It is clear that following the Ascension of Jesus the events surrounding Easter were central to the preaching of the Apostles, especially Saint Peter, who does most of the talking for the first half of the book of Acts. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the content of the Word that was proclaimed.
But how you receive this message depends upon which side of the one saving faith you are on. Following the events of Pentecost Peter preaches a powerful sermon that proves from the Old Testament that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah they have all been waiting for since the time of King David.
And guess what?! They killed Him! The nation of Israel had been looking for the coming of the Christ for hundreds of years. He came, and they crucified Him. “Oops” does not even begin to cover it. They murdered their Savior. What would they do now?
Peter’s sermon is a powerful call to repentance. Those who had gathered around became convicted that they had done wrong. They had committed a crime that was so evil, so heinous, that it was unforgivable by their standards. They crucified the Son of God. What hope did they have that God would care for them at all?
Let’s unpack this for a minute. It is bad enough that they killed their own king, their own savior. But they did worse. What is the absolute worst thing that you could do to another person? Think, the absolute worst.
If you ask me, it would be to murder my child. That is the worst that you could do to me. And that is exactly what Israel did to God. They murdered His only, innocent, Son.
And so did you. This call to repentance is not only for the people of Israel. It is not only to the Jews. It is for you. For me.
Why did Jesus suffer and die? For your sins. If you had never committed sin, then you would be free from this guilt. But you are not. You know it.
Our idolatry, spiritual laziness, disobedience, anger, lust, greed, and lies, those things that we do put Jesus Christ on the cross. The result of your sin, the result of my sin, is that God’s Son died. We killed Him. You and I are responsible. So what are we going to do now that He has risen?
The answer for Israel, the answer for you and me, is the same: Repent, be baptized into Jesus, receive the forgiveness of your sins, receive the Holy Spirit. This call to repentance quickly becomes a promise of forgiveness.
3000 people jumped at the chance. They had murdered God’s Son and God was set and ready to forgive them. These men and women and children, condemned and guilty, had their sins washed away in the waters of baptism. They received forgiveness for the evils they had committed. They received the Holy Spirit.
Most of you have been baptized already. Whether you have or not it is a good time to remember that in this water you are brought to Jesus and He cleanses you from all guilt. The condemned sinner dies and a new person rises free from the punishment we deserve.
Baptism is, for many, their first encounter with forgiveness, their first experience of the Holy Spirit, but it need not be the last. Forgiveness is not something we receive once and never need again. It has become our way of life.
I want to say that again: Forgiveness has become our way of life. It is what we constantly receive from God and it is what we constantly give to others.
Think about it: you murdered God’s Son.
AND HE FORGIVES YOU!
What else will God refuse to forgive? The answer is “nothing”. Idolatry, spiritual laziness, disobedience, anger, lust, greed, and lies are nothing compared to that one most heinous murder. And so baptism is not just God’s one-time forgiveness. It is His promise of daily forgiveness for every single sin, no matter how huge it may seem.
When we confess our sins God is faithful and just. He forgives us for the sake of Jesus who died for us. Those who are forgiven of their sins receive the Holy Spirit. They receive the promise of life everlasting.
And those who are not forgiven, those who refuse the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, are not forgiven. They do not have the Spirit. They do not have life, but death forever.
This is why forgiveness is the first task of the Christian congregation. Look at what we have received. Our entire worship service is saturated with forgiveness. Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, these are the means of grace, the way that God pours out His forgiveness upon us. God wants all people to receive this same gift. And that is what we want as well.
The pastor is called, first and foremost, to be “the absolution man”. He calls us to repent because of our sin. He promises us the forgiveness of God Himself. If your pastor is not doing this he cannot in good conscience call himself a Christian pastor.
The forgiveness of sins remains front and center for the congregation, and for its individual members. Because you have been forgiven, because you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you too can forgive the sins of others.
Freely you have received the gift of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit empowers you to forgive others freely too. People will sin against you. They will harm you, steal from you, tell lies about you. God has erased your sin that you may erase theirs.
You do not need to hold their sin against them. You can give to them exactly what you have received from God: the chance to repent and the promise of forgiveness.
In marriage, in family, at work, or at play the world needs forgiveness. And the Christian Church is the only entity empowered by the Holy Spirit to give it.