Jesus had plenty to say about forgiveness . . .
If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times hall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?” Jesus’ answer: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
When I have trouble forgiving others, I try to remember two rather humbling stories.
The first involves Nazi concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom.
A few years after World War II ended, Corrie gave a talk in a German church. Her message? God forgives. She concluded by telling the audience: “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
After the talk, a man came forward. Corrie instantly recognized him as one of the guards from the concentration camp in which she had been imprisoned. She remembered his cruelty. She remembered the shame of having to walk past him naked. She remembered his leather whipping crop. But, most of all, she remembered that her beloved sister Betsie had died in that horrible place overseen by men such as him.
The man thrust out his hand. “A fine message, Fräulein!” he said. “How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
Corrie couldn’t bring herself to take the man’s hand.
He continued: “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.” He thrust his hand out again. “Will you forgive me?”
Corrie says she stood there staring at the man with coldness clutching her heart. So she prayed: Jesus, help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.
Here’s what she says happened next:
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands — the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5: “. . . because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
The second story is about Jesus himself.
Roman soldiers beat Jesus, mocked him, spat on him and then nailed him to a cross between two criminals. With all the power in the universe available to him as he hung there looking down on his tormentors, did he call down fire from heaven to incinerate them?
No. Instead he did something beautiful. He forgave them.
Here’s what he said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
This week, we’re walking in Jesus’ footsteps to the cross and beyond.
In the last 24 hours, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, abandoned, mocked, beaten, condemned and hung on a cross to die. According to eyewitness accounts, these were his final words:
Forgiveness. Jesus’ first words on the cross were “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Even in agony Jesus embodied God’s amazing love, echoing his earlier words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Salvation. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One hurled insults at him. The other repented and begged, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
Compassion. Seeing his mother, Mary, and the disciple John grieving near the cross, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27) John followed Jesus’ instructions and took Mary into his home.
Forsaken. Witnesses reported that, beginning at noon, “darkness came over the land” for three hours. Then, at about 3:00 p.m., Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46) Jesus endured the darkness of separation from the Father to pay the penalty for our sins.
Thirst. Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28) Jesus thirsted on the cross for us so that we would never have to thirst again (Revelation 7:16). As he said earlier: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
Finished. Jesus declared: “It is finished.” (John 19:30), conquering sin forever (Hebrews 10:5-13).
Surrender. Finally, Jesus cried out, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and then breathed his last (Luke 23:46). Jesus submitted to his Father’s will up to his very last breath. And he did it for us.