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"Forgive Us" (part 3 of 3)

Series Title: "Pray Then, Like This ..."

Jesus gives many examples of seeking to settle relational accounts quickly. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matt 5:23-24).

Jesus is clear about the order of importance to our Father, “Put your offering aside, quickly go seek reconciliation by asking for or extending forgiveness. Then come before the Holy One with clean hands and a pure heart saying, Forgive the wrongs I have done, as I forgive the wrongs that others have done to me." - Good News Translation

Most of us come to church week in and week out, year in and year out, knowing that someone has something against us and we have something against them. Yet we keep coming, offering worship while being disobedient to the teaching of our King on the subject of forgiveness.

To love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength, says Jesus, is of first priority. Equivalent to, of the same nature as, is the command to love your neighbor as yourself. By binding these two together as one, Jesus speaks to the heart of every commandment in Holy Scripture. To love God is to love your neighbor; to love your neighbor is to love God.

Given the power and logic of those texts, do you understand that to refuse to forgive another is to force God to refuse to forgive you?

Here is a memorable metaphor from the sages of Jesus' day, used to demonstrate an attitude of true repentance and forgiveness. At the southern end of the Temple Mount, there is a complex of ritual immersion pools (mikva’ot). Before you went up the great stairway into the house of the Lord you would walk down into a pool naked, immerse yourself in the water, and call upon the name of the Most High. You then come through the waters ritually pure to continue going up into his presence.

If you have not repented and sought forgiveness, said the wise teachers of Israel, it is as if you went through that whole process while holding a defiling reptile, an unclean creature, in your hand.

Do we go through all the religious motions and rituals—bowing, singing, giving, studying —while holding onto the defiling reptile of unforgiveness? If so, we rob God of the power to bless us, rob ourselves of peace and joy, and rob the community of fellowship and wholeness.

We misunderstand the Temple liturgy. There was nothing magical about ritual purity and sacrificial offerings. What happened at the Temple was to be an external expression of the internal reality that characterizes repentance. It was a priest who performed the rite, but it was God who forgave the sin. Just having a priest slaughter a lamb did not affect atonement if there was no accompanying humility and repentance evidenced by the willingness to forgive.

Hear me, friends, God is the same. He did not offer one system to Israel and another system to us.

As God's people seeking to live in a covenant relationship together, 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. If I am in error, as a brother and a sister in the Lord, it is your duty to come to me. I need to be confronted, and you need to bring that to my attention so it can be dealt with. The well-being of the community hinges on us being humble enough to confront and be confronted in love. in order to forgive.

Do you know the story of Corrie Ten Boom? She and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, where her sister died. Years later, Corrie was ministering, in Germany, about the power of forgiveness. Among the people who came up to shake her hand and thank her afterward was one of the SS guards that had abused them at the concentration camp.

When she saw his face she immediately knew who he was. He came up and said to her, "Dear Corrie, how grateful I am for your sermon tonight. To think that just as you have preached, I have repented, and God has washed away my terrible sins." He reached out his hand to shake hers.

"Suddenly," she recounts, "it was all there, the room full of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsy’s pain-blanched face. And I, who had preached to the people in Germany the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful feelings surged through me, I saw how sinful my thoughts were. Jesus Christ had died for this former SS officer. Was I going to demand more of him than Jesus did?"

Remember, it is not wrong to have negative feelings, it is wrong to have your conduct dictated by those feelings rather than by the kingship of God.

Corrie continues, "I prayed silently, Lord Jesus forgive me, and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand but simply could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.”

Forgiveness is something extraordinary, it does not come naturally. There may be times when you have to wait and let the pain subside before you can go to someone and seek forgiveness, but if you wait until your feelings tell you to do it, you will never do it. Corrie had no inclination to do this, everything in the natural brought up resentment, anger, even hatred. She did what we all must do, she relied on the power of the Spirit of Jesus. In Paul’s language, When we acknowledge our weakness, God is made strong.

While praying her silent prayer, she reached out, took his hand, and the most incredible thing happened. "From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him. Into my heart sprang up a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness or our goodness upon which the healing of the world hinges, it is on Jesus alone. He tells us to love our enemies, but he also gives us the love itself to do it."

There is so much more that could be said about forgiveness. We all have questions. Grounded in the commands to forgive, the first thing you must keep in mind is that there is no single answer to every situation. Second, you must be guided by the Spirit and the wise counsel of the mature in your community. And third, we always need to take the biblical—not the natural—perspective.

What I can say with certainty is this, the reason we seek the forgiveness of others is for their benefit, not ours.

Everything in the kingdom is God-centered, not self-centered; that is why it is so radically other than anything else we know. In the Kingdom, the reason we seek forgiveness and extend forgiveness is that, like Jesus, we want to set every captive free. Yet the great paradox is this, as we humble ourselves, extend forgiveness, and set others free, God liberates us and strengthens our sense of being made in his image and likeness.

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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.

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