The Freeing Power of Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 6: 5-15

Illustration: Jeffrey Dahmer is an American serial killer. He was known for preying on young boy whom he sodomized and would dismember them as he had sex with them. In order to dispose of the corpses, Dahmer would cook the remains of his victims and eat them reducing them to faeces. This dastardly act is repugnant, vile, contemptible and deserving of the severest punishment. Yet, we are presented with a counter-argument during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount about the freeing power of forgiveness – even for the most repugnant of sins.

Jesus is somewhere in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount and he begins a conversation around prayer and that which hinders prayer (which is one of the ways we commune/fellowship/communicate with God). Jesus begins this conversation around the state of the heart – that centre of emotions – the place where we feel; where intent and motives are formed and often here hurt festers and brings decay. He begins show expose the evil motives in the hearts of the hypocrites who do good so that they might be seen but there is no reward or praise from him in such actions because of the state of their heart. You have often heard it said that prayer changes things. I wish to invite you to consider a different thought; that prayer does not necessarily change things but it changes people – and in particular the one doing the praying.

Jesus starts to show disciples how to change the condition of their hearts through their prayer. This prayer which we often misname as the Lord’s Prayer is really the disciple’s prayer or the model/pattern prayer. In verse 8, He presents the contrast to the state of the hypocrite’s heart by teaching the disciples how to pray. The first part of the prayer invites the person to look up

A. Looking up: The counter-intuitive culture that Jesus presents in His teaching of forgiveness calls for us to look outside of ourselves. This takes a recognition and admission that we cannot do this in our own strength and we must look to HIM who is greater and stronger and more capable that we are – that is The Father. Jesus says you must call on the strength of God (Our Father in Heaven) and we must relinquish (place/let go) everything into His capable hands (Your kingdom come; Your will be done)

B. Looking in: Jesus then invites them to look on the inside – something He does many times in the scripture. When other were quick to run to judgment and condemnation of that woman allegedly caught in the act of adultery, He invited them to look at themselves to see which of them had no flaws or had done evil (there is no evil more evil than the next. All evils are equal). “Ye without sin cast the first stone.” Similarly he invites the disciples to look inward at their own shortcomings and human foibles (And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors). When we consider ourselves, we cannot be like the hypocrites and pass judgment on others no matter how offensive we think their sin is. Here, Jesus encourages His disciples to realize that just as they are deserving of forgiveness, the other person is too. And just as they will want forgiveness, they must be willing to offer same. Forgiveness begins with the recognition that you are forgiven (too many people walking around with GUILT) and having been forgiven, you must now walk in that freedom by forgiving others.

C. Looking out: Verses 13 to fifteen is where the kernel of truth and liberation lies. “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In verse 13, the forgiven prayers this prayer because he or she trusts God and distrusts themselves. The Father won’t allow us to be tested beyond what we are able to manage/bear. But the rest is also very instructive. Because it helps us to realise that in forgiving there are benefits that we enjoy. We forgive not because the other person is deserving but because we benefit from the act of forgiving. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you”. When you extend grace (giving someone that which they do not deserve – forgiveness) to others, that grace comes back to you. It is in forgiving others who have wronged us, hurt us, or caused us pain, loss or misfortune that we receive healing. Even if the offense against you was as awful as Jeffrey Dahmer’s, holding unto that pain not only blocks your prayers, it hinders the grace that is waiting to enter your life. Grace is (unmerited) favour but it is also power. It is that same root word from which we derive charisma. The truth is forgiveness may not change the other person but it transforms you from being bitter to being gracious; from weakened and imprisoned in hurt and pain to being strong and resilient.

Conversely, when we refuse to forgive, we block grace from entering our lives “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”Unfogrivenesshinders our prayers. It stunts our healing. It blocks our advancing because it keeps us tethered to that old debt (hurt/pain/offense). You cannot move on to new relationships because you are still holding on to that old hurt. You cannot love and trust again because you keep walking around with that baggage. You cannot experience peace in your life because you are tormented by that which you refuse to let go of.

Forgiveness might seem illogical and counter-intuitive but it best for you. You cannot do it in your own strength. You have to completely trust in God’s enablement and surrender to the process. It is not easy to forgive, for it goes against our human nature. But it is possible once we surrender it to God. For He will not lead you into any test that you cannot bear/manage and He will deliver you out of them all. Keep praying. Keep confessing and keep moving in the freedom that forgiveness affords.

Mi Kyaahn Kibba mi Mout’ (I Can’t Stay Silent): Reflections on Evangelism

DAY 1: “CREATION IS TELLING”

Psalm 19:1-4, says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Their voice goes out into all the earth,their words to the ends of the world”

While, creation does not tell who God is: His character and attributes; His plans and purposes, it reveals that there is an intelligent designer who is responsible for the magnificence and the Splendour of creation. With no words and no voice; no access to social media and modern technology, creation TELLS daily, to all the world, of God’s glory. “They have no speech, they use no words;no sound is heard from them.Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Is this not awesome?

Yet, sometimes, we with voice to communicate the unsearchable richness and vastness of God’s amazing grace and love, silence our voices. We may not be able to literally go into all the world but technology and social media have brought the world to our finger tips. We have families, relatives, neighbours and friends whom we can tell of God’s glory (His goodness and favour. Would you tell them or will you keep silent? Are mountains and valleys and rocks and streams and bird and sticks going to tell of Him while we hold our peace? Creation is telling of Him… WILL YOU?

Even as we look to go out to evangelise, let us remember that, that too is part of telling…

Lord, help that we would not be intimidated or fearful to tell of your excellent greatness. Help us not shirk or retreat… not to cower or be silenced…not to pretend or deny your existence. Help us to be bold and to join with all of creation in TELLING…

 
DAY 2 “BEAUTIFUL FEET
Today, I want to talk about beautiful feet. Do you have beautiful feet?

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

I have never been know to have impeccably pedicured feet. In fact, I don’t think much about my feet. But for me, that is not so important. These feet are temporal. I only have them for this life. But apparently my feet seem to be important to God. He seems to be interested in me having beautiful feet. However, for God, beautiful feet are not feet that have seen an aesthetician. They’re not feet that are free of bunions but they are feet that bring Good News.

The Bible refers to The Gospel as Good News. God considers those who bring the Gospel; who “who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”, as having beautiful feet. As believers, the commission that He left with his disciples to make disciples as they go about their daily lives still holds for us, today. We have become so caught up in our own affairs and with the cares of this life that we sometimes forget that we are sent… As we go about our lives, let us think about our feet. Are they beautiful? This Saturday, at 6:00 a.m, as a church we’ll be taking Good News to Emanacipation Park. It is an excellent opportunity to make your feet beautiful. Do you have beautiful feet?

Romans 10:15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

DAY 3: No Mountain Will Tell it For Me”

“When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? Tremble, ea

rth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.” (Psalm 114)

The psalm recounts God’s mighty acts in delivering Israel from Egypt. The psalmist remembers what God did and says, “Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.” The instruction to the earth to tremble in the presence of the Lord, really speaks to mankind to do so. For if nature can recognise the might of God, man certainly can.

Sometimes, we underestimate the power of our testimony. We often forget where God has taken us from. David recalled what God did for Israel and he tells it to us in the psalm. Israel would have certainly told of what God did because by the time they got to Jericho, Rahab had heard of how God delivered and she hide Israel’s spied (acting in faith) because she heard of Israel’s God. Similarly, when you share with others about what your God has done, you might be pointing them toward a faith journey with your God.

Since this week, we have been focusing on telling – telling others about our God. And even as we prepare to go on outreach at Emancipation Park on Saturday, I want to encourage us on sharing and telling others of our EXCELLENT God. Make the act of telling a lifestyle and not merely an event. Tell it beyond Saturday; tell it every chance you get. think on these things

1.What has God done for you in the past?
2.Have you ever told anyone about it?
3.Are you going to let nature tell of His greatness in your stead?
4.Would you like for others to hear and know of who God means to you and what He’s done?

 
DAY 4: NOW, GO TELL IT
 
Over the last week, we have been reflecting on our duty/our service/our roles as heralds – ones called to tell of the goodness of God and of His Christ. The days, the heavens tell and even the mountains are encouraged to tremble before his greatness. Today, we reflect on Matthew 28:19-20. Our versions may read, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations…”
 
 For many of us reading this, our call to teach the nations may appear to be an event – an activity for which we must take pause from our busy lives to engage. But Jesus’ intention was not for service of evangelism and discipleship to become a chore. In fact, because of the participle that begins verse 19, the verse should actually begin, “As you are going…” Yes, we are expected to teach and tell as we go… As we go to our jobs and to recreation or spend time with our families, our lives and our testimonies should teach others about the God we serve. It is a lifestyle. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the instruction is given to Israel to teach the truth about God at every opportunity: as they sit and go out and go to bed and walk around with it being visible so that all to see. It was not an exhortation to become fanatics but to allow the teaching and telling of God to become part of who they were. Is it part of our daily lives today?
Do our lives and our words teach others about our God? The next time we open our mouths, let us consider how much about God does it teach. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Let our lives and our words teach others about you. Amen
 

CHRIST ENDING THE LAW or FULFILLING THE LAW? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

“For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18; NAS).

What did Jesus mean when he spoke these words? Is it that Christians are expected to keep all the rigid Old Testament laws or is it that He (Jesus) will accomplish the law so that we are no longer required to do so? This may be one of the most difficult problems to reconcile in Christian doctrine. It has grave implications for our soteriology and the practice of Christianity. On the one hand, Christ is supposedly reinforcing the Law and its functions while on the other hand, Paul is purporting that Christ has brought an end to the law (Romans 10:4), cancelling its requirements by death on the cross (Colossians 2:14).

Firstly, in one’s attempts to bring reconciliation to these seemingly contradictory passages, it must be taken for granted that all of scripture is God breathed and therefore inerrant; without error or contradictions and that God’s revelation (His Word) is consistent with whom He is. Consequently, there is no contradiction that appears between what Jesus explained about the fulfillment of the law and what Paul explains in more lucid terms. Jesus Christ has ended the requirements of the law which was meant to bring justification.

Understanding the Law

Additionally, to further engage the argument, it must be understood by all, what is meant by ‘The law’. According to Fee and Stuart (2003, 164), the term Law has multiple connotations when it is used in scripture. One such connotation is that law in the plural form may refer to those more than six hundred specific commandments that the Israelites were expected to follow as a sign of their loyalty to God. In the singular, however, the law can refer to the Pentateuch, i.e. from Genesis to Deuteronomy. It may even refer to, what some writers in the New Testament refer theologically to, the entire Old Testament religious system. Conner (1980, 193) in his book, The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief, speaks of a concept of divine law, which he says God gave as a standard of righteousness for all to follow. He goes on to say that without the law there would be no order and everything would be chaos.

However, one must understand that the law is a paradigm. It is hardly a complete list of all the things that one could or should do to please God. The law presents, rather, examples of what it means to be loyal to God by, as Conner puts it, following His standards. The law was mean to lead men to faith in God; it was a guide to salvation. Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia puts it this way, “Therefore, the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24; NAS). This is why nowhere in the Old Testament is it suggested that anyone was saved by keeping the Law. Rather, the Law was a special gift to Israel, to differentiate them from their pagan neighbours in moral and spiritual conduct but it could not justify them.  Again, Paul alludes to this in Galatians 2:16 “…a man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no one will be justified. In other words, we have been vindicated of any charge of sin as it relates to our failure to keep the Law (Ryrie, 1995) because of what Christ has done. This is what is meant by Christ has put an end to the Law.

Christ has ended the Law

Wilkinson and Boa (1983, 395) in their commentary on the book of Galatians, describe the theme and purpose of the book as a corrective teaching on justification by faith apart from works of the Law to counteract the  teachings of Jewish legalists who were influencing the believers to trade their freedom in Christ for bondage of the Law. They went further to show how Paul’s discourse in chapters five and six were written to show that liberty from the law does not mean lawlessness as his opponents might have opined. The believer does not need the law to make him righteous he is declared righteous by his faith because Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law, thus, ending it.

Moreover, for us to fully understand what is meant by Christ bringing an end to the law, therefore, justifying us through faith (and not the Law), we will have to understand the concept of justification. The teaching of Romans 3:24 that justification is given or imputed to us, or as we may put it simply, “given a mek up” so that we can be considered righteous before God is a teaching that resonates throughout the teachings of Paul. Paul continually makes the point that this is not a position in Christ that is earned through legalism but one that is accessed by faith. And this faith itself is not of the conscience of man but find its origin in God (Romans 12:3b). Further to, the anonymous writer to the Hebrews, or Pricilla (some scholars have suggested) refusing to reveal her identity, says in 9:12-14 presents Jesus acting as the propitiation or sacrificial lamb, satisfying the penalty for sin, which makes it possible for us to receive righteousness without having to pay or work for it. The righteousness that is revealed is from God not our efforts because again we all stand guilty before God Romans 3:10-18, 23. Speaking of God’s sovereignty in salvation, Paul supports this notion again in Romans 9:16.

According to Wilkinson and Boa, from Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul builds a case for the condemnation of all people, by God. He shows that Jews and Gentiles seek to be in right standing (be justified) by using relative standards not realizing that God’s requirement is absolute perfection. Paul knows, posit Wilkinson and Boa, that the bad news (condemnation) must be understood before the good news (justification) can be appreciated. The passage on justification picks up on man’s need for God’s provision, since man is unable of attaining this perfection on his own. The first 11 verses (Romans 3:21-31) of the discourse reveal that in Christ, God is both Judge and Saviour. The Lord is not unjust when he declares that sinners are in right standing with him because He bases this pronouncement upon the death of Christ on their behalf.

Furthermore, Warren W Wiersbe (1989), in explaining justification as seen in the passage begins by alluding to God’s nature. He says that God is absolute in what He is in Himself and relative in how He relates to men. One of His absolute attributes is love and when he relates that love to us, it becomes mercy and grace. In His mercy God does not give us as we deserve and in His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand God can make us right before Him even if we do not deserve that pronouncement. The Greek word translated freely, can also be translated without cause as seen in John 15:25. We are justified without cause. In other words, there is no cause in us that merit the salvation of God. Justification is being put in right relationship with God by God himself. It finds its origin with God is independent of any human effort. Justification guarantees us peace with God because God’s demand for justice was satisfied in Christ’s death.

In this regard, as we grapple with the notion that Christ is the end of the law, it may augur well for us to think of the liberty that He wrought for us through His death and not necessarily about thoughts of lawlessness. Because even with the law, as Paul asserts, sin increased; there was lawlessness (Romans 5:20). As we encounter Christ in Galatians, we need to understand that He ended the Law in that He freed the believer from bondage to the Law (legalism) and to sin (license) and has placed him or her in a position of liberty (Wilkinson and Boa, 1983; 396).

Conclusion

What, then, did Jesus mean by His statement in Matthew 5:18? According to Ryrie Study Bible (1995) Jesus might have been making reference to the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament. In the preceding verse Jesus said that he came to fulfil the Law not institute lawlessness and so one gets the Understanding that Jesus was making reference to His purpose in coming and the accomplishment of the cross; pointing to what Paul says in Romans 10:4, that by His death on the Cross, Christ ended our adherence to the Law to be declared righteous. Our righteousness is now dependent on faith in Christ just as Abraham’s was before the Law.

Reference List

Conner, Kevin J. The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief; BT Publishing, Portland, Oregon, USA. 1980.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart: How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. Zondervan Publishing Company; Grand Rapid, Michigan, USA. 2003.

Wiersbe, Warren: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Chariot Victor Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado; USA. 1989.

Wilkinson, Bruce and Kenneth Boa: Talk Through the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. 1983.