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Do we forgive others?

Hands up if you know the Lord’s Prayer

My guess is that every hand went up. By some distance it’s the best known Christian prayer. Even people at funerals - who probably wouldn’t be able to remember the words of any hymns or liturgy - will invariably know the Lord’s Prayer.

So we will all be familiar with the line ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Clearly we are supposed to forgive. Jesus insisted on it – and we promise to do so every week when we say that Lord’s Prayer

Why do we find it so difficult then?

Often we react badly when bad things are done to us. Often we want bad things to happen to people who were bad to us. Sometimes we get so angry that we go out of our way that something bad does happen to the other person...

But the Bible says that this is the very worst possible “solution” to resolve the hurt in our lives.

The real solution is not vengeance, unchecked anger, or bitter brooding. It’s forgiveness. The message of Scripture is unequivocal : If we want to experience abundant life in Jesus we must learn how to forgive those who have hurt us.

We must.

One day Peter asked Jesus, “How often shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to 7 times?” (Matthew 18.21)

You might think Peter was a bit stingy with his mercy. But in the time of Christ, religious leaders taught that God was willing to forgive you only three times. It was “three strikes and you’re out” long before baseball had been invented!

Peter, knowing Jesus was indeed merciful, bravely doubled the number of times he had been taught to forgive someone - and even added one for good measure. But Christ’s response shocked not only His disciple, but—tragically—shocks most professed Christians today. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”

You can almost imagine Peter – who was hardly the sharpest knife in the box, let’s be honest – trying to count up on his fingers and soon giving up! And, remember – no calculators back then!

Bible commentators agree that Jesus wasn’t setting a literal limit. God’s mercy doesn’t run out at 490 allotments of grace, so that if someone wrongs us 491 times we are then allowed to punch them in the face! Grace is limitless. As long as we are willing to repent, then God will forgive.

But forgiveness does NOT mean that offenders get a free pass for bad behaviour. Forgiveness doesn’t make us a doormat. Forgiveness certainly doesn’t mean we let people constantly use us as a physical or emotional punch bag. Sometimes people need to be held accountable for their actions, even if that involves the laws of the land.

But when we refuse to forgive others who have hurt us, we give them permission to keep hurting us We continue to be defined by what others have done to us, rather than what God has done for us in Christ.

Instead, when we receive Christ’s forgiveness, it softens our hearts. We are able to live in freedom, with compassion on others - even toward those who have offended us.

Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:31-32 "Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." The famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci is widely known for The Last Supper, one of the most beloved works of art in the world. It depicts Jesus sitting with His disciples at a feast table just after He told them that one of them would betray Him.

During the time da Vinci was working on the piece, he got into an argument with another famous Italian—Michelangelo. A later biographer wrote about their “intense dislike for each other.” Apparently their rancour spilled over into disparaging comments about one another in public.

According to legend, when the time came for Leonardo to paint the face of Judas in The Last Supper, he hit on the idea of using the likeness of Michelangelo as the face of Judas! Doubtless he thought ‘that’ll show him’...

Leonardo duly painted in the face of his great rival and then continued with the work. But as he tried to capture the image of Jesus he found he couldn’t quite seem to paint a pleasing likeness of our Lord. For weeks on end he repeatedly painted Jesus, yet was never satisfied.

In desperation Leonardo prayed to God for inspiration. “Lord, help me to see Your face,” he pleaded with God.

Finally, an inward voice spoke to him, saying, “You will never see the face of Jesus until you change the face of Judas.” Leonardo was cut to the heart.

He recalled Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him – ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’. Suddenly his petty rivalry with Michelangelo was shown up for the triviality that it was. He erased Michelangelo’s face and painted the image we see today.

Only when Leonardo let go of his bitterness toward Michelangelo could he satisfactorily paint the image of Christ.

Food for thought?

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