Forgiveness is when we let go of all the weight that is dragging us away from God. We forgive others so we can let the pain go. We forgive ourselves so that we can become the person we were created to be.
There is an old folk tale about a chicken hawk that found an egg. Chicken Hawks are notorious for stealing other bird’s eggs, hatching them and raising the young as their own. Oh, and Chicken Hawks cannot fly. This particular chicken hawk hatched the egg and out popped an eagle. The eagle grew up with the chicken hawks and since that was all he ever saw, he thought he was an eagle. One day, he looked up and saw an eagle fly by and he thought to himself, “boy, I wish I could fly. But I am only a chicken hawk.” And spent the rest of his days walking on the ground, never realizing that he was meant to fly.
This is what sin does to us - it clouds our thoughts and makes it so we never realize who we were made to be.
it is an infection. Paul said: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). In other words, Adam’s sin infected the entire world - its in our blood and the only way to get rid of it is with a blood transfusion. It has to be taken out and new blood put in. Paul also said: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Peter said it this way: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19-20)
In the law of Moses (Lev. 16), we see a unique part of the sacrifice of atonement. Every year, the people of Israel would stand before God and admit that they were not perfect - and that they had made mistakes, but that they wanted to restore their relationship with their God. So during the burnt offering, the high priest would have two lambs. The first would be killed so that the people could see the blood and be reminded that they are getting a ‘blood transfusion’ and being changed to meet with God. But then the priest takes the other lamb and confesses the sins of the people while he is holding it. And then he gives it to a man who takes it into the deepest part of the wilderness and releases it. It carries the guilt and baggage of the people far away - showing them that their sins have been removed.
Jesus was both lambs for us. On the cross, He bled to give us a blood transfusion. And then he was the scapegoat that carried our sins away from us.
This gives us two very important things to remember:
This is why we need Jesus and why we need to take very serious what He has done for us. It is not to be taken lightly because not only is your eternity at stake, but you are causing pain to the one that loves you enough to take the pain for you.
This is discipleship.
We have been talking about the need to create peace by showing mercy and grace to those that have made our lives difficult. When you develop these principles, you then have to practice forgiveness - letting go of those things that need grace and mercy. This leads to peace in yourself and in others.
But what happens if you don’t let go?
Jesus said: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) which implies that everyone that is born will live forever - some in Heaven and some in Hell - but for everyone there is eternal life.
CS Lewis expands on this idea when he said: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.”
Through his writings CS Lewis suggests that the choices we make right now have eternal consequences. What you fill yourself with will determine if you will be a “god” or a “monster”. There are things that bring us closer to God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) and there are things that move us farther from God: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10) - note this is not a complete list, but only a list of a few things that men have come to call ‘sin’ and have caused people to stumble in life.
CS Lewis suggests that when you fill yourself with good fruit (such as peace) - it grows over eternity until it transforms you more into the image of God. But when you fill yourself with bad (such as anger) - it also grows over eternity until it transforms you into a monster. Since so much of the bad is crowding into our broken lives because of a broken world - we have to let Jesus take it from us — we have to let it go and become the person God created us to be.
Paul expresses this in the the verse that follows his list of ‘sins’ (above) when he says: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11). He was saying that when we unite ourselves with Jesus, God takes away these things that way us down. We are free from those things that make us stumble - but we need to be careful to let them go and NOT return to them.
Genesis 45 tells the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph has just revealed himself to his brothers. They had sold him into slavery in Egypt and now he was second in charge of the entire country. Joseph now sends the brothers back to Palestine to tell their father, Jacob, that he is alive. He gives the brothers this command before they leave: “Do not Quarrel on the way!” He told them this because he knew that the brothers were on the way to confront their father who they had deceived - They had convinced Jacob that Joseph was dead and Jacob had been in mourning for 20 years. Now they had a 9 day walk and they would very likely use this time to argue about who was to blame. This could cause great division within the family - and defiantly would destroy their peace. So Joseph stresses to the brothers 2 things: 1. That everything that happened - good and bad - was part of God’s plan, so everything is forgiven. And 2. If they want to move ahead as a family, they needed to let it go. By forgiving each other and themselves, they could become a united and peaceful family, that celebrates the protection of the son, and grows into the strong nation that God needs them to be. Jesus told the disciples a similar thing - “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
We need to let go of the weight people put on our arrows - but we also need to let go of the weight we put on ourself.
Carl Jung once said: “What if when Jesus said to love the least of these my brothers and sisters, he meant yourself?”
It is sometimes harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others - but it so important that you do. You need to show yourself mercy - don’t punish yourself for past mistakes that you cannot change. And show yourself grace - give yourself space to make mistakes and not be perfect. And mostly - live forgiven: believe that you are loved - GOD MEANS IT when He said it. Let go of yesterday so that you can move into a beautiful tomorrow.
This is Discipleship.
We have been talking about Mercy and Grace.
Mercy is not giving someone something they deserve. In other words, not punishing someone when they have done something wrong. Jesus showed us mercy from the Cross when He took our place so that we did not have to die for our sins. We show mercy to others when we do not retaliate when they attack us - we turn the other cheek.
Grace is the opposite side of this - it is giving someone something that they do not deserve - such as when a teacher gives extra credit to help you raise your grade. Jesus showed us grace from the cross when He took our sins and gave us new life. We show grace when we give someone the benefit of the doubt after they have done something to hurt us - when we choose to think that the person is good, but in a bad state of mind and that they did not mean to hurt you. So you let the issue pass by.
These two concepts are not easy - and they are not meant to let people walk all over you. They are meant to promote peace. If a person continues to hurt you after you have given them grace and mercy, then something is wrong. They are not learning peace. It is very likely that you are enabling their sin - and that what you thought was mercy and grace was not the mercy and grace they needed, so you look for a different path - sometimes they need a little ‘tough love’ such as showing grace in NOT giving someone money to continue a drug habit.
These two concepts are also cornerstones to one of the most important principles of God’s plan - Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is letting go of those things that keep your arrow from hitting the mark. It is more than just telling someone you forgive them - it is letting go of the reason you needed to forgive them.
I once read the story of two monks that went for a walk outside their monastery. As they traveled, they came to a river in which a woman was standing next to the water. She was trying to figure out how to cross without getting wet. The older monk offered her assistance and carried her safely and dryly across the water. On the other side, he sat her down and she went on her way. For the rest of the walk, the younger monk was angry and would not talk to the older monk. When they arrived back at the monastery, the older monk stopped the younger and asked him what his problem was. The younger monk shouted, “We are monks and we are not allowed to touch women. Yet, you picked up that woman and carried her!!! You broke our laws!!!!” The older monk laughed and said, “Oh, I see the problem. I put the woman down back at the river, but you are still carrying her.”
It is so easy to become overwhelmed with all the things we carry that we don’t need to. We hold onto the hurts and guilt that amass over our lives. We must put them down.
In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at a well. Through their conversation we learn that she has lived a very broken life - having been with many different men - and that she was living a life of shame (which is why she was at the well in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the morning when the other women arrive). She was hiding because of her shame. Jesus not only points out to her that he knows every part of her brokenness - but that he loves her just the same. When she understands she is acceptable to God - even after all her mistakes and pain - she lets go of all the fear and guilt and runs to the rest of the town to tell them that she was free and that they can be free also.
Brennan Manning (one of my personal heroes) once said that when we arrive in heaven, God will not ask us how many times we went to church or how many Bible verses we memorized. He will ask us one question and one question only - “Did you Believe me when I said that I loved you?” The problem with so many of us is that we will have to say “no” because we have been holding too tight to our shame, guilt, pains, and baggage. We don’t believe we are worth God’s love, so we drown in our own human failings. And Jesus is patiently saying “Let it Go. Give it to me. Be forgiven because I love you.”
This is discipleship.
There is a classic episode of MASH in which Hawkeye (the camp jokester) has played a prank on his best friend BJ. Non Hawkeye is expecting a prank back - and he spends the entire episode waiting for it happen. He becomes paranoid and starts acting crazy as he expects a prank at any moment. But it never comes. BJ plays the ultimate prank on Hawkeye - Mercy.
Last time we spoke about ‘Grace’ - which is giving something that is not deserved. This is seen when we are offended by someone, but we give them a pass knowing that they are fighting battles that we don’t understand - so we show them love in hopes that they will show us love and give us a pass when we offend them. It is a major step towards promoting peace.
Mercy is the opposite side of this coin. It is NOT giving someone something that they do deserve. It is NOT punching them in the nose when they offend you. It is NOT seeking vengeance for a pain that the world said you deserve justice for.
This is what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed are the MEEk” (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is not weakness - it is strength under control. It is knowing you can do damage, but choosing NOT to.
Jesus showed us both Grace and Mercy when He took our sins on the cross. He showed us Mercy by not executing us for our sins and He showed us Grace when He gave us new life.
Grace and Mercy are wonderful things - but they are not meant to be a free pass to do whatever we want. It is meant to be a wake up call.
Just as sin and the law are meant to show us when we are missing the mark — grace and mercy show us how we are affecting others. When we know we deserve punishment, but we don’t get it - and when we don’t deserve peace, but we get it, it can be a shameful thing. It makes us look inside and think about who we truly are.
Romans 12:20 - “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
By giving people that hurt us both grace and mercy - we are doing what they do not expect and what they know they don’t deserve. It does two things:
This is the heart of forgiveness.
This is the beginnings of peace.
This is discipleship.
Just before i was sent to the Middle East during Desert Storm, my commander met with my unit and to tell us what to expect. He finished by saying, “This isn’t a floor we stand on, its a frying pan and we are all in it.” What he was trying to say was that we had a hard road ahead of us and that no one was better than anyone else. The officers were going to face the same dangers as the unlisted men. No one was any better than anyone else.
This same message can be seen throughout the Bible. From the time Adam left the garden to the time Jesus healed the leper, we see that life is hard and no one has it easier than anyone else. We are all broken and we all face the same challenge - survival.
Romans 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
By understanding that everyone is struggling to become the person they were created to be, we can find comfort in knowing that we are not alone.
However, some have used this knowledge to try to lift their own status. They say things such as: “At least I am not as bad as...” They try to make themselves feel better by lowering the status of someone else.
Luke 18:9-14 - To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The Pharisee was trying to gain ground with God by saying their was worse people in the world - but this failed in God’s eyes because to God it is not about what we do or don’t don’t do - it is about who we are becoming. An arrow that is shot an inch off the mark may be closer that an arrow that is a mile off the mark - but it is still a miss.
You may try to jump and touch the moon - and you may even climb to a high mountain so that you are closer to the moon, but in the end, you will never reach it because you are bound by the forces of gravity. In life, the forces of a broken and sinful world keep us from touching God - and it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into it.
The fact is - without a rocket, no one can touch the moon and without Jesus, no one can touch God — no matter how good you live your life.
When you understand this connection, you can start to understand true relationships - Love.
John Bradford, in the 16th Century, is credited with making a comment when he saw a group of prisoners. He said, “Therefore, but by the Grace of God go I” - meaning that if the circumstances of his life were different, he might have ended up a prisoner himself. He could not condemn or judge these men because he knew that they were no different than himself. Instead, he felt compassion for them.
Moses told the Israelites that the law commanded them to be kind to foreign people that lived in their country - because they had been foreign people living as slaves in Egypt. They knew what it was like to be treated badly - so they should do better.
Leviticus 19:34 - The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
We know what it is like to have a bad day and to get frustrated and to say things we didn’t really mean - so why should we hold it against someone else who is having a bad day, getting frustrated, and saying things we know they will regret? By realizing that people are trying - and sometimes failing - to find a way out of this frying pan, we can give them grace (something they don’t deserve - forgiveness, patience, and a second chance). And when we make this a part of how we treat others, they will often return the grace on us - creating peace in our worlds for a time.
This is discipleship.