forgiveness Posts

Better late than never.

Luke 23:32-43 describes the story of the crucifixion and Jesus’ conversation with the men on either side of Him on Golgotha. Why were they not put together? The prophet Isaiah tells us why:

“He was numbered among the transgressors.”  Isaiah 53:12

God decreed that the most holy should die with the most unholy.  At His birth He was surrounded by beasts, and now, at His death He is surrounded by criminals, deserving of capital punishment. This “friend of sinners” finds Himself with them once again. In fact, it seemed that was where He was always most comfortable.  He lived among them, now He dies among them. Our attention turns to the two men crucified on either side of Jesus. One particularly captures our attention because he received the promise that we must share if we are to see our Lord in Paradise.  Pastor Erwin Lutzer wrote, “What a day for the thief!  In the morning he was justly crucified on a cross; by late that evening he was justly welcomed into Paradise by Jesus!”  Let’s look at this thief who is each of us.

The thief in the mirror 

I think we’ll discover he is you and me.  In fact, the two thieves on the cross represent every human being who has ever lived.

  • His failure we don’t know what he had done but we know, whatever it was, it deserved the death penalty.  He was the vilest of offenders.  Like us, he was trapped by his sin.
  • His fate his fate was determined by his sin.  He, like us, is paying the consequences for his sin.  Every person in the world is bound for the same fate, the same destination as this man- were it not for the intervention of Jesus.  Rom. 3:23- “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…”
  • His faith Consider the faith of this man.  It was a simple, yet amazing faith.  Consider what he had seen.  On the one hand he had heard Jesus say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  No doubt that prayer pierced his conscience.  He heard the inadvertent testimony of the crowd: “He saved others…but he can’t save Himself.”  No doubt he pondered, “What do they mean- “He saved others”.  And then there was the “first Gospel tract” ever- nailed to the cross proclaiming, “This is the king of the Jews.”  And then he had this conversation with Jesus.

Do you think his faith came easy?  Does faith come easy for you?  For most of us it doesn’t.  Consider that this man had perhaps never seen Jesus before.  It’s one thing to believe in Jesus when He does a miracle or has just provided some great teaching or act of love.  But this man believed at a time when it appeared that Jesus was entirely helpless to save anyone.  In fact, it seemed that Jesus Himself needed saving!  Jesus hung there as the hapless victim, not a king.  When you need saving, you don’t turn to someone in the same predicament that you’re in.  You don’t turn to someone who is dying in disgrace.  Or do you?  The scandal of the Gospel is that we worship the God who died.  This thief believed before the darkness fell over the land.  He believed before the earthquake rocked the place, and before the veil of the Temple was torn in two.  Improbable as it was, he believed.

Here’s the point- you too can believe.  Does God seem distant to you?  Does Jesus seem weak and powerless in your situation, in your life?  How can we explain the fact that this dying thief took a suffering, bleeding man for his God!?  There’s only one answer- it was the work of the Holy Spirit drawing this man toward the Man in the middle.  The Spirit is drawing you as well.  His faith was simple.  It was courageous.  It was enough.

  • His future  This man, whose entire life was consumed with a never-ending struggle to find meaning and purpose, enslaved to sin, now finds himself about to enter eternal paradise.  Notice the reunion would be that very day!  “Today.”  Jesus died before this man did.  Charles Spurgeon noted that “this man, who was our Lord’s last companion on earth” was His “first companion at the gates of paradise”.  Notice, he did not make a pit stop in purgatory en route to paradise.  His future- in heaven- secured by Jesus alone, began that day.  With such a dark past, how bright was the future of this dying thief!

One commentator wrote, “There is one such case recorded that none need despair, but only one that none might presume.”  Warren Wiersbe points out that this man was not saved at his last opportunity, but at his first.  Don’t wait another minute.

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

William Cowper, the great hymn writer, though plagued with doubts in his own life, understood that if the thief could be saved, then he could too.  He wrote a song entitled, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”.  One of my favorite stanzas reads: “The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day; and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.”  The thief’s forgiveness should remind you that there is more grace in God’s heart than sin in your past.

It’s better late than never… but it’s better now than later.

Why Forgive?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34  The first of seven phrases from Jesus on the cross is a prayer, not for Himself, but for His executioners.

Now, you think of someone you need to forgive.  But remember, we forgive people, persons, (individuals) not institutions or groups of people.  You forgive what they have done, not what they are.  And you can only forgive someone who has done something to you directly that has wounded you.

1. It breaks the chain of “ungrace”  Only grace breaks the cycle of retribution.  If Jesus had prayed, “Father, give them what they deserve” there would be no forgiveness- no grace.  Do you forgive others who are “executing/crucifying” you?  You see forgiveness has that maddening quality of being undeserved, unmerited, unfair.  But as I forgive, as you forgive, we break the law of retribution- the chain of ungrace is broken.     

2. It sets us free from anger  Often we think, “I have justifiable pain!”  This is simply another way of saying, “I will not forgive.” 

3. It sets the offender free  Forgiving does not remove our scars any more than a funeral takes away all of our grief.  We often carry a scar even after the wound has been healed.  But if we continue to have resentment over time, we are “feeling again” the pain caused and our response in hatred.  “Forgiveness” in the Greek means, literally, “to release, to hurl away, to free yourself”.  You know you have forgiven the person when you release the person to God- and even hope for good.

4. It heals the relationship  Forgiveness brings life to the relationship again.  But, not always- Jesus forgave but not every one was reconciled.  Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reunion or reconciliation.  Sometimes we pay for our sin by being shunned, let go- we are left to our desires and pay the consequences.  

5. It sets us free to love again  One of the best books I’ve read on forgiveness is Lewis Smedes’, “The Art of Forgiveness”. In it he writes, “When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”- Colossians 3:13   

Theologically, the Gospels give a straightforward answer as to why God asks us to forgive: because that is what God is like.  We are never more like Christ than when we forgive.  Why?  Because Christ has forgiven you.  We are to forgive “AS” HE has forgiven us.  How has He forgiven you?  Completely. Unconditionally. You cannot fully forgive until you’ve been forgiven.  Was Jesus’ prayer answered? Every prayer He ever prayed was answered.  You have been forgiven so that you might be one with God.

You and I cannot muster up forgiveness on our own.  We must allow Christ to transform us from selfish, prideful, unforgiving people into those who extend grace to others. But it begins when we embrace the One who is Perfect, the Giver of grace.

“The object of my faith is not personal change. It is the unchanging perfection of another Person.” Byron Yawn

 

Forgive.

Why Lent?

Growing up I didn’t know anything about Lent.  I only knew Lent as a strange “Catholic” practice. I’ve gained a broader picture of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve been able to experience a deeper expression of prayer and worship as a result.  I want to help you do the same.  Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” while, in reality it was part of the early church’s consistent pattern of worship.  Our earliest known reference is that of Ireneus (who died in 202 A.D.).  What I’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical but maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice.  I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray when He says, “When you pray…” pray like this…  But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this…  He didn’t say “if” you fast, but “when”.  Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship.  Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish needs for more?  I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers- particularly in the affluent West.

What many have written off as “weird” (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) I’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense.  It is true that Ash Wednesday or “Lent” are not in the Bible (of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal”).  You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either (because every Sunday is Easter Sunday- or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.

“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are.  In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God.  I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines solitude, prayer, and fasting. “Lent” of comes from the Middle English word “Lenten” which means “Spring”.  The Lenten or Easter Season is a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday.  Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (minus the Sundays leading up to Easter- because the early believers would not fast on Sundays).  Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later).  Maundy comes from “mandatum”, meaning “mandate” or “command”.  Jesus said, “A new commandment” (mandatum nuevum) I give to you.”   So the Lenten season is a period of focused prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty Days?  Forty days shows up throughout the Bible.  Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days.

 “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

The ashes are to remind you of your mortality and of the need to repent of sin in your life.  It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes”.  Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin.  Confession of sin is a private thing between you and God.  It is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone but a private moment between you and your Savior.

Fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice- i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer.  Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving.  You give up in order to receive.  You die in order to live.

 Types of fasts:

  • Total fast  (be careful and receive guidance)
  • Water only Prepare your body for it.  Hunger pangs will go away- first 2 days hardest.
  • Liquid only Juices- not milkshakes! (When you don’t eat, more time for prayer)
  • Eliminate certain foods No deserts, no caffeine, no junk food- “Daniel fast”- healthy
  • Media fast NO television, NO movies, NO paper, NO internet, NO video games, etc.
  • Multiple possibilities Be creative and specific-but a sacrifice- must cost you something.

During a fast, when your earthly desires kick in, you turn to the Lord and you are reminded that He is more than enough to meet your every need.  It is a wonderful way to be drawn to the Lord and to overcome the desires of the flesh in many areas of your life.

 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”  Psalm 66:18-19 What is David saying here?  I cannot harbor unconfessed sin or unresolved sin in my life.  Any Christian who desires to fully serve God and follow Him must attack sin from all fronts.  We cannot hold on to sin but release it and the first step is to confess it- to God first and then, to others.

 “For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” Philippians 1:21 

To be alive to Christ and to live for Him means I must die to myself, my needs, my wants- continually.  “In the body” is where dying of Jesus is seen through my life and revealed to others.  It is, at the same time, the place where this life (the resurrection life) of Jesus is seen.  In the same passage he says, “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.”  My life then becomes a presentation of a Story- the Story of the passion of Christ.  I die to myself in order to reveal His life in my.  You see, you are called not only to tell the story of the Passion, but to LIVE it, experience it.  How?  By dying to self.

But the language used by Paul is a continual dying- the process of dying- you are continually dying.  To remind you of your mortality- your body is dying and to get you focused and busy on the eternal that does not die.  You see, death for Jesus was not the end- He lives. So, how can we position ourselves to move to this dying of self?  How can I be touched by God to go to deeper levels?  By confessing my sin to Him, by showing Him that He is all I want- all I need.  Fasting is that spiritual discipline that helps us live that out in unique ways.  It’s why Jesus says, “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16)- it was an expected practice of the believer.  It’s a way to deny yourself of earthly things in order to focus on heavenly things.

 “My food” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”  John 4:34  During a fast He is your food.  The will of God becomes your sustenance.

 May you walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before.

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) 

God’s amazing grace

Video post from our mission team in Nepal:

Creation to the Cross- sand art video

Merry Christmas.

Thank you to my friend Emily Davidson (in our youth ministry) for using her amazing gift of voice to worship her Savior!