This week, listen into one of Pastor J.D.’s recent sermons where he explained a question based on John 20:23: “Did Jesus give Peter the ability to forgive sins?”
- John 20:23 sounds startling at first: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” This can be a difficult verse because it almost makes it sound like Jesus is giving us the authority to forgive sins. But that can’t be true. I’ve said before that you always interpret hard verses in the Bible by easy ones? Well, multiple verses in the Bible say that only God can forgive sins.
- Think about it this way: If anybody in history would ever have had the authority to forgive sins, it would have been Peter (who Jesus said this to). He was standing in that original group that heard these words and he was recognized as one of the main leaders of the church. And some today do indeed claim that Peter and his successors have the authority to forgive sins. But not one time in the Bible do you ever find Peter taking upon himself the authority to grant forgiveness. Not once. In fact, in Acts 10, when Peter preaches the gospel to a group of Gentiles, he says to them–notice this– Acts 10:43, “To him (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter didn’t say, “I forgive your sins,” he said, “The Bible says if you believe in Jesus you will receive forgiveness of sins and I’m just here to tell you about it.”
- So, if this phrase doesn’t mean that we have the authority to forgive sins, what does it mean? Well… this is a little nerdy, so hang with me for a minute: (v. 23) the expression “if you forgive someone’s sins, they are forgiven” is in the perfect-tense verbs in Greek, which means you could translate that phrase as: “they have already been forgiven.” You could really read that statement as, “If you forgive any one’s sins they have (already) been forgiven.” In other words, Jesus was saying that Peter and the Apostles were given the ability to recognize when God had saved someone, and the authority to validate their acceptance of it, assuring those new Gentile believers, when they believed, that they were indeed fully included in the family of God. The Apostles could recognize when someone’s sins were forgiven, and make it official.
- Even more importantly, it was through the apostles’ preaching that others heard the message and believed. God will forgive the sins of anyone who believes, but, it’s like Paul said, “How can they believe on him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear unless we preach to them?” We hold in our hands the power to share the only message by which people can be forgiven.
- Jesus died to forgive the sins of everybody, but that death doesn’t do any good unless they hear about it. It’s like Martin Luther said, “It wouldn’t matter if Jesus died 1000x if nobody ever heard about it!” Or the theologian Carl F. H. Henry: “The gospel means ‘good news,’ but it is only good news for somebody if it gets to them in time.” Jesus purchase of their forgiveness doesn’t do them good if they never hear about it, and we are the only ones they can hear about it from.
- So, SENT people recognize God’s role and their role in the Great Commission.
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