Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Forgiving Like Jesus
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk '? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins "-- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."
The majority of Jesus’ ministry was letting people know that they were acceptable to God, not matter what their circumstances, past or the judgements they had suffered. This man, although ill, was really looking for acceptance in God’s presence. If he went to the temple in Jerusalem, he wouldn’t be accepted, but Jesus was saying that he was accepted anyway. The Pharisees strongly disagreed with him, saying that he had no authority to accept for God someone who was quite questionable. Jesus, however, said that he did have that authority—and to prove it, he healed the man.
"I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Pharisees were interested in keeping Israel pure. And that meant that they were to separate out those people who were questionable in their eyes. Someone who has had a lifestyle of sin—even though they were repentant—is certainly questionable, and thus unacceptable to the Pharisees. However, Jesus fully accepted her repentance and declared her to be acceptable before God. In fact, Jesus declared her devotion for God to be greater than the Pharisees, for she had been forgiven of more.
Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."
Rulers of the Jews were going to stone a woman caught in adultery. Jesus makes the point that those who were deserving of judgement were not worthy to condemn or punish. But at the end, when Jesus alone could stand and punish, he offered her an opportunity to set her life straight. He didn’t offer forgiveness, or acceptance before God, but he offered the opportunity to live in repentance.
"Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins."
Jesus also sacrificed himself so that others might be forgiven. It was not enough for him to offer a possibility of forgiveness, he also needed to create the context in which people could be forgiven. For him, that meant the ultimate sacrifice—his honor and body had to be destroyed in order to bring about a nation which accepts the fallen who are repentant.
"If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."
We are to forgive those who come to us to repent. If anyone repents of their sin, we are to accept them as we would a close family member—no matter who they are or how evil their sin was or how much they hurt us. We must accept them. We must restore the relationship. We must welcome them back in our lives.
"And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
Forgiveness isn’t just a nice idea, or a merciful option. If we are to maintain our position before God as being acceptable before him, we have to accept others as well. If we refuse to accept others because of a hurt they do us or based on some standard that is not in God’s word, then we will be rejected by God.
"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
Not only are we responsible to forgive others who hurt us, but Jesus gave us the authority to forgive or to not forgive in God’s name. In accordance with the standards God gave us, we can declare someone acceptable or unacceptable before God. We do this in accordance with the gospel and in accordance with the Holy Spirit.
Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
We must take care who we grant the acceptance of God and the Holy Spirit to. We cannot give it to everyone. Those who are unworthy of receiving the blessing of God—because of their judgement, their desire for personal gain, or their impurity before God.
Menno Simons taught on forgiveness in his churches among the Dutch churches in his care. At one point the churches heard of a group of English Reformed believers who were on a ship in a Dutch harbor, who were not being allowed to dock. These believers were rejected by England, and now they were not allowed to dock because they were Reformed, not the religious pursuasion that was acceptable by these two nations. Although the Reformed churches in other places were killing Anabaptists, the churches under Menno’s care asked permission to have these believers come off their ship and be housed by Anabaptists overnight until they were ready to leave. Even though they showed care and acceptance to those in need, nevertheless, the Anabaptist churches could not have those who were impure or unloving in their churches, and would separate from their communities those who would not abide by the teaching of Jesus.
Live it Out
Give everyone the opportunity for forgiveness
God grants everyone the opportunity to be acceptable before Him. No one is to be excepted. Even so, if someone is ready to repent, we need to give them the opportunity—in their own time, in their own way. Pray for people to be forgiven by God, even if they don’t deserve it and perhaps God will give them grace so they can be accepted.
Forgive the repentant
When someone has repented and is ready to submit to God, we need to accept them fully—not half-heartedly, or with regret—but with joy. We receive them as family and we accept them and help them as we can.
Forgive your brothers
Sometimes those closest to us can hurt us terribly and we want to hold onto that hurt, even if they apologized. However, true faith accepts the one who hurt us, because we all belong to God’s family. If brothers are separated and do not accept each other, then one—perhaps both—will then be unacceptable before God. Only if we accept each other will we be a part of God’s unified nation.
Pray for those you forgive
If you know that you have a responsibility to forgive and don’t feel like it, pray for them. Allow God’s love for this other person change your attitude and be willing to accept them.
Speak out forgiveness
When someone is forgiven, tell them. Don’t just assume they know. If someone is accepted before God, let them know. If you forgive someone their sin against you, let them know if they were asking for forgiveness. To show and speak your acceptance of another person is a powerful blessing.
Treat those you forgive as family
It is not enough to forgive from a distance. Some might say, “I accept you as long as you stay away from me.” That is not true forgiveness. True forgiveness welcomes people as family. It is acceptance and hospitality and open welcome.
Don’t forgive everyone “carte blanche”
Not everyone is ready to be accepted by God. In fact, most people are not. We give everyone the opportunity to be forgiven, but we do not actually forgive everyone. We forgive only the repentant, only those who are submitted to God.