Forgiveness

Today is Good Friday. And this morning I participated in my first Good Friday service in Huntingdon. From 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm, we rotated from church to church meeting in seven historic downtown churches. We spent about 20 minutes in each church, then walked to the next church. The host pastor of each church led worship and a guest speaker spoke on one of the "seven last words of Jesus."

I spoke at the first service and talked about Jesus’ statement, "Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing" (Luke 23.34).

Speakers had to keep it to 5-7 minutes so it had to be very focused. Here’s what I shared …

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It’s hard for me to forgive: I’d rather hold a grudge! I’d rather get revenge!

But, it’s probably just me, right?

Jesus had some pretty challenging things to say about forgiveness:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! (Matthew 5.43-44).

“Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you" (Luke 6.27-28).

The point is, Forgiveness is the hallmark of what it means to follow Jesus!

Here’s why this is important: If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you don’t forgive others, you won’t be forgiven. That sounds pretty important to me!

And remember the prayer Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray? It included the phrase, "and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." After the prayer, Jesus added some commentary about forgiveness: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6.14-15).

For Jesus, it went beyond words, beyond teaching. He knew that the road ahead would include responding to his "enemies." Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed …" (Matthew 17.22b-23).

How did Jesus respond to his enemies? After being tortured, and while nailed to a cross — and worse, being crushed underneath the weight of our sin — he prayed, "Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing" (Luke 23.34).

It’s hard enough to forgive under fairly normal circumstances, isn’t it? It’s much easier to hold a grunge. It’s much more natural to get revenge. But Jesus taught us by his words and his example that forgiveness is the best response. In fact, it’s the hallmark of what it means to follow Jesus!

Who do you need to forgive?
Who do you need to forgive today? What do you need to let go of? What issues do you need to work through in order to be able to forgive someone who’s hurt you?

What would it look like if the Church practiced forgiveness? What if forgiveness became the hallmark of all of Jesus’ followers?

Prayer
O God, thank you for the gift of forgiveness. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. Help us, Lord, to forgive others when we are hurt. Help us not to hold onto hurts, or worse, to try to get even with those who hurt us. May we be like Jesus who forgave, and prayed for, his enemies! Amen.

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