I kept reading the words over and over. The priest who I spoke with just the day before was dead. A faithful, elderly and supposedly retired priest who served the Lord till his very last day when he sat in the confessional booth to help others confess their sins to God. I am so glad I went. I am so glad I waited in the extra long line to speak with him. As I waited I kept asking God, “what sins are separating me from you?” What relationships in my life are not right and keeping me from a closer walk with you God? As I waited in line and listened to the soft peaceful music, the holy spirit reminded me of individuals in my life who I still had not fully forgiven. A tightness of heart occurred when I thought of them and I knew I wanted a clean, soft heart that overflowed with Love instead.
I shared my desire to fully forgive these individuals with the recently departed Father. Then, I received the gift and privilege of some of his last words on this broken, messy earth. He wisely told me, “About forgiveness…..we are commanded to forgive; but remember that just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you will forget what happened to you. That is not the way humans were created.”
His final words on forgiveness reminded me of some other famous last words. The Final words of Jesus Christ as he slowly died on the cross.
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34)
Who is Jesus forgiving in the statement above? not just the Romans…He is a personal God who is speaking to You and I. We are the “they”.
Sometimes an earthly example (a criminal before a judge scenerio) can help to explain an overwhelmingly incredible and mind-blowing spiritual truth. So imagine that you are about to go before God (the Judge and Jury) and make an account for all your lifelong sins and transgressions. You speak with your attorney and confess all that you have done throughout your life as well as all the missed opportunities to help others. So your advocate attorney goes before the judge (whose job is to make sure that Heaven remains perfect with no sin or sadness or sickness in it) and says, “Your Honor……Yes. If she came to Heaven her sin would ruin it. I agree with you that she deserves the death penalty and then she should spend eternity in Hell. She is guilty and justice says that she needs to die as a consequence.”
You stand shocked with your mouth ajar.”What? I thought you were going to defend me ?” you start screaming at your attorney, ” Why don’t you help me?”
You fall to the ground in despair. When you look up, the holy, white-hot face of your advocate blinds you with Love as He declares boldly, “I will take on your death sentence. I love you and want you to spend eternity in Heaven where there is no sin. So I will destroy death and sin by dying for you and rising from the dead.”
The weight of all our sins: past, present and future fell upon His shoulders so the penalty would be accomplished. For you and I personally participated when God allowed mankind to torture and kill His only begotten son. My selfishness nailed his feet to the beam. Your sin became a thorn in his already wounded body.
Now you are overcome with joy and start to sob as the handcuffs and shackles of sin are released from your legs , “Thank you … oh Jesus…. thank you so much. I Believe. I Believe that you paid the penalty once and for all. Thank you for the gift of being set free from the death penalty and everlasting death.”
God in the flesh kneels down to embrace you and tells you that you may now enter the Holy of Holies because the veil of separation has been torn open. You now have special access to the throne of Almighty God. He calls you His child for you are now a member in the family of God. He calls you friend because He did this to restore the intimate relationship that Adam and Eve had with God before they sinned. He calls you princess because you are a now a flawless, beautiful daughter of the King of Kings. Your time on earth will never be the same…….. as well as beyond.
You slowly rise up and in awed thanksgiving you ask, “After all you did for me….Jesus, what can I do for you??”
And then you remember His last words on the cross.
Father, Forgive them……..they know not what they do.
gulp. Did I just say that I was willing to do anything for God after all He did for me? But this is sooo hard in this broken world when people can be so mean. “But Lord…..They made my life so much harder when I needed help and was already struggling”.
“Yes”, Jesus would answer ” Just like when I suffered on the cross and your sins made my suffering so much harder”.
God came to reconcile with you and wants you to reconcile with those around you as much as it is up to you. (of course you don’t have to have a relationship with someone to forgive them…in cases of abuse etc…we need to set boundaries) God wants the best for us and unforgiveness causes stress that can lead to disease and most of separation from God. He wants your heart to be free and not tight. There is a difference from remembering and dwelling on our past. Look up at the cross of Jesus, and not back at how others have hurt you. Focus on how you are now free from death row; from eternal separation from God and perfect heaven. Forgiving them means you are going to let your Big protective Heavenly Father deal with what happened. You are releasing the situation into His Hands and asking God to take the bitter root of unforgiveness out of your heart.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, and that no bitter root spring up to cause trouble, through which many may become defiled. Hebrews 12 14-15
Trust that God will use your painful experiences for good someday. He can transform all things that we offer up into His loving and firm hands. Ask God to give you compassion for the person you struggle to forgive. Ask God to help you to forgive as we humanly can not do this alone. Remember that you have special access? Use it.
Each time a thought comes to your mind, say out Loud, “I forgive them in the Name of Jesus.” Forgiveness is a process that takes time. While you may always remember what happened, the sting will slowly go away and your heart will be light and free.
What will your last words be?
I hope we can say together on that resurrection Day, “Father, I forgave them as you forgave me. Thank you for setting my heart and soul free.”