“Do you know how powerful the love of Jesus is?” my friend Mark asked me one day. “That love has sustained me every day for sixteen years since I surrendered my life to Him.”

When I first met Mark, he was a pastor. I would never have guessed how far God had brought him out of a dark and dangerous past. Mark started using drugs at age thirteen and continued into his thirties, eventually becoming addicted to opiates and later to heroin. Even though he was devastated by his stepbrother’s eventual death from drug use, Mark continued on the same road. Later, his sister would also die from her drug habit.

Mark did whatever he needed to do to feed his addiction. “If we had met back then,” I heard him quietly tell another friend once, “it would have gotten ugly.” But today Mark is a changed man, set free by God’s love at work in his heart and life. God has used Mark to encourage hundreds of others to leave drugs behind them, including my own son Geoff, whom Mark helped come out of heroin abuse and discover a new life in Christ.

When God forgives our sin through Jesus, He breathes new life into us. His forgiveness is perfect—He loves flawlessly and forgives completely. God is able to let go of the past entirely so that we can make a new beginning with Him. For everyone who comes to Him—no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done—He promises, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (Hebrews 8:12).

The Bible tells us that each person who receives Jesus becomes a “new person” (literally, a “new creation”) where “the old life is gone” and “a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). With our broken past behind us, a new future opens wide before us. The apostle John enthusiastically describes the fresh start God gives us: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We receive a new identity as sons and daughters of the King of kings and can look forward to an eternity of discovering “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” for us (Ephesians 3:18).

The dimensions of this love could not be constrained by the interior of the empty tomb from which Jesus arose from the dead on the first Easter morning, according to the Scriptures. Jesus’ resurrection as a fact of history indicates God’s full acceptance and affirmation of the righteous life Jesus lived for us, the sacrificial death He died for us, and the glorious power by which He demonstrated mastery over death itself. The living God has invaded the domain of death and created a new reality complete with everlasting life that enables every person who repents to be set free from sin, guilt, and death today. Whoever believes the good news of Easter and turns away from their sin receives God’s forgiveness, His immeasurable love poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit, and new life in Christ—an abundant and free life that lasts forever, filled with joy, peace, and hope for the future because Jesus is risen.

Wide . . . long . . . high . . . and deep”—those words are packed with meaning. The shape of God’s story of love and forgiveness expressed by those four words looks something like this: The Creator who spoke the stars into existence chose to become a tiny embryo that would grow to adulthood, just so He could bring us back to Himself. God’s love is so wide that He would stretch out His arms on a cross, even to the point of identifying with us in our sinfulness in order to remove the weight of every wrong we’ve ever committed: “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). The love of God is so long that we can never come to the end of it—there is nowhere we can run where He cannot find us, and nothing we have done that could ever place us out of His reach. The love of Christ is so high that it is beyond price, the best thing that could ever happen to us: “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Ephesians 1:7). God’s love to us through Jesus goes so deep that no matter how low our choices and mistakes may have brought us, He is still able to bend beneath us to pick us up and draw us close. He can even make us stronger in the broken places, bringing good from that which may seem irredeemable in ways we never thought possible.

Like He did for my friend Mark. I asked him once, “What does God’s forgiveness mean to you?” He answered, “When I was honest with God about the pain I was in and was real with Him about it, in the realness of my suffering he showed me a love that nothing in this world could ever compare to. He showed me a love that I can never forget, ever. That’s what the cross is all about.”

The Bible puts it this way: “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from allwickedness” (1 JOHN 1:9). God loves us so much that He longs for us to turn to Him.

In our sadness, our sin, and our brokenness, He meets us with open arms, and gives us life.

– JAMES BANKS, Our Daily Bread author