Luke 23:34, Jesus said :
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, a subject of ridicule and shame, in agony and injustice meted out by the hand of man, instead of pouring down fire and brimstone to destroy his persecutors and killers, he utters these sweet words which is beyond human comprehension. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” We can take heart from this characteristic of the divine nature. He is slow to anger and does not deal with us according to our sins. Rather, He is patient and forgiving.
When other religions of the world live by the doctrine of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, Christianity teaches us to forgive. When others propagate hate and revenge, the Word of God teaches us to love our enemies and leave vengeance to God [Deut.32:35; Heb.10:30]. Romans 12:19-21 says : “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. [Prov.25:21,22] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 6:12,14, 15; and in Lk.11:4, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray: And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.; and he goes on to say:"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." So we see that it is only when we have forgiven others [been patient with the wrong they have done us for we cannot forgive like God – we can only overlook their faults and make allowances for them] that God will forgive the sins that we have committed against Him. If we hold on to a grudge against someone [especially one who is a brother/sister in Christ] we remain in that sin and God cannot forgive us as long as we continue to hold that grudge; you see, that grudge is a sin! If we get rid of that grudge (turn aside from it, repent) and forgive (which is synonymous with forgetting), then we are ready to receive God’s forgiveness.
When Peter asks Jesus [in Matthew 18:21,22] “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy times seven.” This would mean an unlimited number of times. Do you know why Jesus said this? What does this teaching bring to mind? As I pondered on our Lord’s teaching here, I saw my imperfect self continually sinning against God and His forgiving me times without number (1 John 1:7,9). We are taught here to do likewise. It is for our good that Jesus taught us such. As long as we remain unforgiving, the grudge/anger burns a hole in our minds and poisons our thinking [and indeed our entire system]. The only thought then that occupies our attention at all times would be upon revenge taking – how may we hurt the offender; how do I get even. Then, when we are able to hurt him/her, we compound our sin of having an unforgiving heart – it becomes bigger. Does it satisfy us? Perhaps – perhaps not. But it does not please God because judging, punishing, condemning belongs to God not to us. That is why the Word of God teaches us in Romans 12:18-21: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In Mark 11:25, 26 our Lord says, "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." God can forgive us only when we have forgiven someone who has wronged us, otherwise, He can’t and won’t forgive us. This is God’s rule, His law, and His principle. This is what Jesus is teaching.
In 2 Corinthians 2:7, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to forgive the erring brother and reaffirm their love for him (v.8)
Paul speaking to the Ephesians says in Eph.4:31,32 “You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. But instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”
Finally, in Colossians 3:12-17, Paul urges the Christians in Colosse "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you too forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart, for you were in fact called to this peace, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
When the word of Christ richly dwells in Christians, they have the heart of their Lord Jesus Christ and even as Christ forgave His enemies, His followers do likewise. With Christ dwelling in His followers, they become different from the world and through their attitudes and actions, the Lord Jesus Christ shines forth as a bright light in a dark world. This leads to GOD being thanked, honoured and glorified.
To GOD be the glory now and always, in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen.