Everything about the word is big to me. It strikes at my heart the moment I hear it. On most days, the word brings comfort and hope to my soul as I reflect on being the recipient of overwhelming mercy.
But honestly, even with that realization,
pondering forgiveness can also cause me deep angst.
Maybe it’s because forgiveness shifts from being a soothing ointment that covers my wounds to being a difficult obedience I need to extend.
As I studied forgiveness as a word, I was not expecting to find the word “remission” connected to it. Now THAT is quite a word! For many who have been personally affected by the agonies of a diseased body, the unexpected declaration of remission brings spontaneous and glorious celebration. And even though it may be temporary, there is something powerful and hopeful about a respite.
If being forgiven has the same impact as a pronouncement of remission, I am not at all surprised by the weight of it. Knowing that I am being released from the penalty of my blunder (intentional or not) refreshes my soul like a drink to a parched throat, bringing freedom, mercy, and restoration. But being the recipient of forgiveness for a wrong committed and being the distributor of forgiveness are two different things. I am saddened even now when I consider the healing power of forgiveness and yet how hesitant I am to extend it, especially when I’m deeply offended or hurt.
Matthew West sings about it. And when I think about my response to being hurt, I know exactly what he’s talking about.
It really is “the hardest thing to give away and the last thing on my mind today.
It always goes to those that don’t deserve.
It’s the opposite of how I feel when the pain they caused is just too real.
It takes everything I have just to say the word … forgiveness.”
I guess Peter felt that angst too. He was so sure that there was a limit to how much mercy we had to show to others that he had the audacity to ask Jesus about it. And Jesus’s response wasn’t all that soft.
“Then Peter came up and said to Him,
‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?
As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times,
but seventy-seven times.'” Matthew 18:21-22
I think the disciples knew exactly what He meant. Even though His answer didn’t need more clarification, He told them a story to make sure there was no misunderstanding.
Christ’s answer wasn’t about keeping score of offenses at all.
Rather, Jesus’ words and life were constant reminders
that choosing to follow Him included
laying down one’s right to be first and best.
Becoming great in the kingdom of Christ would not be discovered by counting grievances and getting even. In mathematical terms, the way Jesus calculated forgiveness looked nothing like the Pharisees’ balance sheets. Their life ledgers would not have been complete without the columns being equal at the end of every day. Matthew 5:38-39
When Jesus answered Peter, maybe the disciples remembered what He had said to them that day on the mountainside when He taught the crowd:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15
It is at the heart of who God is and has always been.
God the Father demonstrated His forgiving heart by sending His Son to us.
And before Jesus ever uttered the words “forgive them”,
He had already chosen to walk the road of humility and mercy.
Offering someone forgiveness wasn’t about the perpetrator’s actions or even their motives, it was about the heart of the forgiver.
Choosing to forgive begins as an obedient act of submission to the Father’s will by the one who has been offended. Before He hung on the cross and shed His blood for the payment of my sins, Christ Jesus possessed a heart of forgiveness. Paul said, “though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
Jesus didn’t attempt to justify His rightness. Rather, He plead for His Father’s mercy to be extended to them. Even as He breathed His last breath, His heart broke over the angry crowd’s blind arrogance and stubbornness.
Jesus, the perfect and spotless Lamb, had every right to cry out for justice.
Every right to cling to His divine nature.
Every right to call down fire and strike dead those who’d pierced Him.
But He chose to pray. He chose to forgive.
When Jesus prayed from the cross, He prayed for me. And He prayed for you.
My sin put Him there. Yours did too.
But His merciful heart has given me life.
Forgiving those who don’t “deserve it” is the one of the most Christ-like things I can do.
Because we have been forgiven much, we forgive.
Because Jesus forgave, we forgive.
Thank You Jesus, for being the Great Forgiver.
May I look to the cross and always remember Your heart that chose forgiveness!
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