October 21, 2011

The Path of Forgiveness (Part 2)

Part 2   Forgiveness Received

Reading the book of Acts I was struck by these words of Paul:
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.”  Acts 20:26

Paul was a man who knew the power of forgiveness and it is in his grasping of this spiritual truth that he saw himself as “innocent”.  Because Paul, technically, may have not been a murderer but he was guilty, by enforcing, of mass murder.

He was bent on not only wiping Christianity from the face of the earth but to try and force believers to blaspheme the name of Christ.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”   Acts 9:1-3

In his own words Paul states,

"I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priest I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them."  Acts 26:9-11

He was more than a mere observer at the stoning of Stephen:

“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him. Acts 22:19-23

Yet in spite of this he can state that he is “innocent” all because of a supernatural encounter with the Risen Christ:

“We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'  Acts 26:15

A life changed forever as he was cleansed from his sins and the burden of “self guilt” was taken away (that on-going inner voice that attempts to condemn).

Paul knew he was guilty.

The world declared him guilty.

The Christians of “The Way” knew he was guilty.

There must have been many times when Paul came face to face with the son, the wife, the father, the friend of someone he had killed.

 “Mercy asks that justice be set aside.”Charles G. Finney

Paul understood “mercy”.  Mercy does not give us what we deserve.

Paul saw himself as the worst of sinners because of the stain of murder but also the active role he took to rid the world of Christians and to blaspheme the name of Christ. (Jesus Himself makes this clear in the words from Acts 26:15:  'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' )

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life." (1Timothy 1:15-16).

Yet in the receiving of forgiveness Paul grasped the full understanding that his sins were washed completely away.

Maybe this is why Paul gladly embraced the persecution that came his way with such joy BECAUSE he understood the mercy that was extended to him.  His acceptance of being “the worst of sinners” was not mere rhetoric, Paul knew the truth of those words and so did Christ.

There is no-one too wicked for God to save for if He can save the worst of sinners, He can save you and I.  He can wash away the self-guilt that torments because of past sins; replacing it with joy as He covers with His mercy.

We have received this mercy from God and He asks that we show mercy to others.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3).
 “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Pet. 2:10;  Rom. 15:7; Titus. 3:5).

Further Reading on Forgiveness
The Path Of Forgiveness (Part 1)
Words Fail

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