Finding Forgiveness and Fully Forgiving

If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. - Matthew 6:14–15

I always feel deep awe after reading the first five books of the Bible. Generally referred to as the Torah, or the Pentateuch, these five books were so highly regarded in Jewish tradition that to read from them was a great honor. Though the Torah is often referred to as, “The Law”, the root of the word means “to teach” [1]. My awe in reading the Torah is for the holiness of God and how these five books continually instruct me about who God is and how far I am from him because of my sinfulness.

In the Torah, we learn about the beginning of the history of God’s people, including their continued disobedience and blatant sinfulness. We also start to learn about God’s character. He is so utterly holy he cannot be in the presence of sin because his holiness would consume it (Lev 9:24). The quandary is God is also so utterly in love with his people and wants to be with them (Ezek 11:20) but he can’t be while they are sinning. There is no way unholy people could work their way through good deeds or good efforts to be with the Holy God, so the Holy God must make a way to be with them.

God loves his people and wants to be with them, so large chunks of the Torah are dedicated to instructing them in how they can commune with him. To describe it could only be summed up by the word bloody.

Since God is holy, his justice demands death as the payment for sin (Rom 6:23) and blood must be shed. This payment of death, in the form of an animal sacrifice, established a way for God’s people to substitute their sin onto the animal so they could enjoy sweet communion with him (Lev 16) and enjoy forgiveness. But, this substitution had to be done regularly; the covering of sin by the blood of the animal was only temporary because the animal was not good enough to perfectly cover the sin of man (Heb 9:11-14). A Holy God, in the presence of unholy people would simply consume them without the sacrifice.

And we find ourselves now at the crux of our hope. God’s desire to be with the people he loves and forgive them wholly, compelled him to make a way by providing the perfect sacrifice in their place for their sin. Not because they earned it or worked hard enough to clean themselves up, but simply because God loved them.

In the cross of Jesus Christ, we see God’s perfect love meet his perfect justice and make a way for, us, an unholy people, to commune with a Holy God. In this great reality, we find ourselves cleansed by God for all our brokenness, sin, and wickedness. We find ourselves forgiven by the holy, living, powerful and mighty God. We can stand before him no longer separated by sin as his enemy, but now embraced and loved by him as a son or daughter.

The length God went to forgive and be united with you through Jesus Christ is the greatest distance ever covered. It is spectacular in every way. But when we begin to talk about extending forgiveness to those who have hurt, abused, abandoned, grieved, and inflicted pain upon us, it can quickly become overwhelming and difficult and we forget the powerful forgiveness God extended us.

The power to forgive comes when we look to the great distance God travelled to make us his and forgive all our iniquities (Exod 34:7). Only when we look to Jesus can we begin to see a way we can forgive those who have wronged us.

We don’t need to find the power to forgive inside ourselves, and be the “bigger man”. But we can forgive out of the forgiveness we have received from our bigger God. The people of God are a people marked by forgiveness. The forgiveness we received and the forgiveness we are empowered and commanded to give.

Historically this truth has been proven by how our brothers and sisters in Christ have respond to evil; especially evil committed against them. I am reminded of the response of the Amish community (Christians from the Anabaptist tradition) of Lancaster, PA in October 2006 when a gunman shot 10 young Amish schoolgirls, killing 5 of them, and then turned the gun on himself.

This truly heinous act of violence was met not with violence or hatred from the Amish, but instead, with forgiveness. The community responded the afternoon of the shooting with a statement of forgiveness, and in the days following reached out to the killer’s family to comfort them. Sociologist Donald Kraybill remarks, “I think the most powerful demonstration of the depth of Amish forgiveness was when members of the Amish community went to the killer's burial service at the cemetery… Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer's family.”

How could anyone care for the family of their daughter’s killer? The simple answer is only through the love and grace of God, received for yourself first, and then extended out through you.

To do this requires a firm and continual sacrifice of your will and your flesh to the love of God. It also requires a belief and faith that God is good, and he works good out of evil. Not easy things, but beautiful things none-the-less.

Might God provide us those things as we forgive those who trespass against us as he has forgiven our trespasses.

I pray you will step out in faith and forgive.

In Christ,

Pastor Ryan

[1] “Word translated “law” in the OT, derived from the Hebrew verbal root, yarah, which means “to throw” or “to shoot.” The idea behind the word is to inform, instruct, direct, or guide” Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 2081). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.