Forgiveness of sin
By Terrance Callan
Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24: 35-46
Often we find ourselves completely unable to solve a problem or understand a situation. If we then arrive at a solution somehow, we may feel as if the sun has broken through the clouds on a dark day. The death and resurrection of Jesus unlocked the meaning of the Old Testament in this way.
The reading from the Gospel according to Luke describes an appearance of Jesus to His disciples after His death and resurrection. After assuring them that He was not a ghost, Jesus told His disciples that His death and resurrection had been predicted in Scripture: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” Similarly Peter, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, tells the people that God had “announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer.”
This is now so familiar to us that we take it for granted. To us it seems obvious that scripture predicted the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, in fact it is not obvious. Non-Christian readers of the Bible can easily fail to see such predictions entirely. This makes us realize that our understanding of Scripture is based on our faith in Jesus, which, in turn, is based on His resurrection. Those who do not believe will not understand Scripture in the same way we do Nor should we expect them to do so. The illumination of faith is fundamental. As the reading from the Gospel of Luke says, it was only after His resurrection that Jesus, “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
The readings tell us that the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to save us from sins In the reading from Luke Jesus says that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.” And the reading from Acts presents Peter as carrying out this commission. Peter says to the people, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” The death and resurrection of Jesus offers an opportunity for forgiveness of our sins In order to accept this opportunity we must change our lives and believe in Jesus.
Neither the reading from Luke nor the reading from Acts explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection frees us from sins. The reading from the First Letter of John provides an explanation when it refers to Jesus as “expiation for our sins.” This presupposes that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice, like the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament (see for example Numbers 5:8). The sacrifice of Jesus makes up for sins, and so offers an opportunity for forgiveness.
The readings from Luke and Acts speak of the death and resurrection of Jesus as an opportunity for forgiveness of sins for those who first believe in Jesus. Becoming a follower of Jesus means putting one’s sins in the past and beginning a new life. The reading from the First Letter of John takes up the question of sins committed by those who are already believers. The reading says that “if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” The death and resurrection of Jesus can free us from sin not only when we first become believers, but also when we sin after becoming followers of Jesus. This forgiveness is available in a special way in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.