Everyone Who Believes Is Freed

Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

This morning I would like to unwrap for you the best Christmas Gift of all—the forgiveness and freedom that are in Jesus Christ. I would like to commend the truth of Jesus Christ to you that you all might believe and be freed from the power and guilt and condemnation of sin.

One of the most amazing confirmations of the truth of Christianity is the way Jesus fulfils so many prophecies made hundreds of years before his coming. In fact, to understand who Jesus Christ really is we need to remember that he is not like a rabbit out of the hat—with no warning. He didn’t just pop up in history with no meaning. Instead he is like a treasure chest of gold at the end of a centuries-long treasure hunt with lots and lots of clues along the way.

Jesus, Long-Awaited Messiah

Let me show you a few clues. Way back in the first book of the Bible God said to Abraham (in Genesis 12:3), “By you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” So the earliest hope and expectation was that through the people of Israel some amazing blessing would come to the whole world.

Three generations later a promise was made to one of Abraham’s great grandsons, Judah (in Genesis 49:10). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” So the promise becomes more specific—the blessing will come to the world (“the peoples”) through a ruler, and that ruler will be of the house of Judah, one of Abraham’s great grandsons.

Several hundred years later God gave a king to Israel, named David, from the house of Judah. Before he died God spoke to him through a prophet and said (in 2 Samuel 7:12-13), “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (cf. Psalm 89:35-36; 132:11). So the ruler to come, who brings blessing to the nations, will be a Son of David and sit on the throne of David.

Then came the prophet Isaiah who made the prediction more specific (9:6-7): “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.”

Then the prophet Micah was even more specific and said that this child born of the house of David would be born in Bethlehem and would have his origin from ancient days. Micah 5:2—“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

Now how was this ruler going to bring blessing to all the world like God said to Abraham? God showed the answer to this question to Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born (Isaiah 53:5-6): “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

But it sounds like that’s the end of him—dying like a sacrificial lamb in the place of sinners so they could go free. How does he rule for ever on the throne of David if he is dead? Isaiah 53:12-13 makes clear that he does not stay dead. God says, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death (so he is not dead anymore!), and was numbered with transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

So hundreds of years before Jesus was born we are told by God in the Scriptures that he would be of the house of Judah, he would live a life of righteousness, but he would be accused with the transgressors, he would be put to death for the sins of many. He would rise from the dead and sit down on the throne of his father David at God’s right hand. And he would rule there, spreading blessing to all the families of the earth until he is acknowledged as the Lord of all the nations.

Jesus, Treasure of the Ages

So when Jesus came onto the scene 2,000 years ago he was not like a rabbit out of the hat—a total surprise with no preparation, and nothing in history to give him meaning. Instead he was like a treasure chest of gold at the end of a long treasure hunt with dozens of clues along the way of what he would be like and what he would mean.

And he really is a treasure. To know him and be known and loved by him is worth more than millions and millions of dollars. One of the pictures of him in the New Testament that make that plain is Acts 13:38-39.

The reason I have given this prophetic background before reading this wonderful treasure text for us this Christmas is because that’s the way Paul, the preacher here, prepared his listeners too. In 13:29 he says that Jesus was killed. In verse 30 he says that God raised him from the dead. In verse 31 he says that he appeared to eyewitnesses who now are spreading the news about him—Paul is one of those. Then in verse 32-37 Paul does what I have done—he uses Old Testament prophecy to show that the Messiah was to rise from the dead and reign as the Son of David and never die again.

Then come the words that show Jesus to be the treasure for us today that he really is. These verses unwrap the best Gift of all this Christmas. Verses 38-39:

Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

This is the best Christmas gift of all. This is why Jesus came. 1 Timothy 1:15—“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The best gift is to be forgiven for our sins—to be freed. Or literally the word here is “justified”—acquitted, cleared, pardoned. Condemnation lifted. A clean slate. That’s what Jesus puts under your tree this year. That’s what Jesus means—Jesus means freedom.

Jesus, Worthy of Our Trust

But notice what it says: “Everyone who believes is freed.” Receiving the gift of forgiveness and freedom requires that you believe on Jesus—that you turn from other Lords and trust him as the treasure chest of wisdom and hope in your life. So, as I close, let me try to persuade you to trust Jesus.

Maybe the best way to do that would be to give you seven reasons why I trust Jesus—reasons that come from reflecting on this text in relation to life and history:

1. I trust Jesus because I know I have sinned and there is urgent reason to seek escape from my guilt and from the wrath of God against sin. Paul just took it for granted that everybody he talked to needed forgiveness from God. (“Through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.”) So do I. Everybody here knows that we have fallen far short of what God requires of us. In our most sober moments we long to be right with God and get rid of our guilt. I trust him because I am a sinner.

2. I trust Jesus because the very best moral instruction and the very best religious rituals will not free me from my sin. That is the point of saying (in verse 39) that Jesus frees us from what we “could not be freed by the law of Moses.” The law of Moses is the best moral instruction in the world—it’s God’s! The religion of Moses is a great religion. It’s rituals are full of truth and wisdom. But doing religious things and getting moral instruction cannot free me from sin. Only Jesus is the basis for forgiveness and the only path to freedom is trusting him. I trust a person, because religion and instruction cannot free me from sin.

3. I trust Jesus because God has spent centuries putting into place a reliable provision for forgiveness in Jesus. All the talk about fulfillment of prophecy that I started with is not irrelevant here. It’s God’s way of saying: This is my work. The death and resurrection of Jesus is my plan. It was my idea. I have spent centuries getting ready for it. I promised it so that you would recognize my hand in it when it came. Trust him because my word has been fulfilled in him. He is no isolated miracle. He is the climax of a history of prophetic miracles. I trust Jesus because God’s centuries of prophecy and preparation show the truth of his provision for forgiveness.

4. I trust Jesus because he is no mere man, but is God’s Son and is therefore an utterly all-sufficient foundation for forgiveness (cf. Acts 13:33). Had a mere man died—a merely human sinner like you and me—I would not put my hope on him for forgiveness. But Jesus was a man and more than a man. The angel said to Mary (in Luke 1:35), “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The life that was paid for my sins—the substitute that God put forward for me—was not cheap and inadequate. He was the very Son of God—God himself. So the ground of my hope for forgiveness is an infinite sacrifice. That’s why I trust him.

5. I trust Jesus because he rose from the dead after three days and is alive and will never die again. As Paul was preaching this (about 15 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus), there were hundreds of eyewitnesses still alive who could be consulted to verify Paul’s claim. This claim was not made at a time when it was too late to check it out. These Jewish people in Antioch could have sent a delegation to Jerusalem and asked the authorities to show them the body of Jesus. But there was no body. If there had been, the Jews in Jerusalem would have produced it a long time before this to put an end to this crazy new movement called Christianity. The tomb was empty. Jesus had appeared to over 500 people, Paul tells us, and he will never die again. Which means that he is the only source of help that will last as long as we do. Everything else passes away. That’s why I trust him.

6. I trust Jesus because that is all I can do. I cannot work for his forgiveness. I cannot earn it, or buy it, or barter for it by moral reform. It’s a gift. That’s the meaning of Christmas. The forgiveness and freedom of Jesus are free. Which means that the worst person in the world can have them, if he would stop vetoing Jesus’ offer and trust him. I trust Jesus because that’s all I can do—trust is the only way to receive a gift. Anything else turns the gift into a wage, a payback, and the only payback for sin is death.

7. I trust Jesus because I have everything to gain if I trust and everything to lose if I don’t. Verse 40 gives this warning: “Beware therefore, lest there come upon you what is said in the prophets: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish.” If we scoff instead of trust, we will perish. There is everything to gain—eternal life with God, forgiven and accepted, and there is everything to lose—eternal judgment, guilty and rejected.

I stand before you therefore not as one who is perfect, but as one who is forgiven through Jesus Christ and freed from condemnation. I invite you to join me.

In fact, I have three invitations for you as I close my message: 1) I would like to invite all of you to fill out the Christmas response card that the ushers will pick up in a minute. There is something on the card for everybody and we want to know how God has used the service to minister to you. 2) I invite those of you who are open and honest unbelievers to consider the class called INQUIRE. It is only for unbelievers. See the card. 3) I invite you to pray with a prayer team after the service if there is a need in your life with which you would like help.