Celebrate Forgiveness: Freely Forgiven, Free to Forgive - 16 May 2019

Louise Gevers

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34

We can only wonder what effect Jesus’ precious words, uttered from the cross, had on Peter standing below. Denying His Lord must have caused him such heaviness of heart, that hearing Jesus’ gracious plea for God to forgive the people who were putting Him to death so cruelly must surely have brought him some comfort. Later he would also have seen Jesus forgiving the thief on the cross, reassuring him with, “…today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:34)

Peter was the one who had asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21), to which Jesus had replied: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus’ words showed the immense importance He attached to forgiveness. Forgiveness is limitless. We need to embrace it, no matter how hard we may find it to forgive others, or perhaps to believe that we can be forgiven our wrongs. Heaven is for the forgiven, as the thief on the cross discovered. 

Unforgiveness obstructs us, whoever we are, whether we need to forgive, or to be forgiven. To be free, we have to follow Jesus who exemplified perfectly what He taught of love and forgiveness: Jesus’ heart and thoughts were for others. At the height of immense suffering and sacrifice, He generously acknowledged the ignorance of His unjust murderers and pleaded for their forgiveness, so setting the stage for us to be free to do the same.

Unforgiveness can also seriously block our prayers. Jesus taught that when we pray, we need to be in a position of grace towards others, because it affects our own forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12), and “… when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done.” (Mark 11:25)

Jesus illustrates the seriousness of forgiving others in the parable of the unmerciful servant, who, after having been freed from a debt to his master of ten thousand talents, refused to release his fellow servant from a significantly smaller debt of a hundred denarii. (Matthew 18:23-35). Jesus teaches us that unforgiveness becomes bitter bondage that destroys life and relationships, but forgiveness is the sweet gift that sets us free. Do we rejoice in this truth?

Paul told the Colossians to: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

Martin Luther King Junior refers to forgiveness as “a constant attitude”

Prayer: Father, we celebrate the knowledge that Jesus died so that we can experience the joy, peace and freedom that Your forgiveness brings. Thank You that He breaks the bonds of everything that imprisons us, and frees us to forgive others, releasing in us a flood of relief and restoring our spirits to soar free. Amen.

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