Summary: Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives. This message addresses our need to forgive.
HOW DO WE FORGIVE?
INTRO: Simon Peter’s question was a sincere one. He wanted to know exactly what the Master expected out of him. The prominent Rabbis of the day were teaching that one should forgive his brother three times. Was that enough? Peter wondered. So one day he asked Christ this important question (v. 21). Some of us would like an answer to the same question. Forgiveness is a big problem in our lives. There have been persons who have wronged us and it is so, so difficult to let go of our feelings of anger, resentment and even hatred.
Today we want to deal with the question, HOW DO WE FORGIVE? Forgiveness is a redemptive act that is essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is not enough to simply “act civil” towards a person who has wronged us–to let “by-gones be by-gones.” We must move from our hurt to reconciliation or else we leave an open wound that is not allowed to heal. But how? How do we forgive?
Let’s begin by asking, “Why don’t people forgive?” You may remember Herman Melville’s classic story, Moby Dick. The most prominent character is the cruel, obsessive, vengeful Captain Ahab, skipper of the ship. He hates Moby Dick, the great whale, with a terrible passion. Every waking hour is consumed with the question of how to destroy this whale that has crippled him. Soon we see that it is not Moby Dick that is the victim of Captain Ahab’s hatred but Ahab himself. In his obsession he kills everything around him–the whale, the crew and finally himself.
How could anyone let rage get so out of control? Why do we find it so hard to forgive? The first answer is that the PAIN is too deep. Somewhere along the way someone has hurt us deeply and we can still feel the pain. For some the pain is so intense that it is simply easier to cut that person out of our lives than to forgive.
PRIDE also gets in the way of forgiveness, along with a mistaken sense of principle. We think to ourselves, “This will teach him a lesson.” Then there are FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS who may encourage our unforgiveness.
They say: “You surely are not going to forgive him after what he has done to you, are you?” They probably mean well but they may not understand our need for healing. PAIN, PRIDE, OTHER PEOPLE–these are usually the reasons why we do not forgive. Our inability to forgive can have devastating effects on us. It can shorten our lives, poison our memories, weaken our relationship with God and even afflict our own feelings of self-worth. As well as the damage to the relationship with the person we cannot forgive. That is a high price to pay in order to hold on to resentment and hatred. But how do we let go?
I. RECOGNIZING THAT FORGIVENESS IS A GIFT FROM GOD.
We have been forgiven, therefore we are able to forgive others. Jesus continued his answer to Peter with the parable of a man who owed his king ten thousand talents. We are told that this was an amount equivalent to 15 years of wages in that day. The king forgave the man his debt. This same man, however, had an acquaintance who owed him 100 denarii–about a single day’s wage. He would not forgive his neighbor this small amount. He had to be thrown into jail. The contrast is striking. Of course Jesus is not simply telling about one man in one particular place. He is talking about you and me. We have been forgiven by God. That is what the cross is all about. We have received the forgiveness of an enormous debt.
ILLUS: D. L. Moody once put forgiveness in a beautiful way. He said: “I can imagine Jesus saying, ‘Go search out the man who put the crown of thorns on My brow; tell him I will have a crown for him in My kingdom if he will accept My salvation; and there shall not be a thorn in it. Go seek the soldier...spear into My side, tell him that there is a nearer way to My heart than that!”’ That is the forgiveness of which Christ is capable.
II. RECOGNIZE THAT FORGIVENESS IS THE MOST POWERFUL WITNESS WE HAVE TO THE ACTIVITY OF GRACE IN OUR LIVES.
Missionaries tell of entire villages on the mission field being swept into an evangelical fervor because of the reconciliation of two longtime enemies through the powerful love of God. When we can forgive another who has wronged us, it tells the world that God is alive and at work. I have seen revival sweep a church because of forgiveness among the members (New Friendship in Cleveland, TN).