Nearly six more pain ridden hours are ahead now. Jesus has been crucified&emdash;nailed and hoisted up into his final position for slow death. His breathing comes more slowly now, since He has to thrust with all his physical might against that single iron spike driven through His feet, just to relieve the pressure of his body weight pulling down against His lungs. He takes a breath, and another, then immediately sinks back and hangs all his weight against His throbbing, nail pierced hands. His time for death is now sure. What will He do? With eyes swollen nearly shut from multiple floggings to the head, He glances down at a Roman soldier, then declares with his remaining breath: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
by Jerry Gentry
"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).
We live in a world where genuine forgiveness is almost unknown, nearly as rare and fleeting as true love. Getting even has become a way of life. Revenge is a favorite theme of novels and Hollywood movies. If genuine love is the power that motivates us, the wind in the sails of our ship of life, then forgiveness descends as our rudder, controlled by the helm, that keeps our ship balanced and moving straight ahead. Through forgiveness, Jesus held his rudder in place and kept his life purpose on course, even through those final six hours of excruciating suffering and unbearable pain on the cross, while others mocked.
Each of us today may be likened to the captain of a ship sailing on a journey across an ocean called life. We each one stand at the helm, or wheel, of our own vessel. The power that propels our vessel forward is the wind that fills our sails, a fitting analogy of the love that motivates us to move forward in life.
For without genuine love, our ship never raises a sail, never leaves harbor. We are moored at the dock, never having made a commitment to that journey called a Christian life. Yet even with sails flying high and wind thrusting us along at a good clip, our lives filled with the love of God, we must give judicious attention to our helm, or wheel, that controls our rudder, if we will arrive safely at our destination. For without our rudder locked under control, we know our ship will stray off course, and carry us into places we never planned to go.
The Bible says, "And above all things have fervent charity [love] among yourselves: for charity [or love] shall cover the multitude of sins" (1Pet. 4:8). What kind of love "shall cover the multitude of sins?" It is in fact the kind of love that is guided by a rudder of forgiveness that covers sins. Forgiveness is that rudder that purifies "your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren" (1Pet. 1:22). Forgiveness is that guide whereby we leave it to God to even the score with those who have offended us. "For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). You see, love has a flip side. For without the love that forgives, love goes out of control and turns into a hurricane of hate and animosity. Without forgiveness, love turns into a "root of bitterness," whereby "many be defiled" (Hebr. 12:15). Love without the rudder of forgiveness is a kind of love gone mad, that leads to revenge, either in thought or in deed. It creates a seething malcontent deep within our hearts.
Without that shepherd or guide of forgiveness, focus blurs, direction meanders and Godly purpose slides. The unforgiving person drifts aside into anger, and swerves into whirlpools and eddies of criticism. He becomes preoccupied and distracted through bitterness and unresolved conflict. He answers back with self justification and resentment when confronted with sin. He points a finger at his authorities. Unforgivers "despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." (2Pet. 2:10). Rage and sharp winds fill the sails of their ships to dangerous over-capacity. There is something about unforgiveness in the life of a Christian that boils and seethes and eats away at his inner man, that turns his smile into a frown. These malcontents "whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words" (Ps. 64:3). Yes, love gone astray is no love at all.
When a captain stands at the helm of his ship, he must give diligence. He must keep the wheel constantly in his hands, eyes fixed on his compass, through gentle breezes, through wind and rain, through calm, even through near hurricane blasts. He must control the rudder, if he will keep his ship on course. He has made full commitment to this voyage. There is no turning back. No captain worth his salt will abandon his ship.
What happens if that captain steps away from the wheel just for a few minutes, leaving it unattended? His ship begins to veer off course. Unless course is corrected, that ship will soon turn in wide circles. And so it is with our lives. When we fail to forgive, we are thrown off course immediately. Discontent sets in at first. Our helm starts to spin out of control. Our rudder veers away from the fruits of the spirit. It is our responsibility to bring our rudder under control, or our lives will veer off course as surely as a ship with its wheel spinning out of control, its rudder aimlessly following the path of least resistance.
What is it about exercising forgiveness that keeps us on course, like the rudder of a ship under its captain's firm control? How is it that lack of forgiveness frees our rudder to take the course of least resistance?
In what is commonly called the Lord's prayer, we all say: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt 6:12). That prayer is either our self professed blessing, or it becomes our own worst curse. Jesus said, "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:37). When we pray the Lord's prayer, not having fully forgiven others in our hearts, we are actually asking God to treat us even "as we forgive our debtors." In other words, when we fail to forgive others, God deals with us as we deal with others in this life.
He said, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). You see, God's mercy does not overextend his justice. When we fail to forgive, our own sin is exposed to the wrath of a just and fearsome God, who demands justice! Justice demands payment, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Yes, "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shown no mercy" (James 2:13).
Jesus taught this lesson well, when Peter came "to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Matt 18:21).
"Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (v. 22).
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants (v. 23).
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents (v. 24).
"But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made (v. 25).
"The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all (v. 26).
"Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt (v. 27).
"But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest (v. 28).
"And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all (v. 29).
"And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt (v. 30).
" So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done" (v. 31).
"Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me (v. 32).
"Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? (v. 33).
"And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him (v. 34).
"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (v. 35).
What does this mean? It means that unforgiveness brings torment of soul, spirit and body. It brings sickness and disease, trouble and heartache. It brings unrest, fear, doubt, worry. Failure to forgive brings on tormentors in this life of greater and greater measure with a design of bringing that unforgiving Christian into forgiveness. We have all seen mental patients. Many of their troubles began when they allowed their rudder of forgiveness to go out of control. After being deeply hurt, they failed to forgive. That seething unforgiveness churned in their hearts and out grew a root of bitterness, gall and wormwood.
It is not a part of the natural heart of man or woman to forgive. The natural man in every one of us wants to get revenge, get even. We want to settle the score, on our own terms. We want to get back. But if we will hold our rudder on course, we will forgive. Even as Jesus forgave, we too will say, Father, forgive them.
Father, forgive them. What difficult words. Will you be forgiven in this life of your sins, brother and sister? Will you have your own sins covered now? The apostle Paul said: "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).
Can we too say, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered" (Rom. 4:7).
Christians are taught, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32).
"To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ" (2Cor. 2:10).
The price of forgiveness is the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He forgave us much. He forgave the "ten thousand talents." Can we forgive one another the little "hundred pence," though it seems like so much more, at times?
The love that forgives, and keeps our ship of life on course, always says, "Father, forgive them!"