The other day I saw a message that began “You’re Pre-Qualified for the Forgiveness Act.” Did you know you’re “pre-qualified” for forgiveness?
Think about it: what have you done in your life that you wish you could be forgiven for? Have you asked for forgiveness and felt like you weren’t? Maybe you felt like you had to earn someone’s forgiveness?
Or maybe it’s like buying a car: you can walk into a car dealership and try to convince them that you are worth taking a risk on, based on your word that you will pay each month. It will take a long time, and you may be embarrassed by being turned down completely, out loud, in view of other customers. Or, you can go to your bank, fill out paperwork, talk to a representative of the bank, and be “pre-qualified” for a certain amount. You then go to a dealership that accepts pre-qualifications, and can actually talk car choices instead of whether or not you are qualified to finance one. That’s what “pre-qualified” means: “before qualified.” Whether or not you are qualified to receive a loan has been decided before you go to the car dealer, by someone who has the right credentials to determine if you’re qualified.
But who of us is “qualified” to receive forgiveness from someone? And who has the credentials to say to us “you’re pre-qualified” for a positive response before you ever ask for forgiveness?
What if you feel like you’ve offended God? How do you obtain His forgiveness? He’s the creator of the universe, the only righteous judge, the king of kings, etc. And we think a king, queen, president, or judge of the U.S. Supreme Court is intimidating! How then do we approach God when we’ve offended Him! How do we find someone who can “pre-qualify” us to approach God to ask forgiveness?
Maybe that’s how this tax collector I heard about felt. Tax collectors, even today, are not particularly liked. But this was back in Roman Empire times, when the Romans assigned a person from any given people-group to collect the taxes from their own people. They were often considered traitors to their people. In addition, tax collectors apparently had a lot of control over how much they could collect: so long as Rome got their exact amount, the Roman government didn’t necessarily care how much above that amount was collected and kept by the tax collector. And the methods of collection weren’t necessarily rigorously controlled either. So in the process of collecting taxes from their own people, the tax collector might do many things which he later came to regret.
We don’t know what happened to touch this particular tax collector’s heart, but something did. He may have been Jewish, collecting taxes from Jews, as he showed up in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, standing in the same large space with a Pharisee, one of a then-elite sect in Judaism. But while the Pharisee appeared to be acting as his own advocate, telling God all the righteous things he did to earn God’s approval, including thanking God that he was “not like this tax collector,” the tax collector himself,
“…standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ ” (Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14)
The tax collector didn’t have a LinkedIn connection who worked with God and could introduce him to God. He didn’t have anyone with him who could be an advocate for him before God. All he could do was cry out to God directly, and hope he would be heard. As the Old Testament put it
“For…who will oppose Your judgment?…Or who will stand before You to plead as an advocate for unrighteous men?” (Wisdom of Solomon, ch. 12, verse 12)
The interesting thing is who was telling the tax collector’s story: Jesus Christ, a real human – who also claimed to be God in the flesh. What if He was? Wouldn’t that give Him the credentials to “pre-qualify” us to approach God? He could be our advocate, to introduce us to God, and maybe even put in a good word for us with Him.
There are several instances where Jesus said to someone “your sins are forgiven.” Those Jewish leaders who heard him gasped in horror, as only God could forgive sins. If Jesus was just a man, His saying this was blasphemy and worthy of death (no nonsense about Jesus being “a good teacher” here!) But Jesus, through His works, proved that He was indeed sent by God to forgive sins. As the Apostle John said,
“…if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John, chapter 2, verses 1 and 2)
The entire human race has been “pre-qualified” by God Himself to be the recipient of His “Forgiveness Act”, sending His own son to become, in some mysterious way, human, while still being God. Jesus’ birth was announced by the angels, saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward Men.” God’s goodwill toward humans: that’s you and me.
We’ve been “Pre-qualified for The Forgiveness Act” that was a once-in-history occurrence. You can read about what that act was, and how you can receive forgiveness from God, in the Bible’s New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.