Have you ever noticed that people do awful things to each other? Silly question, right? We’ve all been on the receiving end of rude and hurtful behavior. And if we care to admit it, we’ve also dished out our fair share, even if unintentionally. We live in a tough world and trespasses happen all the
Have you ever noticed that people do awful things to each other? Silly question, right? We’ve all been on the receiving end of rude and hurtful behavior. And if we care to admit it, we’ve also dished out our fair share, even if unintentionally. We live in a tough world and trespasses happen all the time. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Forgiveness is a daily discipline of grace in this fallen world. Without it, the world would be awash in bitterness, anger and division. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the problem.
For believers, forgiving those who are outside the Church tends to be easier than forgiving those inside the Church. That may seem counterintuitive, but it is based on the relational principle of vulnerability. Let me explain.
Et tu, Brute?
When Marc Antony describes the assassination of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, he refers to the actions of Brutus as the most unkindest cut of all. He goes so far as to suggest that Caesar’s heart was not stopped by the dagger, but rather by the ingratitude displayed in the treacherous betrayal of Brutus. You too, Brutus?
Surely we can understand the trespass of an enemy or even the awful behavior of someone who didn’t know any better. But what do we do with the trespasses of our closest friends and allies when they turn against us?
As He was dying on the cross, Jesus demonstrates this extraordinary forgiving grace when he prays to His Father, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Besides the crowd of onlookers, there were two groups present that day: The Roman soldiers and the religious leaders.
It makes sense to us that Jesus would forgive the Roman soldiers. What did they know? They were pagans who were simply following orders. Within context, their actions can be understood. Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.
But the religious leaders? That forgiveness is harder for us to swallow. They were a part of Jesus’ family — ethnically, nationally and spiritually. They should have known better. Instead, they allowed their jealousy and religious fanaticism to blind them. The cut of their rejection went deep. Forgiving them would have required an entirely different level of grace. Yet Jesus also poured grace out on them. Father, forgive them, even though they should know what they are doing.
Yet even more extraordinary may be the forgiving grace that Jesus pours out on Peter in John 21. Peter was a part of Jesus’ inner circle. He was invited to witness the miraculous and mysterious transfiguration as Jesus revealed his deity (Matthew 17:1-8). He was also invited to be near Jesus as He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane and revealed His humanity (Matthew 26:26-46). Jesus was probably closer to Peter than anyone else. Peter’s betrayal in Jesus’ darkest hour must have been the most unkindest cut of all. Jesus could easily have said: You too, Peter? Instead, Jesus makes breakfast for Peter and pours extravagant forgiving grace all over him.
In the parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus addresses this extraordinary form of forgiving grace. The story utilizes the literary tool of exaggeration to drive home the point. A king forgives a servant of a ridiculously large debt he could never repay. The servant then turns around and has a brother thrown into prison because he cannot repay an insignificant debt. When the king hears of his servant’s unmerciful actions, he throws the servant into prison to be tortured until he pays the original debt in full.
Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “This is how my heavenly father will treat you unless you forgive your brother or sister from the heart.” I would call that a fairly strong admonition to forgive each other.
Churches are sometimes full of bitterness, anger and division. Brothers and sisters have hurt each other and forgiveness is being withheld. The hurt often comes through the betrayal of gossip or a broken confidence. Sometimes it is false accusation or the questioning of motives. It can be jealousy or covetousness or even disputes over decisions or theology. Frankly, there are lots of ways for brothers and sisters in Christ to hurt each other.
And while all of these trespasses are painful, Jesus would remind us that none of them can compare to the vast and immeasurable trespasses God has already forgiven for us. As the recipients of such extravagant grace, God expects us to happily pay the blessing forward by genuinely forgiving our brothers and sisters in Christ. From God’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.
Is there someone in the Body of Christ who has trespassed on you? If so, you’re not alone. Trespass happens. Are you having difficulty forgiving them? Again, you are not alone. Forgiveness is a difficult discipline. I encourage you to recognize the bitterness you are holding in your heart and the damage it is doing to you, the church and the mission of God. Confess it to God and begin praying for the grace to forgive. Confess your struggle to a trusted brother or sister. Ask them to pray along with you. God will grant your prayer and set you free from the bitterness that is stealing your life and joy. He is faithful and He will do it!
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20.
- August 14, 2019
- August 14, 2019