[PC-USA] 2006-03-03 - Forgiveness

The Last Seven Words of Christ, Part 1

Beginning this week, I will be writing a 7-part Lenten series on what have been termed "The Last Seven Words of Christ," the last recorded words from our Lord, on the day of His crucifixion. .

Luke 23:32-34 (The Message) Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

The word employed here for "forgiveness" is the Greek aphiemi, which is translated "cancel, remit, pardon." It was the same term used in relation to financial loans that were cancelled. Jesus was asking God to not hold their sins against them.

Read the passage carefully. Christ said they (those who crucified Him) didn't realize what they were doing. They didn't truly understand, didn't realize they were crucifying the Son of God. They honestly thought He was a criminal, like the other two men who were crucified with Him.

In today's high technology world, most of us are familiar with FAQs, Frequently Asked Questions, which usually speak to common questions and/or misunderstandings about a given topic. Here are some FAQs about forgiveness.

  • Was Christ's forgiveness limited to just those who were ignorant of their sins?

    Definitely not. The most obvious example is described in the passage above. For Christ assured one of those true criminals, that the forgiven lawbreaker would be with Him in Paradise, that very day.

  • Can we withhold forgiveness from those who have not apologized to us?

    Not if we are intentional about obeying our Lord. He instructs us to forgive, if we want to be forgiven - and there are no conditions. Our Lord didn't say to "forgive those who are sorry," or "forgive those who repent." He simply said "forgive." And He also exhorted us to "turn the other cheek," which involves forgiving those who are not repentant.

  • Does forgiving require acting as if nothing has happened, putting on a facade?

    Definitely not. First, that would be dishonest, which our Lord would not (except for rare circumstances) condone. Christ held people responsible for their behavior. He knew it was good for that person, to do so. If you are a parent, and your child disobeys you, if you just say "that's okay little Johnny," with no consequences, he probably will do it again.

    The criminal justice system bears this out. As someone who has witnessed over 500 court hearings, I have seen a very persistent pattern. Whether it involves a drug offense, burglary, or a violent crime, people who are just "let go" most often end up back in the system, with crimes escalating in severity. Holding someone responsible is not only for the benefit of the one they have wronged, but even more importantly for their own benefit. Otherwise, they will not grow spiritually or emotionally.

  • Is forgiveness always immediate?

    Only for the one Person who never sinned, Christ. For most of us, it's a gradual process, that can only be accomplished with God's help. When we insist someone "forgive totally" and immediately, we are usually setting someone up for failure and discouragement, and actually hindering the forgiveness. Also, it's often a matter of "behavior precedes feelings." As many counselors will attest to, we often need to act our way into feeling.

I encourage you, during this Lenten season (and thereafter, as well), to ask God to bring to mind anyone you need to forgive, and to guide you in that healing process.

Comments or Questions?

[email jan] cfdevcfpray@yahoo.com