Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on August 02, 2017
The New Testament is the wondrous story of God’s love for a broken world.
The height of this love is manifested on the cross of Jesus. In the hours before His crucifixion, Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, slandered, and beaten. The crowds that cheered Him days earlier, jeered Him. They spat upon Him and demanded His death. Soldiers pounded nails into His feet and hands. Yet, Jesus offered mercy and grace: “Father, forgiven them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
In Acts 6-7 we learn the story of Stephen. He was one of the first deacons of the early church and was described as a man full of grace and power. Like Jesus, Stephen was accused of crimes he did not commit. False witnesses were brought against him and the religious leaders determined to put him to death.
As rocks pelted the life from him, Stephen fell to his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Like his Lord on the cross, Stephen offered forgiveness, not vengeful words of anger and hatred.
How do the stories of Jesus and Stephen impact you? Both asked God to forgive, not to get even. Both believed that forgiveness would bring transformation to their offenders. Are you in need of forgiveness? Is it time to forgive someone else?
If we are not careful, however, “forgiveness” can become trivialized and stripped of its meaning. When “forgiveness” is tossed around haphazardly, it losses its transformative power. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
“Hey man, will you forgive me?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.”
The cross of Jesus reminds us that forgiveness is a big deal! In the midst of His suffering and humiliation, Jesus prayed for His Father to forgive those who were responsible. With ears ringing from the mocking and cursing of the crowd, He offered forgiveness. With blood and spit covering His body, He offered forgiveness.
Stephen knew the injustice against him. He felt the anger and hatred of the mob with each stone. He could have prayed for God to pour out His wrath. Instead, Stephen prayed for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness toward those who took his life.
We can only offer forgiveness in the understanding of our own hurt and forsakenness. To forgive says to another person that you have hurt, offended and broken me. Yet, instead of hatred, forgiveness offers grace and the possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness is the pathway to healing, breaking the deadly cycle of getting even. Forgiveness anticipates resurrection.
Of course, forgiveness can only come to full fruition when it is received. The healing power of forgiveness for the offender begins with the realization that I have hurt you, that I am sorry, and that I want things to be right again. Thus, to accept the gift of forgiveness from another means that we must first acknowledge our guilt or responsibility in offending that person.
Without forgiveness the way of life is filled with bitterness, anger, guilt, and brokenness. Without forgiveness marriages break apart, business partnerships dissolve, and people go to war. With forgiveness there is hope. With forgiveness there is healing. With forgiveness love matures beyond measure.
Do you feel the nails? Have the rocks driven you to your knees? Instead of hatred, what if you offered forgiveness.
Dr. Wade Smith