Little Johnny was learning in Bible class about sin, prayer and forgiveness. When the teacher finished the lesson, she asked, “What do we have to do before we ask the Lord for forgiveness?” Little Johnny raised his hand. No one else raised their hand, so the teacher reluctantly called on him to answer what we must do before asking for forgiveness. Little Johnny confidently said, “Sin.”
Jesus came to earth and shed His blood that our sins might be forgiven. Forgiveness is the Passover theme. Sin is what we concentrate upon putting out of our lives this time of year. I think a lot of our Protestant friends and family all understand that Jesus came to die for us so we could be forgiven of our sins, but then what? As usual, mainstream Christianity falls short of what is expected or of what God’s plan is.
What should our reaction be to Jesus’ sacrifice? What should our attitude be after being forgiven? After the Passover, then what? Obviously, we are to put leaven out of our homes and keep it out during the following days, and that represents us putting sin out of our lives. There are different types of leaven, aren’t there? There is the usual quick rising yeast you can buy in the store to make bread. However, there is also a slower acting yeast that is used to make things like pizza crust and flat bread. Likewise, there are different kinds of sin, aren’t there? There is hatred, malice, envy, anger and a whole host of other things we might need to purge from our lives.
So, in view of that, what might be the most important sin we should be careful to avoid following the sacrifice of Our Savior? Perhaps there are many that might come to mind. However, assuming you have acknowledged God and Jesus Christ as the Ones in charge, assuming you put your faith in them and have repented and become baptized, then what? How should we respond to this? While any sin, no matter how small, can block our growth and even our entrance into the Kingdom, there is one where we are promised will lead to God not forgiving us if we practice it.
14-15 Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, he will not forgive you.~ Mt 6:14-15 (TLB)
Brethren, we do not want to be one of those who are unwilling to forgive. In fact, I am convinced that this is how Lucifer started going astray. He perceived that he was not being treated right or highly regarded enough and would not let go of it. His pride would not let him see the need to forgive even the perception of unfairness.
Earlier in Mt 18, Peter thought he was going to outdo the Pharisees. The Pharisees taught that you forgive someone 3 times, and after that you did not have to. So, Peter thought he would go even better and asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, and then he throws in “Till seven times?” Undoubtedly, Peter thought it was twice better than the Pharisees plus one, and the fact that 7 is a biblical number surely had an appeal as well. Jesus said no, but to forgive seventy times seven, which really means as many times as it takes. Jesus then told the parable of the servant who owed millions of dollars to the king and was forgiven but would not forgive a fellow servant who owed him a few hundred.
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.~ Mt 18:34-35
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be scary stuff, and I don’t easily get scared.
Yet, it isn’t always easy, is it? I sometimes want to say, “But, you don’t understand! This case is special!” I sometimes want to say, “But what about my life? My life was so different than everyone else’s.” Is it really, though? I have been through some things, but so has everyone else. You know what? I’ve never been an actual slave to any person. I have gone hungry from time to time, but I have never actually starved. I have served in the military, but at least I don’t have to deal with memories of actually killing anyone. While I have had financial issues, I have never had land outright stolen from me. I have never lived in fear that my wife and children would be ripped away from me and killed, as is the case in some areas of the world.
So, maybe my case is not so special after all, and maybe your’s isn’t either. Maybe we should count our blessings and realize that all human beings require forgiveness from God and mankind alike, and it is our duty to forgive.
What about “forgive and forget”? Well, the phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. Yes, God says He will remember our sins no more, but where are we instructed to do so? We are not, and over time I think I finally understand why. Who is going to hurt God? Obviously, God is not in any danger from what we do. However, a woman living with an abusive husband very much is in danger, isn’t she? As long as he is being abusive, it would be prudent for her to not forget. Now, if he does something and goes to jail over it, that does not mean she should brood about it every day. That’s not forgiveness. Yet we are also instructed to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. We are to be instructed by what happens to us and yet be able to resist the urge to dredge up old hurts and anger.
And, this is the insidiousness of it, isn’t it? Truly, if possible, we should forgive and forget. There are times when something will trigger a memory and I will start getting all worked up again, even when it involves people who are long gone. I don’t think I am unique in this sort of thing. Yet, I have to stop and ponder why it is that I still feel that way. I have to learn to let go again. It is instructive that Paul writes about the old man, that is our carnal nature, is crucified with Christ. Yet, he also writes in Ep 4:22-24 to practicing Christians to put off the old man and put on the new. It is obvious that Paul viewed this as a lifelong process, and thus we every year set aside a special time to concentrate upon just this very sort of thing.
Forgiveness, both for us and from us, that is a huge part of what this season is about. When you consider that we are to put all sorts of leaven out (malice, hatred, envy and so on), it becomes obvious that we cannot do that unless we first forgive others.
One last thing: We are not forgiving necessarily because we expect them to repent. We cannot make them feel sorry. We cannot make them change. Hopefully, through mercy, they will come to these things, but I think it is obvious that some will not and will have to suffer a second death. What does that mean on a personal level? We must forgive even when not asked for it. Jesus even instructed us to love and pray for our enemies. Honestly, can we really pray from the heart for their well-being unless we have forgiven them?
What happens if we choose to not let go? What happens if we instead choose to nurse a grudge? I wonder that if all the mass shootings going on would happen if people really learned to forgive and forget? I mean, not everyone who nurses a grudge will necessarily become a mass shooter, but isn’t it inevitable in a world that teaches to not forgive for it to happen at least some of the time? Even if you nurse a grudge and don’t become a mass shooter, you are obviously thinking of harming the person in some way. That is not showing love and compassion for your enemies.
Luke contains a reminder that we are here to learn how to be God’s children, and we are not here to twist or cajole others into doing the right thing at this time. Lk 23 has some unique “last sayings of Christ” that are not found anywhere else, and so it might be a good idea to peruse it during this time of year.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.~ Lk 23:34 (NIV)
This should be sobering. If anyone of us can be unjustly tried, beaten, have thorns shoved on our heads, brutally flogged with a cat o’ nine tails and ultimately crucified and still say these words and mean it, then my hat is off to you. This is the ultimate example that Christ left for us, though, and it showed the seriousness of His words to forgive others.
So, while we are putting out and leaving out leaven from our lives, let us not forget that lack of forgiveness is as much of a sin as any other thing. Let us remember we are required to forgive because we ourselves are forgiven, even as the servant who owed the king money and was forgiven was expected to forgive the debts of others. We must forgive if we want forgiveness, and I truly don’t believe any of us here are perfect and are not in need of forgiveness. There are many types of leaven, and there are many types of sin in the world, but I truly believe we cannot get rid of all of our sinful attitudes unless we first are willing to forgive others.