LIVING THE RESURRECTION — WITH FORGIVENESS
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 28, 2011
- Forgiveness precedes asking for it [John 20:19; Luke 23:34; Ephesians 4:23,31-32]
- Forgiveness casts out fear [John 20:20; Genesis 50:14-21]
- Forgiveness brings peace [John 20:21-23; John 14:27]
Josh Ocasion works the teleprompter during Harold Camping's live broadcasts in the Family Life Radio studio sandwiched between an auto shop and a palm reader's business in Oakland, California. He said he enjoyed the production work but he had never fully believed Camping’s May 21 prophecy would come true. "I thought he would show some more human decency in admitting he made a mistake," he said. "We didn't really see that." (Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/
But before we’re too hard him, we might want to remember that Baptist farmer William Miller prophesied the return of Jesus on numerous dates before finally settling on October 22, 1844. But as we’re all aware, that didn’t happen either. Nineteen years later, some of his followers officially organized the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Of all Christians, we should have the most capacity for compassion for Harold Camping and the folks at Family Life radio because we too have made that mistake.
But whether Camping ever comes out and sincerely says so before or after his revised date of October 21 of this year, his followers can still extend forgiveness to him. Because rightly understood, for the Christian living a resurrected life, forgiveness precedes asking for it. It takes two to tango, but only one to forgive. Which is one of the things our passage in John 20 teaches us today. So please join me there. The title of today’s message is Living the Resurrection With Forgiveness. John 20:19-23 says, “19That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! "Peace be with you," he said. 20As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21Again he said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you."22Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Even though Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple John have now testified to the resurrection of Jesus [cf. John 20:8; 18], Peter is still wondering what happened [cf. Luke 24:12]. And the rest of the disciples still do not believe. They are hiding behind locked doors in the upper room for fear of the Jewish leaders. But suddenly, Jesus appears and stands among them. Walls with locks and doors cannot keep the resurrected Christ away. Nothing can. And when he arrives, it’s immediately obvious that Jesus meant what he said in John 20:17 that the disciples are “his brothers.”
Earlier in John 13:16 he called them “servants.” And then a couple chapters later in John 15:13 he called them “friends.” But now, in spite of their incredible faithlessness and fear and doubt, Jesus calls them his brothers. This is the first and only time Jesus in the Gospel of John that Jesus ties himself to His disciples in such intimate terms. Obviously, Jesus had forgiven them. Even though they had not forgiven themselves. And this is point number one. Forgiveness precedes asking for it. In Luke 23:34, Jesus told the Jewish leaders crucifying him, 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing.'" But two days later He extended the same grace to his disciples who abandoned him. So his professed followers living resurrected lives, by his grace, will do the same.
Dr. Sandra Wilson in her book Hurt People Hurt People is excellent on this. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Much of what I’m telling you today comes from a chapter in that book entitled “Help for Healing Forgivers.” In it, she notes that some people think forgiveness is a two way street. If someone has wronged you, and they sincerely apologize with a real apology, whatever that sounds like, you forgive them. But in reality, it doesn’t work that way because when they do, the level of repentance might never match the level of wounding.
For example, even if Camping comes out and sincerely apologizes to Robert Fitzpatrick who spent $140,000—his entire retirement savings—on advertisements warning of the May 21 Judgement, that repentance isn’t going to bring that money back. What can hurters possibly do today that can make up for what they did yesterday? The answer? Nothing. Like the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18, they owe debts they can never repay.
Don’t you see? Our hurters stand before us with empty hands and pockets, utterly unable to pay for the past. And we stand before them with two choices. One, we can keep trying to collect the debts they rightfully owe by exacting verbal and nonverbal tolls. But to do so we also have to keep their deficits on our mental balance sheets and this means we must constantly reminds ourselves of the painful past. Or two, we can cancel their debts and forgive them. Even if they haven’t asked to be forgiven first. Did the crowd of people crucifying Jesus ask for forgiveness before Jesus gave it? Did the disciples? No! Because that’s not how forgiveness works. Forgiveness is not a two way street. It’s a one way street. You may need the other person to repent or apologize for reconciliation to take place, but not for forgiveness.
Some counselors say that we can never truly forgive without confronting. False. This is like saying we must fully reconcile to fully forgive. What if our hurters are dead? We can neither reconcile nor confront them. And even when they are alive, they can short-circuit reconciliation with lies. Maybe that’s why 1 Corinthians 13:5 says true love keeps no record of wrongs. It’s not that we forget who has wronged us in the past, it’s that by faith, we choose not to act on it or hold it against them anymore. It’s said that elephants never forget. I’m not sure why. But if that’s true, only God and apparently elephants forgive and forget. Micah 7:19 says God casts our sins into the depths of the ocean and Hebrews 10:17 says He remembers them no more. We may still remember, but by His grace, we can still choose to forgive and live! Even if those that doubt, disappoint, or hurt us haven’t asked to be forgiven yet or never do!
Still some counselors say Christian victims should forgive and forget. Specifically, that we cannot prosecute criminals. False. The truth of the matter is 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 forbids lawsuits with other Christians in civil cases—like fights over pieces of property—not criminal cases. Romans 13:1-6 describes God’s provision for dealing with criminal acts.
Child abuse is not only a sin; it’s a crime. One in four girls and one in seven boys will be victims of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. But the stats would be even higher if all of us were honest about what abuse is. So just to be clear, abuse isn’t just molesting a child. It also includes slapping, shaking, scratching, sticking with pins, squeezing tight enough to cause pain, hitting or beating with such things as boards, sticks, belts, kitchen utensils, yardsticks, electrical cords, hoses, and shovels. Abuse includes burning, scalding, freezing, holding under water, throwing, pushing, shoving, or slamming against walls, floors, or objects. You’ve been abused if you’re been confined to a closet, basement, attic, box, or locked room without food or water.
It’s sad that I have to be so specific but in my 15 years of pastoral experience, I’m convinced people even in the church don’t know this! They think some of this is normal. And it’s not. It’s not only a sin. It’s a crime. Just because your Christian father or mother did that to you doesn’t make it right or legal. And Christians can and should prosecute crimes not in order to achieve forgiveness, but in order to prevent other boys and girls from being hurt in the same ways. Jesus was dead serious about this. He said in Matthew 18:6, “If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
But once you’ve been abused and hurt, the only way for the hurting to stop is to forgive first. Even if the perpetrator hasn’t asked to be forgiven yet or never does! Doing so doesn’t deny the wrong they did; it means you’re giving God the right to judge. The souls under the altar in Revelation 6:10 understand this. Martyred for their faith in Jesus they cry, “How long O Lord? How long until you judge the people and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”
But interestingly, as we discovered a couple weeks ago on Wednesday night as we were reading Revelation, the word for avenge in Revelation 6:10 is the same word used in the Greek of Luke 18:3 for justice in the parable of the persistent widow. Remember that lady who Jesus said kept coming to the wicked judge for justice and she finally got some because she kept asking? Followers of Jesus living resurrected lives ask not for blood curdling revenge, but persistently for legal justice from the only One capable of rendering both to victim and perpetrator. Forgiveness means releasing the right to hurt those who hurt you. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, it means placing the sin and sinner into the nail-scarred hands of the only One qualified to judge. So whatever else Revelation says after chapter 6 about the unsealed wicked that dwell on the earth, it does so with this legal court of law question in mind.
True story! John had a two-year affair with Cliff’s wife. This affair was the catalyst that contributed to Cliff’s family breaking up. He and his wife had three kids. Over time, Cliff became a Christian and remarried. However, one day years later, John’s name came to his mind and suddenly he felt rage burning in his chest. Has that ever happened to you? You know it has! We all in small or large ways have anger management issues. But when that happened, Cliff realized he had never forgiven John for what Cliff had found to be unforgivable. Here are the steps Cliff found necessary to go through to forgive John:
- He confessed to God his inability to forgive. He admitted that this was wrong. And he sought God’s forgiveness for his hatred of John over the years.
- Cliff then asked God to give him His forgiveness for John saying, “Lord, I choose to forgive John for his atrocious behavior. I surrender my hate to you and ask that You give me Your power to forgive him. Please make my decision a reality through your indwelling Holy Spirit because I realize I can’t do this apart from You. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.”
- Cliff concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord I have done what you have done for me first forgiving so I can forgive others. Now I ask that You will forgive me for my previous lack of forgiveness.”
And when he prayed that prayer, God’s peace flooded Cliff’s heart. And the Holy Spirit started renewing him from the inside out which is what happens to all followers of Jesus living resurrected lives. The same power that pulled Christ from the tomb can be given to you to forgive. How does that happen? Ephesians 4:23,31-32 says, "Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." Jesus’ arrival in that upper room proves that forgiveness can be given before it’s asked for. This is point number one.
Moving on, our passage also reveals that forgiveness casts out fear. This is point number two. John 20:20 says, “20As he [Jesus] spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!” When you know God loves you like crazy flaws and all and that’s there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and that there’s really nothing you can do to make God love you less, joy replaces fear. This normal next step is clearly illustrated in the life of Joseph. Turn to Genesis 50 to see what I mean.
Genesis 50:14-21 says, "After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father's burial. But now that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers became fearful. ‘Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,’ they said. So they sent this message to Joseph: ‘Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: 'Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.' So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.’ When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. 'Look, we are your slaves!' they said. But Joseph replied, 'Don't be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don't be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.' So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them."
Some of us struggle to live resurrected lives long after we have received His gift of forgiveness. So we may have to repeat the steps Cliff went through many times. Because by faith, forgiveness is our theological certainty, but not our experienced reality. But by God’s grace, in His time, it can be! Joy can replace fear! You may never forget, but you can forgive and live! And God wants you to!
Another true story. During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a man named George Wilson was convicted of robbing the US mail and killing a man in the process. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to die by hanging. Some friends of Wilson intervened on his behalf and convinced President Jackson to pardon him. But to everyone’s dismay, Wilson refused the pardon! His case finally reached the Supreme Court. Here is a portion of the Court’s opinion: “A pardon is an act of grace...A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance” [Hurt People Hurt People p. 204].
Forgiveness can cast out fear. Joy should replace it. But sometimes it doesn’t because we don’t let it. Guilt prevents us from accepting grace. Others use guilt to replace grace in an attempt to make themselves obey better. Their twisted logic goes something like this: “I hate myself for what I did so I will continue to punish myself with guilt because it will keep me from sinning that way again.” False. Such reasoning keeps us so focused on what we have done that we ignore what Christ has done and is doing! Jude 1:24 says, “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” Without a shift of focus from our sins to God’s grace, we’ll never be able to forgive and live. I think that’s why Jesus showed the disciples his scars in the upper room.
And lastly, thank God, forgiveness brings peace. This is point number three. John 20:21-23 says, “21Again he said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you."22Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” One of the main purposes of the appearance stories in the Gospel of John is to demonstrate that many of the things Jesus promised in the Farewell Discourse of chapters 13-17 have already been fulfilled within days of his death and resurrection. In John 14:18, Jesus promised to come back and in John 20 He does. In John 16:22, Jesus promised to bring rejoicing to their hearts and in John 20 He does. In John 14:27, Jesus promised to bring them His peace and in John 20 He does. Twice in fact!
John 14:27 says, "I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." And twice in our passage today, in verse 19 and 21, jesus announces peace be to you! He then breathes on them which is a reminder of Genesis 2:7 where it say the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living person. This is re-creation language here.
How do we live resurrected lives with forgiveness? We give to people what Jesus gives first to us! Even if they haven’t asked for it yet or never do! And when we do, forgiveness casts out fear and replaces it with joy and a peace that passes understanding. A note about the end of verse 23 may be helpful. I know it sounds like we have the power to offer or withhold forgiveness at a whim, but that’s not what Jesus means. He who so loved the world that He freely gave His life isn’t suggesting that we get stingy with ours. No matter how hurt we are. No, what he’s saying is big picture, the Gospel brings both light and darkness, both life and death, both forgiveness and judgement [cf. John 3:16-21; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. Whenever the Gospel is preached—including the part about forgiving our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us—judgement occurs. If you forgive, they are forgiven. If you don’t, they aren’t. But neither are you because Jesus said in Luke 6:37 and Mark 11:25 when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.
If we abide in Christ, this is the normal next step that miraculously occurs. We are not victims. We are victors! Forgiveness does not depend on them. It’s up to us. God wants to re-create you. He wants to give you His joy and peace because He paid it all. I hope this week, you’ll let Him.