daily biblical sermons


HE IS OUR LEADER AND SAVIOR TO GIVE REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, Second Week of Easter, April 27, 2017
Acts 5:27-33, Psalm 33, John 3:31-36


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:30-32).


Peter and John are on trial again before the Sanhedrin, this time for disobeying the council's order not to preach again in the name of Jesus. But St. Peter knows that he must preach salvation in Jesus Christ, so he answers the Council, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).


He then begins to proclaim the basic gospel message right there before the Sanhedrin, saying that Jesus died and rose so that our sins might be forgiven and so that we who believe in him might receive the Holy Spirit. He said, "The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:30-32).


Here we are again before the great Gospel mystery that amazes people even today, and that even today is not well understood by many Christians. How is it, many ask, that the death of Jesus brings me forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit? Many modern Christians find this difficult to understand. But the answer is clear to all who open their minds with faith.


Christ bore our sins. "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). He was made to be our sacrificial sin offering, and the Lord himself put him to grief for our sins. "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring" (Isaiah 53:10).


As a sacrificed animal was killed and died vicariously for the sinner's sin, instead of the sinner dying for his own sin, so Christ "was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).


By being crucified Christ was cursed by God in our place to shield us from God's curse for our sins. "If a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God" (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).


This is the curse that Jesus underwent by being hanged on a tree in crucifixion. He did not deserve to be cursed by God. We deserved to be cursed by God for our sins. So he took our place, substituted for us, became our proxy, and took the rap for us, took the curse of God for our sins on the cross instead of us dying for them so that we could go free, because our sins were justly punished in him.


We are indeed under God's curse without Christ as far as God's law goes, since we have all sinned against God's law. None of us has perfectly kept it all of our life. Indeed "all who rely on works of law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them'" (Galatians 3:10).


Clearly no one can be justified by the law and by his good works in accord with the law. That is completely impossible. Justification only comes by faith, not works. "That no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11 NKJV).


So before we had faith and while we were still trying to justify ourselves by works, by keeping God's moral law, we were cursed by both the law and by God as sinners destined for eternal punishment in hell. That is the bad news.


But now here is the good news: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13).


Christ ransomed or redeemed us from this curse unto eternal death by taking this curse of the law and the curse of God for our sins upon himself and suffering it for us as our proxy, our substitute, to let us go free if we repent and put our faith in him. So that is the basic gospel message of salvation that St. Peter proclaims today before the Sanhedrin.


St. Peter announces Jesus' death and resurrection, whereby he is now exalted at God's right hand as our Leader and Savior, "to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). It is precisely because Jesus has died and risen that he can give us forgiveness of sins, when we truly repent and renounce our sins and our sinful way of life. That is, we must acknowledge him as our Leader whom we will now follow by keeping his moral law, as well as our Savior, the merits of whose death atone for our sins, because he suffers their just punishment for us.


"Leader" corresponds to our repentance, for we now promise to follow this new Leader; and "Savior" corresponds to his substitutionary satisfaction for our sins, whereby he suffers and dies vicariously for them to make just reparation for them. So Jesus is our Leader and Savior, or our Lord and Savior for our repentance and forgiveness.


Jesus' death is clearly connected with the forgiveness of our sins. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus' blood "is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). What is the connection between Jesus' blood shed on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins? Jesus' blood enables our sins to be forgiven. How does it do that? Jesus is the priceless "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).


As a sacrificed lamb dies in vicarious punishment for our sins, the victim being the sinner's proxy and suffering the sinner's punishment for him, so does Christ do for us in his death on the cross. He is our proxy who suffers our punishment for our sins for us on the cross. He is the Suffering Servant upon whom our sins are placed by God. He was then "wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).


Our sins are thus fully punished in him, because "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).


Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy about the Suffering Servant. He, both human and divine, is our victim of sacrifice whose death atones for our sins, when we repent of them and put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior, as our Leader and Savior.


Now the job of the apostles is to call people to repentance and to proclaim Jesus' death and resurrection as God's means of granting us forgiveness of sins if we have faith in him.


It is clear that this is how God wants everyone everywhere to come to salvation. That is why Jesus sent his apostles to the ends of the earth to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them (Matthew 28:19). This is why the Church has a mission to proclaim Christ everywhere. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).


This is the Church's basic message to this day. This is the gospel message she preaches. In Cornelius's house St. Peter proclaims Jesus' death and resurrection and then says, "To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). "Through his name" means through his power. It is through the merits of Jesus' atoning death that sins are forgiven.


St. Paul would say basically the same thing in Antioch in Pisidia, "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39 NKJV).


We could not be justified, that is, declared righteous by following the law, but in Christ everyone who believes is declared righteous through his faith, because of the atoning work Christ did for us on the cross. He is the one who sets us right with God through our faith in him, when we genuinely repent and accept him as our Leader or Lord, whom we will follow, as well as our Savior.

 

 

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