Lenten Devotions 2015: Forgiveness is a command!

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We saw yesterday that the relatives of 21 young Coptic Christians from Egypt were able to forgive ISIS murderers because of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is precisely this aspect which differentiates the Christian faith from other religions. In his discourse on the Kingdom ethics, Jesus Christ so unequivocally stressed forgiveness that Apostle Peter had to ask him for a clarification as he could not believe that Jesus would recommend forgiveness in such a way.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18: 21)

It was not a common practice in Israel or anywhere else in Jesus’ time to offer forgiveness to someone who is bent upon hurting and offending you. Therefore, Peter thought he was too generous by asking if one could forgive seven times, as the number seven in the Bible represents completeness and perfection. (“Seven” is used about 735 times in the Bible. It appears to be derived from the seven days of creation by God and that the Sabbath was on the 7th day of the week. For further significance of the number seven, please read: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/09/26/what-does-the-number-seven-7-mean-or-represent-in-the-bible/).

To Peter’s astonishment, Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18: 22 NIV). Or, as in other versions: “seventy times seven” (KJV, NASB, ASB). Of course, Jesus did not mean to forgive 7, 70, or even 490 times. Jesus was not dealing with numbers or mathematics at all but with something deeper at a spiritual level. What he wanted for Peter and his followers to understand is that, in the Kingdom ethics, which Jesus had come to establish, forgiveness doesn’t depend on a specific number. Just as God’s grace and forgiveness is freely available to the sinner, our forgiveness need to be unlimited. It should be offered whenever the occasion arises. Jesus also knew that the average lifespan of a person is about seventy years as Psalm 90: 10 had observed. Therefore, the followers of Jesus are commanded to forgive as long as the offender lives. That would be a complete and perfect forgiveness according to Jesus.

Apostle Paul understood this very well. That’s why he wrote to the church in Ephesus:

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4: 32).

Paul repeats it again:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3: 13)

What is our attitude to forgiveness today? Are we calculating when it comes to forgiving others who have offended us? Are we keeping a record of all people who wronged us and the number of times we have given them a second chance? May the words of our Lord lead us today to offer complete and unlimited forgiveness to whoever needs it. Amen.

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Lenten Devotions 2015: How is forgiveness possible?

I am sure you have either read about or watched in horror how the ISIS beheaded 21 young Coptic Christians from Egypt. These young men left their homes and loved ones in Egypt and came to Libya to earn their livelihood and support their families. They had no idea what awaited them in Libya. These 21 Egyptians were singled out to be slaughtered by ISIS only because of their Christian faith. They were asked to deny their faith in Christ, which they all refused to do, instead they chose to embrace a martyr’s death with the name of their Lord Jesus Christ on their lips till their last breath. However, as with most incidents of persecution, a very positive outcome from these killings has many people amazed at the reaction of relatives of these martyrs.

For example, the mother of Kyrillos, one of the 21 Coptic Christians killed by ISIS, said in a recent interview that “she forgives the Muslim murderers of her son — since he is now ‘with his Lord’ — and prays that they see the light and turn from evil” (http://www.raymondibrahim.com/from-the-arab-world/coptic-christian-mother-forgives-prays-for-isis-slaughterers-of-son/ )

In another related incident, during the telecast of a program on Sat7Arabic Television, the brother of one of the 21 people called in and openly declared forgiveness to ISIS. Please watch this below:

I am also reminded of Gladys Staines, an Australian missionary who worked in Orissa, India. Her husband Graham Staines and two teenage sons were burnt alive as they slept in their vehicle in 1999. Even though one of the main culprits of the crime was caught and brought to justice, Gladys Staines chose to forgive him in her personal capacity.

Forgiving someone who offends is not an easy and normal thing to do. I know this by personal experience. So, the most baffling question is: How is it even possible for someone to forgive evil, unrepentant murderers? If you watch the above video closely, you will find that time and again the brother and the mother referred above stressed that it was possible only because of their and the martyrs’ Christian faith. And believe me, this is the most crucial aspect of forgiveness. It is possible to forgive murderers and perpetrators of evil only because of Jesus Christ and the gospel He preached. This Lenten season, which reminds us the suffering and death of Christ, let us recall that the gospel just does not present a theory of forgiveness as a lofty ideal or a moral virtue; rather, Jesus Christ exemplified it in his own life and death by forgiving those who crucified him. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34). That is why Jesus could teach his disciples with authority and categorically asked his followers to forgive others:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14-15).

During these days of confession, repentance, and prayers; are you reminded of the offenses committed against you? Do you recall the grudges you hold against someone in your immediate family or in the community of believers? May be the Lord is asking you today to forgive them before you go ahead further in the holy season of Lent. Will you obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit? Let me leave you with a few quotes for us to ponder today:

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain

“Forgiveness is the final form of love.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” – Hannah More