Forgiveness is a central theme in the Bible. Critical is the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins in this life and eternity. And from our side, critical is our willingness to forgive others who sin against us.
God forgave us all our sins and transgressions against him. Jesus paid the entire sin debt and made a way for us to be rightly related with the Father through his sacrifice. He forgave us of such an enormous debt, that any offense against us by another person pales in comparison.
He expects us, likewise, to forgive others. Refusal to forgive an offender effects their lives little, but can do great damage to the one holding a grudge. Most importantly, the Lord tells us if we don’t forgive others, he won’t forgive us. Unforgiveness sets a barrier between us and the Lord; and us and the offender. The Lord unleashes “tormentors” to torment us; and over time we can become bitter and isolated. Unforgiveness hinders answers to our prayers.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, often comes to mind as an outstanding example of forgiveness in action. Accused of blasphemy for preaching the gospel, he was arrested and tried before an elite Jewish council. They accused him of blasphemy against Moses, the law, the temple and God. (Acts 7)
Stephen masterfully turned the tables on his accusers. Point by point he demonstrated from the Scriptures that, indeed, they were the blasphemers. His rock-solid indictment Infuriated them to the point of speechlessness, and as an enraged mob they drove him from the temple. Once outside the city, they brutally stoned him to death.
At the point of death, his heart filled with love and mercy for his murders. “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” With his dying breath, he asked the Father to forgive them.
In Stephen’s final act, he followed in the footsteps of his Lord whom he so loved. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, he looked down on those who viciously abused and crucified him. He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) So blinded by sin, they couldn’t understand that they were killing the Son of God. In love and mercy, Jesus appealed to the Father to forgive them.
Such profound examples of forgiveness. And such limitless forgiveness extended to us. And so much at stake if we withhold forgiveness. Why would we fail to forgive?