More thoughts on the road to the Cross. The encounters Jesus had (actually during the crucifixion!) at Calvary were very brief and very powerful. The following is a quote from Fulton Sheen on the exchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross beside him.
"A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a kingdom.…In the divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into paradise. If our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief’s request touched the reason of his coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer. “I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It was the thief’s last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything. When even the disciples were doubting and only one was present at the cross, the thief owned and acknowledged him as Savior."
We often hear how hard it can be to respond with forgiveness when wronged. Yet we are called to it nonetheless. What we don't hear about as often is the power that lies within this act of forgiveness. The triumph of Jesus over evil is shared with us as we forgive others as we have been forgiven by God.
The following was found written on a wrapping paper at Ravensbruck concentration camp in WW2:
"Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember rather the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness."
The power of forgiveness is remarkable. When we think of the grace we have received from God through his forgiving of our sins, we are left speechless.
Ephesians 1:7 says, "He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins."
Gone are the excuses, the pretense, the masks. We can do nothing to wash away the ugliness of our sins, or even earn our cleansing. But we come in humility to Calvary and we find freedom! We discover that his forgiveness has the power to transform. This Sunday we will look at Psalm 51 where confession is taught and God's forgiveness is celebrated.
The following quote is from musician Rich Mullins, who wrote 'Our God is an Awesome God'.
"I think I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some pietistic illusion of moral excellence. Not that I don't want to be morally excellent but my faith isn't in the idea that I'm more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit."
"It is not right to try to remove all suffering, nor is it right to endure it stoically. Suffering can be used, turned to good account. What makes a life happy or unhappy is not outward circumstances, but our inner attitude to them." (Eberhard Arnold)
The quote above is from a book on forgiveness I've been reading, called "Why Forgive?" by Johann Christoph Arnold. Many intriguing stories of reconciliation and transformation that demonstrate the healing, freeing power of forgiveness. It is the Good News of Kingdom realities at work. The Enemy has no weapon against it.
One of the Christian's most powerful weapons in life is the act of forgiveness. As human beings we are conditioned to seek justice or fairness, but so often in situations of loss, where we have been hurt or wronged by another, such fairness is elusive. Besides, our quest for retribution or even revenge becomes a cancer in our own souls. Nelson Mandela once said, Bitterness is the poison we drink hoping our enemy will die."
Jesus taught us to forgive, knowing very well its cost. He did so because he knew that it has tremendous healing power to arrest the cancer of anger and bitterness. He knew it was the way to defeat the enemy of our souls. He lived and died what he taught. He lives on to show how the Story ends. Forgiveness opens your heart to a new horizon. Like anything, we choose to live it by faith.
The following is from the pen of Johann Christoph Arnold:
"Indeed, far from leaving us weak and vulnerable, forgiveness
is empowering, both to the person who grants it and
the one who receives it. In bringing relief to the most difficult
situations, it allows us to lay aside the riddles of
retribution and human fairness, and to experience peace of
heart. Finally, it sets into motion a positive chain reaction
that passes on the fruits of our forgiveness to others."
I was blessed by these thoughts from Fleming Rutledge as we approach Good Friday and Easter:
"How do we measure the size of a fire? By the number of firefighters and fire engines sent to fight against it. How do we measure the seriousness of a medical condition? By the amount of risk the doctors take in prescribing dangerous antibiotics or surgical procedures. How do we measure the gravity of sin and the incomparable vastness of God's love for us? By looking at the magnitude of what God has done for us in Jesus, who became like a common criminal for our sake and in our place. When you really come to know the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus, then you will also come to know the depth of your own participation in sin. And at that very same moment (this is the glory of Good Friday) you will come to know the true reality, the true joy and gladness, of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Pastor Ward Parkinson