I love the Cross. There is so much we can say about it, but since we have been talking about Forgiveness I want us to look at a lesson from there. Jesus was hanging on the cross, deformed and covered in blood. It was a tragic scene. Many of the people there were filled with hate and anger. They hated Him to the point that they wanted Him dead, and they were there to cheer His death. Only a handful of people were there to mourn. Suddenly, amid the shouts of mocking Him and cursing Him, Jesus began to speak. I can only imagine His voice in that moment. Fighting for breath and holding on to life still, He would barely have enough strength to say anything at all. Nevertheless, His voice broke through the shouts and mocking (in my opinion it couldn’t be much more than a whisper) and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) I see something really important in this, besides the obvious point of forgiveness. Jesus shows us what forgiveness looks like.
It is important for us to see two things: 1) Jesus forgives those who persecute Him, mock Him, and hate Him. They knowingly are killing Him, and they know exactly what they are doing. However, Jesus doesn’t take it personally, NOR does He accuse them for their personal actions. Instead, He chooses to believe that if they REALLY knew what they were doing, they would not do it. We could all learn to think this way and have this perspective when it comes to forgiveness. 2) Forgiving them is not the only thing Jesus did here. Allow me to explain. Jesus did 4 things here. First, He forgave. Second, He let it go. He didn’t say, “I forgive you, but I won’t forget what you have done.” Isn’t it interesting that we all know that God no longer remembers our sins (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17, Micah 7:18, Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34 for example), but we don’t want to let go and forget when people hurt us? I hope that stings a little for you like it does me. Third, He prays for them. If you can’t pray to God for their benefit, you haven’t actually forgiven them even though you may be trying to. We must forgive, forget, and pray for them. Lastly, He blesses them, publicly. We have to grow to the point where we don’t do everything in secret. None of this is natural or easy for us. Nevertheless, forgive and you will be forgiven. If you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven (John 20:23, Matthew 6:14).
If 4 steps are too many, then think of it the way my friend Dr. Kerry Wood wrote in his book The Abba Factor: Forgiveness is like a double barreled shotgun. If you only fire one side, you have not finished your mission. Forgive and forget, and then bless and pray for them- publicly.
Just typing the word can be challenging. We all know we need to live a life forgiving people, but it sure can be hard, especially when we are so right that everyone else agrees with you. When someone wrongs us, does something so terrible on purpose just to upset you, it can be incredibly hard to even consider forgiving them. And when they do it multiple times, the idea of forgiveness is near impossible to fathom.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things Christians have to learn to do. It is much easier to just separate from people who hurt us, take advantage of us, or love to test our faith in God. The world says we can’t allow people to do that. It tells us that when we allow people to walk all over us, that we are weak and pathetic, and that those people will continue to take and take from us.
Jesus tells us that is exactly where He wants us. In Matthew 5:44-46, Jesus really hammers us with this: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who spitefully use you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that?” His words are clear. From Heaven’s perspective, we are living out the Gospel best when we allow people to walk all over us, taking advantage of us, and blessing them while they do it.
God’s Kingdom is upside from this world. The greatest are the least, the least are the greatest, and the meek inherit the earth (not survival of the fittest, but survival of the meekest). So when people take advantage of you, and you bless them, you are actually doing what God wants. “But if you do that then they will just continue to take from you knowing you are weak.” Yes. And Blessed are you when you do.
Last week we learned about why Faith, Hope, and Love are so critical to the Way of Life Christ taught us. Hopefully, it helped you keep a better perspective when dealing with people. Something else that really helps me when times are difficult and circumstances are almost unbearable in remembering a simple truth.
Isaiah 43:1 says, “Now this is what the LORD says-- the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel--" Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.”
I love this verse because of how much it comforts me. In case you aren’t aware, you are Jacob and Israel. Jacob wrestled with God, and afterwards God changed his name to Israel (which means I have wrestled with God). A lot of people say that God caused Jacob (Israel) to walk with a limp for the rest of his life because of something Jacob had done wrong. Please don’t believe that about God. Jacob actually did what God wanted. So why did Jacob limp for the rest of his life? Because God changed his name to “I wrestled God,” and it would be crazy for him not to limp. Just think about that for a second, every person who would ever see him afterward would see him limping and would ask him. His answer would be, “I’m Israel.” God didn’t punish Jacob, He blessed him. He was a walking testimony of a relationship with God… and so are you.
Now, let me address what the actual verse says. The Lord, the Creator, He says, “Do not be afraid, do not allow fear to enter your thoughts. I have Redeemed you…” Redeemed is a beautiful word. If you look up the definition, you will find this: gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment. Knowing that you have been redeemed by God will remove all fear, and fear can look like a lot of things… but His redemption of you set you free from those things. If you are lacking peace, if fear overwhelms you, then focus on the fact that God has redeemed you. There is nothing that can harm you, because He is for you!
After redemption, the verse says, “I have called you by your name.” Wow! What a beautiful revelation that is! God. The Creator of EVERYTHING, who with a single breath created the universe! That same God, He uses His voice, the same voice that created everything, He uses that voice to call you by your name! God, the Creator knows your Name! I don’t know about you, but that does something for me. I know when circumstances are tough, when people do things I don’t like, when bad stuff happens to me or my family, it is so difficult to not get mad or frustrated. But God knows your name, and is personally calling you to remember that you are redeemed.
The last thing the verse says is probably the most impactful truth you can ever know: You are His. He has chosen you, dear friend. He loves you. He considers you to be part of His family. You are His. I pray that this revelation sinks to the deepest part of your soul, that you would be able to truly rest in it. It is what allowed Jesus to sleep in a boat during a storm that was so bad that it was about to sink the boat. The others were terrified, they were freaking out, and they had to physically wake Jesus up (He was sleeping in a boat with no cover with high winds, huge waves, and rain pouring down on top of Him) to save them. Why was He able to sleep? Because He had heard His Father say, “This is My Son…” Jesus knew He belonged to His Father. I hope you do to… because He is calling to you right now, and He is using your name.
I have found that there are just times where life is hard. Sometimes it’s hard because other people make mistakes, or do things in spite. It could be that you’re going through a season where everything you touch seems to be falling apart. Maybe you’ve lost loved ones. It’s times like this that really seem to overwhelm us.
Do y’all ever just cry out to God for Him to just hurry up and come to rescue us because you’re so tired and frustrated with this mess of a world? In times where everything stacks up against us, we have to stay strong in the faith because the enemy’s goal is to cause us to lose perspective and panic. Faith, Hope, and Love must remain. When we lose hope because our circumstances are just so overwhelming that we freak out, we also lose our faith. They go together: Faith, Hope, and Love. We can’t have one without the others. I’ve found that most people let go of hope pretty easily. We give up so fast. We get overwhelmed, and then become selfish way too fast. We typically hold onto faith, say we love, but let go of hope in an instant. But I need you to realize that you can’t have faith without hope, and without those your love is not real- at best it’s just appreciation or affection.
Let me give you an example. Someone comes to you and needs some help. You help them. A week later, they return and need help again, so you do. 3 days later, they come back, with the same story. You realize that this is just a cycle and they don’t really mean it because they are just playing you to take advantage of your kindness. You help them, but tell yourself this is the last time. Then they come back a few days later, and you tell them no. A few weeks go by and then they come back, begging. You tell them you are sorry, but you just can’t help them right now. A month goes by and you hear that something went wrong and now they are in trouble. You feel justified in the fact that you were right about them.
So let’s look at this with the perspective of Faith, Hope, and Love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Love keeps no record of wrongs, and it hopes all things, bears all things. But we can’t bear someone’s burdens for even 3 months. We can’t even help someone with hope that our kindness will set them free. We just don’t want to be taken advantage of. We don’t want to allow people to walk all over us. But in Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” We don’t want to allow people to spitefully use us, but Jesus told us it is just that act that allows us to be called sons of Abba in Heaven.
We must realize that our faith is proven in our humility and grace, not in our discipline and obedience. I want to encourage you today. I know how hard this is. I really do. However, we can’t be like the world. We must stay kind, gentle, and gracious in our dealing with people. So today, just let someone feel His love. Don’t make it about you. Make it about Jesus. Don’t just give them what they want. Give them Jesus. And exercise your Faith, your Hope, and your Love.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
What does everlasting life mean? Many will take the assumption that Jesus was talking about Heaven. But what was Jesus really talking about? John 3:17 says that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Jesus was talking about salvation, clearly. But before we jump to the conclusion that salvation is about Heaven, we need to go back and find the context of what Jesus was talking about.
John 3:3 is a quote from Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And John 3:7 says, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born gain.’” We can see from this that Jesus was talking about being born again when He brought up everlasting life. Since Nicodemus didn’t understand the phrase “born again” Jesus changed it to everlasting life and salvation. But this whole conversation was about being born again.
We must be born again. And the amazing thing to me is that Jesus taught us what it means to be born again. In 3:6 Jesus taught Nicodemus (the great teacher) that the Spirit gives birth to spirit, and in verse 8 He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” In the Greek, it is using the same word for wind and Spirit.
So what does this mean? Jesus was teaching something spiritual, obviously, and sometimes spiritual things are hard to comprehend, right? But Jesus didn’t just talk about it to Nicodemus. He talked about it often. In John 17, Jesus prayed to His Father in Heaven about this, when He prayed, “…just as You and I are one…” Being born again is being connected with God, able to flow with Holy Spirit. We are supposed to be so close to God that people can’t tell where He begins and I end. We are supposed to be radically connected with God through a powerful relationship that includes partnership with Him.
How do we apply this? How do we get born again? By believing we have the ability to partner with God. And through the partnership with Holy Spirit, we will be given everlasting life through salvation. “Salvation”, in the Greek, means to be healed, delivered, protected, preserved, and saved from darkness. Not of that is “Heavenly stuff”. Each of these is things that are about this life. In heaven, I won’t need healing, deliverance, protection, preservation, or salvation. Those will already be part of that Heaven, but that isn’t “born again” so then our teachings need to be adjusted.
In summary, I want to encourage you to partner with Holy Spirit this week. Pay attention to His “wind” and see what He is doing. Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing. We should do the same. Let’s quit pretending that salvation is only about getting into Heaven, and realize that right now you have breath in your lungs because God wants you to join Him in His work of salvation. Let’s bless people with God’s love today… not with eloquent speech, but with demonstrations of power and of the Spirit.
Have you allowed yourself to be filled with Him? Have you allowed Jesus to be “birthed” from inside you? "You must be born again."