Forgiveness

It has been a very reflective 2016 for me thus far, at times poignant. If there is a key or prominent word that keeps occurring, it would be Forgiveness. There has been many quotes from the bible about how we have received forgiveness, especially with Good Friday and Easter recently. After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47 ESV). I am ever grateful for his love and forgiveness for me but I realised it is not that simple. The other key word is repentance, without which forgiveness would not be in effect.

A big shopping mall is giving away a free gift to the first 100 customers who walk in when it opens tomorrow. Even though the gift is free, the person has to go there to get it. Of course, there will be other considerations like whether it was worth the effort and time, etc. However, it is clear that you need to go to the mall and meet the conditions to get it. In a way, repentance is the condition, the state of heart, mind and spirit that will enable one to receive forgiveness.

When I was younger, I have always thought that I was not good enough and weak willed. I find myself guilt ridden because I thought that I was not able to overcome temptations. Every time I fell, I would ask God to forgive me and somehow it would be like a hopeless vicious cycle that I would once again be asking God to forgive me for the same sins. It was even worse when I realised that my list of wrong doings kept growing. Eventually, I gave up. I gave up not only from asking for forgiveness but also from believing that I would ever be able to overcome. To add to this sorry state, I would not forgive myself for all that has happened and considered myself a hopeless case.

Many years later, I realised that as hopeless as I thought I was, it was really my pride that was the real problem. I have placed the judgement (sentence) on myself and made the decision to go it alone blaming it on my `hopeless’ state. It was I who chose not to believe in the saving power of God for my weaknesses and failures and went ahead on my own schemes and ways. It was I who decided to be the judge and controller of my past, present and future in my so called hopelessness, ironic isn’t it? I thought I could ride through my life with all my imperfect and sinful nature and carve out a decent life with some christian values thrown in. I cringed when I think that I could have gone on the rest of my life in that state.

All the years of growing up in a christian family and environment means nothing if I never really experience repentance and forgiveness in its true sense. It is like what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV). A repentant person would be like this, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) and he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). I came to this point like Martha, “Do I believe?” Will I be like Martha who said she believed even though her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days? Clearly my situation was not as drastic as hers but to believe that God will deliver me from my perceived hopelessness was drastic for me. I found it really, really hard to believe as it has been so long, so very long that I am weary just thinking about it.

I realised that my inability to forgive myself stems from my thinking that I can be the judge of who is deserving of forgiveness. This seems utterly ridiculous as who am I trying to be, God? Not only was I unrepentant, I was high and mighty too. It’s like I am stuck inside a deep, dark and murky well and someone came to rescue me by lowering a rope for me to hold on to but I said, “No need I’m fine, just let me rot in here”. This is a prime example of foolish pride.

To truly believe in God, I need to repent – acknowledge and recognise my sinful nature and the need for deliverance (to be rescued) through Jesus Christ who has paid the price for me and through him I can receive the forgiveness of sins. I believed and stopped judging my hopelessness and lay myself down before God, warts and all. I received the forgiveness of my sins whom only Jesus can wash clean and I am set free! I am forever grateful for his love and grace for me and that he will continue the work in my life as I press on to live this life in his light and joy that I may be a blessing to others and let them know that indeed, Jesus saves and is coming again. I can now testify the verse quoted earlier, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”!

Now I can say with much joy and gratefulness, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) and Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10b ESV).

Reflection

Well, I am forgiven but it does not stop here as being forgiven also requires that I forgive others, among other things. It makes sense doesn’t it that as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive others. However, it is not so simple yet again. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37 ESV). This should be covered next.

 

Pharisees and Chief Priests

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I tried to obtain wikis and dictionary meaning or definitions on Pharisees and Chief Priests but with the varying versions, I prefer to stick to what the bible says about them. The mention of these characters or `authorities’ appeared many times in the New Testament and they were more often than not, the bad guys, the enemies that sought to destroy Jesus for shaking their `turf’. They were not gangsters or thugs but learned in the traditions and regulations of the holy temple of the Jews called the synagogue.

With the backdrop of the Roman Empire ruling that part of the world, the Pharisees and Chief Priests were authorised by the Romans to let the people carry on with their temple and traditions as long as they keep the peace and pay their dues. It seemed like a good idea to let these `authorities’ take care of their own people so they relieve themselves the job of looking after them and focus on conquering the rest of the world.

So these `authorities’ had for a long time, held privileged and high positions over the people and the arrival of Jesus and his works somehow threatened their status. This was because his teachings and deeds were different from what they had been instructing the people to do. They were very upset as not only were his teachings and deeds different, they were against, upside down or right side up from theirs.

One incident that really made them flip was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four days and this was what Jesus did:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:43-44 ESV

This was one of the most amazing miracles that Jesus did and many people witnessed this as they had all gathered for the mourning of Lazarus. I can imagine that if I was there to witness it, I would have fainted but would have glorified God for his mercy if I was able to remain conscious. Anyway, how did the `authorities’ react to this?

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. – John 11:47-48 ESV

Many who witnessed or heard about the miracle came to believe in Jesus but I was baffled at the indifference of these `authorities’. However, some of the officials who were subordinate to these `authorities’ believed in Jesus but their reaction was also baffling:

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. – John 12:42-43 ESV

They chose something less when something far greater was shown. The prospect of losing their power and wealth was too hard to bear if they were to stand for the truth. So f0r them, truth which is eternal was not worth the loss of power and wealth which eventually come to nothing. I think I will go in circles trying to make some sense of their decision and reaction.

Let’s examine the state of mind of people addicted to drugs or alcohol where they would do anything to feed their addiction even if the deed was despicable, detestable or criminal. We might say they were under the influence or control of the drug or alcohol. So do we say that these `authorities’ were under the control of their power and wealth? I think not. It was a decision over what they love versus what they know to be the truth. They know there was no such thing as having both as it was one or the other. Some of them went really out of the way to ensure that what they love will not be threatened further:

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

Reflection

I examine myself in the light of how we can easily allow the powers of status, wealth and pride to blind us from the truth. How I may choose the fleeting pleasures of this world over what is eternal or that has an everlasting impact and purpose.

With this, I pray that the eyes of my heart will be open only to see God and walk in the light of his love and purpose.

The Guilty Ones

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Three men are on death row and today is the day of their execution. Two of them, Seau and Ican were hard-core criminals with a long history of violent crimes and the law finally caught up with them. They were not partners in crime but knew each other from past imprisonments and their notoriety. The third man on death row was not familiar to them, especially among the inmates as this man was never in prison before. They heard rumours about him as being quite prominent in that town and that he was powerful enough to help and influence many people. They also heard that he might be innocent and was blackmailed by some other powerful people who do not like him.

As they were about to be executed together, they were put in one place and chained side by side. Seau turned to face the third man and said, “Hey mister! What did you do to be here with us?” When he did not respond, Seau was annoyed and said, “I heard you had connections in very high places and helped many people, how come you can’t even help yourself? Such a shame to think that you could have helped us out of here.

Ican then raised his voice at Seau and said, “Why are you doing this to him? What has he done to you? If he is truly innocent, he does not deserve to be here like us! We actually deserve to die for what we had done. We are condemned to die and when we die, we are condemned! Can’t you even see that?”

Seau and Ican were two guilty criminals who were executed as punishment for their crimes. However, they were very different in character or attitude even at the point of death. Seau held himself up in a cocky way to chide and mock another person even though he was guilty as a rat for his crimes and was going to be executed. Ican was shocked at how Seau could still be `playing the fool’ at such a time. He saw how he was deserving of death for his deeds but pondered on what would become of him when he dies. He was both fearful and afraid.

This story was inspired by a passage from the bible as follows:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:32-43 ESV.

Reflection

I realised that even when we are guilty of our wrong doings, we may still choose not to have the guilt.

Just like Seau who had the pride to speak his mind even to the point of death. It did not matter at all that he had committed those crimes or what would become of him when he dies. He was even capable of chiding others who may be innocent or able to help him.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

Ican saw his state and knows he was doomed. He was in distress and at the end of the road. The uncertainty was eating him up. The passage stated that the man who turned to Jesus to ask for help was given eternal hope. The other guy missed it when it was just there for him, and it was free.

I pray for humility and wisdom.