Today we will be looking at the topic of forgiveness, and how the most impactful and influential examples are made by the consistency and authenticity of those who are living them out.
Luke 23:34 – Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.
One of the main reasons that Yeshua’s teachings have been so influential in the centuries and millennia is not just because of the wisdom, logic, and truth of what he taught, but because he actually demonstrated how to apply what he implored others to do. As was the case in the instance of his crucifixion at the hands of his oppressors, he didn’t just preach forgiveness of enemies, he actually lived it out, praying for God to forgive those who had no intent toward him except extreme harm.
A message of instruction can have impact because it makes sense, or because it is an accepted tradition, or it may be a requirement of an institution or governing authority. However, the most impactful messages are those that are conveyed with consistency and authenticity, and backed up by the actions of those who are presenting them.
By contrast, in our culture today, the opposite happens so frequently that there is the ironic statement expressed by the saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.” This is the epitome of sad weakness in which one may have an understanding of what the right thing may be in a given situation, but they do not have the strength or fortitude to carry out even their own advice. Hypocrisy is powerless.
But wisdom with consistent action makes a difference, especially with hard teachings like those about forgiveness. Anyone can say people should be forgiving of those who are intent on harm, but to do so in the most extreme of circumstances demonstrates authenticity that has power to change lives.
This is corroborated in the lives of Yeshua’s disciples, most visibly in the noble act of Stephen when he faced the same type of hostility of those who would see him dead for his speaking of the truth. When he was called before the religious high court to defend his beliefs, Stephen provides a protracted description of God’s favor with Israel, and then abruptly accuses the religious leaders of his day of forsaking everything they should have been practicing. In boldly speaking this truth, the situation then proceeded toward its inevitable conclusion.
Acts 7:53-54, 57-58, 60 – [Stephen said,] “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” … When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. … They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. … He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he died.
Stephen was so captivated with the powerful example of his Lord in forgiving his enemies that, thrust into a similar circumstance, he responded in the same way. His actions were consistent with his recognition of the truth related by his Master, and he was able to respond with the same level of demonstrable conviction. His righteous actions were so powerful they still influence and challenge us to this day.
In contrast, Yeshua provides an opposite example in stark relief against the nobility of Stephen’s type of forgiving actions. At one point when his disciples were asking him questions, he had responded to Peter’s question about how many times believers are expected to forgive. Yeshua’s answer was couched in a story, a parable, about what this looks like from God’s perspective.
Matthew 18:21-35 – Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times? ” “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven. “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. “When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. “Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ “Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe! ‘ “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. “When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. “Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? ‘ “And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. “So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
This parable is so comprehensive and compelling that it leaves little room for any comment. Yeshua sets a clear indication of God’s desire for his people to be people of forgiveness based on on their own recognition of how much they have been forgiven. The apostle Paul carries this forward to the believers in Colosse, as well.
Colossians 3:12-13 – “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.”
Our ability to forgive should not be based solely on an emotional feeling of sadness or pity toward someone else. There may be times where our emotions are running completely opposite to empathy or pity, and yet, we are commanded to forgive anyway, if for no other reason than we have been forgiven by God. That is the standard that should guide us.
Based on these demonstrations of genuine forgiveness of enemies by both Yeshua and Stephen, can we somehow find it within ourselves to forgive others with this same level of authenticity? If this is the ultimate level of obedience demanded of every disciple of Yeshua, then forgiving those who have wronged us in some minor detail seems much less daunting. Every time we do so, we have an opportunity to provide an authentic response that can influence others to do the same.
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