Saturday, October 08, 2011

Forgiveness is Not an Option!

I love to teach the gospels more than anything else because of all the intimate portrayals it gives of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am trying to read the gospels without a lot of preconceptions.  Sometimes we read the Bible and explain it away rather than taking it for what it says.  I am going to start at the beginning of the chapter 5 to give the context, because these two stories—about the man healed after he was lifted down through the roof (also in Mark 2) and the dinner at Matthew (Levi’s) house—have a context we have to understand.

Vs. 1-11.  The key verses here are, first, “We toiled all night and caught nothing, but at your word I will let down the nets.”  This to me is the core of faith and walking by faith.  Obeying Scripture when our emotional context and our immediate physical context says don’t.  We do this when we tithe or give when the media tells us nothing but bad news about the economy.  We have been waiting at my work all school year for the announcement that we would be furloughed.  That is a fancy way of saying that we have a pay cut by giving us unpaid vacation.   I am tempted to hold back on the Lord and those ministries I support for that reason.  But that would not be obedience.   These are just two examples of times when we have a choice to obey the word or look at our surroundings and our feelings. 

This is not the first time Peter and the other fishermen had met or begun to believe in Jesus.  But it is the time that they decided to leave all and follow him. 

The second key verse in this story is when Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  His earnestness and desire here is not to run Jesus off, but because he is so aware, for the first time in his life, of how low he is compared to God.  Maybe he had never really contemplated that before. This is emotionally very hard to do.  I don’t think we can go around in this kind of mental state all the time, but sometimes we do need to get a very clear glimpse of pure grace compared to our sins, our pettiness, how we hurt people, our selfishness.  If we compare ourselves to others we will not mature spiritually; it’s only when we compare ourselves to God.  When this happens, it stays with us like a perfume.  We walk through life remembering that feeling but perhaps not experiencing the intensity of it all the time. 

Vs. 12-16.  This is a simple story of a healing, but it tells us that Jesus still respected the cultural practices—the leper is supposed to go to the priest first, as Moses commanded.  Second, v. 16 makes me realize how physically tiring it was for Jesus in his humanity.  Do we go to desolate places to pray?  Here it means the desert, places far from other humans and probably water, even.  I have a hard time finding a desolate place—private, maybe, but we have to work nowadays to not be disturbed when we pray.  But we can also go to spiritually desolate places to pray.   Just as Peter said, “I am a sinful man, leave me,” we are spiritually desolate when we stop depending on ourselves and truly see only the Lord as a source of strength.  That again is emotionally hard.

v. 17-26.  All of you know this story very well, and if you ever taught little ones in Sunday School, you probably taught this.  We emphasize the healing, and that is important because Jesus is proving his authority over physical illness, but we might miss the real message.  Jesus is proving his deity here.  When JWs come to the door they will try to prove to you that Jesus never said he was God the Son, part of the Godhead, but one reason to study the gospels is to know that when they say that it is a lie from Satan.  Here is one of the clear places where he claimed to be God; a person can reject it, but he or she can’t claim Jesus never said it.    He bluntly says to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven you.”  When the Pharisees question this, he says, “It’s not hard for a man to say those words—it’s hard for him to back them up.  I can back them up by healing this man,” which he did.
To many people this brings up the question of whether this man was paralyzed because he was being punished for his sins.  I think that is beside the point, but it is a good question.  Sometimes people are sick or injured because of their sins.  A person who drives drunk and disregards his life and others may be paralyzed.  A person who abuses her body with drugs or sex will probably pay for it in her body.  There is a physical law of cause and effect, but that does not account for most of our illness.  Then there is illness simply because this is a fallen world and our bodies are corrupting and will die eventually, despite all the things we assume medical knowledge will do to cure us.  I read the obituaries when I get the paper and notice that many, many people die in the 40s and 50s.  Usually it’s cancer; sometimes it’s suicide or an accident.  Not everyone dies in the 80s. 

But we never have the option to assume a person’s illness is due to sin.  Then we become like Job’s friends.  In John 9 the disciples asked Jesus why a man was born blind.  Jesus clearly said it wasn’t because of his or his parents’ sins—it wasn’t karma. It was for the glory of God to be revealed.  Enough said, in my opinion.  As much as I sometimes might think that a person is being punished for some sin when he/she is sick, I am playing God when I do that and better get right fast!  Two examples:  I knew two young men in their 30s who died of lung cancer; neither smoked.  I have two friends who have schirosis of the liver—neither drinks a drop. 

Point of story:  Jesus has the power to forgive sins.  Eternally, permanently.  Sometimes I wonder if we really believe that.  We must entertain no doubts about God's forgiveness:  1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   That should be the final word, but there are more.  So we do not have the right to bring it up again, beat ourselves up over it. 

Last section of this lesson:  vs. 27-32.  Matthew Henry makes some excellent observations here about the gracious calling of Mathew, the last person in the world to be expected to follow Jesus.

I.                   It was a wonder of his grace that he would call a publican, from the receipt of custom, to be his disciple and follower, Luk_5:27.
II.                It was wonderful condescension that he should admit poor fishermen to that honour, men of the lowest rank; but much more wonderful that he should admit publicans, men of the worst reputation, men of ill fame.
III.             It was a wonder of his grace that the call was made effectual, became immediately so, Luk_5:28. There is no heart too hard for the Spirit and grace of Christ to work upon, nor any difficulties in the way of a sinner's conversion insuperable to his power.
IV.              It was a wonder of his grace that he would not only admit a converted publican into his family, but would keep company with unconverted publicans, that he might have an opportunity of doing their souls good;
V.                  It was a wonder of his grace that he did so patiently bear the contradiction of sinners against himself and his disciples, Luk_5:30. He did not express his resentment of the cavils of the scribes and Pharisees, as he justly might have done, but answered them with reason and meekness; and, instead of taking that occasion to show his displeasure against the Pharisees, as afterwards he did, or of recriminating upon them, he took that occasion to show his compassion to poor publicans, another sort of sinners, and to encourage them.

When the religious leaders criticize Jesus for eating, a sacred act, with sinners (repentant, interested, hurt and lost, and seeking sinners, not blaspheming and hardened and hostile sinners—there is a difference, I think; Jesus did not cast his pearls before swine.), Jesus answers them by saying he is only interested in people who can recognize their illness.  You don’t go to the doctor when you feel well.  People stop taking their medicine once they feel better (not good, but we’ve all done it).  If you think you are righteous by yourself, you won’t listen to me, he basically says.  Again, forgiveness is not an option.

I want to move this lesson from the passage to look at some other verses on forgiveness.  When I say forgiveness is not an option, I also mean lack of forgiveness is not an option.  Yet I think we live our lives justifying lack of forgiveness towards others and just accept it, and don’t realize how it is ruining our spiritual walks.  I say this from experience, and I’m going to tell two very personal stories that are somewhat difficult to tell but really show me the importance of forgiveness.

The strongest teaching on forgiveness is found in these verses.

Mat 6:14  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
Mat 6:15  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We jeopardize our own forgiveness by not forgiving

Mark 11:25  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."

Mat 18:21  Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
Mat 18:22  Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Mat 18:23  "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
Mat 18:24  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
Mat 18:25  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
Mat 18:26  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
Mat 18:27  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Mat 18:28  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.'
Mat 18:29  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
Mat 18:30  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
Mat 18:31  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.
Mat 18:32  Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Mat 18:33  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'
Mat 18:34  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Mat 18:35  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your –
*brother from your heart."

We put ourselves in jail by not forgiving.  To forgive is to release others. However, to not forgive is to insult God.  This parable and the teaching before it is the strongest part of the Bible on forgiveness. 

Luk 17:3  Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, Luk 17:4  and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

We don’t get to set a limit on forgiveness.

Back on May 21, I had a busy day planned.  I was scheduled to speak at a writers' conference that morning in Tiftonia.  When I got home about 3:00, my mother called and said she was at the emergency room at East Ridge hospital with my 63-year-old brother.  He was in very bad shape but they weren’t sure what was wrong.  My son and I went there immediately.  The surgeon came in eventually and told us it didn’t look good.  Basically, my brother’s colon had exploded and he was septic, and it was affecting his heart.  My brother had Crohn’s disease and had not been healthy for many years.   

He did have the surgery, but to make a long story short, the surgeon said he would probably not make it through the night and he didn’t.  At 4:30 in the morning they called my mom and I took her to the hospital and we watched him die within an hour. 

My brother, when he was younger, was not a nice person.  He was mentally disturbed.  Without going into how dysfunctional our family was, he physically and verbally abused me when I was a teenager.  That’s why I left home at 17 and moved to Chattanooga from Maryland and never went back.  It took me several years to forgive my parents for allowing the mistreatment.  But to be honest, I never forgave my brother and didn’t even approach the idea. 

When I watched my brother die at 5:22 on May 22, I forgave him.  And that changed me spiritually and emotionally.  However, I regret that it took me years to do so.  I am so afraid that there are so many people like me who take forgiveness from God for granted but do not forgive others, don’t even realize they should.  I am sure the Holy Spirit told me to, but I pushed it away.  How would my life have been different if I had consciously forgiven my brother?  How would his have been different if I had told him?  I’ll never know in this life, but I feel very strongly that lack of forgiveness is holding back a lot of us from full and deep relationship with God and with others.  We justify it.  We excuse ourselves for holding a grudge.  We even say things like, “I could never forgive someone  who . . . “  That just shows we don’t see how much we are forgiven and how much forgiveness is not an option.

There are lots of books on forgiveness.  People ask, “should I forgive someone who hurt another person but not me?”  “Should I forgive a person who doesn’t ask for forgiveness?”  “Is trusting a person again the same as forgiveness?”   Those are good questions, and my answers would be, “Why?  You weren’t the victim; yes, to release yourself; no, trust must be earned, but forgiveness is grace.” 

My second story is about (not sharing on blog).

My final point today is to let the Holy Spirit speak to you and teach you to forgive the person who hurt you, and forgive the person for how they hurt you.  You may live with the person or deal with them but let the unforgiveness go on.  Please don’t do that. 

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