Luke 23:34 "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
Forgive them?!! Didn't know what they were doing?!! What on EARTH is He talking about?! Of COURSE they knew what they were doing! Forgive them? I don't think so...
[This is such a hard topic. Anyone reading this knows I'll need extra help from the Holy Spirit this morning for this one. And I promise I will NOT be wagging my finger at you reminding you that you're supposed to forgive. I know you know that. That's not what this is about.]
Why is forgiveness such a hard topic? Why is it so hard to forgive? Because they don't deserve to be forgiven. I know Jesus wants me to forgive, but I don't understand. I don't understand why; and I don't understand how. Just because He did doesn't mean I have to too, does it? They really don't deserve it at all.
Let me define forgiveness first. Forgiveness is canceling the debt and promising not to dwell on it in our mind when it comes to mind. When God forgives us our sins, He is canceling the debt we owe Him. He is canceling our judgment of eternity in Hell. Christ paid the debt so we don't have to. When someone hurts you, you want them to "Pay!" You want them to feel the same pain you felt at their hands. You want Justice and you want vindication. Forgiveness is letting all of that go. You can't forgive them on God's behalf. They'll still have that debt to face regardless of what you do, but you can forgive the offense and injury to you.
What it's not: Forgiving is NOT forgetting, reconciliation, or condoning. They are all different and separate things. Forgetting is not possible, and reconciliation may or may not result from forgiveness depending on whether or not the offender is safe and willing. And we would never condone such behavior. They are all totally separate issues. Don't let the enemy convince you otherwise.
Forgiveness is saying, "I no longer expect or require you to suffer because of what you did to me. I no longer want you to Pay. That debt is canceled. Forgiven. My hatred is gone. And when I think of it, I will push it away, I will not talk about it, I will not remind you of it. I will make the thought obedient to Christ and I ask God for blessings on your life." God says that He will "remember our sins no more." Does God actually forget? Of course not, and neither can we. But in forgiving, we purpose to "remember the offense no more."
Let me speak to your heart. What do you want out of life? If you're a Christian, then you want the joy that can come only from knowing Christ. Non-believers can be happy, but it's conditional. If the conditions in their lives are right, then they can be happy. If they're not, then they're miserable. Happiness is based on ones' conditions. Christians can have joy regardless of their circumstances.
How is it we achieve and receive that joy? By constantly reminding ourselves that life on Earth is a blip in time. A dot on a whiteboard. We're all about eternity. We're ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our home is in heaven. Now. Just like the Chinese Ambassador spends years on American soil but knows his home is in China. He is expected to maintain his Chinese heritage and not become a "part" of American culture. He is not to become Americanized. He is Chinese and he is expected not to forget it nor forsake it.
When we can keep our eyes focused on things above (Colossians 3:1), then we will know to whom we belong and the things of this world will seem small. We are children of the living God. Inheritors with Christ of Heaven and Earth. As such, we have a great and wonderful purpose here on Earth, and we have hope for our future that only we can have. There is no greater joy than that.
Philippians 3:8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ...
I know it doesn't seem like it now, but physical life is a blip on the radar screen of eternity. Inconsequential except as our activities relate to eternity. Whatever does not go with us into eternity - everything except our service to and love for God - gets burned up in the final judgment. We might think it makes us happy (or miserable) for a time, but from an eternal perspective, it's "rubbish" and it's temporal. Only knowing and being in fellowship with Jesus can bring us joy.
But wait... we were talking about forgiveness! How'd we shift gears to joy?
You already know. God knows us. He knows that as long as we harbor the anger and the pain and the hatred and the sickness, our fellowship with Him suffers. He wants absolute, utter, boundless, inexpressible joy in our lives, and He knows that as long as we harbor the pain of the past, we rob ourselves of that joy.
Jesus knew that, too. Why did He ask the Father to forgive them? Were they going to be forgiven by the Father just because Jesus asked? Of course not. They'll get saved the same way we do - by receiving Christ as their Savior. It wasn't about the Father forgiving their sins.
It was about Jesus not allowing them to rob Him of His joy and His fellowship with the Father. It was about not allowing His natural hatred of them (He was fully human, remember, as well as being fully God) to distract Him from loving and serving God in His final moments of His earthly life. It was so He could be an example to us as to how we can do it, too.
How? Yes, how. Forgiveness goes against everything human that we are because it "lets them off the hook." They don't deserve that, and it's like major surgery to allow it. And if I stop hating them, I might get weak. If that happens, I might let my guard down and they might hurt me again. And the Bible says I'm supposed to forgive "seven times seventy." What a nightmare.
So how do I forgive? Pray. Pray that the Father forgive them for their sins against Him. David slept with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband so he could have her and keep the fact that he'd gotten her pregnant a secret. His sin against her and her husband was huge, but when he prayed to God about it, he described it as "against You only" (Psalm 51).
Their sins against you are His business. Just like someone hurting your child would have to answer to you, they will have to answer to Him. They may or may not have known what they were doing. It's not the point. They will face Him on that day. The only control you have in this earthly life is what you do with the life you have. Jesus knew He needed to focus. He still had work to do. He had to provide for His mother. He had to deal with the thieves on the cross. He had to make it for just a few more moments and not give up His Spirit too soon. He could not afford to be distracted. He needed the full strength and fellowship of the Father and He couldn't afford to be distracted.
And He didn't want to give up a moment of that joy that is so inexpressible and so precious.
It was NEVER about them. It was ALWAYS about Him and His relationship with His Father.
And He wants that for you. Your forgiveness isn't about them. It doesn't change a thing for them when they face God. God says "leave room for My wrath." (Romans 12:19) He'll deal with them, and when He does, it will far surpass anything you've ever done to them, or could.
Your forgiveness of them is about you, and about your joy and your relationship to God.
If you haven't forgiven them and moved beyond it, then they still own you. They're still tormenting and torturing you. And the enemy loves it. Your anger and hatred and lack of forgiveness is your right. The enemy is making sure you don't forget that. And he's robbing you of your joy and your fellowship with the One that will condemn him to eternal fire, as well. Remember that he wants you, and as long as he can keep you anger-filled and distant from the Father, he has you.
There will come a point when you've experienced so much pain that you're way beyond tired of it. Don't wait for that time. Reclaim your God-given joy now. Reclaim your intimacy with the Father. Rebuke the enemy in Christ's name. Forgive them. Let it go. Cancel the debt they owe you.
Pray this prayer. "Father Jesus, thank you for the life you've given me. I know You want only the best for me, and You know that my fellowship with You will ensure that. Please forgive them for what they did to me. I know they don't deserve your forgiveness, and I know they don't deserve mine. But that's not the issue, Lord. The issue is my fellowship with You, and I don't want anything interfering with that. You know it's not in my heart to forgive them, but please help me do just that. Help me find the strength to truly let the past go. Help cleanse me, Lord. Cleanse my heart of the bitterness and the anger and the junk that just plays into the enemy's hand. Fill my heart with your love and your joy and leave no room for anything else. Give me the courage to be vulnerable to You, to be obedient to You, and to love You with all my heart and leave no room for the pain of unforgiveness. Reclaim that ground that I lost in my heart. Help me regain my focus on You and let You deal with them. Help me want this more than anything I've ever wanted in my life. And finally, Lord, I ask that you bless them. Bless their lives and I pray that they come to know You. I pray that their hearts will be cleansed and that they will receive Your sacrifice and receive You into their hearts. Thank You God. Amen."
Want the joy that God has in store for you. Want it so badly that you're willing to do anything to get it. Crave it, hunger and thirst for it. Don't give up. Pray that prayer every day - multiple times a day - for the next year if you have to until it changes your life. God will be faithful and He will answer your prayer, and you can be delivered once and for all. Claim victory over your past. It can't own you unless you're a willing participant. Defeat it. Begin today to reclaim the joy.
God bless you all, and may grace and peace and God's everlasting joy abound in your lives.