Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” – Luke 23:34.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, a subject of ridicule and shame, in agony and injustice meted out by the hand of man, instead of pouring down fire and brimstone to destroy his persecutors and killers, he uttered these sweet words which are beyond human comprehension. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” We can take heart from this characteristic of the divine nature. He is slow to anger and does not deal with us according to our sins. Rather, He is patient and forgiving.
When the prevailing doctrine of the world is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, Jesus teaches us to forgive. When others propagate hate and revenge, the Word of God teaches us to love our enemies and leave vengeance to God [see Deut.32:35; Heb.10:30].
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:19-21.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you. – Proverbs 25:21, 22.
In the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 6:12,14, 15; and “On the Plain” Lk.11:4, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray: And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors; and he goes on to say: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So we see that it is our forgiveness by God is contingent upon our forgiving others. So long as we continue to resent someone we remain in that sin and God cannot forgive us; you see, that resentment is a sin! When we release that resentment (turn aside from it, repent) and forgive (which is synonymous with forgetting), then we are ready to receive God’s forgiveness.
When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18:21, 22.
What does this teaching mean? It means that we forgive an unlimited number of times. We understand this when we examine our imperfect selves continually sinning against God and realize how many times we expect His forgiveness and the countless number of times that He does (1 John 1:7,9). We are taught here to do likewise. It is for our good that Jesus taught us such. As long as we remain unforgiving, the resentment burns a hole in our minds and poisons our thinking [and indeed our entire system]. The only thought then that continually occupies our attention is upon seeking revenge – how we may hurt the offender; how do we get even. Then, when we are able to hurt the offender, we compound our sin of having an unforgiving heart – it becomes bigger. Does it satisfy us? Questionable! But it does not please God because judging, punishing, condemning belongs to God not to us. That is why the Word of God says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” And, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:18, 21. A tension is released when we give up resentment which causes us to not only forgive but also forget the offender allowing us to get on with more important things in life.
In the words of our Lord, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” – Mark 11:25, 26.
God can forgive us only when we have forgiven someone who has wronged us, otherwise, He can’t and won’t forgive us. This is God’s rule, His law, and His principle. This is what Jesus is teaching.
In 2 Corinthians 2:7, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to forgive the erring brother and reaffirm their love for him (v.8) after he has repented.
Paul writing to the Ephesians says: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31, 32.
Finally, in Colossians 3:12-17, Paul urges the Christians in Colossae : “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” – Colossians 3:12-17.
When the word of Christ richly dwells in us, we have the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ and even as Christ forgave His enemies, we do likewise. With Christ dwelling in us, His followers, we become different from the world and through our attitudes and actions, the Lord Jesus Christ shines forth as a bright light in a dark world. This leads to GOD being thanked, honoured and glorified.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©1995-2015 Thomas Dohling · Permission is granted for non-commercial (free) distribution provided this notice appears.