5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Mt 6:14,15   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.

A Difficult Relational Aspect: In the previous study we started to consider how we have in the past viewed people and struggled with them, and how it is so easily transferred into the Christian life, and so it is another of those things  where ‘death to self’ has to apply if we are to grow. But we concluded that there is another really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth that we need to consider and it is that oft-raised subject of forgiveness. Now don’t shy away because I may have something different to say than you’ve heard before.

Abuse = Hurt = Injustice: The subject arises when someone offends you or abuses you or worse, and when some well-meaning preacher, with little thought, preaches, “You must forgive them!” everything in you screams out, “But it isn’t fair! It is unjust! They hurt me, they harmed me and that is wrong!” and I have to completely agree with you. So how do we handle it?

Traditional but Inaccurate Approach: The traditional and, I suggest, somewhat thoughtless and cheap approach, is to simply say, “Yes, they hurt you but the Bible teaches that you are to forgive them.” I immediately think of two examples, one of a Christian girl who was raped in her home by an intruder, and the other a family who lost loved ones in a terrorist attack.  Both ‘hurt’ parties declared their simple forgiveness for the offenders. This then becomes a guilt laden area for the rest of us who struggle. (I also suggest their actions are unbiblical and diminish sin)

A Different Approach: The only trouble is that that is not what the Bible teaches. May I present an alternative to traditional thinking and simply ask that you check it out and see if it is reasonable. Put aside all emotions and consider what the Bible teaches. For instance at one point the apostle Paul wrote, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13) then there is apparently contradictory teaching: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:22,23). I have done a major study on this in the past, so may I present it as brief conclusions:

  • The harm done to you was sin, and God is not casual about it. It need punishing.
  • So important in God’s eyes is sin, that Jesus had to die on the Cross to take the punishment.
  • God only forgives when we have repented.
  • The forgiveness is available the moment we repent because Jesus died for those sins.
  • Where the sinner never repents and never comes to Christ, the forgiveness may have been there waiting for them when they repented, but in the absence of that repentance, they still go to hell.
  • Only God can in fact forgive, and it is a legal transaction based on the Cross, and so when we forgive it is simply ratifying what has already happened in heaven.
  • (It is the same as blessing and loosing or releasing or binding in prayer; it is only real and effective when we are led by the Spirit to declare the will of heaven).
  • True forgiveness can only be given when there has been repentance BUT while we are waiting for it – and it may take a long time to come or never come – we are to have a good attitude towards that person or persons, that desires the best for them
  • This means we pray for them and do all we can to help them to come to a place of repentance, because at the moment they are living with an issue with God which will hinder blessing in their life (unconfessed and unacknowledged sin) and only their repentance can change that.

An Offender? Now it may be that you suddenly realise that you are in reality an ‘offender’ and you have unconfessed sin which will stop you growing, a sin against another, and you need to ask their forgiveness. Well, the way is open, unless you have completely lost contact with them, and you simply need to seek God’s grace to be able to say sorry to them.

Offended: But I am more aware, at the moment, of those of us who struggle with the remaining pain and the scream against ‘forgiving’. This is going to sound hard, I’m sorry, but put all that aside for the moment. The bigger question is can you get God’s grace to desire God’s best for that person? Yes, it will be them coming to repentance but why is that so important? It is because without it they are in a place where  they are not receiving God’s best, they are not in a place of receiving His blessing and changing and feeling really good about life – because they still have an issue before Him that needs dealing with. Do you see this? In some ways this is harder that almost casually saying, ‘I forgive them,’ because we are dealing with spiritual realities here and the future of another person’s life.

Love for Enemies? Do you remember yesterday we considered Jesus’ teaching: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)  It is probable that you still consider your ‘offender’ an enemy. Now on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Now so often I have heard that applied as ‘forgive everyone’ but the truth is that so often, if not mostly, your offender knew exactly what they were doing to you. In the Old Testament sacrificial law, in respect of sin or guilt offerings you read, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands….” (Lev 4:1 – also 4:13,22,27, 5:15,18 etc.) Intentional sin was much worse.  So yes, Jesus’ words fitted the occasion but most occasions don’t match! But it still brings us back to praying for our offender, wanting the best of them, because God wants the best for them and will do all He can to bring them back to a right place – which includes their repentance. Can we have the same attitude?

A Seeker of Forgiveness: But then there is the equally big issue of forgiving another when they come saying sorry. For some of us this will be just as big a struggle. “It’s all very well for you to say sorry, but do you know the effect what you did (said) had on me that I’ve had to live with all this time?” Yes, it is natural to feel like that but we aren’t called to be natural but supernatural, for we have the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Having been through this from all angles in the past, I have concluded that if I had been the offender and I had come to repentance, how would I desire others to respond to me?

Do unto others…. Many years ago it happened to me and I repented of an outburst (provoked, but that is not the issue) and two close ‘colleagues’ said, “We can’t work with you,” and utterly rejected me. What I wished they had done – and it would have saved so much anguish all round later – would have been to say, “Old friend, we’re so sorry, what has happened to you to get you to come out with that? How can we help you? How can we help you get back into a good and right place?” but they didn’t, they knifed me. A learning exercise, which is why, whatever your sin, whatever your failure, I want to put my arms around your sobbing shoulders and say, “How can I help, how can I stand with you. I am here for you.” Jesus collected the sinners around him because he had care and compassion and forgiveness. Dare we be anything less?

13. Peace in Relationships (2)

Short Meditations on Peace 13. Peace in relationships (2)

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

We started to think about how our own insecurity may make coping with people difficult, and also about why people are ‘nasty’ suggesting understanding them may help cope with them.

However we understand them they still say and do unpleasant things which requires grace to handle, and for that we need to seek the Lord. Our starting place is to reject lies and pray for them. After all, Jesus did say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44) But they are still obnoxious! So pray, be patient and look for an opportunity to bless them, yes bless them, showing the character of your Father in heaven who loves them.

But then comes the matter of forgiveness. We first have to clear up our own indiscretions and so if you have wronged another or spoken to them in a way your Father would not approve of, go, pray, seek them out at an opportune moment, and ask their forgiveness.

But what about the other way round? They have sinned against you. Popular opinion is just forgive them but forgiveness is a legal action based in heaven. There are three things to be noted here: First, forgive as your father in heaven forgives, was Jesus’ teaching but the truth is that God doesn’t forgive until there has been repentance. It’s true, look throughout the Bible.

Second, the Bible’s teaching does declare that when someone does repent and come seeking our forgiveness we MUST forgive, we cannot hold back forgiveness after repentance, because God always forgives us when we repent. But what about in the meantime? What if they never see their sin and never come to seek you out?

Well, third, the Bible shows God’s example towards us which we are to follow towards others, and that is always to look for the best for every person, desiring the best for them, that hopefully they may come into a good place with God (because at the moment they have an unresolved issue with Him in respect of their sin against you) and eventually come to repentance. Thus we need to have a good heart towards them, even while waiting for them to repent.  That may require more grace than casually saying, “I forgive them.”

Forgiveness, when it is sought but refused, is a main cause for stress and absence of peace. Holding bad attitudes (even when we think they are justified) towards others is another main cause for lack of peace. Working and praying positively for the good of others, even those who have hurt us, lifts us into the realm of heavenly blessing and there, in the presence of God, we said, is peace.

33. No Ongoing Sinning

Meditations in 1 John : 33 : No Ongoing Sinning

1 John  3:6  No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

We’ve said it before – John is like the waves on the seashore – he comes in with one thought, it goes out and then comes back in a little later. If we weren’t sure in his earlier words, he comes with crystal clarity now. But let’s remind ourselves what he said before about the issue here, the issue of sin and the believer.

He starts out with the general truth: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8). That is the starting place; all people are sinners. But then he moves on with how to deal with sin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Then, just in case anyone was arguing the point, he reinforced it: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 Jn 1:10). Then he states his desire for all believers: “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 Jn 2:1a) but then he recognizes our frailty and God’s provision to meet that frailty: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1b)

Now that summarizes John’s position but he expresses it in a variety of ways – through references to light and darkness, keeping God’s commands and revealing His love, and comments about the world and enemy deception. The message throughout is the same and it is encapsulated in this verse: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning” We saw this in the previous verses. First, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:3) because Jesus is pure and we are going to be like him, then we too must be pure, i.e. free from sin. Then he said, “you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” (1 Jn 3:5)

So there it is again and again: be like Jesus and you can’t sin. Yet we know that earlier he had indicated that “if anybody does sin…” clearly indicating that it was still a possibility. So how does the present teaching match that? The key lies in the words we underlined – “keep on”. That refers to a life where previously sin is usual, where sin is the norm, where sin is natural and ongoing. For us it is no longer like that – even though it had been before we came to Christ – now sin should be unusual in our lives, righteousness is the norm, sin is unnatural and only spasmodic, where we trip up by accident. Before sin had been on purpose; now our purpose is to live righteously.

But we must emphasize again some other key words – “in Him” – no one who lives ‘in him’. Living ‘in Christ’ means we share with his life and if his life is one of righteousness in purpose, thought, word and deed, then so will ours be. Whether we are aware of the Spirit “in here” or God “up there” we need to be ‘God aware’ Awareness of His presence is part of what John meant in his Gospel where Jesus spoke of “abiding in” or “remaining in” him (John 15:4-7) There he indicates that being ‘God aware’ or ‘remaining in’ him will not only keep us from sin, it will also make us fruitful and it will enable us to know the Father’s will so that when we pray we pray His will and can expect that he will give us what we ask for. Living in him means that the very thought of ongoing sin in our lives becomes alien.

As always, the good teacher John, gives us the opposite to think about to contrast with what he has just said, so now he continues, “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”   Again the key word is ‘continues’ meaning ongoing, normal, natural lifestyle that includes sin. Such a person who does not bother about the nature of their behaviour – that it is godless and self-centred – is not someone who has encountered Christ or submitted to him. If you have a genuine encounter with Christ your life WILL be changed from self-centred to God-centred and you WILL cease to do things contrary to God’s word. If a person’s lifestyle does not change, then there is a big question mark over that person, especially in terms of their relationship to God!

37. Missing the Point

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 37. Missing the Point

Mk 2:6-8 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

When we allow prejudice to reign – for whatever reason – we take on a form of blindness. This is illustrated in these three verses. Bear in mind the fact that Jesus has been ministering for some time all over Galilees, large crowds have been getting healed and it has all been happening in the open. Nothing has been done behind closed doors! So these ‘teachers of the law’ must have known all about it, must of known all about the amazing healings that had been taking place, and must have already discussed among themselves the phenomenon that was Jesus of Nazareth at work!

If you and I had been there we might have simply wondered about this amazing miracle worker from Nazareth and that is all. However, we would not be Jews of that day, and especially those trained in the Scriptures that today we call the Old Testament. If we had been, we would have known the many Scriptures that pointed to a coming One, One promised by God, a deliverer from heaven – those are just some of the descriptions found in the Old Testament.

So, if we had been such trained individuals and IF we had open hearts and minds, we might be open to wonder what else God would permit His Anointed One (or Christ) to do. Perhaps He might even delegate authority to this One to forgive people. After all John the Baptist came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4)  In other words John came bringing as method of getting right with God which produced forgiveness of sins, so what was so different here?

The point that most of us miss is that the interpretation that these teachers of the law put on Jesus’ words is particularly antagonistic and looks, at the minimum, at stopping Jesus’ ministry, and at worst, killing him (for blasphemy was a capital offence under the Law). Yes, it was the truth – Jesus had come from heaven as the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh – but that wasn’t the only interpretation you could put on his words.  The crucial point here was how open were these teachers to the possibilities about the Coming One and especially in the light of all Jesus was doing and saying? Answer: they weren’t!

28. Stumbling Christians

Meditations in James: 28 : Stumbling Christians?

Jas 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

Have you ever wondered why all the pastoral letters of the New Testament were written?  The simple, short answer is because people aren’t perfect.  Once we can accept that simple truth, the Christian life becomes so much more simple.  If you haven’t realised that, then when you do fail you will feel guilty and the guilt will cling and keep on making you feel bad.  When James says We all stumble in many ways he is saying it to both reassure and to challenge.  When I was a younger Christian I encountered those who preached perfection, and because I knew I was not perfect, I felt really bad about myself. I didn’t realize that when Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) he was giving us a target to aim for, something to work for.

Now theologians sometimes refer to ‘imputed righteousness’ and ‘imparted righteousness’.  Imputed righteousness is the righteousness that God imputes or credits to us when we receive Christ’s salvation.  He declares us righteous in His sight on the basis of the work of Christ.  When we receive Christ we are ‘justified’ or, as some have said, God makes it so it is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.  In His sight we are declared righteous.  But any honest Christian knows that from time to time they get it wrong, and there are character imperfections in us that need working on, and this is where ‘imparted righteousness’ comes in.  He has given us His Holy Spirit who is totally righteous, and as we learn to let Him lead us and express Jesus through us, so His righteousness is imparted to us and expressed through us.

John in his first letter also alluded to this: I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1). In other words sin, or getting it wrong, should not be a common thing in our lives now, but the reality is that we will stumble, we will trip over our feet and get it wrong sometimes.  John gives two answers to that.  Answer number one: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness(1 Jn 1:9). That is our side of it. Answer number two: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1). That is God’s side of it, Jesus speaking up in our defence, reminding the Father that he has died for all our sins.  The challenge that comes with all this, is can we aim to keep sin out of our lives as much as possible?

But then James says something that seems both an impossibility but at the same time a challenge: If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. The person who is careful in what they say and is never at fault in speaking, is a perfect person and that ability to speak righteously reveals the heart that is within and that heart enables us to control our whole life.  Now is it possible to be perfect?  Well, we’ve already covered that above in the first paragraph.  Maturity is certainly something that the Bible suggests we can achieve.  The writer to the Hebrews commented,solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14).  There are therefore mature people.  Paul also said, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature.” (1 Cor 2:6) implying the same thing.  James said earlier, Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4).  There he linked it with being complete or whole. Jesus’ call to perfection in Matthew 5 is actually a call to wholeness or completeness. So, rather than worrying about being ‘perfect’, and constantly feeling bad when we spot things that are less than perfect, can we instead aim for maturity, for wholeness and completion? This then becomes a goal to work for rather than a means of condemnation. Recognize that you have some way to go, but actually set yourself the goal of letting God change you, like his word says (2 Cor 3:18), to become more and more like Jesus.

There are two things we can do to facilitate this process of change. The first thing is to let the Holy Spirit search you and help you face up to how you fall short. This is similar to the assessing that Paul says should go on in us when we come to take Communion: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). There are some things that will be obvious and we need to confess them and deal with them.  Some things we may feel we need the Lord’s help to overcome.  Ask Him.  The second thing is simply to develop your relationship with the Lord.  As we do that, His presence will change us.  Now there are basic disciplines that Christians through the ages have found build and change us – reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other Christians, being a witness to others – all these things work in the process of changing us.

So, to summarise, recognize that sometimes you will get it wrong but there are two things to help us there (see above).  Don’t be content with those imperfections: confess them, seek God’s help to overcome them, and at the same time work positively to develop your relationship with Him.  Be changed!

Walk to Restoration

WALKING WITH GOD. No.41

Ezra 1:5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites–everyone whose heart God had moved–prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.

We now move from what you might have considered a very negative aspect of walking to a much more positive one. We have now moved on hundreds of years. Nearly seventy years have passed since the Temple was destroyed and Judah and Benjamin had gone into exile. Humanly speaking, it had been the end of the nation of Israel. They now only existed as a people being amalgamated into the life of Babylon. There was however an echo of hope from the past: “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer 25:11) That prophecy still hung in the air, brought years before by Jeremiah before he was carried off to Egypt.

Indeed there had been, centuries before, an even more amazing prophecy through Isaiah, (I am the Lord) who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.(Isa 44:28) That had come long before the exile, leaving the listeners wondering what that was all about. Now, the Jews find themselves in Babylon under the reign of a king called Cyrus. Dare they hope? The hope is fulfilled: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1). Before they knew what was happening Cyrus made this proclamation: “Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD , the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.(v.3)

Now to catch the full significance of this, we have to think about the significance of the Temple in the life of Israel. THE thing that marked Israel out from every other nation in the world, was the fact that God had made His dwelling in their midst. From Sinai onwards He had commanded them to build a Tabernacle: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:8,9). Established in the land, it was Solomon who built the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Lord filled with His glory on completion (1 Kings 8:10,11). The Temple was thus the central point of focus for the Israelites, the place of encounter with God. When it had been utterly destroyed it was as if the Lord had cut off any means of communication with them (though of course He continued to speak through prophets such as Daniel).

When Cyrus made this proclamation to the Jews, it must have appeared beyond their wildest dreams. It wasn’t merely going back to Israel, it was going back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, to re-establish the place of encounter with God. The Exile had been a terrible act of discipline, needed to shake Israel free from their godlessness and unrighteousness, but discipline only lasts for a while. God’s intent is not to pursue pain in His children, but to restore their hearts to Him and to restore the relationship with them. As the Jews prepared to return to Jerusalem this was a major walk of restoration. Their hearts were being restored to the Lord, the place of encounter was being restored and their relationship with the Lord was being restored.

Now how does this apply to us today? Well it happens in small ways and big ways. In small ways it probably happens fairly regularly for some. Every time we sin, we offend God and grieve His Holy Spirit and there is a break in our fellowship with Him. Yet He encourages our speedy return: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Confession is the way back. Indeed Jesus has been praying for that to happen: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn 2:1). That happens on in the short term, but sometimes there are times when our relationship with the Lord drifts and, in all reality, it is not very real. Then something seems to stir within us. (it is His Holy Spirit) convicting us, nudging us to return. The Lord’s desire is NOT that we have a half-hearted relationship with Him where we simply nod at Him on Sundays. No, He wants a daily, living, vibrant relationship with us. For some of us, we need to make the walk of restoration. It’s time to come home, to come to the place of encounter with God, to pick up a regular and real relationship. Perhaps this page is the equivalent of Cyrus’s proclamation for you. Come home; come back to the place of close encounter of the God kind.

Open Heartedness

Readings in Luke Continued – No.23

Lk 6:37 Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.

There is an approach to life that I can only describe as open-hearted. It describes a person who has an open heart towards other people, who is not petty, who is not vindictive, who is not demanding, who is not vengeful, who is not spiteful, who does not reject people or demean people but who has a welcoming, warm heart towards people. That, I believe, was Jesus’ heart. He was constantly looking for the good in people. Jesus had the ability to see past people’s facades, the masks they so often put on. He saw people’s hearts and he saw their potential, and he was looking to bring out the good in that potential. Jesus saw the downtrodden and saw past their poverty. Jesus saw the rich and affluent and saw past their bold splendour. He knew us as we are, and loved us.

Now I say all this because I believe that is what is behind these simple words spoken by Jesus as recorded by Luke. He starts with forgiveness. Forgiving is about releasing a person who has offended or abused you, from the punishment that is due them from God, and it is required when that person repents of what they have done. Forgiveness can only be declared when that other person has repented. We shouldn’t confuse this with having a right attitude towards our offender because Jesus instructed us to love our enemies and pray for those against us (Mt 5:44). Some Christians confuse the two things but we are told to forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col 3:13) and God never forgives until there has been repentance, but then He ALWAYS forgives. It is this latter part that we naturally struggle with. We hear people say, “I’ll NEVER forgive them.” Well, yes you will if they repent and ask your forgiveness, because then you find Jesus’ strong injunction applying: “if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:15).

Vine’s dictionary states: “Human ‘forgiveness’ is to be strictly analogous to divine ‘forgiveness’. If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limit to Christ’s law of ‘forgiveness’. The conditions are repentance and confession.” Until our offender does actually repent, we are to hold a good and right attitude towards them, wanting God’s best for them always, but the moment they do repent we are duty bound to proclaim our forgiveness. God gives us the amazing privilege of declaring the will of heaven: you are forgiven. I forgive you. Now although many people will struggle with granting that forgiveness, the open-hearted person willingly grants it. They know that forgiveness declared will open the way for their offender to walk out in newness of life, free from the burden of the guilt. We proclaim their forgiveness because we know that when they have repented God has forgiven them. We are thus the bearers of good news. But we also forgive because we too have known the experience and we know the joy of being forgiven and want it for others.

Declaring forgiveness is a sign of a redeemed person, a person who knows what it is to be forgiven. Thus when we forgive we express our salvation and reinforce our salvation and continue the ongoing process of ‘being forgiven’ by the Father. Because we forgive as we are required to, we are not holding on to an unresolved issue that in itself needs forgiveness. If we withhold forgiveness we are ourselves now in a place of sin, acting spitefully and ungraciously, and forgiveness from heaven will be withheld from us until we come to the point of forgiving. As we forgive, so we are forgiven. Forgiveness declared by us is an expression of our own repentance and thus we also receive it.

But then there is the second expression of the open heart – giving. Most of us in this sinful world are takers, but open-hearted people are givers. Most in the world want to get; that is at the heart of materialism, that is behind the commandment not to covet. We want and want and want more. But then our hearts are changed and we are born again and suddenly we are filled with love and our desire is to bless others. We become givers, givers of love, givers of possessions, givers of time and energy. The Spirit of Jesus within wants to continue His work of bringing the love of God to people, to bless them. We come across a need and we give. The open-hearted person does not reason and rationalize and blame or speculate. The open-hearted person sees a need, feels compassion and gives.

But look at what happens in God’s kingdom. When we give, He gives back – in abundance! That’s what the verse implies: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” That says you’ll receive a lot. So whether it is time, energy, possessions or money, whatever form you use to give our God’s love, you will find He gives back. Selfless, open-hearted giving is the key. But actually the selfless, open-hearted giver doesn’t think about what they will get back. They are just aware of what they have already received and they give out of the abundance of that. It just happens that that abundance will be replenished whenever it is given away. How wonderful!

11. The Forgiver

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 11 of 20

Mk 2:5-7 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

We have seen previously, Jesus saying things which the Jews listening to him realised were blasphemy – unless of course he was God! This is another of those times but with a different focus. To us, some of these things might appear minor or trivial, but that is simply because we do not understand the Jewish culture that prevailed at that time. Unlike today, when a minority in the West worship God, in Israel there was at least a token acceptance that He was their head. In some ways they were very God-focussed or God-aware, and this meant, although in their daily lives the outward working of their relationship with God seemed rather frail, they still nevertheless had much understanding of who He was and what He could do and what they couldn’t do!

Now we come to this quite well known incident, where Jesus is teaching in a home in Capernaum, when suddenly there is a disturbance from above and a hole appears in the roof and four men lower down their paralytic friend before Jesus. Clearly the crowd had been so great that they could not get into the house but so desperate were they to reach Jesus that they decided to come in through the roof. Jesus, it seems, is almost thrilled with their faith. They are so sure that Jesus can heal their friend that they will let nothing get in their way to reach him. Now Matthew adds that when Jesus saw ‘his’ faith, he forgave him, and so it seems that it is a collective thing, all five men have faith in Jesus.

One of the things we see about Jesus when we read the Gospels is that he read people’s minds, he knew what they were thinking, he knew why they acted like they did. In this case it seems apparent that the man at least believes that his being paralysed is linked with a past sin. Now we don’t know why he was paralysed or what he had done. It is almost as if the writers say, don’t worry about that, that was not the issue. We see the same thing in John 9 when they encounter the man blind from birth and the disciples debate over whether this was caused by his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus refuses to get drawn in to that and simply focuses on healing him. We, so often, want to apportion blame, or show others up as failures. Jesus is more concerned to restore us rather than reveal our failure to the world. He knows what it is and he knows when we are repentant. These men would not have brought their friend to Jesus if he hadn’t been repentant about his sin. He wouldn’t have let them take him if he was still unrepentant for they all seem to have this clear understanding that sin of often linked to illness or infirmity.

Now I say all this because of the way Jesus deals with this man. He doesn’t immediately reach out and heal him, for he sees that there is still an inner concern in this man. He feels guilty. He’s sorry for what he’s done in the past, but he still has this inner nagging about his guilt. There can be no other reason why Jesus approaches this case as he does. He simply proclaims forgiveness over this man. Do a study of the Bible and you will see that God only forgives where there has been repentance. Our problem sometimes, is that we may have repented but we need to hear God’s voice affirming our forgiveness.

John the Gospel and letter writer was to eventually write, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). He learnt that clear principle: when we repent and confess our sins God WILL forgive us. So Jesus forgives the man. At that point it seems, as they say, the fat is in the fire! There are some seriously religious characters in the crowd listening to Jesus and they know their Bibles (Old Testament scrolls). They know that only God can forgive sins. Only God has the right to say that a man’s sins are cancelled and that man’s issues before God are resolved.

We may not think sin is a big issue, but before God it is! The whole sacrificial system within the Law of Moses was about dealing with sin. Try reading the book of Leviticus and you’ll see that. From our point of view today, sin was and is so important that God had to send His only Son to deal with it – but that’s later in the story! Oh no, sin was important and only God could say that it was dealt with and, up until then, it appeared that only offering a sacrifice in the Temple could properly deal with it. Then suddenly Jesus appears and declares over this man, you are forgiven.

The religious experts are not happy! They are quite specific in their thinking: He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? There it is again. They have no doubt that Jesus is claiming to be God, taking the role of God. We cannot emphasise this enough. It may not be a big thing to us, but they were quite clear – this was blasphemy, this was Jesus claiming to be God.

But is doesn’t end there. Jesus wanted them – and us – to see that he DID have the right to forgive. See what follows. Listen to Jesus: “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.” (Mk 2:9-12) Words are easy. We may disagree with them, but they are easy to say. OK, says Jesus, by implication behind what we see him actually saying, you see a link with sin and sickness. So, if the sin is dealt with, the sickness can be removed. Right? That would have been the logic behind all this. Sometimes we just see the power behind this healing and it is wonderful in itself, but it is the logic behind it which undermines these religious men.

If sin causes sickness, then while sin remains then obviously the sickness or infirmity will remain. But if the sin is repented of, and forgiveness is granted then we may assume that healing can come. So he heals him to make the point that forgiveness HAS been granted – he IS the Son of God with authority from heaven to forgive sins. This is why this healing is so significant. It is Jesus claiming Sonship by declaring forgiveness and then proving it by bringing the healing. Again, this is one of those occasions when, as we start to realise the dynamics of the situation, we realise that this is yet just one more of those instances where Jesus is claiming and demonstrating his divinity. We have no alternative – this IS the Son of God.