Acts 8:22 “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”
Ferguson, MO has about 22,000 people living there. It’s a small suburban Midwest town, about a 1/15th the size of St. Louis. But everyone in the nation is waiting to hear the verdict of a grand jury on the fate of Police Officer Wilson. The cry on the streets of Ferguson (at least, the cry that is getting the media’s attention), is ‘Justice for Michael Brown’. The tragic death of a teenager at the hands of a police officer has polarized an entire nation.
The media has and continues to stoke the flames. We are trying and convicting Officer Wilson on national television. There will most certainly be violence in the streets across this country if the grand jury comes back with a verdict of not guilty. Why? Because we are obsessed with justice. We want people who have committed wrongs to answer and pay for their sins.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if the God of the Bible was a one-sided God, focused only on giving people what they deserved? What if justice was God’s obsession for mankind? What if He cared only about handing out punishments for the crimes we’ve committed?
He isn’t. The God of the Bible is obsessed with two things: righteousness and mercy. He has set the objective standard for right and wrong. And He has defined the just punishment for violating the standard. But He then provides the free solution Himself for the punishment we all deserve. It is so simple even little children understand it. It is forgiveness for your crimes, and it is found at the cross of Jesus Christ.
There is a quote I keep burned in my mind that brings this all to focus for me: “Young people want justice. Old people want mercy”. It’s funny how we easily understand this when we are little children. But in our adolescent years we forget about forgiving others and instead focus on what’s fair or just. We age and get old and we long for mercy from others. Why? Because we know who we are inside. We need forgiveness for the years of bad things that we have done. We know this.
The Bible explains four different ways that our God forgives people. Over the next four weeks we will look at each one, so we can understand better what makes Him so attractive to those of us who know ourselves and hope to be forgiven for our sins.
The first of these four words for ‘forgive’ is ‘aphiemi’. It means “to send away” as in canceling or removing. It is used mainly in the context of forgiving someone’s debts and sins that they owe. This type of forgiveness has two elements to it. The first involves the person’s release from, and complete cancellation of, the punishment they are rightly due because of the sin they have committed. The second element follows the first, where the cause of the offense is removed. The sin itself is actually never to be brought up again.
This is the word used in our verse this week. God doesn’t just cancel the punishment you deserve. He never brings it up again. Ever. Because the cause for the punishment of the sin is removed forever.
This is what Jesus Christ said in Matthew 9:2-8 in the famous story of the paralytic who was lowered by his friends through the roof of Peter’s house: “And behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven (‘aphiemi’) you.’ And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This Man blasphemes!’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ û then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.”
As we await the verdict in Ferguson, may the Lord God penetrate the hearts of people across the country to not only desire justice, but mercy and forgiveness that we all desire in our hearts.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.