It has been said that we are most like beasts when we kill, we are most like men when we judge, but we are most like God when we forgive.
We don’t do a lot of forgiving today. It may have been a while since you last saw a movie that celebrated forgiveness. But you probably have seen quite a few that celebrated vengeance and payback. Our culture doesn’t like to forgive. We just get mad. And more than getting mad, we like to get even.
Maybe you have been hurt in some way. Everyone has. Children are often disappointed with their parents. Parents are sometimes disappointed with their children. Employees are unhappy with their employers and vice versa. Husbands feel let down by their wives, and wives feel let down by their husbands. Petty squabbles can turn into longstanding rivalries and feuds.
When we engage in this kind of activity, we actually bring sorrow to God. The apostle Paul wrote, “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
There is no better example of forgiveness than Jesus himself. And as we celebrate Easter this weekend, let’s remember that the first of the seven statements Jesus made from the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
We make a lot of the fact that Jesus Christ was God, and so we should. But let’s not forget that he also was a man. He was fully God, and he was fully man. So when that whip came upon his back, he felt it like any person would. When his beard was ripped from his face and when he was beaten repeatedly, he would have experienced the agonizing pain any person would. And being in an incredibly weakened state after losing so much blood from the Roman cat of nine tails, he picked up that heavy cross and carried it outside the streets of Jerusalem. Then he was nailed to it. He took all of that on himself – and then asked for the forgiveness of those who had done it to him.
When he said, “Father, forgive them,” he was praying for the soldiers who were responsible for the actual act of crucifixion. He was praying for the religious leaders who turned him over to be crucified. And in a broader sense, he was praying for all the world – for you and for me – because it was our sins that put him on the cross.
It is as if Jesus were saying, “Father, forgive them, because they need forgiveness so desperately. Father, forgive them, for they have committed a sin that is beyond comprehension. Father, forgive them, for they have committed a sin that is black beyond their realization.”
So are you willing to forgive someone who has sinned against you? C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive.” We can all go on about why someone doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. But there was nothing in those who crucified Jesus that merited his forgiveness, yet he extended it anyway.
Forgiveness first comes from God. Our forgiveness of others flows from God’s forgiveness to us. Jesus said, “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
Forgiveness knows no limits. For the follower of Christ, no wrong is too great or too small to forgive. When Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
Jesus essentially said, “Try 70 times seven.” Peter must have done the math, because he didn’t say much after that.
Forgiveness is not selective. In other words, it is not for us to forgive some and not forgive others. There are no boundaries to this. We cannot choose to forgive one person and not forgive another. Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
When you forgive, you will experience great joy. In fact, when you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free: yourself. Unforgiveness tears you up inside. And ironically, the person you are harboring those feelings toward probably is oblivious to it. Forgiveness is surrendering your right to hurt someone for hurting you.
One final benefit to forgiveness is that it is actually good for your health. Studies have been done on learning to forgive, and scientists have been able to quantify the power of forgiveness in a number of areas, including the reduction of heart disease and extending the lives of cancer patients. It sounds like science is catching up with the Bible, because God has told us all along to forgive. Jesus forgave, and we should do the same.