the life of Jesus teach us about the concept, cost, and currency of forgiveness?
Father, I thank You that You demonstrated Your own love in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us so that having been justified through His blood, we would be spared Your wrath due us as sinners. In Christ I am cleansed by His blood, clothed in His righteousness, claimed as Your child.
For more on forgiveness as a basic doctrine of the Christian faith, see The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. For more on the perspective and practice of forgiveness see Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.