What I Believe: Forgiveness

Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).

The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.

To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love

I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.

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Seven Things Jesus Accomplished on the Cross

There were seven things Jesus needed to accomplish while he was on the Cross. Dying was only one of them, and you or I could do that assuming we were crucified. What Jesus had to do was to complete, in perfection, some other tasks only he could do as the only begotten Son of his Father. What he needed to do before he died is reflected in words he said while on the cross. There are seven of these given below in chronological order.

Number One: Jesus forgave his executioners.

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”  (Luke 23:34)

From our perspective, it would not be easy to forgive people who were putting us to death. To make it worse for Jesus, his executioners were gambling to determine who would get his clothes, including a seamless robe of presumably significant value. It was necessary, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to forgive them.  This was to demonstrate that anyone could receive forgiveness from him, though not everybody would. Jesus extended grace to the soldiers and not to some other people. In doing so he showed he had no anger or hate for those who tortured him. That was undoubtedly not easy in the circumstances.

We remember there was in Jerusalem that day many people as guilty of Jesus’ death as the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion. Perhaps there was no forgiveness for them for they did know what they had done and thought they had done it for the best of reasons.

Number Two: Jesus ministered to someone in the most excruciating of circumstances.

“And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

Would you or I be willing to offer the priceless gift of salvation to someone who minutes before had been taunting us about our faith. Would we even have such a conversation while dying a tortuous death? Jesus had to provide a conversion experience to the repentant thief because he had said no one would be condemned who came to him believing in who he was (John 3:18). He needed to prove the truth of that assertion in the worst situation anyone has ever been in.

Number Three: Jesus remembered his mother’s needs.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Why did Jesus have to make provision for his mother’s future welfare while he was dying? One answer would be that his obedience to his heavenly Father would leave her without her eldest son who would normally have taken care of her. Another way of looking at it is that Jesus foresaw that his brother James and all the apostles except John would be martyred. Jesus must have known that John was the only one who could fulfill his obligation to his mother.

Number Four: Jesus endured separation from God his Father.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)

Some Christians have experienced what is sometimes called “a dark night of the soul.” This, as you might imagine, causes them great anguish. Perhaps Jesus had to have this experience to know what some of his brothers and sisters would go through when calling out in desperation for a feeling or sign that someone cared for them and getting nothing back in response. This seeming absence of God apparently is always temporary, otherwise there would not be books written by faithful Christians describing the trauma of their hurting souls.

Just as Jesus’ death was of immeasurably greater importance than ours will be, so was the temporal withdrawal of the Father from Jesus of greater significance. Jerusalem was darkened for three hours.

Number Five: Jesus fulfilled Scripture.

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)

A drink of sour wine was God’s provision, and it was given to him by an act of human mercy. It is hard to see how Jesus’ expression of his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture. Perhaps it is connected with the surprisingly early death of Jesus (Mark 15:44). Possibly, the wine somehow allowed Jesus’ life to end so he would avoid the breaking of his legs to ensure his more rapid death. Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).

Number Six: Jesus surrendered his human spirit to death.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

Jesus, because of his divine nature as the Son of God, was able to do what we cannot. As an act of his will, Jesus separated his human spirit and his divinity from his physical body and thus denied death a final victory over him. When Sunday morning came, his body, spirit, and deity were reunited, and then we arrive at the Easter story. Jesus, in some manner after that, stayed on earth for forty days and then ascended into heaven.

Number Seven: Jesus trusted God fully at his last breath.

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

Although the Father had departed from Jesus for three hours while he was on the cross, when it came time for Jesus to die their relationship was restored. This was consistent with Jesus’ total obedience to the Father’s will. He was ready to do what we should do when our time of death comes and that is to entrust God with the keeping of our spirit.

Faithfull obedience to his Father’s will was Jesus’ desire  in all he did while he was on earth, and it also was the motive of his creative work before the Incarnation, and it drives what he now does as the risen Son of God.

Scripture from the English Standard Version

Excuses For Not Praying

Our Sunday School class this week discussed six excuses for not praying. These are:

  1. I am too busy to pray.
  2. I feel too dry spiritually to pray.
  3. I feel no need to pray.
  4. I am too bitter to pray.
  5. I am too ashamed to pray.
  6. I am content with mediocrity.

As you might expect, we got quite a bit of “mileage” out of these excuses. However, I think we missed the major reason why we (Christians in general) have problems with prayer. The problem it seems to me is that each excuse comes from a deficient understanding of our relationship with Christ. Most teaching on prayer pictures it as a one-way communication. We launch our prayers into the heavens and hope God gets the message. Perhaps we can picture it much like blogging. We do our posts and hope someone responds. It would probably be more surprising to us than getting “likes” and comments if we actually heard from God.

However, if, as I think, the purpose of prayer is to align us with God’s plans and purposes then, when we have reached the right point in our prayers, what happens is an answer to our prayers. And we can understand how God got it right. This is not to say we cannot speak all kinds of requests, arguments, supplications and so forth as we pray. Finding God’s will in our prayers does not mean we cannot give Him input as to our desires, wants, pains, or whatever. However, we always need to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “your (God’s) will be done on earth” and not to pray “our will be done” as we are so inclined to do.

I do not think God’s responses to are prayers are always in events. A fortunate few hear Him verbally. Most times his messages in response to our prayers seem to be comforts, intuitions, inclinations, or a sense of certainty about something. This is why I think we need to concentrate more on developing our relationship with Christ so we are better at perceiving replies to our prayers rather than spending effort thinking about times, lengths, occasions and subjects of our prayers.