Experiencing God’s Love and Forgiveness
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2001|
|We have accurate historical information that Jesus lived and died, and compelling evidence that he rose from the dead. But what difference does that make to you? Can we earn God’s forgiveness? Why do we need to be forgiven?|
How to Experience God’s Forgiveness
Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?
We start with: who is this Jesus Christ that people keep talking about? Who is He? I’m going to give you a little historical evidence in a moment, but let me give you the conclusion of that evidence to start off with. This is where I think the evidence will lead you. If I said, “Hey, guys, Jesus Christ is backstage, and in a moment, He’s coming out here. And I’m going to ask you to give Him a hand, but watch out! He’s a very powerful person.”
So you give Him a big hand. He walks out here and He looks at you. And He snaps His fingers – the stadium disappears. He snaps His fingers again; the earth disappears. He snaps His fingers again; the sun goes black, the stars quit shining, and you and He are standing in outer space together. And He smiles and He says, “Don’t worry.” And He brings it all back together again, [snap] just that fast.
That’s who I think Jesus Christ is. You say, “Well, that’s not the Jesus that I know.” That’s the problem. There are so many Jesuses running around today that it’s hard to find the real one. How do you find the real one?
Interesting, Christianity is based on a person who actually lived in real history on this planet. His name was Jesus Christ. If He didn’t do the things that are said about Him, if He didn’t say the things that people said that He said, you can chuck Christianity.
Now, let me give you an illustration of what I’m talking about, why this is so valuable. How many of you believe that Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States at one time? Put your hand up. Great, now put them down. How many of you met Lincoln yourself? Well, if you didn’t meet him yourself, how in the world did you know that he was the President of the United States? Well, one day you were awake in history class and you can remember your teacher was talking a little bit about some guys that heard Lincoln, saw him. This came down to us as historical evidence and we know that Abraham Lincoln lived.
And going on back in history, there are other people, like Napoleon, remember old Napoleon? Charlemagne? Julius Caesar? You never met any of those! And yet we believe they lived. And right about the time of Julius Caesar there’s another person called Jesus Christ. If you go to your Encyclopedia Britannica, you’ll find 20,000 words listed to the person of Jesus Christ without a hint that He didn’t exist. Why? Because those guys at the University of Chicago are such warm-hearted evangelicals? I don’t think so! The reason is because there’s historical evidence that has come down.
But the thing is this: what is the evidence that we have about Jesus? In terms of Lincoln, we have eyewitnesses and people that were friends and enemies that wrote up things about him. When it comes to the New Testament, and when it comes to Jesus Christ, there are at least seven writers who either claim to be eyewitnesses or have contact with the eyewitnesses. Who were they? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Peter. Now these folks said that they had contact or they were actually eyewitnesses. As soon as you say those names people say, “But hey, those guys were the disciples, those were the apostles; they padded the case.” That’s a possibility, but we can check it out.
There’s a couple things that I want you to see. First of all, they claimed to be eyewitnesses. You’ve got to take this into consideration. What the critics are saying today is this is how Christianity came about; it’s like a game at a party. Have you ever whispered a sentence into the ear of somebody and then have them whisper it to the person next to them and it went all the way around the room? Well, let’s say that I came over here and I started with the first guy down here and I said, “Pass this sentence all the way around the room.” So it goes all the way around the room and then I have this guy over here stand up and say it. What happens to it? What I said over here is completely changed over here, right?
So here’s what the critics are saying: there’s the historical Jesus, this guy that did stuff over here, and then you have the Jesus of faith that is the accumulation of the oral tradition that came down through the years, and this is completely separate from this and we can’t figure this one out at all. Well, I agree that if that’s how it came down we’re in big trouble. Big trouble.
Let’s change that scenario a little bit. What if I go over here and I say a sentence to the guy and I say, “Stand up and tell all of us what that sentence is.” We’ve got a pretty good shot at getting it one hundred percent correct. It’s the same kind of deal when you go into a law court. How many witnesses do you need to testify, “I saw that man pick up the gun and shoot the other person”? If you have one good eyewitness, it’s a short case. If you’ve got two, you’ll be there a couple of hours, maybe three; you go home by lunch.
What did the New Testament writers claim? They might be lying through their teeth but I’d like you to see what they claimed. Let me give you a couple of ideas. In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter said, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses.”
In 1 John, the apostle John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at [or carefully examined] and our hands have touched.” Why did they say, “touched?” Because there was this little Gnostic cult going around saying that Jesus was a ghost. You don’t touch ghosts; John said, “We touched him. This is what we proclaim to you.” [1 John 1:1]
Luke, in his introduction says this, “Many,” in other words, before he got on the scene many other people had “undertaken to draw up an account.” It wasn’t passed on orally. They wrote down an account. About what? “…of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” [Luke 1:1] When you look at Acts 1, you find that’s about Jesus’ life. He goes on in Luke 1:2, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses…. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything.” Listen to the words that he uses! “Therefore, since I have carefully investigated everything.” [Luke 1:3]
These are the words of a kid that’s doing a term paper. You get all of your sources out on the table and you look at all of them and you compare them and then you write the conclusions. He said, “Look, a lot of other people, they had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life. They wrote reports just like the apostles had written reports. And the fact is, I had them all there.” He didn’t just accept them, he checked them out.
How did he check them out? Well, he was the traveling companion of the apostle Paul and he could meet with Peter and say, “Hey, Peter, now look, I’ve got all these accounts that say Jesus was over here and He was doing this thing. Is that what happened?” He could check out what the eyewitnesses actually said, and double-check them. And he says, “After I carefully examined everything from the beginning,” he says, “ I wrote it down.” [Luke 1:3]
Now, that’s what they claim. Listen to Paul. In Galatians 1:20, Paul says, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” Now, that’s what they said.
Now there’s a couple ways to back them up: number one, when did these books come out? A lot of the liberal scholars will say they came out 50, 100, 200 years after the time of Jesus. Let me just cut to the chase. We just debated the world’s foremost philosophical atheist from Oxford University. Had the world’s foremost scholar on the resurrection, let them go at it on the question, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” I’m telling you, neighbors, Christianity has the evidence! You can’t be forced to believe it, but the evidence is there!
How can we tell that these guys were writing the truth? Two ways: when did the books come out? Before he died, at Johns Hopkins University William F. Albright was considered to be the world’s foremost biblical archaeologist. And he looked at the New Testaments and he said this, “Considering that Jesus died between 30-33 AD, every book in the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew sometime between the time of 40 [that would be seven years after Jesus] and 80 AD.” He said, “Most probably, 50-75.” If it’s 75 and Jesus died in 30, that’d be 45 years later that the whole kit-n-caboodle was on the newsstands in Jerusalem.
Now why is that important? I want you to get this because a lot of people don’t ever tell you this. I’m going to find out how old you are by asking you this question. Alright, now listen carefully. Where were you, what were you doing, what were you feeling when you heard these words: “The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, has been shot?” If you can remember exactly who told you, what you were doing and what you felt, put your hand up. Okay. I can too. You know why the other guys didn’t put their hand up? They’re too young.
What if we came out with a story like this: what if I said, “Kennedy was driving down the street in his limo in Dallas and there was a guy dressed up as a clown, in a Bozo suit. He had just gone into the local sports shop and got himself a bow and arrow. He was standing on the sidewalk and he took the bow and shot the arrow and got Kennedy right in the head. That’s how he died.” You would say, “I don’t think so!” Why? Because you were eyewitnesses via television or you might have been on the streets there in Dallas.
I can remember, I was speaking at a church at Dallas and I was going through this scenario and all the sudden the room got stone cold silent. Any time that happens I think, let’s play the tape back; what did I just say? Then I recognized that we were three blocks away from where Kennedy was shot and I was probably talking to eyewitnesses.
Now, Oliver Stone, he made a movie about Kennedy’s life and how he got shot. And you know how they refuted the movie? They called in the eyewitnesses. They called in the doctors that actually operated on Kennedy. They had the policemen that brought the body in. They had family members. The eyewitnesses were still alive. Oh, by the way, how long ago did that happen? 1963. When Kennedy died, you guys didn’t all die and you can still remember back to the events.
Albright says about the New Testament, “Some of them were on the newsstands seven years after Jesus passed off the scene.” Honest to God John A. T. Robinson started the Death of God movement. He didn’t even believe in God. But he said that he put Matthew at 40 AD; he had every one of the books in the New Testament before 75 AD. Albright put Mark at 45 AD. That means that the people that were still living, both friends and enemies, could look at these accounts and if they weren’t right, they would never have come down to us. That tells me that we’ve got accurate information.
Number two is we have archaeological information. There’s so much research going on. We had one professor that we debated; he was post-archaeology. I mean, he just had not listened or never read the stuff on the archaeological evidence that substantiates the New Testament. We came to the book of Luke, and here’s what archaeologists have discovered: Luke, obviously wrote the Gospel of Luke and also the book of Acts; Luke cited facts that can be checked, and have been checked, about 32 countries, 54 different cities, nine islands, several rulers, and archaeologists have found that Luke has never made one mistake. Now what that means is, look, if on the stuff you can check him he didn’t screw up, on the stuff that you can’t check him, you’d better believe him. You’ve got proof.
There are ancient secular sources. In the Peter Jennings’ special [The Search for Jesus, ABC, 2000] they said, “Well, there are no other ancient secular writers, it’s just New Testament writers.” That’s not true. There are at least 17 ancient writers and there are actually 49 different sources that you can accumulate 129 facts of history about the life of Jesus that coordinate with the New Testament. I haven’t got time to tell you all of that tonight. I’m just simply saying we’ve got accurate information about Jesus and when you look at the New Testament, if you’re new here tonight, all I want you to know is there is solid information. This is not a fairy tale.
But if we have accurate information, the next question that comes up is this: did Jesus ever make noises that He was God? I mean, people say, “He never said that He was God, did He?” Now listen to some of these statements, Okay? You guys that have sons, let’s say that your kid comes down to breakfast one morning. He says to mom, he says to you, he says to all the sisters and brothers, “Okay, gang, listen up. I’ve got a little announcement to make to you.” He says, “I am the light of the world. He that follows me will never walk in darkness.” Does that sound a little egotistical to you? What would you say? You’d say, “Sit down, Jack. Eat your cereal.” You know? Nobody goes around saying, “Hey, I’m the light of the world.” Jesus did. [John 8:12] Not only that, but listen to this: He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” [John 11:25] And that’s not just a neat one you say at funerals, that actually is something Jesus said.
Philip one day is standing there talking to Jesus and he says, “You know, you’re really good at all this stuff. Hey, show us God.” Jesus said to Philip, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14:8-9] Now what does that mean to an Orthodox Jew? There’s only one God to an Orthodox Jew. Philip heard Jesus saying, “I’m the One God.” Now obviously there’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one God is in three persons and they came to understand this. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” [Mark 16:15] But He said, “Go out and baptize them in the name [the one name, singular].” The name of God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [Matt. 28:19] We don’t believe in three gods, we believe in one God who has three persons. And the Son of God came to this planet, took on flesh, was perfect man, perfect God and lived among us and showed us that. And that’s what He was saying.
Let me give you another one: there are two what I call “showstoppers” that should convince everybody. Okay? These are claims that you just can’t get around. One time, He’s talking with the Jewish leaders. The conversation went like this: Jesus said, “Your father Abraham.” Now a lot of people do not know who Abraham was. Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation who lived at least 2100 years before Jesus and the Pharisees had this little conversation, okay? “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it and he was glad.’ Then said the Jews unto him, ‘Thou are not yet fifty years old. Hast thou seen Abraham?’ [Now listen to this.] Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” Now when He made that statement, here was the reaction of the guys in the crowd – they went for the rocks. [John 8:56-59]
Now when the audience goes for the rocks, when I’m talking, I head out, but I also wonder, “What did I say?” What was the matter with what Jesus said? Was His grammar bad, or what was going on? No, no, no, no. When He said He was “the I AM,” this took them back to something they knew in the Old Testament. These were the scholars of the Jewish people. Back in Exodus 3, God talked to Moses at the burning bush. And as Moses was standing there God says, “Listen, Moses. I’ve got a little job for you. I want you to take Israel out of Egypt. I’m going to lead you out. And, oh by the way, drop by and tell Pharaoh you’re leaving.”
Moses says, “You know, they’re going to have a question. The question’s going to be, ‘Who sent you, Moses?’ So, God, what is your name?” And what did God say to Moses in Exodus 3 that these Jewish leaders knew? Here’s the passage in Exodus 3:14-15: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you…. And this is my name forever. And this is my memorial name to all generations.” And Jesus in John 8 says, “Boys, I’m the I AM that brought your forefathers out of Egypt.” Reach for the rocks!
Let me give you another showstopper. One time Jesus came and said, “Fellows, I’m coming back at the end of the world and I’m going to be the judge that’s going to gather all the nations before me and I’m going to determine the eternal destiny of every man, woman and child that’s ever lived.” Now you know, most of your guys at the office don’t say that, do they? Who do you think Jesus was hinting that He was? Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him. He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” [Matt. 25:31-32]
Well, let me ask the question: if we’ve got some accurate historical information about Jesus and He claimed to be God,… and I wish I could go on, because it’d be fun to tell you about the character of Jesus Christ and then the miracles of Jesus Christ, capped off by His resurrection. All the other religious leaders in history are still in their tomb; you go into Jerusalem, and the tomb is empty. Now you can believe in any leader you want to, but I want one that actually beat the tomb!
Why did Jesus come? Jesus said He had come to “seek and to save those which are lost.” [Luke 19:10] Do you know that you’re lost tonight? Do you know that you’re not saved tonight? See, a lot of us think, “Hey, we’re pretty good people. We’re okay. If the other guy makes it, I’ll make it.” You know what’s wrong with that logic? If he doesn’t make it, you aren’t going to make it either.
There’s a neat little story in Ray Prichard’s book, An Anchor for the Soul, that goes like this: St. Peter is sitting at the gate of Heaven. A well-dressed man comes up to the desk, rings the bell and he says, “Peter, I’d like entrance into Heaven.” Peter says, “Excellent, we always want to have more people in Heaven. All you need to enter is to earn 1000 points.”
The man says, “Hey, that shouldn’t be any problem at all. I’ve been a good person all of my life, Peter, let me list them for you. Number one: I was involved in a lot of civic things. Number two: I always gave to charitable causes. Number three: for 25 years, I was the chairman of the YMCA.” Peter writes it all down; he says, “That’s a marvelous record. That’ll be one point.”
Taken aback, the man says, “Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. I was married to my wife for 46 years and I was always faithful. We have five children, three boys, two girls, and I always loved them and I made sure that they got a good education. I took care of them, they all turned out alright. I was a good family man.” St. Peter says, “I am very impressed with your life. I mean, we just don’t get many people like you up here. That’s another point.”
The man’s starting to really sweat and shake now. He says, “Peter, you don’t understand!” He says, “I was a member in my church. I went every Sunday; I gave money every time they passed the plate! I was a deacon. I was an elder! I sang in the choir and I even taught a Sunday school class.” Peter says, “Man, your record is certainly admirable! That’ll be another point. Alright, let me add this up. That’s one, that’s two, that’s three. We only need 997 more.”
Astonished and trembling, the man falls to his knees and in desperation says, “But for the grace of God, nobody could get in there.” Peter says, “Congratulations! Grace is worth 1000 points!”
My friend Erwin Lutzer is the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. He’s got a beautiful book out talking about how you can have eternal life with God. In that book he asks the question, “How much righteousness do you need, do I need, to get us into Heaven? How perfect do we have to be?” Jesus said, “Be ye perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] In other words, if you are not as perfect as God, there’s not a chance in the world that you’re going to be admitted into Heaven.
Now that’s a problem, isn’t it? If you don’t think it is, have you checked with your wife or your kid lately? They can tell you how you’re doing on that one. How do we become perfect? We’ve got to become as perfect as God.
Do you know what? God provides what we need in two ways. We have a sin problem; we’ve broken His laws. And then we need a righteousness that only He can provide. Number one, Jesus said He provided for our sins. One day He said, “I have come to give my life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:45] What’s a ransom? I have a banker friend whose wife was kidnapped, and the kidnappers wanted $250,000 ransom to give her back. The FBI says, “Don’t pay it.” He went and paid the cash. Put it into a suitcase, put it in a certain spot. The kidnappers gave the wife back. He paid the price that was necessary to get her back. Jesus said, “I have come to give my life as a ransom for the many!” He paid the penalty on the cross for our sins that God wanted.
The Bible says, “It’s not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy that He saved us.” [Titus 3:5] The Bible says “For God hath made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” [2 Cor. 5:21] Now listen to this: When Jesus was on that cross, every lustful thought that you’ve ever had, every lie that you’ve ever told, every bit of stealing, greed, hatred, idolatry, adultery, abortion, child molesting, murder, drunkenness, you name the sin, it was all picked up and laid legally on Christ and He was punished for us. He took the whole punishment.
The Bible says, “For Christ died for our sins once for all. He was the righteous One for the unrighteous to bring you to God.” [1 Pet. 3:18] He seeks; He wants to save you. If you know that you need it and you’ll ask Him to do it, He’ll do it tonight.
But secondly, God Himself provides the righteousness that we need. Our sin problem is taken care of by Christ, but where do we get the righteousness? Well, let’s say if you were to stand before God and you could have the track record of Jesus Christ, okay? Somehow, Jesus says, “I’ll loan you my life’s track record. You can stand before God with what I did.” You would say, “Hey, that would work.” That’s exactly what God offers. Listen to what the apostle Paul says, “This righteousness that we need from God [it’s not something you or I provide] comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction.” [Rom. 3:22] It doesn’t matter how big a sinner or how small a sinner. He says it will come to everybody who will believe in Jesus. Boy, that’s great news.
The Bible says Abraham “believed God and it was credited [accounted, imputed] to him as righteousness.” [Jas. 2:23] What does that mean? God makes a legal transaction if you want. Jesus didn’t actually commit any of those sins; it wasn’t part of His nature, but it was put to His account. He was still the righteous One who bore the punishment. He was our substitute. And we have not necessarily lived a perfect life, but God credits to us Christ’s righteousness the moment we believe in Jesus.
Let’s do it this way: let’s say that your kid is out and he’s got your credit card and he says, “Dad, I made a little mistake. I just bought a Ferrari, and there’s a $100,000 bill that’s coming in.” Problem is, you’ve only got $100 in your bank account. Now when that legal transaction takes place and it gets there, how do you look in the eyes of your banker? You’re in big trouble. All of us are morally in trouble to God. We’re in debt.
But let’s say you had Ross Perot as your buddy. Now Perot is supposed to be a billionaire quite a few times. Now, let’s say one day Ross Perot decides to legally transfer his account to your account and they become one. And his billions, when they are transferred, they swallow up your little debt. That’s the word “imputation,” that’s the word “credited,” that’s the word “accounted” that you find. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness – the righteousness of Christ. He stood in Christ.
I met a fellow a few years ago that had a tough life. This one comes under the caption “Can God really forgive big, big, sinners?” This kid was a homosexual prostitute; he told me he had over 1,500 different relationships. In the process he contracted AIDS. He became a Christian, found the Lord and the Lord forgave his sins. But the disease killed him off. In fact, I did a TV program with him. Before the TV program aired, he was dead. But I believe he is in Heaven. And he went in with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Why?
Think of this: think of two books. Let’s say that we took Roger’s life, this was the fellow that I’m talking about, and Roger’s life we called The Life and Times of Roger; and there you had all the sins and the broken relationships of his life. Then on the other side, you have The Life and Times of Jesus; and the contents of that book were all the perfect things Jesus did. Jesus says He always obeyed the Father in everything that He did. Perfect track record.
Let’s say Jesus strips off both covers, okay? He takes the contents of Roger’s book out and He takes His own content of His perfect life, and He sticks it inside the covers of Roger’s book. So when you see it, it’s The Life and Times of Roger, but when you open it up, God looks at it and all He sees is Christ. That’s what’s called justification by faith in Christ alone. He did it all. He gives it to us as a gift when we put our faith in Him, which brings up the question, what is faith?
What is faith? Do I have to have a lot of faith? No. Faith is passive – you just receive it. You receive it; you don’t do anything to earn it. Your faith doesn’t have to be strong or weak, it’s just that you’ve got to put your faith in Christ.
Let me give you an illustration. Think of a two-story building. The building is on fire and you head up to the top floor. But you get to the top floor and there is no escape. And you say, “Man, oh man, I’m going to die.” Then you look down and you see the firemen coming. There’s eight of them, and they have a net. All eight are holding on to the net, and one guy looks up and says, “Jump!” And you say, “You’ve got to be kidding! This is two stories up!” The guy says, “Don’t you have any faith that we’ll catch you?” “Oh, yeah, I do.”
And you don’t have any other choice, so what do you do? You jump off of that roof. You’re half way down, you have a story to go and you’re picking up speed. And if you’re like me, your eyes are bad and things start to come into focus. And what you thought were eight firemen standing around in a circle holding a net, are eight firemen standing around just holding hands singing “Kumbaya.” Now you had faith. I want to know, how much does your faith save you in that situation? Buddy, you’d better have some strong firemen with a real net to save you.
And when it comes to salvation, you can put your faith any place you want but it depends on the Savior as to whether or not you get saved. If you just have a little bit of faith and you put it in Christ, He is strong enough to save you tonight, to forgive you of your sins and to give you His righteousness. And when God looks at you, He won’t see the sins of your life, he’ll see Christ’s perfect righteousness that is wrapped around you.
One more thing: faith is not just believing intellectually a certain amount of things about Jesus and you’re saved. It’s when you entrust yourself to Christ. And that’s what I’m going to ask you to do. You have an opportunity to entrust yourself to Christ, not just think good thoughts about Him.
Let me give you an illustration. I was up in Niagara Falls preaching and I was at one of these hotels that looks right over the Falls. It was a beautiful spot. And I remembered back to when there was a famous tightrope walker that strung a wire across from the Canadian side to the American side. He gets up there and walked across this Niagara Falls on this wire and came back.
Now an audience is starting to gather on both sides. Next thing he does is he gets a wheelbarrow. And in the wheelbarrow, he puts sandbags that weigh about 250 pounds. Puts that on the wire, wheels it across, and comes all the way back. Man, I mean, the crowd’s going wild. So he says, “I put 250 pounds of sandbags in the wheelbarrow. A lot of you don’t even weigh 250 pounds. Do you think I could put a man into the wheelbarrow and wheel them back across safely?” The crowd says, “Oh! Of course you can. We all believe you can do that.” And The Great Blondin said, “Who will be the first to get in?” And nobody did.
You see, it’s one thing to believe that Christ can save you; it’s another thing to get into Christ’s wheelbarrow and entrust yourself to Him. Have you ever put yourself into Christ’s hands? Have you put your eternal destiny into His hands? Jesus says He is seeking; He is saving those which are lost.