[This message includes the NCC Media Team's short film “Super.” To view the short film, go to www.theaterchurch.com ]
There are two ways to live. One way is to stay locked behind a door of regret, resentment, anger, bitterness, second guessing, hurt. On the other side of that door is a life of freedom where you can experience joy and peace regardless of the pain or the uncertainty that surrounds you. And forgiveness is the key that unlocks that door.
When I was a kid, there were a couple things I really, really wanted. I can actually relate to the kid in this film. If you’ve been around NCC for any time, you’ve heard me talk about both of these. The first, I desperately wanted Underoos. Anybody remember those? They were largely themed after superheroes and every package contained underwear and a t-shirt that represented the costume of that superhero and I believed there was something about it that if I wore those, I would have this hidden identity and secret strength and it would change everything. So I really wanted Underoos. So I got my first pair of Underoos and they were Dukes of Hazard and that just brought the power of more redneck to my life! The other thing I really wanted were Zips tennis shoes. Zips tennis shoes were peddled to unsuspecting, innocent children watching Saturday morning cartoons with the promise that they would give you super human speed. I was a kid that loved sports but I was a tiny little shrimp of a kid and I thought Zips are the key! That’s what will give me the advantage! My athletic edge is going to come from owning a pair of Zips! So I got my first pair of Zips and it was kind of the end of an age of innocence to realize that those Zips could only carry me as fast as my tiny little legs could run. But there was just something I believed that if I could put these things on, it would help me go further and faster and stronger than those around me. And in Colossians 3:12, we read
Since God chose you to be his holy people, you must clothe yourselves with tendered-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others. So maybe this idea of putting on power isn’t that crazy after all. God says that because we are the chosen people that He loves, we should put on mercy and humility and gentleness and patience, and all of this leads to forgiveness.
I know some of you are probably thinking, ‘Don’t go there.’ ‘Don’t go in that direction, you don’t understand, you don’t know my story.’ When I think about people across our seven locations this weekend and people listening by podcast around the glove, there are a world of stories and hurts and pains that I don’t know anything about because I don’t know your story. Lies, betrayal, abandonment, infidelity, abuse, rape, these are the stories of the world we live in and for some of you, the wounds are so fresh that you dare not mess with the bandages that you’ve placed around your heart. For some of you, the wounds go so deep that you think there is no chance for hope or for healing. So you just say don’t talk to me about this, you don’t know my story. And I don’t. And even if I did, there is no way I could enter into an understanding or appreciate your pain. I don’t know your story but I do know the story of Jesus and that’s the story I want to share this weekend because I believe that that’s the story that changes everything.
So turn over to Matthew 18. Jesus was this man who gave his life to the poor and the oppressed and the sick and the marginalized. In a day when women and children were largely disregarded, Jesus showed them honor. He preached peace and He offered love and He pointed to a kingdom that stood in stark contrast to the tyrannical Roman Empire and because of that, the power hungry and insecure leaders of the day nailed Him to a cross.
Now, a lot of us are influenced by popular religious imagery and tradition and so when we think of the crucifixion of Jesus, we often think of that as happening high up on a hill on a beam that stands far above the earth way up high with people looking up. But the reality is, if you look historically at how the Roman Empire crucified people, it was often not much higher than at eye level and often at the crossroads. And the reason they did that is because they wanted to send a very strong message to the people. They didn’t want crucifixion to be something that was a distant thing. They wanted to put it right up in the faces of people so that at eye level they came right face to face with the horrors of crucifixion and got the message loudly and clearly, if you do not submit to the way of Rome, this too can be you.
Yet, Jesus hangs there on the cross close to eye level with those who betrayed Him and misrepresented Him and falsely accused Him, those that would strip Him and beat Him and drive nails into his hands and feet. The message that He sent was far more potent as He hangs on the cross and says, ‘Father, forgive them.’
The idea of forgiveness was broached by Peter sometime earlier and on this side of history, we tend to think of Peter as this great man of faith, this champion of the gospel, the leader of the early church. But the reality is that Peter was just an average ordinary guy. He was impulsive. He was stubborn. He said dumb things. He did dumb things but he tried really, really hard. So in Matthew 18:1, he comes to Jesus and he says
Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?
Now let me unpack Peter’s strategy here a little bit. The rabbis were the very respected religious teachers of the day were the ones who were thought to be the experts on the law and the prophets, what we think of today as our Old Testament. They taught that you should be willing to forgive someone three times. So Peter is trying to impress Jesus with his piety. He takes what the rabbis teach and he doubles it and then adds one on for good measure. He thinks Jesus is going to be impressed with this. And then in verse 2, we see Jesus’ response
‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘Seventy times seven.’ Then Jesus goes on to tell a story and I want to encourage you to mark your Bible right here at Matthew 18 because I want you to go back and read this later on your own. But I’m just going to summarize this story. There was a man who owed his master millions and millions of dollars. In fact, some scholars believe that in today’s economy it would be about two billion dollars. There is no way he could dream of that much money, no way he can pay it back, so he falls on his knees and begs for mercy and the master grants him mercy. Not only does he not throw him into prison, which is what he deserved, he took that man’s page in his book and just ripped it out and said, ‘Your debt is cancelled.’ He showed mercy, he withheld from him what he deserved. And he showed him grace, gave him what he did not deserve. Then this man had a servant who owed him a couple thousand dollars and he goes to the servant and demands that the servant pays him and when the servant asks for mercy, he threw him in prison and told him he had to stay there until he can pay it all back. Now, the hearers of this story would have gotten Jesus’ point loud and clear. The idea that a man who was forgiven millions maybe billions of dollars, for him to turn around and not show mercy and forgiveness to one who owed him just a couple thousand dollars is ridiculous! It is ludicrous! And it echoes what Paul says in Colossians 3: The Lord forgave you so you must forgive others.
Forgiven people forgive people.
Let me be very clear about what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not endorsing something that happened to you. Forgiveness is not accepting the circumstances. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are ok or that the other person is ok or that what happened is ok. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the pain immediately vanishes. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you forget it. This idea of forgive and forget is actually not a biblical concept. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that immediate reconciliation can or should or will happen. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are a doormat. Forgiveness isn’t just about giving in. Forgiveness is a process and forgiveness begins when we give up on getting even.
The first thing I want us to understand is that forgiveness is rooted in the love of Christ. In the film, the little girl says, ‘Love helps me forgive.’ I think that ultimately forgiveness is not so much a response to the offender. It is not so much a response to the offensive situation as it is a response to the gospel. The only way we can truly be in a place where we can even think about forgiving someone is to have received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We have to stand under his grace, in his mercy and receive his love. That’s where the power of forgiveness is rooted. Forgiving people find strength in Jesus. It is only when we’ve experienced his grace and his mercy that we are able to extent that to others.
Secondly, forgiveness is a declaration of the gospel. Think about this, when we receive God’s forgiveness in our own lives, we experience his character and his glory. And when we extend forgiveness to others, we are displaying his character and glory to the world. To everybody around us, we are showing who God is and what He is like.
I have to remember that the cross of Jesus Christ is sufficient, not just for my sin but for the hurt that the sin of others has caused me. And as much as I really, really don’t want to admit it, if I believe that the cross is sufficient for my sin, than I also have to believe that the cross is sufficient for the sin that has been committed against me. And that’s what’s really hard to grasp about the gospel. But in Romans 12, we read this
Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God, for the Scriptures say I will take revenge, I will pay them back, says the Lord.
What this is saying is I can either try to deal with the situation myself or I can let my heavenly Father deal with it. What I have to remember is that someone else’s repentance is not the prerequisite for my forgiveness. The blood of Jesus is the prerequisite for my forgiveness. And when I forgive, I’m declaring the gospel. When we look at the cross and we see what Jesus did for us, the cross requires us and inspires us to forgive others.
Forgiven people forgive people.
Finally, forgiveness is the key to freedom. I don’t like to admit this but I actually like to hold grudges! When somebody does something bad to me, I will play scenarios through my brain and strategize my revenge and it is fun! I mean, I think about ways I can use that as a sermon illustration, put it in a book. I think about that day when they are going to be so sorry they ever did that. There is something that gives me some sense of relief just to hold onto a grudge and replay it in my brain. But that is so stupid! Number one, it isn’t doing anything to bring any kind of justice to the situation. The second thing is, over time, it becomes like a cancer that spreads through my body and infects everything about my. Over time, you are not holding a grudge, the grudge is holding you and you allow what somebody else did to you to define who you are. Forgiveness brings freedom from that. We don’t have to be held down by those things that have happened to us.
I used to think that forgiveness was a passive thing, a passive response to something, a resignation, a surrender, laying down. But as I read the Scriptures more and more and I learn about what Jesus did for us, I see that forgiveness is anything but passive. It is aggressive. It is not resignation but it is resolution. When Jesus went to the cross, He wasn’t doing that out of weakness, He was doing it out of a supernatural strength. And forgiveness comes from a place of strength. It comes from a place of resolution. It is a subversive force that changes the reality of our lives because it brings freedom. It invites us into a new way of living.
In the film, the little girl says loves helps me forgive and that changes everything. Because this little girl had this superpower of love that came bursting forth in forgiveness, she was able to live entirely differently. She had a sense of joy and awe and wonder and peace despite the crumbling world around her and despite everything bad that had happened around her. Her ability brought her freedom. And her forgiveness brought freedom to another person.
Forgiving people are free people.
I understand that you may be here this weekend and you have no interest in trusting anything I have to say and that’s fine. I don’t take any offense at that. I know that you may be here and you are not ready to enter into this place, I know that there are questions that plague you and memories that keep you up at night that I cannot speak to. So what I want to encourage you to do is not to trust me but to trust Jesus Christ. The man who forgave those who crucified Him as He was hanging in pain and torture on the cross, the man who uttered the words ‘Father forgive them’ and it took every ounce of his strength and his ability as his body was tense with pain. Trust Jesus.
We can’t unpack the depths of forgiveness and the process and how that process is different for every person in 20 minutes and we don’t even want to try to do that because it wouldn’t be fair to you and it wouldn’t be fair to your story. But what I want you to do this weekend is to consider taking a step in the direction of finding freedom. The truth about forgiveness from Scripture is unchanging. The process by which we walk through that is long and it varies from person to person. So for some of you, forgiveness might mean picking up the phone, writing an email, sending a letter to someone who has asked for forgiveness and you have never granted it. In some situations, actually verbally granting forgiveness to a person isn’t the wisest thing to do because of an unhealthy relationship that you should not reengage in. Or there is unsolicited forgiveness from a friend and to bring it up would just be opening a wound that they are not even aware exists in your heart. Maybe the step for you is just to get alone with Jesus and say make me willing to even consider forgiveness. Some of you might need to open up your journals and write it down. Write their name and write down what they did. And then you can write how it has been affecting you. Then write that you choose to forgive them. Forgiveness is always a choice, it is never a feeling. Some of you may be in a place where you need to release God from the responsibility that you feel He has for the pain that has been caused to you. The Bible says that the thief comes to kill, steal and destroy but that Jesus comes to give us life and life more abundantly. Our Pastor of Prayer, Heidi Scanlon, says don’t get those job descriptions confused. Some of you have experienced so much pain that you really need somebody to walk through things with you. I want to encourage you in a few things. We have a pastoral care team that is available to meet with you, to pray with you, to listen, to encourage, to support. Wednesday nights at the offices near our Barracks Row location, there is Celebrate Recovery. It is an opportunity to find healing from hurts, hang ups, habits. Across our locations this weekend, we have prayer teams that have already been praying for you. Before you leave, maybe you need to grab one of them and ask them to pray with you and pray for you.
Finally, you may be here this weekend and you need to first experience the forgiveness of Jesus. You have never been to that place where you are able to look Him eye to eye and hear the words from his mouth and to experience his grace and mercy. Don’t leave here without doing that.
Forgiven people forgive people and forgiving people are free people.
Father, thank You so much for your Word, for the power of it, for the difficulty of it. I pray that your Holy Spirit would help us. God forgiveness isn’t easy and we know it wasn’t an easy process for You as You went to the cross to bring forgiveness to us. God I pray tonight that we would live in the reality of the power that the forgiveness that You grant us has brought to our lives. God help us be the kind of people that can extend that forgiveness to others. Holy Spirit I pray that You would come and You would begin to heal every wound, every regret. God as people begin to think about conversations and decisions and circumstances, Holy Spirit come and bring healing and hope. God bring to mind the names of people that You are asking us to forgive and help us know what step we need to take to do that. Jesus thank You for who You are and what You have done for us. We rely on You for the power that we need to carry out what your Word has instructed us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.