Please, Forgive Me

Today’s reading is Luke 17.

Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.

In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.

Monday’s reading is Luke 18.

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Consequences

Today’s reading is Acts 25.

“If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.” WOW! What a statement. This is one of the characteristics of penitence. Often, we aren’t actually penitent, we just want to escape the consequences of our actions. The great thing is God has promised if we repent and surrender to Jesus, we will not face the ultimate consequence of separation from Him through eternity, which we call Hell. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t face earthly, temporal, and natural consequences to our actions. Paul wasn’t trying to escape the consequences. He was willing to accept them. When we repent and respond to the gospel, that is exactly the mindset we need to have. That is, when we repent and submit to the gospel, we escape Hell and the judgment of God’s wrath because He removes our sins from us by the blood of Jesus, but our sins have consequences in this life. People have been hurt. Sometimes laws have been broken. Being penitent means accepting that and being willing to face the consequences. Of course, it is so much easier to do that when you know God has wiped the slate clean by the blood of Jesus and that no matter what you face now, you will be with Him forever. Whatever you’ve done, whatever the consequences, turn to Jesus and hang on to Him. It will be worth it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 26.

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He Is Coming

Today’s reading is Revelation 22.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

I know this will sound shocking, but I do not believe this statement is limited to what we commonly call the “second coming.” Jesus is not saying, “At the end of time, I’ll come and bring judgment on everyone.” He is telling the original readers of Revelation, He will come in judgment on Rome (possibly Jerusalem) and it will be soon (for them). The message for us is not: at the end of time Jesus will come and bring final judgment on everyone, so get ready. The message for us is: no matter who our enemy is, no matter how strong a front they put up, no matter how much success they seem to have in the fight, no matter how bad it looks for our side, Jesus is coming in judgment on them and they don’t stand a chance. Sure, at this point, the next judgment may be the final one on all the world. But then again, it may just be a temporal judgment on Washington and the Unites States of America, or a temporal judgment on Mecca, or even just a temporal judgment on your co-worker who mocks you for your faith and your spouse who denies your faith and mistreats you. John’s point to us is whatever our enemy does, hang on. Jesus will judge. He will win. Don’t abandon Him. Don’t quit. Don’t concede. He is coming, Jesus will judge our enemies, and Jesus Always Wins! Praise the Lord!!!

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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