Last night at midweek service, our theme was “Words from the Cross: Forgiveness.” How well are we doing at the business of forgiveness? We talk a lot about forgiveness. How wonderful it is to be forgiven, but acknowledging the struggles we have accepting that we are forgiven.
But our struggles go even deeper than that. Sometimes like with the “do not call” list, we set up our own “do not forgive” list. Of course, we never publicize the list. And we add conditions if we ever do face forgiving a person on the list. But it is there lurking in our hearts.
What about Jesus and His forgiveness of others? Does He have a “do not forgive” list? In the context of Luke 22 and 23, Jesus faced many opponents:
betrayal by Judas
abandonment by the other disciples
denial by Peter
mocking and beating by the soldiers
ridicule by the Council, Pilate, Herod
condemnation by the crowds
After all that, it would be in my sinful nature to build up resentment. They certainly would be on my “do not forgive” list. But as the soldiers are preparing to crucify Him, Jesus surprises everyone:
But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus does not take revenge on anyone who is putting Him on the cross. In fact, He is going to the cross for exactly that reason—to forgive, freely, fully, for all. There is no one on His “do not forgive” list. Note: if there is no confession of sin, then the forgiveness does not bring the benefits of Jesus’ declaration. But He announces forgiveness to people who do not deserve it, do not offer anything to Him in exchange for it, can never earn it.
How interesting that it is the last people in the train of events who hear this pronouncement. The soldiers are just doing their jobs. They probably had been through this process many times, hundreds of times; perhaps thinking “just another guy trying to save himself.” But Jesus does not try to “save Himself” (Luke 23:39). He is there specifically to save others, not himself. They are insignificant in the whole process, insignificant except to Jesus. And Jesus speaks words of forgiveness, hope, and salvation to them.
What happened? One of the criminals who is crucified beside Jesus believes on Jesus. One of the soldiers, actually the leader (centurion) hears and believes as well. They both probably imagined themselves outside the realm of forgiveness. But they were not. They were not on Jesus’ “do not forgive” list.
What happens when we hear those words of forgiveness? Paul exhorts us to forgive others in this way:
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
In other words, God has not placed conditions on our forgiveness. He stands ready to forgive. Unconditionally, fully. And that is how we are to forgive one another. We can’t wait for them to be “worthy enough” to forgive. Or we can’t for them to be “really, really sorry.” Rather “forgiving each other as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Who is overhearing your forgiving of others?
So, you can get rid of your “do not forgive” list. In the old days that meant burning the journal. In today’s world it means hitting the delete button on your iPhone, iPad, iMac… and then erasing the hard drive, so even the computer specialist (us in our sinful flesh) cannot retrieve it. It’s a done deal. Jesus said, “It is finished.” Indeed it is!