Until we have received divine forgiveness, made available through the cross, we can’t really offer human forgiveness. Forgiveness is offered to all, but until it is received, it can’t be applied.
“‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'” (Luke 23:34)
Imagine with me that you are in the midst of a large group of people. You observe a victim being beaten until his face is marred beyond recognition. The crowd jeers and shouts insults at him. You want to tell the crowd to stop, but you are afraid to. You are afraid to get involved, for fear that they will turn on you too. You callous yourself in an effort to justify your refusal to intervene. He must have done something terribly wrong to be treated this way, you decide.
You watch in horror as the victim is nailed to a wooden cross. The thud of the cross being dropped into a hole in the ground initiates a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. You can barely stand to look at this mass of bleeding flesh with a face so marred he doesn’t even look human. “Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).
Yet there is something about the compassion in his eyes that hold you spellbound. The sick feeling intensifies, but now it is not due to the awfulness of the sight before you. It is due to the awfulness of the site within you. For the first time, you realize that you are part of the crowd who caused this man to be dying here. Because you refused to take a stand with him, you automatically took a stand against him.
You look steadfast into his eyes full of tenderness and love. You want to turn away. You are ashamed, and you begin to sob with regret that you did not stand with him. But you can’t turn away from his gaze. Neither can you escape the guilt and shame of the way you failed him.
Just as you think you can bear it no longer, you hear a heart felt cry emerge from this mass of torn and hurting flesh. His words you will never forget: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'” (Luke 23:34).
You fall on your knees and wrap your arms around the cross. For the first time in your life, you know real peace. You feel a wonderful sense of freedom and release flood over you, though you can’t comprehend what it all means. All you know is that you want to stay here forever.
Then you hear a loud voice from behind you. “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar” (Luke 23:35-36 NIV).
You can’t believe what you are hearing. This man has just offered forgiveness, and you have gratefully received it. Then you remember his words: “…they do not know what they are doing.” You will never be the same. Now your main mission in life is to help the rest of the crowd know the forgiveness you have just discovered.
You boldly stand to your feet and cry, “Stop it!” The guards quickly seize you and shove you to the ground as the crowd laughs and calls you a rebel. Your head spins as you lie on your back and look toward the sky.
You are startled by the words you hear coming from your mouth: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” You know that those words are really how you feel, and they are coming from a new source deep within your heart.
You have just been forgiven, and you have just learned to forgive. Forgiveness starts with being forgiven. Until we have received divine forgiveness, we can’t really offer human forgiveness. Anything short of divine forgiveness is a counterfeit. Forgiveness is offered to all, but until it is received, it can’t be applied.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Receiving God’s forgiveness
We can’t offer real forgiveness unless we have accepted forgiveness from God. Yet if we are unwilling to humble ourselves before God and turn from our own unforgiving spirit, we cannot receive divine forgiveness.
“For 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 your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
At first glance, this passage from Matthew would seem to contradict the Ephesians and Colossians passages. But upon further examination, we see that they compliment one another. God is saying that we can’t know how to truly forgive until we have received forgiveness, and that we cannot be forgiven unless we are willing to turn from our sinfulness and unforgiveness and allow him to create true forgiveness within us.
Have you received God’s forgiveness? This is the first step in knowing how to forgive. We are able to truly love and forgive others only because God first loved and forgave us:
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21).
If you are not sure if you have experienced this love and forgiveness, check out the resources at The Life. There you will have opportunity to read more, chat, talk to a mentor, or request prayer. [This link will open a new browser, and take you to a different website that is not affiliated with Hope in a House Divided.]
Forgiveness 2: Bringing it home
Scripture taken from New International Version unless otherwise noted