Sunday, January 27, 2013

Forgiveness & Grace

I used to tell students that I only needed forgiveness for two things in my life- the things I do and the things I don't do!  With that in mind...

In case you missed this while reading your Bible, Jesus was big into forgiveness.  His mission statement- "I came to save the world, not to condemn it"- is all about offering us grace and forgiveness, because God knows we deserve to be condemned.  Jesus came and died on the cross so we wouldn't get what we deserve.  He told the following parable in Matthew 18:21-35 (The Message).

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?"   Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
"The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.   "The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.'  Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

"The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!'   "The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

"The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that's exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn't forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy."

Over the past few years I have encountered both the king and the servant from this story.  The kings- of which there are many- have seen the sin and failure (the debt) in my life, and have forgiven me anyway.  Paul writes that sin will always be with us on this side of heaven.  My past sins serve as a reminder of how much I need Jesus, but the debt has been erased by the sacrifice of Jesus and these "kings" I have encountered along the road.  The servants- of which, thankfully, I have encountered but a few- have seen the sin and failure in my life, and they seem determined to make sure those things are never forgotten.  They feel hurt and betrayed by my actions (and I don't blame them) but they just can't let it go.  My sin seems to effect them more than their own.  And if I am not careful, their actions and attitudes can cause me to sin again- because they make me want to not forgive them.  But I must.  I cannot experience the abundant life that Jesus came to bring unless I can forgive myself and others.  People who are otherwise faithful Christians seem to carry around an unhealthy bitterness and resentment that one would think should be absent from the body of Christ.  And that is their prerogative- as long as they never need forgiveness themselves.  This parable is not the only scripture that makes this point very clear.  In the LORD's Prayer, we are told to pray for God to "forgive our trespasses (debts)  as we forgive those who trespass against us."  Jesus said "Judge not at all, or you will be judged."  He said "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."  In other words, Jesus makes it clear that we will all be held to the same standard that we hold others to.  If we forgive and offer grace and mercy to the people who wrong us, then that is what we shall receive from God.  If we don't- well, I'd prefer not to find out what refusing God's grace feels like. 

We all seek forgiveness in our lives, and those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers know that we can repent and ask for grace, and that it is a gift given freely by our God.  Far too many people, however, struggle when it comes to personal grace; we want forgiveness from God but are not willing to offer it to those around us.  I hope that this parable will inspire us all to be like the King- both the one in parable and the One we worship.  He understood the debt, he hated the debt- but he erased the debt.  Many of you have been "human erasers" in my life, and I thank God everyday for your mercy- and His.  Have a blessed Sabbath, everyone!

Because of Jesus,

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