Thursday, March 31, 2016

Forgiven Witnesses

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.  It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things.   Luke 24:44-48(NLT)

When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, it took a while for some of them to fully grasp that he wasn’t dead.  I can easily imagine the dropped jaws and that doe-in-the-headlights-look on their faces. 

As the two Emmaus travelers were rehearsing their encounter with Jesus he was suddenly just there!  They thought he was a ghost.  Jesus encouraged them to feel with their own hands the places where nails and a spear had pierced him.  And when they’d been assured they weren’t dealing with a ghostly spectre, but the risen Christ, Jesus then began to help them understand the meaning of everything they’d been through since the day they met him.

In teaching them, it all came down to:

‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things.
Luke 24:47b-48(NLT)

Peter would later preach that exact message:

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.   Acts 3:19(NLT)

That message hasn’t changed; even today, when sinners repent they are forgiven and become witnesses of the Lord’s love, forgiveness and power.

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the disciples, the message hasn’t changed, but it has been blurred at times.  Too often, perhaps in our haste to be released from the penalty of our sins, we slide into accepting forgiveness without genuine repentance.  The evidence of this is the “backslider” – those who have expressed an interest in God, claimed forgiveness, and then live like nothing is changed. 

It makes me wonder if, in our modern era, we did well in doing away with the mourner’s bench.  The “bench,” although a 19th century addition to church life, is actually a throwback to John the Baptist warning those who came to him for forgiveness, to not put the cart of being forgiven ahead of the horse of repentance.  

Repentance always comes first. 

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 
Matthew 3:8(NLT)

The bench was a place for seekers to work through their intentions in coming to Christ.  Herschel Hobbs, the great Baptist preacher and speaker on the Baptist Hour for many years was fond of saying:  there’s never been a sin too big for God to forgive, except the unconfessed one.[2]

Now, honestly, I don’t advocate bringing back the mourners bench, because there were abuses by those in power in the church.  Some ministers and church officials used the bench as a shaming tool towards those whom they wanted to control. 

However, we ought not take sin too lightly – and its inherent result which is insulting God’s holiness.  The darkness of our sins should create at least something of a mourner’s caution, if not a public bench; there ought to be solemnity about repentance, which is befitting of that which causes death.  That backdrop of sackcloth and ashes in the one who repents highlights that much more joy when forgiveness births a sinner from death unto life! 

It makes the witness of the resurrection that much more powerful!

For You Today

Did the presence of the living Lord make your jaw drop when you realized your sins could be forgiven?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] He said four or five times to an early morning study group at First Baptist Church, Crystal River in 1979

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