I used to be a teacher, and when I first started in education, I was an instructional aide in a special education math classroom. The middle school students in that classroom were only 2-3 years behind in math, so they were learning from 4th and 5th grade math books. One of the concepts that was very difficult for them to understand was that of simplifying fractions. Basically, simplifying a fraction is making it into a smaller fraction without changing its value. So instead of saying 50/100, you would say 1/2. But to a student who sees things in a very concrete way, these two numbers are completely different. They can’t be equal, because 50 doesn’t equal 1, and 100 doesn’t equal 2. So simplification of fractions was a struggle for them, and we would go over it again and again and again.
In my Bible study today, it talks about forgiveness as a by-product of God’s love. That forgiveness is not something that was easily grasped by those in Jesus’ day. For quite a long time, sin was dealt with by the Law of Moses, through animal sacrifice as an atonement for people’s sin. When Jesus came and offered forgiveness simply through faith in Him, the people of that time had trouble understanding the concept. They understood the sacrificial system – it was concrete…something they could see and feel. But Jesus changed all that – he made it much simpler, yet they did understand.
Paul explained this in his sermon in Acts 13 when he told the people there:
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’ ” (Acts 13:38-41)
When Jesus would tell people that their sins were forgiven, the teachers of the law would accuse Him of blasphemy. It happened when He went to Nazareth in Matthew 9. Here it says:
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:1-7)
When Jesus willingly died on the cross, he simplified the forgiveness of sin tremendously. No longer was a complex sacrificial system needed to atone for sin – we suddenly had access to forgiveness simply through faith. Sometimes it’s hard to believe – even today, people try to earn their salvation by doing what they believe are good works. They over-complicate the forgiveness that God offers because of His love for us. But as my study pointed out, Jesus brought the gospel to us…the “good news.” And the news “is good because it contains grace, eternal life, and union with Christ. But the best thing about the good news is that forgiveness of sin was immensely simplified…”