The Forgiveness of Sins
February 19th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-19-78 8:15 a.m.
This is the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Forgiveness of Sins. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 13. And now the chapter concludes with the message that the apostle Paul delivered to the people who lived in Pisidian Antioch. Beginning at verse 13, it says:
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos—
the capital of Cyprus—
they came to Perga in Pamphylia…
But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down.
And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God…
Those were the devout Greeks, people who were—you’d call them proselytes. They had left their idolatry and had embraced the law of Moses.
Then follows the message that he preached through verse 41 [Acts 13:16-41], and the climax:
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren—
this is verse 38—
that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
And by Him all that believe are justified…which could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Beware therefore, how you hear.
This message, that I haven’t had opportunity to read because it is too long, this message of Paul at Pisidia in Antioch, when I read it, it sounds strangely familiar. I have seemingly heard it before. It is a message built like this. It recounts the dealings of God with Israel up to the coming of Christ, in whom are fulfilled all of the promises of the Lord in the Old Covenant. And as I read that sermon, it has a familiar ring to it. I seemingly have heard it before.
Then as I think of its message, its construction, and how it proceeds and finally ends, ah! I know where I heard that before. That is the message of God’s first martyr, Stephen. This is the sermon that Stephen preached in the Cilician synagogue and before the Sanhedrin of the Jewish nation. It follows the same pattern and the same course. It is the same message. You see that young rabbi, Saul from Cilicia, from Tarsus, listened well, beyond what he thought for, as he listened to Stephen deliver his message in the Cilician synagogue and before the Sanhedrin [Acts 6:8-7:53]. I come to know what the Lord meant when He said to Saul on his way to Damascus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:3-5]. That violent response of Saul in persecuting the church [Acts 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:9] and in guarding the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death [Acts 7:58], the message that Stephen delivered [Acts 6:8-7:53] lodged in his heart, and his violent reaction to it could not drown its message or its truth. And now this persecuting Saul has picked up the torch, picked up the same message, picked up the same sermon and is delivering it here to the Gentile world, here in Pisidian, Antioch [Acts 13:16-41].
The heart of the message is this: “Men and brethren, and you that fear God, to you is the word of this salvation sent” [Acts13:26]. That’s the text. That’s the heart. “To you is the word of salvation sent” [Acts 13:26]. We’re going to look at that for just a moment. Word, logos—I’m familiar with that. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God [John 1:1]…The Word of the Lord, to you is this Word,” applied to God, applied to the Holy Scriptures, applied to the revelation of God’s grace in the blessed Jesus, “To you is this logos of salvation, soteria” [Acts 13:26]. What does soteria refer to? Soter is the word for “savior”; and the word is applied to God, and the word is applied to the Lord Jesus. He is our sōtēr; He is our Savior [Titus 2:13]. And soteria is what He saves us from; our salvation is from eternal death [John 3:16]. “The word of this salvation sent, apostele,” passive voice of apostellō, “to send a messenger”; apostolos, someone who is sent, “an apostle.” God hath sent this marvelous, incomparable Word of deliverance and salvation to you [Acts 13:26]. What a marvelous gospel and an incomparably precious announcement!
What is this gospel of salvation that God has sent to us? Paul describes it here in the message that he delivers. First, in verse 23: “God hath sent us a Savior [Acts 13:23]. His name is the Lord Jesus.” Verse 33: “God hath affirmed and confirmed that He is our Savior in that He raised Him up from among the dead” [Acts 13:33]. That is exactly what Paul writes in Romans 1:4: “This Lord Jesus is horizō,” pointed out, designated out; “He is the Son of God, pointed out by His resurrection from among the dead.” And then the glorious announcement of the good news: “Be it known unto you…that in this Man is preached the forgiveness of sins and our justification before God” [Acts 13:38-39]. That is the glorious good news of the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.
Now to whom is this message sent? It is sent to the whole world. Verse 47 declares, “For so hath the Lord commanded us saying,” and then he quotes Isaiah 49:6: “I have set Thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that Thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” [Acts 13:47]. The message of salvation is for all men everywhere. The Gospels concluded, each one, in what we call the Great Commission” [Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-23]. You know, I can imagine Simon Peter—can’t you?—coming up to the Lord, when the Lord had delivered the words of the Great Commission, that this message of salvation and forgiveness and justification is to be delivered to all men everywhere, I can imagine Simon Peter saying, “Lord Jesus, You mean we are to declare this message of forgiveness even to the men who slew You, who crucified You, who nailed You to the cross?” [Mark 15:25-37]. And the Lord says, “Yes.”
“Lord, You mean that men that plaited that crown of thorns and pressed it upon Your brow [Matthew 27:29], the message of forgiveness and salvation is to be delivered to him?”
“Lord, those men that drove those nails through Your hands and feet [Luke 23:33], the message of forgiveness and salvation is to be delivered to them?”
“Lord, that Roman soldier that thrust that iron spear into Your heart [John 19:34], You mean the word of salvation and forgiveness is to be delivered to him?”
“Yes, to all men everywhere.” There are none omitted, none excluded. Every tribe, and nation, and language, and tongue, and family, under the sun, all are included in the great message of forgiveness, and grace, and love of God in Christ Jesus [1 John 2:2].
Now how is this message of salvation to be sent? That is the way the story begins, in the thirteenth chapter of this Book of Acts: “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And the Lord sent them out” [Acts 13:2-3]. So the message, the preached message of the grace of God, is delivered by the apostles. And it is delivered by the missionaries. And it is delivered by the evangelists and by the preachers. And they crossed the seas, and crossed the continents, and came to our own world, and our own nation, and finally to my father and mother, and finally to me. And here I am delivering the message of God to you.
We are not here adventitiously. We are not here by accident. We are here by the gathering of the Holy Spirit of God. It is the Lord God that brought you together at this hour, and it is the Lord God that has ordained me to preach the gospel in this sacred place. That’s why the apostle concludes, “Be careful how you hear. Beware, beware: for I work a work in your days, that you could hardly believe it, though a man declare it unto you” [Acts 13:40-41]. As the author of Hebrews describes in Hebrews 2:3: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” The weight, and the burden, and the responsibility of preaching and listening to the gospel of Christ is as though heaven and earth depended upon our doing it and our answering it.
We come now to the climax of the sermon:
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that
through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:
And by Him all that believe are justified . . .
That is the great, final conclusion of this sermon Paul delivers to the people in Pisidian, Antioch. So the message has to do with the forgiveness of sins and our justification before God; that is, the message concerns a universal experience, the experience of sin, and wrong, and guilt, which is the experience of every human heart [Romans 3:23]. Job cried in chapter 7, verse 20, “I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. We do wrong against others. We sin against others.
I remember one time—and I love to listen to those unlearned mountain preachers in Eastern Kentucky; couldn’t read, couldn’t write. Somebody read the Bible to them; but the way they preached the gospel would move my soul. This is one of the things I heard one of those mountain preachers say. He was talking about this very thing, the wrong that we do others. He said,
There was a mountaineer, and he had an obsession with money. So he raised feed, grain for the hogs, to sell the hogs, to make more money, to buy more land, to raise more grain, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land, to raise more corn, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land, to raise more grain, to feed more hogs, to make more money.
His wife, who toiled by his side, came to her husband and asked for a new dress. And he refused for he had to buy more land, to raise more grain, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land. And his wife would ask him for a new hat. But he had to make more money, to buy more land. And whatever his dear wife asked for he refused because he had to have more money, to buy more land, to raise more grain, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land.
And after the years of toil, she died. And that mountain preacher said, “The sorrow of the death of that wife broke his heart and broke his mind. And upon a day, his people who knew him found him at the graveyard with bolts of silk and satin, wrapping them around, and around, and around her tombstone.”
The wrong we do others. The wrong we do God. Crime is a wrong against a person. Vice is a wrong against society. But sin is a wrong against God. David cried in the fifty-first Psalm, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight” [Psalm 51:4]. Sin is against God. Our helplessness before it, both in commission and in remission: “I have sinned. What shall I do? How can I keep from sinning?” When Solomon prayed his prayer of dedication for the beautiful Solomonic temple [1 Kings 8:22-53], he spoke of it being a place where the people could pray and where God could hear and forgive [1 Kings 8:55-61], because Solomon said, “There is no man that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46]. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “For when I would do good, evil is present with me” [Romans 7:21]. The experience of sin is universal. And if I say, “I will be perfect; I will not sin,” I am not perfect, and I cannot be. Nor am I able to remiss my sins. “What do I do having sinned?”
Last night, and for the first time in many years, I reread Shakespeare’s Macbeth. One of the most poignant scenes you could ever imagine in human literature is in that tragedy. The thane, Macbeth has as his guest, Duncan, king of Scots. And through a fiendish hope for the securing of the crown for himself, he takes a dagger, and he plunges it into the heart of his guest, the king. But the blood flowed out like a fountain and covered his hands. And when he comes back into the chamber, Lady Macbeth looks at his hands and says, “You must wash away this filthy evidence of the deed you’ve done.” Then she says, “Go, a little water will rid us of this crime.” And Macbeth walks over to the fountain to wash the blood from his hands. And as he walks, this is what he says: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, rather, this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” All of the waters in all of the oceans of all the world do not suffice to wash the stain of sin out of our souls. We are helpless before that remission.
That is the gospel of the good news of the grace of the Son of God. God has made provision for our cleansing and for our forgiveness. He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]; it was in the mind, and the purpose, and the heart of God from the beginning that we should have in Him. That is the message of the apostle Paul. That is the message of Stephen. That is the message of the good news: that through all of God’s providences, Jesus came into the world to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14], and to be raised from the dead to declare our justification [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25, 5:10].
Every sacrifice of the Old Testament pointed to Him. Every lamb that was slain pointed to Him. And the great Day of Atonement was the day that prefigured Him [Leviticus 16:1-16]. And the Lord has a marvelous message in that good news; namely, that to anyone, anywhere, anytime—to anyone who will accept that atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ—God will do for them two things: one is positional, and the other is experiential.
This is what God does positionally; that is, it is something God does for us. Positionally, He will justify that man, who will accept the atoning death of Christ, trusting Him, believing in Him, accepting Him—God will justify him. That is what he says here: “That by Him, we can be justified in all things” [Acts 13:39]. That’s a marvelous thing. There’s a Greek word, dikaios, which means, “just,” “righteous.” And the verbal form is dikaiō, “to make righteous, to make innocent, to declare to be pure, to cleanse, and to free from all guilt and accusation.” And that is what God does for us, a positional thing. Not that we are righteous; not that we are perfect; not that we are sinless; but God declares us so. God justifies us; that is, He declares that we are pure and innocent, righteous [Acts 13:39].
You know, the Scriptures search out the most amazing images to declare what God does for us, when we accept Jesus as our Savior. For example, in the one hundred third Psalm, the Lord says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” [Psalm 103:12]. How far is that? As far as the east goes east, that way; and as far as the west goes west, that way—just so far, does God take our transgressions from us.
Look again in the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. He says, “He casts our sins back of Him” [Isaiah 38:17]. He puts them to His back. They’re never seen. They’re never recalled. They are forgotten. Our sins are at the back of the Lord. In the forty-fourth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, God says, “I have blotted out your sins like a black cloud, like a thick cloud” [Isaiah 44:22].
In Micah, the seventh chapter, the Lord God says, “I take your sins, and I bury them in the depths of the sea” [Micah 7:19]. That’s what God does. It is a positional thing. God declares us righteous [Romans 5:1]. God justifies us [Romans 5:9]. It is as though we had never sinned. God looks upon us as He looks upon His own Son. The righteousness of Jesus is given to us [1 Corinthians 1:30]. And we stand in His presence sinless and pure [Jude 1:24]. That is the first thing God does for us who accept Jesus as Savior. For His sake, God justifies us, declares us righteous [2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 4:32].
And the second thing is experiential. God gives to us forgiveness of sins. And that is experiential. Look, every one of you, if you were to be given opportunity to stand up and to say how you were saved, every one of you would have a little different kind of a story describing that moment, and that place, and that point, where your life crossed that of the Lord Jesus. All of you would have just a little different kind of a meeting, a little different kind of a confrontation. But I’ll tell you one thing we would all have in common, all of us, and that is, that in Him we had an incomparable assurance, and feeling, and rejoicing, that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven our sins [Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 2:12]. And because of that experiential part of our salvation, God puts a song in our hearts. And He puts praise and gladness in our souls. For example, in verse 48, here it says, “And the people were glad, and glorified the word” [Acts 13:48]. And the whole chapter ends, “And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 13:52].
That’s why Christians sing. It is an experiential response to what God has done for us. And did you know that out of all of the religions of the world, the only religion that exaltedly sings is the Christian church, the people who have found salvation in Jesus Christ? Could you imagine Handel’s Messiah and the beautiful “Hallelujah Chorus” being sung in a Moslem mosque? They don’t sing in them. In a Buddhist pagoda? They don’t sing in them. In a Shintoist shrine? They don’t sing in them. In a Hindu temple? They don’t sing in them. But wherever in the earth you would find God’s people gathered together in the name of the Lord, there will you find those people singing. It is a marvelous outpouring of our hearts and our spirits in gratitude and thanksgiving to God for having us in His grace, forgiven and justified [Ephesians 2:8].
In my reading this last week, I was reading about an international throng, a great assembly of God’s saints. And they wanted to do something that all of them could share in. So they said, “Let’s sing a song, each one singing in his own language. But let’s sing a song.” So they chose a song; and they were unanimous in the song they chose. It was this:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be for sin a double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[“Rock of Ages,” Augustus M. Toplady]
—a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for the cleansing of our souls.
Long time before I ever baptized in a baptistery on the inside of a building, I baptized in creeks, and in rivers, and in stock ponds. Never a time did I ever baptize out in those country places, but as I led the candidates down into the water, God’s redeemed saints would stand on the shore. And they always sang this song:
Happy day! Happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day! Happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice,” Philip Doddridge]
That is the Christian faith. It’s a faith of singing, and rejoicing, and gladness; for Jesus has washed our sins away [Revelation 1:5].
And that is the gospel we bring to you this Lord’s Day and this holy hour. To receive it, “Lord, I accept from Thy gracious hands, eternal life—salvation from eternal death [John 10:26-30]. I accept it, Lord. I trust Thee, give Thee my heart and life; and I am coming this morning in an open avowal” [Romans 10:9-13]. In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, would you make that decision now? “Here I am. And here I come.” A family to respond, a couple to respond, or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles; “Here I am, pastor. I’m on the way.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand, and while we sing.