Summary: Examines some difficult aspects of our forgiveness of others.
“Learning to Forgive”
Text: Luke 23:32-37
This morning’s lesson fits into evangelism because it’s about one of the great blessings or benefits found in the good news of Jesus Christ – forgiveness. I want us to focus on some troublesome aspects of forgiveness in a lesson entitled – “Learning to Forgive.” We learn to do everything in life – eat, walk, ride a bicycle, play a musical instrument, etc. Some things we learn to some level of perfection and other things are a life-long process. Today’s subject probably fits into this latter category because we constantly have to work at it. Forgiveness does not come naturally. I hope you’ll open your Bibles as we study together for the next few minutes. I hope to leave you with some words that may be helpful in learning to forgive. But, as always, I pray that you’ll search the scriptures daily like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 to make sure I’m preaching the truth.
In our text this morning is probably the greatest lesson on forgiveness. The innocent Son of God, crucified between the guilty, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Did God forgive those who crucified Jesus? If I read my New Testament correctly, He did forgive some over seven weeks later on the Day of Pentecost. Let’s read from Acts 2:36-38 as Peter wraps up his sermon that day – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And Stephen followed our Lord’s example when he was stoned to death in Acts 7:60 – Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. In both cases, we want to see the attitude of forgiveness – but it was the Lord who had to forgive. The point is: you and I don’t actually forgive the sins – we can only forgive the wrong someone does to us. We also must realize that we are all sinners – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) – and stand in need of God’s grace and His forgiveness. Now I want us to notice four important things connected to forgiveness that I think will continually help us as we learn to forgive. Let me begin with a story: Perhaps you heard about the woman who was bitten by a stray dog. Tests were then made on the health of the dog. “I’m sorry to inform you,” the doctor said, “but you have been bitten by a rabid dog.” The woman sat down and immediately began to write. She wrote furiously for some time. When the doctor noticed what the woman was doing, he said, “It won’t be necessary for you to write your will. I’m going to give you a series of shots which will cure you.” “I’m not writing my will,” the woman said. “I’m making a list of all the people I intend to bite!” Back to the lesson: First of all, it is not our responsibility to get revenge for the wrong done to us. Most of us would like to see justice served when someone has wronged us. And that may involve legal justice if laws have been broken. But Christians must remember that God is in control. There is a section in Romans 12, verses 9-21, labeled in the NKJV as “Behave Like a Christian.” I want us to begin reading in verse 17 – Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Getting even should not be a part of the Christian’s thought process. There will be a day of reckoning. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). We can be assured that God is going to take care of impenitent sinners. Second of all, we must not let resentment overtake us and consume us. Before we talk about resentment, we need to understand that forgiveness is not optional. I know I’ve heard some of you say that you can’t forgive someone for something they’ve done to you. That’s really not an option for a Christian but we’ll explain that later in the lesson. Notice the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:32 – And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. How does God forgive? I’m not talking about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that makes forgiveness possible. Rather, I’m talking about God’s attitude towards us after He has forgiven us. In Jeremiah 31:31, the LORD talks about the new covenant He planned to make. Then at the end of verse 34, He says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” One of the prophets expresses this concept in words we can all understand – Micah 7:19 – You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. And He posts a “No Fishing” sign! Now let’s define resentment: the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person, etc., regarded as causing injury or insult. Because we are humans, we cannot instantly forget what someone has done to us. Even when we sincerely forgive someone, that word or event is still etched in our memory. However, we can control our attitudes and we must not let resentment rear its ugly head. This is especially needful in very close relationships such as marriage. Suppose a spouse has been an alcoholic and mistreated his family for years and then straightens his life up and gets his life right with God. It would be very easy for a wife to feel resentment for that mistreatment and the wasted years from alcohol. This can also manifest itself within a church family where someone says and does things that harm others spiritually. The third thing we must learn about forgiveness is that it does not remove or repair the wrong – it does not make restitution. When someone says, “I forgive you”, they are not saying, “I condone what you have done.” As we said earlier in the lesson, we don’t actually forgive the sins – we only forgive the wrong someone has done to us. If you murder someone in my family, I may be able to forgive you as Joe Huber did a young man in Nashville for killing his son but God must forgive that young man’s sins if he wants to go to heaven. If a spouse commits adultery – has an affair, he or she must obtain God’s forgiveness. He or she must also get their spouse’s forgiveness but that forgiveness does not repair the marriage and restore it to where it may have been. Trust has been broken and has to be rebuilt. Sins within a marriage or church family may be forgiven but that does not instantly repair the damage. If I run my truck into a tree at 40 miles per hour, it may skin the tree up a little bit but my truck is going to be damaged. And it is going to take time, money and body repair expertise to restore my vehicle to the way it was before the accident. It’ll never be exactly the same because it may have new parts and new paint – but it’s still a good truck. We need to understand sins within marriage and other close or family-type relationship such as the church. Forgiveness may be granted by the injured party but that does not equal restitution. The sinner should feel fortunate if there is no resentment and then work tirelessly to repair the damage. Most often it is a trust or communication issue that must be repaired. There are some sins for which restitution cannot be made: murder; manslaughter; a child’s lost innocence. God may forgive and the injured parties may forgive but the offender will have to live with their sin as long as they live. When we choose to sin and we do make the choice, we need to consider the impact of that sin – not just on our own soul. How will this sin affect those I love? How will it affect my health? Is it illegal? How could it affect my marriage or my family? I could tell you countless stories about the heartbreak caused by lapses in judgment and sin. And I could read you many proverbs addressing some of these sins but let me leave you with one passage from Hebrews 11:24-25 that touches on this – By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, We need to count the cost of restitution before we accept the devil’s promises of pleasure. And, if the cost of restitution isn’t steep enough for you, try this one – Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death. Finally, we come to the fourth thing we need to consider as we learn to forgive and that is the reward. You’ll recall a phrase in the model prayer as Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:12 – “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The reference is to sins as the parallel passage in Luke 11:4 points out. Jesus then elaborates on the conditionality of forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15 – “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.” The biggest reward in learning to forgive others is God’s forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes we will be asked by someone to forgive them after they have sinned against us. It is not our job to determine their sincerity or motive – that’s God’s responsibility. When we are asked to forgive, it is our responsibility to forgive an infinite number of times or 70 times seven according to Matthew 18:21-22. If you have your Bibles, I’d like for you to turn to Mark 11:25-26 and we’ll read this together: “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.” Sadly, too many of us are waiting for others to ask for forgiveness. Here Jesus plainly states for us to forgive others. One of the best explanations of this is stated by Alan Cole in his commentary on this passage and I want to share it with you: …unless we forgive our fellows freely, it shows that we have no consciousness of the grace that we ourselves have received and need, and so it shows that we are expecting to be heard on our own merits, which cannot be.” Learn to forgive others instantaneously. Don’t wait for them to ask – just forgive them. I realize this is a novel idea to some of you but you will be a much happier individual. That may be almost as great a reward as God’s forgiveness because of the inner peace it will give you. Then, if they come up to you and ask for your forgiveness, you can say you had already forgiven them. You’ll probably be very pleased with their reaction. It’s not only being very Christian – it is being very gracious. It’s all about our love for others – loving them as we love ourselves and following the example of Christ. We close with Colossians 3:12-13 – 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.