The gift of forgiveness

“Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.” – Psalm 130:3,4 NLT

For me, this is one of my favorite focuses of the Lenten season. So much of the scripture that we read this time of year is about Jesus’ death and suffering, resurrection and what it means for us.

His death means forgiveness.

If there is anyone who can appreciate the value of the gift of forgiveness, I think King David fits the bill. David’s sins are recounted in Old Testament, both as an example of what not to do (murder and adultery) and what to do (repentance and humility)

When I think back on all of the sins I have committed in my life, the wrongs I’ve done against others, the pain I’ve caused with thoughtless words and actions, it’s overwhelming. I imagine myself standing on one side of a pair of scales, with my sins piled high on the other. I imagine those sins, all the way up to the ceiling and out the door, about to take me over. How could God possibly find me acceptable?

And yet, our Father does not keep account of our sins — he doesn’t hold a grudge. He sees them, every single one, and mourns for us in our pain — just as we mourn a child who has chosen to act in a way that we know will bring harm. And when we finally see the light, and repent of our sin, He is there, welcoming us back. He offers us forgiveness, by means of our repentance and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice. He never shuts off communication with us, never builds up walls, never holds it against us.

And what is the purpose of this forgiveness? Verse four says it’s so  “that we might learn to fear you.”

Fear, not in the human sense, but in the holy sense. Fear meaning reverence and awe; the desire to obey our Father because his will is perfect for us, and when we live within his will, we are happy. No built up walls, no grudges. He is there.

“…hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is unfailing love… – Psalm 130:7, NLT

 

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“Come down off the cross.” — Luke 23:39

I recently completed a study of Luke chapters 17-24, and as powerful as Luke’s narrative is, this scripture really stood out for me.

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself — and us, too, while you’re at it! — Luke 23:39,  NLT

When we read this passage during our family Bible study, it led to an excellent discussion about God’s will versus our will.

Imagine how terrible it was for Jesus to face crucifiction, knowing that he really could come down off the cross. Yet, He chose to die for our sins. Of the two criminals next to him, one jeered and said, “So if you’re the Messiah, save us!” He recognized Jesus — by that time, everyone in the area knew who he was — but he had no understanding of who Jesus really was; he thought he was just another evildoer, and passed him off as a crazy or an eccentric. The evildoer had no concept of what Jesus was really doing. In contrast, the criminal on his other side rebuked the first:

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” — Luke 23:40-43, NLT

Scripture does not tell us why these men were being executed, but we see the drastic difference between the two. One scoffed until his dying breath; the other knew who Jesus was and recognized his difference. And his faith  assured that Jesus welcomed him into his kingdom. Even before a single one of Christ’s apostles set foot in heaven, this criminal was there! How heartwarming for us, the value of faith, and the knowledge that the acceptance of Christ is truly our salvation!

How often do we find ourselves questioning our faith in God’s will for us? We want Him to come down off the cross and “prove it,” rather than realizing that His purpose for us is greater, and more far-reaching than we can imagine.