And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:25
Of all the prayers for restoration, none is stranger or more powerful than the prayer for forgiveness. We all know that as Christians we have a duty to forgive. Forgiveness was commanded, and modeled by our Lord. But if you are anything like me forgiving someone who has done me wrong is like eating liver: I know it is good, but I have a tough time swallowing it! But forgiveness is central to God’s work both in our own lives and in the life of others around us. In the past our own sin erected an unbreakable blockade between us and God but then His forgiveness became the doorway through which we were adopted into His family! When we choose to forgive for His sake, then we can also become doorways rather than blockades in the lives of others. For who will you become open door today?
And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:37-39
When Simon invited Jesus to his house that day he thought that Jesus would be delighted to come. Though Simon wasn’t one of those plotting to kill Jesus, he was uncomfortable with His teaching and wanted to have a chance to question Jesus personally. Jesus accepted the invitation because He wanted to answer Simon’s questions, just not in the way that Simon had expected! Simon thought that he the situation under control, till that sinful woman entered and began washing Jesus’ feet. Simon couldn’t understand. A humble repentant faith was foreign to him. His faith meant obeying all the rules and regulations then feeling good about himself. But faith is more than just giving Jesus a seat at our table. Faith is seeing ourselves for who we are because we have seen Him for who He truly is! Think of what Simon missed. He had given no water, no oil, no kiss, in all the time that Jesus sat at his table. What chances will you and I miss today if we find only what we are looking for and not what He has planned?
For those of you who like myself are gardeners you know that Tulips, Daffodils and other tuberous flowers are never planted in the Spring. Instead we go out to dig up some corner of the garden at the end of October. At that time there are no blossoms whatsoever in the flowerbeds, but the earth is still slightly warm from the summer’s heat and it offers the perfect place for bulbs to make a home. Autumn rains then soften the bulb and while no one is watching it sends out tiny roots into the surrounding soil. Then, Winter’s wind and cold freeze the ground solid. The tiny tendrils are locked in an icy embrace for four to five months. It would appear to the unknowing observer that there is no hope for beauty or blossom. Yet all the while, under the surface God does His mysterious work. We look out the window one early April morning suddenly the bulbs amaze us with their brilliant yellows, whites and reds.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:3
In the same way as the tulips and daffodils were planted so our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave forgiveness in the face of cold hatred, scorning and mocking. He freely forgave with no apparent hope of anyone accepting the pardon He gave. He was planted in the ground and then not only on the third day when He arose but on every day when His forgiveness blossoms in a heart His act of love continues to yield an abundant harvest!
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
Many years ago I heard an interview on Radio Bible. The questioning went something like this,
Host: To what do you attribute your business success?”
Business man “Good decisions”“
Host “And how did you learn to make good decisions?”
Businessman “Bad decisions!”
In our personal relationships with others we are always making decisions. We may decide to trust or to doubt. We may choose to forgive or hold a grudge. Each decision is an investment (or lack thereof) in the life of someone else. You might look at the king’s choice to forgive in the parable which Jesus told as a bad business decision. He could have legally sold this dishonest servant into slavery to recover some of his loss or he could have had him thrown in jail. But instead of richly deserved punishment, this king decided to invest mercy in his servant’s life.
Yet as in this man’s story it appears that the king had made a terrible choice. Instead of generating a return of gratitude in his servant’s heart, this forgiven man went immediately out and acted mercilessly with others. “What a waste! What an awful decision!” you might say about the king’s investment. You might also add, “So he should never do that again!”
But mercy is not like a worldly investment. Jesus parable shows how God forgives each of us. We are exactly like the dishonest thieving servant. We have cheated and stolen and yet God has for two thousand years continued to invest forgiveness in us. How often we must have grieved God’s heart when we failed entirely in our response to his mercy! Is there someone today in whom we can begin to invest even a tiny part of the forgiveness God has given us?
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Matthew 18:21
In answer to his question, Jesus told a story about a king who forgave a servant. Though the servant in Jesus’ story got things all wrong let’s take a look at what he could have gotten right.
The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt Matthew 18:26-27
Just as in our Christian lives, this man’s relationship to the king began by and was entirely based on the forgiveness of his king. Everything hinged on the king’s choice to forgive and accept. Sadly this servant tried right away to make things right by his own efforts Notice he says, “I will pay all.” How many of us determine that we will somehow make it up to God, when in fact we could never ever even in millions of years ever pay God back for all He has done for us!
Our forgiveness is complete! The Bible tells us that the king “released him and forgave him the debt” His forgiveness was not based upon his ability to repay. Forgiveness wasn’t a business decision with terms of repayment. The debt was not only released but the king also took upon himself the responsibility to pay these debts. That is what Jesus has done. When we really understand His mercy then our hearts will change both towards God and others. When His compassion flows into us we need to allow it to flow out to those who owe us any debt!
Jacob’s final message deals with persecution, forgiveness and outreach in the face of impending war in Syria.
One of the most successful evangelists in Bible times was a man who needed to learn more about the most powerful weapon he could have used on the enemies of God. The man’s name was Jonah and the weapon was mercy. Our brother Jonah was indeed one conflicted guy! Forget for a moment the entire episode of Jonah, the storm, the fish and the being vomited up on the beach (Yuck!), let’s examine Jonah’s evangelism.
Jonah came to the first day of his evangelistic crusade kicking and screaming. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want to go not because he was afraid of being attacked or because he thought he would be a failure. No, on the contrary, Jonah’s greatest fear was that the city would repent and that God would forgive them! Try with me to imagine the thoughts going through Jonah’s mind as he preached. Maybe they sounded a bit like this:
“Okay God so I know I have to obey and preach your message. Here goes: ‘Repent! God is sending destruction on this city!’ ” Then Jonah closed his eyes and prayed that no one would come to the altar! Wow, that might sound like the strangest thing but it was exactly what the Bible tells us. In fact when God chose to forgive the city because everyone was touched by Jonah’s message, he became angry. Let’s listen in on his conversation with the almighty as he is hastily exiting the city. You find this in Jonah 4:2
And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Before we laugh too hard at this surly prophet, maybe we need to look in the mirror to see if we are really a lot like him.Like Jonah, we may be missing the entire point of God’s mercy. Today in New York and New Jersey the news is filled with the stories of the most recent acts of terror on American soil. Some of us are so angry and frustrated that any act of destruction by us on parts of the Middle East would suit us just fine. But instead of bitterness, we who are Christians have the greatest opportunity to pull from God’s arsenal his most powerful weapon of all – the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. That weapon of mercy is the most powerful because it was also the most costly. Mercy cost God His only Son! As Jesus hung on the cross and became the object of shame and ridicule he could have asked the Father for justice. But Jesus knew that there was nothing more potent that he had available to use on his enemies than grace.
Our brother Jonah’s dream was not to see Nineveh saved. Oh no! Jonah was hoping for God to do to Nineveh something like what had happened with Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus instead looked past the jeering crowds. Jesus saw beyond his few frightened disciples huddling behind locked doors. Jesus looked all the way to heaven and saw a joy that no earthly power could take away and then He released on the world God’s mightiest weapon:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments Luke 23:34