Luke 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Forgiveness is one of the major themes of the whole Bible. Right after including forgiveness in teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus said what has got to be one of the most severe things recorded as coming from His mouth: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) On top of that, after He was resurrected He said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) At the time of this story, the Pharisees and teachers of the law very reasonably thought only God could forgive sins. (verse 21) However, Jesus proceeded to demonstrate the reality of the forgiveness He had proclaimed by healing the man physically as well. We are obviously called to radical forgiveness, but we really struggle with it. We relish in revenge, when even in the Old Testament God proclaimed, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) This is quoted both in Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30. Failing to forgive others is a clear indication we don’t understand how much we ourselves have done, against God and against other people. It also shows we don’t understand the holiness and purity of God, so that anything unholy disqualifies us from even drawing near to Him. When we do understand all of this, in light of what Jesus said right after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, we will fall all over ourselves in our haste to forgive others. All of this is an extremely difficult thing to teach in Japan. Not only is there the simple linguistic difficulty of most people using strictly a character that means “permission,” rather than the homophone that actually means Biblical forgiveness, there is also the factor that revenge has long been highly honored in Japanese culture. One of the best-loved historical tales is of the 47 samurai whose lord was forced to commit suicide in dishonor, and they sacrificed their own families and their own lives to avenge him. The Japanese title for that story is The Storehouse of Faithfulness. That makes the Gospel radical indeed in Japan, but to be honest, I’m not sure people in other countries do that much better at forgiveness.
This is extremely close to home right now. I have recently found out that a man who was my assistant pastor but who left the church abruptly over a year ago has been spreading lies about me in that interval. What complicates things is that he has just come back to attending this church. The response that most Japanese who know about the situation expect is for me to exclude him from our fellowship, but I haven’t done that. Several years ago one of the members of this church said to me, “You keep talking about forgiveness, and the difference between the two characters. People can’t understand it that way. You’ve got to demonstrate radical forgiveness yourself before people will be able to grasp it.” He was quite right, and now the Lord has given me an opportunity to do exactly that. The marvelous thing is, I’m not finding it very difficult! God’s grace is indeed sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9) That’s not at all to say that what my former assistant pastor did was OK, or that he doesn’t need to repent. Repentance is between him and God, but it will certainly be manifested in his actions once he follows through. (Matthew 3:8) Meanwhile, my failing to forgive would benefit no one and would certainly harm me. The most radical forgiveness of all was when Jesus went to the cross for all our sins, and I must never forget it.
Father, thank You for this clear Word. I had wondered how to confront this brother, and had been intending to do it privately, but what he has done has been very public, and it needs to be brought out into the open. I pray that I would do and say only and exactly what You want me to, so that Your love may be paramount and the works of the devil be destroyed, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!