Jesus Died Of Forgiveness
You all know the standard explanations of why Jesus had to die. He was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the human race. God is just as well as loving. There is right and wrong in God's sight. Justice matters. Wrong has to be atoned for. The Old Testament based Temple sacrificial system was morally bankrupt. Humans cannot atone for their sins. God sent his Son to make atonement at the cost of his own life. God paid the price of justice himself in Jesus. From the human social point of view there are additional explanations. Jesus was a rebel against the establishment of Israel. He was provocative and controversial and public in his criticisms of the religious and political leaders of his people. Though not an insurrectionist against the state as such Jesus and his followers were identified as having that potential and purpose. Jesus was a disturber of the peace even although the Roman colonial peace was based on merciless crushing of dissenters. Jesus was also technically a blasphemer against the tenets of Judaism by claiming to be God's own Son. He indirectly claimed in word and action to be the Messiah long awaited. But because he did not conform to the expectations of people he was rejected by them. Because he had become an embarrassment he needed to be dealt with and although it was clear that he offered no threat to the peace of the nation, the Jewish leaders saw an opportunity to make common cause with the Romans and increase their own influence with them. As the High Priest Caiaphas said in one of the most cynical statements ever uttered, 'It is expedient that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish'.
It was Caiaphas who made it expedient. It was outright political manipulation without justice, fairness or right. For Jews to hand over one of their own to the hated gentiles was unusual - a Rabbi at that - even if he didn't go to the best schools in Jerusalem. We all know about treachery in Scotland of course. William Wallace cannot in any way be compared with Jesus. Wallace was a terrorist guilty of atrocities similar to that of Islamic State. He was a guerrilla warrior and soldier for what he thought was Scottish freedom from English domination. Wallace evaded capture by the English until 5 August 1305 when John de Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to Edward, turned Wallace over to English soldiers at Robroyston near Glasgow - an act of great treachery, a Scot giving up a fellow Scot.
I want to suggest a different angle on how and why Jesus died. Jesus died of forgiveness. This is not to discount or replace long standing teaching on Jesus' death. It is to suggest something else alongside these. The word forgive comes from the Old English 'forgiefan' "give, grant, allow, to give up" and "to give in marriage;" from for "completely" + giefan "give". To forgive is to completely allow or give up. Dictionary meanings for forgive are both negative and positive; to stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake; to pardon, excuse, exonerate, absolve, acquit, let off, grant an amnesty to; to no longer feel angry about or wish to punish (an offence, flaw, or mistake); to cancel a debt. But Christian forgiveness is much more than these.
The magazine 'Christianity Today' offers a step by step approach to Christian forgiveness. 1 Acknowledge the pain. Sometimes it's hard to admit you've been hurt because doing so intensifies the feelings. But you won't be able to work through the pain until you admit you're hurting. Tears are a pretty good indicator that something is wrong. So are feelings of resentment. 2 Think through the pain. Be honest about how you feel, even if you think you shouldn't feel that way. Admit that you don't like what happened or how you were treated and that it makes you sad or angry. Try writing these feelings in a journal or sharing them with a
trusted Christian friend. 3 Put yourself in the shoes of your offender. Think about a time when you have wronged another person, maybe your parents, a sibling or a friend. You needed their forgiveness. Did that person extend forgiveness to you, or withhold it? How did it make you feel? When it comes to forgiving others, remember these words from Jesus: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you". 4 Remember that God forgave you. If you're a Christian, you've admitted your need for God's forgiveness. Remembering how he forgave you, when you didn't deserve it, can help you forgive others. You may not be ready at this point to voice your forgiveness to your offender. In fact, communication with that person may be impossible if, for example, the person is no longer living. You can forgive someone without having your offender accept your forgiveness. 5 Remember that God commands us to forgive. When Jesus taught about prayer, he stressed the importance of forgiving others (11:25 Luke 11:14) And in Mark
he says, "If you hold anything against anyone forgive him ... " 6 Let go of the pain. Once you've gone
through the stages above, refuse to hold onto your hurt. Don't replay the offence over and over. Allowing yourself to get sad or angry again and again will only cause you more pain. Determine that you are going to choose to forgive your offender. Your emotions might not agree with this decision. This is where prayer comes in. Tell God you want to forgive, and ask him to change your heart toward the person who wronged you. You may want to consider voicing forgiveness to your offender either vocally or through a letter. But again, if this isn't possible, it doesn't mean you haven't expressed forgiveness. 7 Continue to forgive. If the wound was deep, you'll probably have to forgive more than once. When memories of the wrong come to mind and you find yourself getting worked up over it, immediately go to God in prayer. 8 Pray for the one who hurt you. It may be impossible to restore a relationship with your offender. For example, you don't know where the person lives or contacting this person could be a safety risk. But you can pray for the one who hurt you. Ask God to reveal his love to your offender. Doing so will help you to release any remaining resentment. This is realistic advice but it does not embrace the full forgiveness that we think of when we consider Jesus' last words on the cross.
Do you remember the Enniskillen IRA bombing? Gordon Wilson was an Irish draper in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, who became known as a peace campaigner during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. On 8 November 1987 a bomb planted by the Provisional IRA exploded during Enniskillen's Remembrance Day Parade, injured Wilson and fatally injured his daughter Marie, a nurse. The bomb was planted in a nearby building and timed to go off at 10:43 am, just before the ceremony was due to start. An emotional television interview Wilson gave to the BBC only hours after the bombing brought him to national and international prominence as he described his last conversation with his dying daughter as they both lay buried in rubble. Wilson's response to the bombing, "I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge", was reported worldwide, becoming among the most-remembered quotations from the Troubles. Whereas IRA attacks in Northern Ireland often resulted in reprisals by loyalists, Wilson's calls for forgiveness and reconciliation came to be called the Spirit of Enniskillen. As a peace campaigner, Wilson held many meetings with members of Sinn Fein. He also met once with representatives of the Provisional IRA. Wilson sought to understand the reasons for the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen. He also held talks with loyalist paramilitaries in an attempt to persuade them to abandon violence. On Remembrance Day 1997, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams formally apologised for the bombing.
Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them," because He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy: "He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). From the cross, Jesus interceded for sinners. Today, risen and glorified, Jesus remains the "one mediator between God and mankind" (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them," because He was putting into practice the principle He had taught in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'" (Matthew 5:43,44). Jesus, the persecuted, prayed for His persecutors. Coupled with the willingness of Jesus to forgive His tormentors is the fact that they did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34). The sinners who put Jesus on the cross were ignorant of the meaning of their actions. The soldiers personally held no ill will toward Him. They were simply following orders. This was how they normally treated condemned men, and they believed that He truly deserved it. They didn't know that they were killing the Son of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:8). The mob didn't really know whom they were trying to destroy. The Jewish leaders had deceived them into believing that Jesus was a fake and a troublemaker (Acts 3: 17). In praying "Father, forgive them," Jesus revealed His infinite mercy; He still loved them and would forgive them. Jesus' prayer "Father, forgive them" was answered in the lives of many people. The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, upon seeing how Jesus died, exclaimed, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus exercised faith in Christ, who promised him paradise (Luke 23:39,30). A member of the Sanhedrin Joseph of Arimathea publicly aligned himself with Jesus (John 19:39). And a little over a month later, three thousand people in Jerusalem were saved in one day as the church began (Acts 2:41). Christian forgiveness is meant to reflect God's forgiveness of us. Now plenty of people today despise this kind of Christian pathology. And yet all secular psychotherapies go through the same processes all be it without referencing God. God's forgiveness is liberating and energising because it allows us to leave behind mistakes and faults and wrongs and not be crippled by what we have done in the past.
There is certainly a danger that we take God's forgiveness for granted. Heinrich Heine died in 1856. His last words were "Of course God will forgive me, that's his business". We might use God's forgiveness not to change or improve or grow in Christian life. We might think that the mechanical confessional of the Roman Catholic system is not very effective. They might think that our prayers of collective general confession are not very effective either. When we forgive we allow those who have wronged us to move on in their lives too and not be hide bound by whatever they have done to us in the past. And that may not be easy. We humans can live off and thrive on bitterness held close over years and decades. We all know people like that. We can actually comfort ourselves with the remembrance of wrongs done to us.
Christian forgiveness means letting go completely. Just as Jesus did. And that means dying a little - to ourselves - to others. Just as Jesus did. He died of forgiveness. He gave up the struggle. He surrendered. With his dying breathe he took the side of his accusers, torturers and murderers. "They don't know what they're doing". He advocated for them. He pled for them. Jesus' forgiveness was not a negative or passive forgiveness. It was an active committed forgiveness even as he left his life in pain and degradation, in complete rejection and abandonment. There is nothing like this in any other faith or philosophy. People in our land despise Christianity. But what we are doing has eternal significance. Ours may be quiet worship in a small church in a small village. But its true value and meaning and status is derived from Jesus' suffering and dying on Calvary. Jesus' dying was nothing to the world that passed by. It was everything to our Maker and everything for humanity. Jesus died of forgiveness. His last act. His last action. To give up who he was in forgiveness. Forgiving is a dying process. But it is a process that leads to new life thereafter. Just as Jesus' death led to his resurrection. And that led to us being here today. We are children of forgiveness and we are forgiven now and eternally.