I would like to tell you the story of a man who at one time was a very great sinner. This story takes place right after Jesus Christ was put to death, and this man hated Christians because he hated their leader. Even though this man never even laid eyes on Jesus, he use to wish that he was the one pounding those nails into his hands and feet. He use to fantasize how slow he would take, how he would prolong it, just to make sure that this Jesus would suffer as much as possible.
Oh how this man hated Jesus Christ. Everything concerning Jesus Christ made this man's blood boil. Even though this man knew that Jesus was no longer around, still he hated this Jesus with a vengeance, and consequently he hated any and all of his followers. So as the story starts, look at the extremely sinful nature of this man and ask yourself can this man be forgiven for all these terrible and absolutely horrible sins? Would God be able to forgive someone this evil? By the way this man's name was Paul.
1)......Paul got his first opportunity at destroying this new religion when he helped convict a young man by the name of Stephen. Paul helped drag this young Christian to the outskirts of town. They were going to stone him to death all because he preached about this Jesus Christ. Paul was so happy to see this Christian die that he volunteered to hold the coats of some of those who were going to throw the rocks at Stephen. Paul roars with approval as the rocks begin to break the bones and smash in the head of Stephen. Paul thus takes a very active part in the very first Christian to be martyred.
Acts 22:20......And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.
2)......Soon Paul would take a much more active role in the death of Christians. Paul's hate grew and grew and quickly developed into an all consuming hate for any of those who followed the teachings, or preached the beliefs, of this Jesus Christ. Paul conducted his search for Christians in a savage and murderous way. For starters, Paul wanted every single Christian thrown into jail.
Acts26:10.....And many of the holy ones I locked up in prisons.
3)......No Christian was safe from Paul. It didn't even matter if it was a man or woman. Nor did Paul respect the sanctity of a person's home.
Acts 8:3........Paul, though began to deal outrageously with the congregation. Invading one house after another and dragging out both men and women, he would turn them over to prison.
4)......But Paul wanted prison to be only a temporary step because he had much harsher treatment in store for all Christians. He hated them so much he wanted each one of them to be put to death.
Acts 22:4..........I persecuted this Way up to the point of death
Acts 26:10.......And when they were to be executed I cast my vote against them.
5)......When Paul caught a Christian he took great delight in punishing that person. You can only imagine the terrible punishment that these early Christians had to go through when they were caught by Paul. These Christian men and women who preached and practiced only love, soon found themselves on the receiving end of terrible hatred and terrible treatment.
Acts 26:11.......And by punishing them many times in all the synagogues.
Acts 22:19.......Lord, I use to imprison and flog them in one synagogue after another, to those that believed in you.
6)......In fact Paul's hatred was so great for anything to do with Christ that when he caught Christians he would try and get them to denounce Jesus Christ.
Acts 26:11......I tried to force them to blaspheme.
To blaspheme is to speak with irreverence. It is to utter insults or to speak evil of Jesus Christ. A true Christian believer of Jesus Christ would never do that, so can you imagine the terrible pain and suffering that Paul must have put those poor Christians through to try and get them to blaspheme Jesus Christ.
7)......Paul's hatred for the Christians wasn't just a dislike for them, his was a murderous, all consuming hatred.
Acts26:11.....and being furiously enraged at them
8)......Paul wasn't satisfied with imprisoning and killing the Christians in Jerusalem, he even went so far as to scour the country side and go to other cities looking for Christians to imprison and murder.
Acts 26:11......I went so far as to persecuting them even in outside cities
Acts 9 :1-2..........But Paul still breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, in order that he might bring bound to Jerusalem, any whom he found who belonged to The Way, both men and women.
Paul felt very strongly that the teachings of Jesus Christ were nothing but blasphemous sayings against the law of Moses and of God, and he was willing to break every law in the Old Testament to track down and destroy these Christians. Paul believed that every time he murdered a Christian, he was doing it for God. Every Christian death meant another star in his religious crown.
At the time Paul was guilty of a great many very terrible sins. He hated the Son Of God with a passion and he did everything in his power to imprison and to kill those that followed the beliefs and teachings of Jesus Christ. His goal was to stop the advancement of Christianity, permanently. It appears that he was indeed guilty of such great sins as murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and committing inhumane acts against fellow human beings. Also he had no tolerance, respect, compassion, or understanding for those of his fellow men and women who called themselves Christians.
Paul was indeed a great sinner at one time, and few of us could even come close to matching his enormous sins. However in the eyes of God, while all sin is rebellion, all sin can also be forgiven. God is just waiting for the time when any sinner comes to him and asks for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 tells us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Essentially, no matter what you have done, God is willing to forgive you and to wash away the damaging residue that disobedience can leave upon your life. If you have unconfesssed sin in your life, do not feel like you have to hide from God. Instead, bring the matter to him in prayer and receive the gift of his forgiveness.
God forgets sin when forgiveness is asked for. Forgiveness means God buries our sins and does not mark the grave. Our loving Father would much rather forgive than judge. When God looks at a Christian he sees a person who is totally covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That's what He sees when He looks at you. He doesn't think of all those sins. They're all forgiven. They're all blotted out. Once you delete it, it's gone forever. And that's exactly what God does to your sins. They're gone forever! Deleted, forgiven! When He sees you, He sees a forgiven person. God does not forget the sinner; he forgets the sin. All you have to do is simply ask and your sins will be freely forgiven. God's forgiveness is like that - free for the asking. God's love for every one of us is so great, his forgiveness for each of us so complete, that a person who has come to our Lord sixty seconds ago, is as much a Christian as the person who has spent the last sixty years diligently and energetically doing the Lord's work.
So what happened to Paul? The Lord had plans for him, and Paul would soon meet the Lord on the road to Damascus. This brutal, sadistic, murdering religious bigot, was soon going to see first hand that the Lord was only to happy to forgive every one of his sins. It is absolutely incredible that our Lord would take the greatest persecutor of the early Church, stop him dead in his tracks, turn him around 180 degrees, and then guide and direct him to become one of the greatest and most influential followers and teachers of Jesus Christ. Not only would all his sins be forgiven, but the Lord was going to use Paul to spread the word of God. He was going to make Paul instrumental in teaching the entire world all about Jesus Christ.
Even after all the persecution, suffering, and murdering that Paul did to the early Christians. Even after all that seething hate directed squarely at Jesus Christ for so long. Even after all those unlimited sins committed by Paul, Jesus Christ could not wait to forgive Paul. We see this because of what happened on the Damascus Road. In Acts 9:10-12, the Lord tells Ananias to go to Paul and Baptize him. Ananias tells Christ that he doesn't want do that because he knows that Paul hates Christians and he will certainly kill him. And then probably one of the greatest verses for a sinner in the entire Bible takes place when Our Lord comes to Paul's defense. In Acts 9:15 the Lord tells Ananias, "Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel."
Even after all that Paul had done, the Lord was waiting there for him with open arms. And just like Paul, he is waiting for you and I. You and I have our own little Damascus Road. It could be anywhere. It might be in the alcohol or drug induced stupor that you find yourself in, or the pain of a horrible disease state, or the depression and loneliness that you are mired down in, or maybe it is in all those shattered dreams that have come to nothing but a sea of hopelessness. Your own little Damascus Road is anywhere where you stop, and turn, and look for Jesus Christ.
This God of love doesn't care what you have done in the past, or how
hideous, heinous, or horrendous your sins may have been. And he could care less about what sins you are committing right now. He is very aware of each and every one of them, since he had to experience and live through the pain of each and every one of your sins while hanging on the cross. What he cares about is what you are going to do from now on. He can, and has, saved all kinds of harlots, pimps, homosexuals, gangsters, murderers, thieves, and drug addicts, as well as self-righteous religious reprobates. No practicing thief can enter heaven, but a thief who has confessed and repented of his sins, and who has turned away from thievery can instantly enter into a communion with God. What is important to God is whether you want to come to him now. Whether or not you are finally ready to place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and put your life entirely in his hands.
Hebrews 7:25 "He is able to save completely those who approach God, through him."
So if you ever wonder whether God the Father is going to forgive your sins, just remember the horrible and terrible sins that Paul committed. Keep in mind that Paul was not only granted total forgiveness for every horrible sin that he ever committed, but he went on to spread the word of God to all the nations of the earth. Paul is the one responsible for writing 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Also keep in mind that Paul wrote 6 of those books while in chains, locked up as a prisoner, all because of his faith, trust, and belief in the one who he once hated.
Many times in the books of the Bible that Paul wrote he talked about how horrible he treated the believers that followed Christ, how sorry he was for all the evil that he had done, and how thankful he was that the Son of God saved him and used him despite his sinful past. Two of the most uplifting verses for any sinner are the following.
1 Timothy 1:12-13 "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief."
Galatians 1:13 "For you have heard of my former conduct, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it."
What is so wonderful about God is that he sees the heart, so he knew that once Paul met Jesus, his life would be forever changed. And once Paul met Jesus, the rest of his life was a perfect example of a complete 180 degree change. What he use to hate, he came to love. What he desperately tried to destroy he now found that he could not live with out. That which he wanted no part of, now was his whole life.
Think of the billions of people brought to Jesus Christ through the writings of Paul. Think of the peace and joy that so many people have received from the Godly inspired words of Paul over the last 2,000 years. Imagine for a moment the hope and encouragement that his words have brought to so many believers down through the ages. Think of the despairing, helpless, wicked men and women on the brink of madness who have found rescue upon hearing the messages found in the inspired words of Paul.
Through the words of Paul, God has certainly provided new hope to the hopeless and those who are despondent. Those words have brought quiet peace to the restless. They have lifted lowly people strait out of the gutters of society and out of the gutters of their own minds, and raised them to incredible heights. They have brought those deemed worthless to absolute greatness. They have raised morality to its highest levels. They have brought amazing deliverance and change to the lives of countless millions. And most importantly, they bring unlimited hope.
Yes, the divinely inspired words of Paul have taught the entire world about God's great love, his unlimited mercy, his awesome desire to forgive, and the great plans that he has for each and every one of us. It is truly a magnificent tribute to Our Heavenly Father that he could take this horrible sinner, a sinner who was once the greatest destroyer of Christianity, and turn him into the greatest advancer of Christianity that the world has ever known. Keep in mind too that this former murderer of Christians was also charged by Jesus Christ, to establish the very first Christian Churches through out the middle east.
So like Paul, your sins can all be forgiven regardless of how horrible they are. God is just waiting for you to simply ask him for that forgiveness.
Sill think that you are too great a sinner to be forgiven by God? If you do then Jesus left a message for you. You can find it at Luke 5:31 where it says, "And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick". Those who come to see their sinfulness regardless of how bad it is, can come to God and in a spirit of repentance ask God for forgiveness and reconciliation, and it will be instantly granted. The whole purpose of why God took the human form of Jesus Christ and came down to earth is spelled out very clearly in the following two verses.
1 Timothy 1:15. "That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners".
John 3:17. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved".
A great many people are mired down in guilt and shame for past failures, past sins, past mistakes. They carry with them daily, a constant and unrelenting burden of bad memories. Their lives are constantly filled with one regret after another. They think of how much of their past life is nothing but waste.
But before you write off so much of your past life as completely worthless, think for a moment that maybe without all those very sinful times in your past, that maybe it would have been impossible for you to be at the point where God wants you to be right now. That without all those sinful acts in your past, you would never be able to turn and look for God right now. That because of all those horrible times in your past, you can now go where God wants to lead you.
God doesn't care about your past sinful actions and your past failures. What God cares about is your present confession and your present repentance. What God cares about now is that your new life revolves around him. So please remember that you cannot go back and reclaim the bits and pieces of your past, nor can you change it in any way. Whenever the guilt and shame from the past enters your mind, ask The Lord immediately for forgiveness. Thank him for that forgiveness and then continue on the path that the Lord is leading you. And as mentioned above, always keep in mind 1 John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".
Remember to that as Jesus hung on the cross he looked at his torturers and cried, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Had they crucified him daily for the last 2,000 years, he would still constantly pray daily for their forgiveness.
I know that from Matthew 18:21-22, where Peter came to Jesus and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
The depth of this forgiveness is very difficult for human beings to understand, but that is the type of forgiveness that our heavenly Father has for each and every one of us, and it is the type of forgiveness that he wants you to have for all others. So since God is eagerly waiting to forgive you of all your sins, he is also at the same time forgiving the person who you may be angry at. So if God forgives both you and the other person, then there is no excuse for you to be angry at another person.
Oh what love and what forgiveness out God has. If God expects us to forgive 490 times, then he too will have unlimited forgiveness. His arms will always be open and always ready to forgive all those that come to him with broken, heavy-laden, sin filled hearts.
When guilt haunts you
One of the best ways for satan to keep a believers eyes off of Jesus is to constantly and continuously remind that person of his past sins. Satan is extremely effective at dredging up these past sins which will stop a person from advancing in his spiritual walk. It is not you that brings up these past sins, it is satan. He loves to make people feel guilty so they feel worthless and not worth the Lord's love. He loves to make people feel that they are not even worthy to be saved. A believer is going to have a very rough time if he has to spend most of his time fighting off the guilty feelings from past sins.
The best way to stop this is when a sin which you have been forgiven for, enters into your thoughts, immediately tell yourself that it is satan who is reminding you of that sin. That satan is the one who is trying to get you depressed and dejected. That it is satan that wants to keep you in pain and sadness. That it is satan that wants you to keep your thoughts on past sins that have already been forgiven. Simply acknowledging that it is not you but satan who is bringing up these hurtful memories of past sins, will greatly lessen the burden of guilt.
Remind yourself that you have been completely forgiven for that sin and that you no longer need to feel guilty about it. That those hurtful memories are being caused by satan for the purpose of getting you to take your eyes off of Jesus Christ. When you do this one simple thing you will be amazed at how much of the burden of that past sin will be lifted. The pain and hurt and guilt will be greatly reduced each time you do this because now you are letting Jesus bear the entire burden of your past sins.
Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to commit the same mistakes over and over again, and thus many times God will allow satan to cause the memory of those sins to periodically resurface. God will do this in order to help prevent the believer from committing those same and similar sins again. So instead of looking at guilty memories as a form of punishment from God, look upon those uncomfortable memories as a loving reminder from God that is telling the believer how those sins not only hurt you, but also how they hurt God as well.
Please also keep in mind that we are to forgive others just as Christ forgave us. Most of us were a mess when Jesus lovingly forgave us. We were covered with vile, dirty, loathsome sins. From the soles of our feet to the tops of our heads, there was no soundness in us -- only wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores (Isaiah 1:6). We had no goodness at all, and all our righteousness were as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
So keep in mind that when Jesus' trial occurred, they tore his body to shreds with a Roman cat-o-nine-tails. They stuck thorns, in the form of a crown, around the flesh of his skull. They spit on him and punched him in the face. They pulled his beard out by the roots and they bruised, battered, and beat his body into a mass of mutilated bleeding flesh. Still this God of love and forgiveness cried out from the cross, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Three questions to ask yourself concerning God's forgiveness
But unfortunately, once Judas saw that this was not the time that Jesus was going to begin his kingdom on earth, but instead was in the process of being murdered, he was filled with great guilt and sorrow.
Matthew 27:3-4 "Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. And they said, "What is that to us?"
Instead of asking God to forgive him, instead of telling God how remorseful he was, instead of looking to The Holy Father in the heavens and asking for forgiveness, he did none of that. Instead, in extreme guilt, and thinking only of his sin, he went out and committed suicide.
Our Lord would have loved to have forgiven Judas, if he would have only asked for forgiveness, just like Paul did. But Judas mistakenly believed that his sin was too great to be forgiven and in despair took his own life. Judas failed to see the unconditional love and the unlimited mercy that our Lord has for each and every one of us.
Yes, Judas made the mistake of feeling that he could never be forgiven for his horrible act, but God could have used Judas in a most marvelous way. As testimony to God's awesome grace, love, and forgiveness. God could have certainly used Judas to continue the teaching and the preaching of Jesus Christ and to very dramatically show the entire world his great love for each and every one of us. Think of the knowledge and the lessons that Judas could have taught us, the incredible emotions that he could have laid before us, the unbelievable experiences that only Judas could have described to us, the miraculous hope that he could have instilled within each of us.
Had this happened, then we might have known Judas as the apostle who perhaps committed the greatest sin ever committed, but upon asking for forgiveness, was completely and lovingly forgiven. Think of the books of the New Testament that Judas could have written to inspire, to encourage, and to empower people every where about the mercy and the love and the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. He could have easily become a tremendously awesome symbol for all future generations of God's incredible desire to forgive all sins.
Paul and Judas both sinned against God. However, Paul could sense God's incredible desire to forgive and so he listened to the voice of God talking to his heart and soul, and thus, Paul sought mercy and forgiveness. Judas however, thinking that his sin was far too great to ever be forgiven, refused to listen to God's voice, and chose death.
Think also about the thief who died next to Jesus and who repented just before he died. Though we know little about him, we know this: He made some very bad mistakes in life. He chose the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, the wrong behavior. But would you consider his life a waste? Is he spending eternity reaping the fruits of all the bad choices he made? No, just the opposite. He is enjoying this very day, all the many blessings of the one good choice that he made. In the end all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good one.
THE REASON JUDAS HUNG HIMSELF:
The 30 pieces of silver was not a factor in his betrayal of Jesus. The silver was simply a fringe benefit. Judas betrayed Jesus thinking that when the Romans came to kill him, Jesus would then completely destroy the entire Roman empire and at the same time establish the kingdom of God on the earth.
Even more importantly, Judas felt that Christ would place Judas in a very high position of power and responsibility in the new kingdom. That is why Judas threw the silver pieces away when he realized that Jesus wasn't going to destroy the Roman government but instead was about to suffer and die. So you can see that Judas wasn't focused on God but instead had his sights set on earthly matters of prestige and power.
Mark 14: 44-45 says two very interesting things about how Judas really felt about Jesus. "Now his betrayer had given them an agreed sign saying, whoever it is I kiss, this is he, take him into custody and lead him away safely". "And he came straight up and approached him and said, Rabbi, and kissed him very tenderly".
Also it is interesting but do you realize that once you are saved you don't have to keep asking God's forgiveness over and over for all the sins that you have committed in the past, regardless of how horrible or how terrible they were. If you did ask for his continuous forgiveness do you know what God would probably say? He would say, what sins?
Christ will not recall your sins like some family members or friends will. When Jesus forgives, he then cleanses, and then he forgets.