Last week we were reminded of the continued failings of humankind, and the need for a once and for all sacrifice by Jesus on the cross. The next phrase makes clear that this action, some 2,000 years ago, is something each one of us can rely upon:
May God our Father…
pardon and deliver us from all our sins,
and grant us the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
These words are sometimes spoken by a priest in the form of an absolution. But is a human priest needed for my sins to be forgiven? – and how can I be certain that the death of Jesus will be sufficient for me to know that I have secured a place in the Kingdom of Heaven?
In responding to these questions, the book of Hebrews is my first port of call:
…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.Heb. 7. 24-27
So, if Jesus has complete authority to forgive all our failures, how should we come to him? The criminals crucified alongside Jesus were at death’s door. One rejected him in the same way as the mob. Yet, one of them, after a life which may have been far from perfect, responded:
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.Luke 23. 40-42
We can come to Jesus at any stage in our life – provided we acknowledge our own failings and trust in his unfailing love. On this basis, we have a hope that is steadfast and certain – a promise that those who come to him, he will not cast away. With this in mind, let’s return to the book of Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Heb. 4. 14-16
When we come to those times in life when we doubt whether we will ultimately be acceptable to God, we are reminded that, whatever our state of mind, we can approach our Father God with an absolute assurance that we are accepted and will be forgiven. Moreover, we can ask confidently for the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to renew our attitudes and behaviour in order to help us to live in a way that reflects God’s generous forgiveness to our friends and families too.
I hope you find these verses to be as reassuring as I do.