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July 7, 2013 Preacher: Michael Lawrence Series: Standalone

What a privilege it is to be able to come up here and share God’s Word with you all this morning. It’s funny, whenever the Elders get together and discuss our schedules for the next month or so, and we talk about opportunities for us to preach, I typically say that I can take a date as long as it’s about a month out. And they look at me kind of funny, and it sounds funny to me too, but that’s about how long it takes me to prepare. It gives me a real appreciation for Lyndon doing this week after week. With that being said, I must admit that the month of preparation is such a wonderful time for me, with the growth that take place within me. Sure there’s anxiety mixed in as the clock ticks closer, but that pales in comparison to the time I’m able to spend in the Word and looking at various commentaries, so thanks again for the opportunity this morning.

This is a first for me in a couple of areas: it’s the first time I’ve delivered a message on a topic as opposed to a specific passage of Scripture, and it’s the first time that I’ve been in the pulpit without my number one supporter and encourager present with me, my lovely bride Corrine, so you all have some big shoes to fill this morning.

So imagine that you receive a call from the police telling you that your 18-year-old child was tragically killed in a head-on collision traffic accident, then learn the next day that the driver of the other car was a 20-year-old whose blood alcohol level was two times the legal limit. Or, let’s say you’ve had a misunderstanding with someone in your local church body that has now gone lingering for over a month. This person has been keeping their distance from you, and recently someone approached you and disclosed to you that this person is spreading false accounts of the conversation and saying things that you didn’t say. If you were on the receiving end of either of these scenarios, there’s one thing you might surely feel you are entitled to, isn’t there? Justice, and maybe even retribution. After all, in both cases something precious has been stripped away from you by a selfish and senseless act. One obviously more severe than the other, but nonetheless you probably feel you’ve been wronged, and that you have every right to seek justice and/or retribution…or do you?

For the next few minutes that we have together this morning, I am going to look at an issue that I’m sure we have all struggled with throughout our lives and our Christian walk, and one that we often see in our day to day dealings with people. And not only do we see it often, but we see the damage and long lasting effects it can have on people’s lives.  As you’ve probably already guessed, I’d like us to take a look at forgiveness, and specifically what the Scriptures say in regard to forgiveness this morning. 

First of all, let me start out by saying that there is probably nothing more foreign to our sinful human nature than forgiveness. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we know how difficult it is to forgive someone who we feel has wronged us. There is one thing about forgiveness though, and that is: because we are all sinners and we interact with other sinners throughout our lives, we are all going to have plenty of opportunities to both seek and grant forgiveness as long as we live.

So in our time together this morning, I’d like at look at five main points regarding forgiveness…

  • What is forgiveness from a Biblical perspective?
  • Why are we called to forgive?
  • When are we called to forgive?
  • What are the consequences of not forgiving?
  • How do we make forgiveness a permanent part of who we are? How can we cultivate a spirit of forgiveness?

The first point I’d like to look at then is, “What is forgiveness?” What does it look like from a Biblical perspective? What does God do when He forgives, and what is our model for forgiveness? Now before I go too far this morning, I want to be clear about what kind of forgiveness that I am talking about here, because there are two categories of forgiveness, and they are different. First there is God’s judicial forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes place once and only once, at the moment of our salvation.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

And then there’s His parental forgiveness, where we are commanded to seek and grant forgiveness on an ongoing basis, such as is stated in Mark 11:25.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)

It is this latter category of ongoing forgiveness amongst each other that I am addressing today. Let’s take a look at what this forgiveness looks like from a Biblical perspective. God’s forgiveness is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures no doubt, but I guess one of the first things that comes to mind is its frequency and completeness. Among the multitudes of verses in the Scriptures that describe His forgiveness, these verses jump out at me; they’re found in Psalm 103 if you’d like to turn there with me.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

First of all, I’d like to take note of the permanency of God’s forgiveness in verse 12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” This verse is a bit more complex than it seems at first glance. For example, it could have said as far as the north is from the south, couldn’t it? Instead it says “east from the west.” Why? I think it’s because it’s magnifying just how far he removes our transgressions. We know that you can measure the distance from the North Pole to the South Pole. In fact, I read that as the crow flies it’s approximately 12,416 miles, give or take a couple. But there is no east pole or west pole, is there? The distance is immeasurable, it just keeps going for eternity, doesn’t it? A beautiful picture of His vast love and grace for us, no doubt. It is also a promise for Him to not remember. Now, this is different than forgetting. When God forgives, He does not have a divine lapse of memory. This would indicate a flaw in His omniscient character, and we know that’s not the case. No, He simply chooses to no longer remember the transgression, and so should we.

The next thing we should note about forgiveness is that it is a verbal declaration; it is not simply a feeling. It involves us saying something, and that something is more than just “I’m sorry.” It is going to someone and acknowledging that you have offended them by specifically stating the offense, recognizing that the offense has harmed them, and verbally asking them to forgive you with an attitude of reconciliation and humility. There is a significant difference between an apology and a true request for forgiveness. The word “apology” comes from the Greek “apologia,” which literally means “a speech in defense of.” So an apology oftentimes takes the form of a cleverly disguised excuse, if you will. Let’s say you said something that offended someone, and they’ve taken the first step of reconciliation and confronted you on it. Apologizing might take the form of, “I’m sorry you took offense to that, but I really didn’t mean it that way.” This is really shifting the blame from you to them, and becoming more of a self-defense, isn’t it? As opposed to a more genuine act of repentance, more appropriately expressed in an admission of wrongdoing and an appeal for forgiveness, such as, “It was thoughtless of me to say that. Will you forgive me?” Once a genuine offer of forgiveness has been made, the offended person is to verbally grant forgiveness and not withhold it.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)

This forgiveness needs to be verbally communicated to the person. It is disingenuous and inappropriate to tell someone who has asked your forgiveness something to the nature of, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it was no big deal, forget about it.” Sometimes this can even make matters worse, as this person has obediently come to you seeking forgiveness in a Biblical manner, only to have you minimize the sincerity of the situation. 

Once reconciliation takes place, the one offended is to move on and not dwell on the offense, or remind the offender of the offense in the future, just like what was modeled for us in Psalm 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t get the feeling that God is going to keep reminding me of my transgression time and time again after reading this verse. Forgiveness is first and foremost a promise. When someone says, “I can’t forgive,” they’re actually saying, “I won’t forgive.”

So what about restitution? Am I entitled to it? And what about retribution? Should I seek it, am I entitled to it? So let’s take a deeper look into restitution and retribution, and the difference between the two when it comes to forgiveness. “Restitution” is defined in the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary as, “The returning or restoring to a person some thing or right of which he has been unjustly deprived.” There are certainly Biblical precedents for restitution in the case of offenses committed against each other.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, 7 he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. (Numbers 5:6-7)

Whenever an actual loss has been caused by a wrong, restitution is certainly appropriate, especially when the injured party’s loss is quantifiable. So the granting of forgiveness for the guilt of the offense does not automatically nullify the need to make reparations. With that said though, the one forgiving is always free of course to forego restitution and choose to suffer the wrong without demanding repayment. This is totally up to the offended person’s personal preference.

But what about retribution? Retribution has more of a punishment overtone to it, does it not? The same dictionary defines “retribution” as, “The distribution of rewards and punishment at the general judgment.” This is where we have to be careful. When we talk of retribution we’re walking more into the realm of us taking it upon ourselves to mete out punishment to the offender for their offense. The Scriptures are clear in this area, with one of the most relevant passages being in Romans 12:17-19, which says…

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)

You see, by taking matters into our own hands in this area, we’re really saying that we don’t trust in the sovereignty of God to settle accounts in a proper and just manner. Instead we’re saying that we know best how to settle this account, and you can bet that more often than not, the account will be slanted in our favor. To sum up here, revenge is God’s business, forgiveness is ours. I think we would all agree here that it is always better to forgive too much than to condemn too much.

So now let’s look at some of the reasons why we are called to forgive. First off, let me just say this about why we are called to forgive: we are commanded to in Scripture. There’s not much more to say about that one.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)

These are two clear Biblical examples of being commanded to forgive. Another reason for forgiving is that for those who have been forgiven much, we are to forgive much, are we not? God did not love us, choose us, and redeem us because we were deserving, but purely because He is gracious. 

8 God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…10 While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8, 10) 

If God is so gracious to us, how much more then should we be kind, tender–hearted, and forgiving to fellow sinners. R.C. Sproul had the following to say about the why of forgiving: “The why for forgiving others is rooted in the fact that we have been the recipients of extraordinary mercy and compassion. We are all debtors who cannot pay their debts to God. Yet God has been gracious enough to grant us forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the why of forgiving is to express our own gratitude for the grace that we have received.”

After all, isn’t God’s nature one of forgiveness? We see this all throughout the Scriptures, but look at Exodus 34:6-7 with me…

6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

Jesus never tells us that certain offenses are unworthy of our forgiveness, so therefore we have no Biblical excuse for allowing unforgiveness to reign in our hearts. If we are to be His disciples, we must follow His example. 

If we can all agree here this morning that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, if that’s our chief end, our main purpose in life, the question becomes, “How can we best do that?” Well, certainly there are multiple ways we can bring glory to God with our lives. First of all, we can be consistent ambassadors for Him by being obedient to the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20, and going forth throughout the world making disciples in His name. A worthy cause no doubt. But I submit to you another very effective way of putting Christ on display is by emulating His character in our lives. The old adage that actions speak louder than words rings true here, I believe. And from my perspective, one of the most effective means of emulating Christ and putting Him on display is when we forgive someone who has wronged us. Why do I say that? Because it’s one of the most difficult things for us to do. If someone offends us in a serious way, our natural tendency is to withdraw from that person and adopt an attitude akin to, “How dare you treat me that way? I did nothing to you to deserve that treatment.” The act of someone reaching out towards reconciliation with the offender is so contrary to our human nature that it shouts of supernatural works within us. One of the desires of the flesh, among many other things, is to hold a grudge rather than forgive.

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:17)

To be blunt, an unforgiving Christian is a living contradiction of his new nature in Christ. It is so central to the heart of God to forgive, so the Christian who is willing and ready to forgive demonstrates obedience and takes advantage of the opportunity to put the God they love and serve on display. Forgiveness really is a picture of the Gospel, is it not?

So let’s look at the question of when we are called to forgive. First of all, we are called to forgive when we are asked by the offender, aren’t we? When forgiveness is sought, we are to grant it, and not only once, but continually. We see this in the earlier verse from Luke 17:4, “and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

But what about when we’re not asked? Surely we don’t have to forgive someone who never asks us for forgiveness, do we? I mean, how fair is that? Let’s look at what God’s Word says about that. What about when Christ tells us to love our enemy?

43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

Or how about when He tells us to turn the other cheek?

38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

And then I think about you and I. Did we, of our own volition, ask Christ to forgive us first, before He first loved us? We see this in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Spurgeon on this verse had the following to say: “Because He first loved us and that love of His has been shed abroad in our hearts, we have loved Him in return as a matter of course—we cannot help doing so. The mighty depths of His immeasurable love, high up on the eternal hills, flow down into the inmost recesses of our empty hearts and when, afterwards, a fountain of love is seen springing up out of them, the secret of its action is to be traced to that great reservoir away up on the everlasting hills!”

How about Romans 5:8? “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Notice the phrase, “while we still sinners,” which is when we were still actively revolting against God, He loved us and died for us!

Granted, these are not direct commands instructing us to forgive everyone, whether they ask or not, but they are examples of the loving and forgiving nature of our Lord and Savior, aren’t they? This attribute of love and forgiveness is so much a part of our Savior’s persona and character, is it not? And He is who we are to model ourselves after. With this in mind, is it ever appropriate to harbor lingering bitterness in our hearts and withhold forgiveness from someone?

I’d like for us to take a look at a Biblical account of forgiveness together. There are a number to choose from, but the one account that stands above the rest from my perspective is the account of Joseph in Genesis 45. If anyone had cause to be bitter, it was Joseph. His brothers had despised him; they brutally sold him into slavery and lied to their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. He was framed by Potiphar’s wife and unjustly sent to prison. He was left in prison for two additional years when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer forgot his promise to help get Joseph out of jail. In spite of all this, here’s how Joseph reconciled with his brothers…

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:1-15)

Isn’t this a beautiful picture of forgiveness? Joseph was able to look past himself and personal circumstances and recognize God’s plan for his life and forgive his brothers unconditionally. Remember what he said later on…

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:20-21)

So let’s look at some of the consequences of harboring unforgiveness within ourselves. First off, frustration and guilt is oftentimes the result of not following God’s counsel on how to handle offenses. Offenses don’t ever come to any resolution because they are put off for another time, a “more convenient” time.

How about this thought pattern, have any of you ever gone down this path? “I’m just going to wait for them to come to me to ask forgiveness. After all, they’re in the wrong, why should I go to them?” This is the, “I’m going to wait them out” strategy. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can all identify with that reasoning at one time or another. How does this “waiting for them to come to us” fall in line with the Luke 17 passage we discussed earlier? Not very well, does it? In fact, it’s kind of the opposite of what we’re instructed to do, isn’t it? I mean the passage says that you, the one that was offended, needs to initiate the process, doesn’t it? If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Is this difficult to do? You bet it is. Our flesh wants to withdraw from the offender, doesn’t it? But let’s look at what happens when we don’t follow God’s prescribed methods and we give in to our flesh and not yield to the Holy Spirit.

First of all, if the person who offended you takes the same stance of, “I’ll wait the other person out,” then this little offense can go on for quite some time. And what happens as this unresolved issue lingers? Well, most often the offense only gets worse, doesn’t it? Remember the second scenario I spoke of earlier? The offender began discussing the offense with someone else, which the likelihood of that happening increases as the time the offense goes unresolved. And, as the time increases, the memory of exactly what was said gets dimmer and dimmer, increasing the chance of error when relating what actually transpired. Also, notice that another sinner is brought into the picture now, increasing the chance of it getting even uglier. Also, as time passes, it provides the opportunity for another entity to get involved, one that we never want to have anything to do with. Yes, you guessed it, the master of lies and deception himself. Look at what Ephesians 4:26 says about letting things like this linger.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26)

Ah yes, the longer reconciliation is put off, the more Satan loves it. He’s a master at finding and exploiting chinks in our armor! He loves for us to procrastinate in this area. After all, by doing so we are playing into his hand and now emulating him as opposed to our Savior. In essence what we’re saying is, “Hey, look, I was in the right. I don’t deserve this kind of treatment. Let them come to me and ask me for forgiveness.” The situation often unfolds this way: it starts with anger, which after a time of stewing and festering caused by pride and disobedience, most often grows into bitterness, bitterness that over time imprisons us and, among other things, serves as a major obstacle to our ability to glorify our Lord.

Here’s what John MacArthur says about unforgiveness in his book titled “Forgiveness” – “Unforgiveness is a toxin. It poisons the heart and mind with bitterness, distorting one’s whole perspective on life. Anger, resentment, and sorrow begin to overshadow and overwhelm the unforgiving person- a kind of soul-pollution that enflames evil appetites and evil emotions. Such bitterness can even spread from person to person, ultimately defiling many.” This is portrayed in Hebrews 12:15, which says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” We would do well in heeding the Apostle Paul’s advice.

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

As we all know, man’s natural tendency is to sin, and the natural tendency of sin is to grow into greater sin. And a Christian’s sin will grow just like that of an unbeliever. If not checked, our sins of bitterness, wrath, and anger will inevitably lead to the outward sins of clamor, slander, and other such manifestations of malice.

So this is a pretty ugly picture, is it not? What is the answer? How do we avoid getting caught up in this cesspool? Another excerpt from John MacArthur’s book on forgiveness I think provides us with a pretty good answer to this question. He says, “Forgiveness is the only antidote. Forgiveness is a healthy, wholesome, virtuous, liberating act. Forgiveness unleashes joy. It brings peace. It washes the slate clean. It sets all the highest virtues of love in motion. In a sense, forgiveness is Christianity at its highest level.”

How do we make forgiveness a permanent part of who we are, how can we cultivate a spirit of forgiveness? There’s not an easy answer to this question, and it is, like progressive sanctification, a lifelong process, and even when we know the answer, putting it into practice is a challenge for us for sure. As we’ve discussed already, it is impossible to accomplish on our own merit. But believers’ forgiveness of each other should reflect the forgiveness they receive from God. They are to have in their hearts an internal, general spirit of forgiveness that is ready to forgive even before they know of a sin committed against them, and whether or not the person has asked or ever asks for forgiveness. That forgiveness should be constant and unchanging, reflecting a divinely empowered love that Peter says “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). 

We are to be reminded of Lyndon’s not too far distant teaching from 1 Corinthians 13:7, which says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” He talked about the need for and the striving for more real Christ-like love within the church. A love that overlooks others’ offenses against us, a love that is not discriminatory against anyone, and how that would go a long way to yield and cultivate an attitude and spirit of ongoing forgiveness, forgiveness even before something blossoms into an actual offense perhaps. If you recall, he talked about how if we as Christians are loving other people the way we are called to, if loving other people is going to be a dominant feature in how we relate to those around us, then we will not allow judgmental suspicions and critical attitudes to become the mainstay in those relationships. So if we don’t have all the facts in a situation, instead of believing the most damaging facts, we should choose to believe the best of the person instead. When we cannot know all the facts, believing the best, believe all we can with a good conscious to the other person’s credit. This type of love, which is impossible to achieve on our own devices, and therefore only possible through our yielding to the Holy Spirit, I think, is key to us cultivating an attitude and spirit that would foster the love that Peter says “covers a multitude of sins.” 

So if and when the offending person repents, then relational forgiveness is readily given, and the broken relationship is fully restored. If the offender doesn’t repent, we are still to have a heart of forgiveness and refuse to harbor ill feelings towards that person. We are to remember how we were forgiven by Christ, “while we were still sinners,” as Romans 5:8 says.

The Scottish preacher and writer, William Arnot, told the following account to illustrate how believers are enabled to obey the command to forgive each other: “After fording a river, a traveler in Burma discovered that his body was covered with small leeches, busily sucking his blood. His first impulse was to pull them off, but his servant warned him against it, explaining that to do that would leave part of the leeches buried in the skin and cause serious infection. The native prepared a warm bath for the man and added certain herbs to the water that irritated but did not kill the leeches. One by one they voluntarily dropped off.”

“Each unforgiven injury rankling in the heart is like a leech sucking the life-blood,” Arnot goes on to explain. “Mere human determination to be done with it will not cast the evil thing away. You must bathe your whole being in God’s pardoning mercy; and those venomous creatures will instantly let go their hold.”

So in closing, I’d like to go back to my opening scenario regarding the loss of a child from a traffic accident involving a drunk driver. I think we’d all agree that this sounds like as difficult of a circumstance for a parent to find themselves in as any, and certainly a case where forgiving the offender would be the furthest from our mind if we were the parent of this young child.

I’d like to relay a story that, combined with a difficult situation I found myself in with a sibling late last year, inspired this message today.

A woman in Florida lost a 20-year-old daughter, one of a set of twins, to a head on collision with a 24-year-old male drunk driver. The girl and her friend both lost their lives in the accident. The jury found the man guilty and sentenced him to 22 years in prison. During the years that followed, the woman went on a mission to travel around the country to schools and churches and various venues to talk about the dangers of drunk driving. After some time she said that she felt something was missing from her presentation though, and that God had put it on her heart that she had not forgiven this young man for taking her daughter’s life, so she did the seemingly impossible, and reached out to the young man in prison and extended her forgiveness to him. 

The rippling effects of this act of forgiveness were huge. The young man said that he couldn’t even forgive himself, and yet she forgave him, and as a result of that act he came to put his faith in Christ while in prison. But the woman did not stop there. One by one, her entire family followed her lead and forgave the man. Each one of them went back and stood before the sentencing judge and pleaded that the man’s sentence be reduced. After a time of consideration, the judge consented and reduced his sentence to 11 years. The family embraced the young man and the woman asked him to accompany her in her presentations across the country, which he did and still does. 

He was released from prison in November 2012. A popular contemporary Christian artist named Matthew West took this woman’s story and penned a song titled, “Forgiveness,” and it topped the Christian music charts for quite a while last year, so some of you have probably heard it. You can find a video of the story on YouTube if you are interested. It is a touching story and definitely one that puts God on display and gives Him all the credit for this seemingly impossible act of mercy and forgiveness. 

The lyrics to the song are wonderful, but rest assured I’m not going to attempt to sing it to you all today. I would like to at least recite the last few lines from the song if you would indulge me. Speaking of forgiveness, it says…

  • It’ll clear the bitterness away/It can even set a prisoner free/There is no end to what its power can do/So, let it go and be amazed/By what you see through eyes of grace/The prisoner that it really frees is you

I’d like to close this morning with a few questions that maybe we can all ask of ourselves on this topic:

  • In general, am I forgiving person?
  • Does a forgiving spirit come easily to me?
  • Do I seek forgiveness from others?
  • When is the last time I’ve asked someone close to me for their forgiveness?
  • Is there someone in my past, whether deceased or not, that I am harboring resentment and anger over? If yes, will I take the steps towards releasing these unhealthy thoughts and bring myself to forgive this person in my heart, whether I think they deserve it or not?

It is my prayer here today that all of us will set ourselves free from the bondage and burden of unforgiveness and choose to freely give to others what was so freely and lovingly given to us.

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