With the sound of the gavel, the sentence was handed down.
The next five years of her life were sealed. They wouldn’t be spent watching her young children grow into teenagers – or caring for her newborn baby girl. She would spend the next 1,825 days locked in a small cell at the state penitentiary. Guilty as charged.
She – was a young woman I was mentoring through a prison ministry program. There were a few typical excuses for why she went along with the crowd that fateful day – peer pressure, a bad home life, drugs. But for the most part, she fully accepted her blame. She admitted her fault. As I read her letter, I realized there was a far greater sentence she was serving – the one inside her heart. “I’m a terrible mom,” she wrote. “I deserve to be here for what I’ve done – and my kids deserve better.”
We often hand the heaviest punishments to ourselves, born from the guilt and shame of our hearts. Self-condemnation can imprison for as long as we allow. It doesn’t matter if we are locked in a jail cell, or roaming free among society. If we carry the burden of unforgiveness and self-condemnation, we are prisoners. But how can we accept that Jesus died for our sins, and yet refuse to forgive ourselves of those same sins? Maybe it’s because we haven’t truly accepted the free pardon Jesus offers us.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus reads from the scrolls of Isaiah:
Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. . . . “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4:18; emphasis added)
“To proclaim freedom for the prisoners”! Jesus was not speaking of only those physically imprisoned. He was speaking of the condition of humanity – our imprisonment to sin and death. Jesus was saying that He came to set us free from the condemnation of sin! And He said, “today, this scripture is fulfilled.” There is nothing more needed. Jesus brings complete freedom from all condemnation and power of sin over our lives – and He alone fulfills that prophecy!
The Greek word used for freedom is “aphesis” which translated means “pardon.” Receiving pardon doesn’t mean the offender is innocent, but merely forgiven and set free from the sentence that has been handed down. Pardon can only be granted by the highest authority for the appropriate jurisdiction. At the state level, only the governor can grant pardon; at the federal level, the President; and in a kingdom, a pardon may only be granted by the King himself. Sound familiar?
We are under the law of the Kingdom of Heaven. The highest authority in Heaven and on earth, is God himself. Being sinful in our very nature, we are already guilty – and the punishment for sin is death. But the King has granted pardon for those who will accept this free gift of clemency. If we don’t acknowledge our guilt, we can’t accept the pardon for it. And if we confess our guilt, and accept the King’s pardon, we must also accept the forgiveness and freedom we have been given!
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
We do not have to be ashamed before the Lord. We do not have to carry the burden of guilt for the sins we have acknowledged before Him. We are forgiven – completely. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel remorse for our sins. Without remorse, there is no acknowledgment. Feeling a measure of guilt is necessary for a repentant heart. But once we have confessed and truly repented – we must accept the forgiveness and pardon we’ve been given. We must release ourselves from all condemnation – just as God has released us from it. Consequences may be inevitable. But the eternal judgment has already been paid. Jesus was condemned and put to death for our guilt. He was also raised victorious over death because He was without blame.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
By the power of His name, we can be forever cleansed of all guilt and shame – and our sins are no longer counted against us. Jesus stood condemned before the Judge – and we stand justified beside our Redeemer.
When we confess and repent, God no longer sees a thief on a cross –an adulteress at a well –a prostitute at his feet – or a mother sitting in a prison cell. God sees our hearts. He sees our potential. He sees what we will become when we surrender our lives to Jesus.
Redemption isn’t about what we deserve. Redemption is about the gracious God we serve.
He has set the captives free!