One of the metaphors that the sages of Jesus day used to demonstrate an attitude of forgiveness is that they would go through the ritual purity process before going up to the Temple. At the southern end of the Temple Mount there is a complex of mikva’ot(ritual immersion pools) as you would go up the great stairway into the Temple, into the house of the Lord. Before you went in you would have to become ritually pure (not physically but ritually purified) to enter into the holy precincts. So you would go into these baths, totally disrobe, walk down and immerse yourself in the water calling upon the name of the Lord. Then you would be ritually pure to go into his presence. If you have not repented and sought forgiveness it is, as the sages described, like going to the Temple for the ritual immersion bath, disrobing, going down into the water, standing naked before God and all the while you are immersing yourself in the water, you are holding with one hand a defiling reptile, an unclean creature. Many of us go through all the religious motions and rituals—we bow, we worship, we sing, we give our offerings, we do all we have to do, yet we are holding onto the defiling reptile of unforgiveness. In so doing we rob God of the power to bless us, we rob ourselves of peace and joy, and we rob the community of fellowship and wholeness. Leviticus 16 is a key text that the sages understood to mean the very teaching that Jesus was embodying here—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which means so much to us in type as believers in Christ’s atonement. In Hebrew it actually says: “all your sins before the Lord will be removed”—verse 30. The sages of Jesus’ day interpreted this text to mean that on the Day of Atonement all of your offenses against God are removed if you come with a repentant heart, but your offenses from one to another God cannot forgive because you have to seek the forgiveness of the offended party. This is not just some kind of whitewash deal. You see, we all misunderstand the Temple liturgy. There was nothing magical about offering sacrifices. The sacrifices offered at the Temple had to be an external expression of the internal reality of repentance. It was the priest who performed the rite, but it was God who forgave the sin. Just having a priest to slaughter a lamb did not affect atonement if there was not repentance on your part, humility of spirit and the willingness to forgive. God is the same. He did not offer one system to Israel and another system to us. Repentance is always at the heart of seeking God. Repentance is more than an attitude—repentance is a deed, it is an act. When Zacchaeus repented he did not say: “Oh Jesus, forgive me for robbing everybody all these years, I am really sorry and full of remorse.” Jesus would not have celebrated over that statement. Jesus would have said: “Why are you asking me for forgiveness?” Zacchaeus showed true repentance. What did he do? He came under such compelling conviction of the Holy Spirit that he said to Jesus: “I am going to stop doing this wrong, I am going to start doing the good thing. I am going to repay everyone I have cheated four times what I have cheated them. I am going to give half of my possessions to the poor.” What was Jesus’ response to that? He said: “Today you have seen salvation at work—this is repentance, this is forgiveness. This man who was the ‘godfather,’ this man, I am telling you is now a son of Abraham. He is a child of the covenant because he is embodying his father’s spirit.” Abraham was known for his forgiveness in Jewish tradition. Abraham interceded for Abimelech and asked God’s forgiveness upon him. God honored that prayer of Abraham and he blessed Abimelech. Abraham was a forgiver and an intercessor. We must be forgivers and intercessors for those who have offended us, otherwise we do not have the blessings of God’s prosperity, and according to Jesus we block even God’s forgiveness of us for those things. You have offended other people and you feel sorry about it? Praise the Lord! You come to the altar and cry about it? Praise the Lord! But if you do not get up from that altar and walk out these doors and go over to that person and take care of that matter, then that sacrifice is vain, empty. It is the sacrifice of fools. I want to tell you that this community that God is building here—you and me in covenant relationship—there are going to be times when we will offend one another. I dare say there are some in this room that I have offended either advertently or inadvertently. I was involved with a church where I discovered that there were people in the congregation who for five years had held an ought against me for something they thought I had done. To my recollection I did not do it, but that is beside the point. The point is that they thought I had done this thing. They were deeply offended by this thing. Yet for four or five years they held that as a grievance. They were going into the ritual immersion pool doing the religious thing, holding onto the defiling reptile, namely resentment against me. It robbed them and it robbed me, and it finally led along with other things to a severing of that fellowship because the offense like a cancer had so grown. Let us just say for the purposes of discussion that I was completely in error. As a brother and a sister in the Lord, if I am in error it is your duty and I plead with you to come to me and say: “Dwight you are basically a nice guy but you did such and such and I do not think that is right, it offended me.” I need to know that. You need to know that. You need to bring that to my recognition so it can be dealt with. I need to be confronted. And the well-being of the community hinges on us being humble enough to confront the other in love and forgive for their good, not for our being proved right. What a beautiful theological system Jesus had! But it is tough! It is about as comfortable for us to forgive a real grievance as it is for us to have a tooth pulled out without Novacaine. It hurts! But in the power of the Holy Spirit when that forgiveness occurs, healing is set free. Unforgiveness binds you, it shortens your life, it makes your actions contingent upon long-standing resentments. Resentment comes from the Latin and it means to feel again—to feel something again and again. Unforgiveness binds you to your feelings, to your hurts, to your grievances. It blocks God’s shalom coming into your life, it blocks God’s ability to enter into full fellowship with you. Why do you hold onto it? But on the other hand forgiveness sets the captive free, tremendous power comes in.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.