Jesus characterized forgiveness as He entered Jerusalem for the final time beginning the series of events that eventually led to his crucifixion and death. When Christ rode into the city seated on a humble donkey, He was greeted by crowds of people applauding and cheering Him from each side of the city’s narrow streets. They were shouting His name, and honoring Him as the long awaited Messiah. What an experience it must have been to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many of the city’s curious and excited residents as Jesus was being applauded and received by so many!
Have you ever wondered, though, if it was possible for Jesus to look into the faces of those who laid palm branches and spread them out before Him on the streets shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” knowing in a few days many of those among the cheering fans would be calling for His death?
I think he knew some of the very faces that were affirming Him as their hero and smiling as he entered the city would soon turn on Him and be mocking, snarling, and trying to spit on Him in disgust. Yet He continued. He knew what was unfolding. Here is the amazing part to me, he chose to forgive those who were about to inflict horrible injustices upon Him even before they themselves knew they would turn against Him.
The forgiveness of God is a quality and force that liberates our hearts to pursue Him in the greatest adventure life can offer and then in eternity beyond. God forgives us for our transgressions against Him, and then He gives us the capacity to forgive others. As we forgive we discover a level of freedom unattainable by human means. However, when we choose not to ask forgiveness or grant forgiveness to those who have offended us we choose a yoke of slavery. Unforgiveness will spoil, darken, and decay our lives.
Like a dog restrained on a long chain, unforgiveness keeps us imprisoned and as long as we carry unforgiveness in our heart toward someone we might think we are free, but we are deceived. We can paint our chain blue, pink, or green, and spray it with the sweet scent of wildflowers, but the chain of unforgiveness is simply disguised and continues to hold us back.
We can talk and sing about freedom and say we are glad we are not like people outside the church, but we are still bound and limited as unforgiveness strangles the life from us. The person who is unforgiving is like the Pharisee in this parable of Jesus from Luke 18:
“Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee was blinded by his self-righteousness. He was the dog on the chain believing he was free, but he was the one bound, not the humble and repentant tax collector. Unforgiveness produces death, darkness, and a fruitless vine just as forgiveness brings life, light, and the fruits of the Spirit. Unforgiveness is a painful prison and the healing virtues of forgiveness are the freedom from that bondage.
Think of the emotional devastation and complete hopelessness that would occur if we had approached Christ with a repentant heart, asked forgiveness, only to have Him respond with a cold, uncaring attitude of indifference and unforgiveness. It would destroy us, and indeed we would be without hope.
We are to forgive as He has forgiven us and there are no exceptions if we are to live as Jesus desires us to. Unforgiveness is an obstacle to real life, and we cannot afford to ignore it and allow it to fester like an infection. It must be identified and extracted from our lives or our spiritual journey will be stifled and incomplete.
The devastation caused by unforgiveness can be catastrophic; and the power, scope, and liberty of forgiveness immeasurably good, so then, to be like Jesus we must choose to forgive as the Father has forgiven us.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
(The “Living the Lord’s Prayer” blog series is based on Craig’s book, The Vigil, available at village2village.co. Proceeds will support mission work around the world.)