Welcome to the fifth week of Lent. Please take some time to listen to Rachael’s message.
Lent Devotional Week Five
We can read in the verses of Luke 23:32-43 about what was happening in those moments as Jesus hung on the cross. Jesus had been through so much already: arrested in the middle of the night, disowned by his friends, put through false trials, blindfolded, whipped, beaten, spat on, forced to drag his own cross through the streets, and nailed to it, high up and humiliated for all to see.
As He hung there, the soldiers who had been responsible for much of this mocked him. They gambled for his clothes and while they did, they made fun of him, saying, ‘if you were really God you could get down from there’. Jesus is bleeding, broken, exposed and in the midst of all of this, Jesus cries out these words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This is incredibly challenging.
How could Jesus forgive them?
How could he petition God on their behalf and ask God to forgive them?
Why is Forgiveness so hard? Why is it so hard to forgive those who have hurt us?
Forgiveness is hard and for some of us it’s extremely emotive. Some of us have been hurt so badly that the very idea of forgiveness is too hard to even know where to start. Some of us struggle with the idea that God has forgiven us, and some of us struggle to forgive ourselves.
The Journal Psychology Today described forgiveness as: ‘a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness’.
Often in conversations about forgiveness we hear two main requirements for forgiveness. One that the perpetrator is sorry and repentant and has told you so, this would often mean they have come to you asking for forgiveness. But in the story of Jesus on the cross, clearly neither of these things happened. The soldiers were still in the actual act of crucifying Jesus as he said these words, they went on to continue mocking him, there was obviously no repentance taking place.
The other problem we usually hear when talking about forgiveness is that it makes the crime out to be no big deal. ‘If I forgive them, it’s like what they did doesn’t matter.’
The study continues on to say: ‘Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.
Especially at times when we are really deeply hurt, words or those actions can stay with us for a long time. Hurt can embed itself in us, become a part of our core, something so tightly intertwined we don’t recognise ourselves without it. It can be something that’s carried on down through generations, when great crimes have been committed against people to start to talk about forgiveness can seem absolutely incomprehensible. There are no easy answers in these cases, all we can do is come before God.
Jesus is our example in everything. Jesus showed us what the father looks like, he showed us what his kingdom looks like, he showed us what living looks like, a Christian is a follower of Jesus and so we seek to emulate him in all that we do.
Following Jesus isn’t easy because like Him we take up our cross and live our lives to serve him and to love others. The nature of this is that is challenging, it’s always radical, always counter-cultural, and usually different to what we see all around us.
Forgiveness is extremely counter cultural, but this is the nature of God. All through the narrative of the Old Testament we can see God’s heart in bringing people back to him, to forgive our selfishness, our idolatry, our desire to have what we wanted. People would walk away, disregard God and he would make a way for them to come back to him. No one knows the journey of forgiveness like God.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ God’s forgiveness is complete and absolute, ‘therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ 2 Cor 5:17
Forgiveness is essential for life, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s proactive and assertive. Forgiving is not coming from a positive of weakness, but allowing God to work in us, to be counter-cultural, to stop the hold the pain has over our life.
Jesus has shown us what it looks like to forgive, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to forgive others when we need to. It’s not an easy journey, but it is one that God understands and will give us the strength to walk through.