they immediately think of running, sports, and athletics. But there is another symbol that is even more recognized around the world. Any guesses?
While many consider Coke to be the most recognizable business symbol or business logo in the world, there is one symbol that tops even Coke…
the cross. The cross is the most recognizable symbol in the world and it isn’t just a symbol of Jesus Christ or the Christian Church, it is a symbol of the application we are going to talk about today. Many of us may have a cross somewhere in our home or on a piece of jewelry and we may look at it every day but I’m not sure we see in it a very practical principle God wants us to apply – but it’s there. The cross is a symbol of forgiveness because it is through the cross that we have been forgiven by God.
Let’s take just a moment and go back and think about the cross. The cross was actually a means of execution used by the Romans in the first century so when Jesus was condemned to die by the Roman Emperor Pontius Pilate, the means of execution was a cross. Now we often think about Jesus hanging up high on a cross
but we learned a few months ago during our 24 Hours that Changed the World series that most likely Jesus was only a few feet off the ground when he was crucified so he would have been very close to the crowd. If we stop and think about it, this makes a lot of sense.
Since crucifixions were the means of execution used by Rome, they wanted the cross to be a deterrent to crime, which meant they wanted people to see just how painful it was to die on a cross. To crucify people high on a cross and far away from the crowd would not have been much of a deterrent, but for the people to see someone crucified up close and personal and to hear their cries of help and see the body convulse under the pain they were experiencing would have sent a powerful message to the people. When they crucified Jesus, Rome was making a statement, they were saying, “this is what will happen to you if you call yourself a King and this is what awaits you if you lead a revolution against the established order and authority.”
When Jesus was crucified, Rome was sending a powerful message to the people but Rome was not the only one sending a message that day, so was God. Because the people could get close to Jesus that day, think about what they heard, they not only heard cries of anguish and pain, but they heard Jesus say, Father forgiven them. God calls us to come close to the cross so that we can hear the message that we are forgiven and so that we can see just how much God loves us and just how far God is willing to go to forgive us. It is from the cross that Jesus offered forgiveness which means that it is through the cross – through Jesus’ death on the cross – that we are forgiven.
It is important for us to understand how forgiveness comes to us through the cross. While God created us to be in a relationship with Him, our sin broke that relationship. That’s the story of Adam and Eve. They were created to live in relationship with God, but their disobedience, their sin, destroyed that relationship and the consequence of their sin was that they were not only kicked out of the garden but their separation from God was going to be forever – they would die and return to the dust from which they were created. This is the reality in all of our lives. The Bible says we have all sinned and that the consequence of our sin is death – or separation from God, and on our own there is nothing we can do about this.
But the story doesn’t end there; God loves us so much he doesn’t want us to remain in this state of separation so 2000 years ago God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus to pay the price for our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, God was paying the price for our sin. Our sin was no longer going to be held against us. In other words, we were forgiven. The cross, therefore, is the symbol that God forgives us because God accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf. The price has been paid – but even that is not the end of the story. When Jesus was raised from the dead three days later he shows us that we are not only forgiven, but God raises us up to live a new life. So the cross is a symbol of God’s forgiveness and it reminds us that there is new life that comes with God’s forgiveness.
The cross shows us that we are forgiven, but have we accepted this? Have we embraced the forgiveness of God and allowed it to bring us this new life? If you need to experience the forgiveness of God today and feel the freedom and new life that God’s forgiveness brings, I have good news for you, to receive it, all you have to do is ask. And we ask by simply saying to God in the silence of our hearts, or at the top of our lungs, that we embrace the cross, or accept the forgiveness and new life that God offers. If you have never done that – or if you are feeling the need to do that again today, I want to invite you to pray with me.
God, thank you for loving me so much that you want to live in relationship with me forever and thank you for making that possible through the cross of Jesus Christ. I confess to you that I am a sinner and today I accept the forgiveness you offer me through Jesus. Help me today and every day to accept your grace and commit to living a new life in your power. In Jesus’ name, AMEN
So the cross tells us that we are forgiven, and the cross tells us that God gives us the strength and power to live a new life and a big part of that new life is forgiving others. The app of forgiveness isn’t just about receiving God’s forgiveness, it is also turning to live a life of forgiveness, you see the bottom line is that forgiven people forgive. Say that with me – Forgiven people forgive.
Forgiveness is not something God gives just for us – it is given to us so that we will turn and forgive others. So forgiveness is a principle God gives us but as we heard last week just hearing about God’s forgiveness is not enough, just accepting God’s forgiveness for ourselves is not enough we have to apply this principles to our lives and relationships because application is everything.
Now Jesus makes it clear that forgiven people need to forgive by telling us a parable found in Matthew 18. In the parable there is a man who has gone deep into debt and he has borrowed money from his king. When the time comes to repay the loan, he can’t and in those days you couldn’t declare bankruptcy and just walk away. If you couldn’t repay your debt, you and your family were sold into slavery with the money going to the lender. As the king was considering doing this, the man begged the king to reconsider. The king decided to forgive the man his debt and let both him and his family go free. Now in Jesus’ parable, the king represents God and the man in debt is us and the point of the parable so far is that God forgives us, but the parable goes on. The man who had been forgiven left the king and immediately ran into a man who owed him money and instead of forgiving him, he had him thrown into prison until he could repay him. Now when the king heard about it he was outraged and said to the man, Matt. 18:32-33.
The message of the parable is clear – God has forgiven us and so we need to forgive others. Forgiven people forgive. The principle Jesus calls us to apply to our lives is that forgiven people forgive and forgiveness is something Jesus taught over and over again. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us that we need to forgive others as we have been forgiven. When asked how many times we should forgive Jesus said not once or twice, not even 7 or 77 times but all the time. Forgiveness is the foundation for our faith and Jesus didn’t just come to tell us that we have been forgiven and even offer us that forgiveness by dying on the cross, he also came to make clear that we also need to forgive others. Forgiveness is the principle God calls us to apply to our lives, but let’s be honest, application here is not easy.
Too many times we struggle to forgive others because we think that there is more satisfaction in holding a grudge than there is forgiveness. Have you ever held a grudge against someone for something they said or did or didn’t do? Whether it’s a spouse, teacher, teammate, coworker or friend, we will hold onto that grudge because it makes us feel good and we don’t want to let that feeling go, but the truth is that the only person who is hurt when we hold a grudge is ourselves. There was a time I was determined to hold a grudge against a friend of mine and I’m not proud to say this, but sometimes it felt good to be mad at him, so I held that grudge for a long time, years in fact,. Then one day someone said something to me that made me realize that this person didn’t even know I was mad at him. He had moved out of town, I had no contact with him and was still holding that grudge and he didn’t even know it. I had wasted so much time and energy holding that grudge and the only one who was hurt during that time was me. You see I had to keep feeding the anger and resentment and I had to keep reliving the hurt and the pain and the disappointment over and over again and it consumed so much time and energy and it never allowed the pain to heal. The grudge was consuming me, it was holding me hostage and it was killing me and I wasn’t free until I was willing to forgive.
That is what God wants for us – freedom and new life and that comes when we let go of the grudge and are willing to forgive. So what does the application of this principle look like? What does forgiveness look like? To help us understand forgiveness we are going to first look at a scripture and then a story. So let’s look at Romans 12:17-21.
The first thing to notice here is that Paul doesn’t downplay what has happened to us. Paul chooses his words carefully, he says don’t repay evil for evil and in saying that he is acknowledging that what has caused the hurt and pain in our lives is bad. It is evil. This tells us that forgiveness doesn’t mean we let the other person off the hook by saying what happened to us wasn’t that bad. Forgiveness requires us to acknowledge that what has happened is bad and caused deep pain, but God goes on and says, don’t repay that evil with evil; instead, let God bring justice. So forgiveness means we first acknowledge that the pain in our lives is real, but then it means we trust God to work things out instead of seeking retribution or revenge ourselves.
So we don’t seek revenge, instead we seek to live in peace with those who have hurt us, but again, let’s be clear, living in peace does not mean we live in a close loving relationship with those who have hurt us. Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to friendship. Those who have hurt us don’t have to become our best friends, or any kind of friend. Living at peace simply means we don’t hold things against others and we don’t seek retaliation or revenge. When we don’t seek their destruction or downfall but truly allow God to bring justice and peace, we are set us free. And this is where the story comes in. It is the story of man named Louis Zamperini and his story is told the powerful bestselling book called Unbroken.
Louis Zamperini’s began his career as a runner competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
He had some of the fastest times recorded during those years and then after the Olympics Louis joined the Air Force. In 1942, Louis, along with 2 crewmen, Francis McNamara and Russell Allen Philips, known as Phil, were sent out on a rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean. During that flight their plane, the Green Hornet,
malfunctioned and crashed into the sea. After 33 days adrift at sea where they endured intense hunger and thirst as well as constant shark attacks and at one point enemy gunfire, Francis McNamara died and as Louis and Phil slid McNamara’s body into the sea, Louis vowed that if God would save them, he would serve God forever.
When Louis Zamperini returned home he suffered nightmares, fits of rage and sank into alcoholism and depression and it was during this time that he was consumed by just one thought, returning to Japan, finding Watanabe and killing him. Louis was holding a grudge and that grudge had a grip on him and it was destroying his life. His wife, Cynthia, talked him into going and listening to a new preacher who had come to town named Billy Graham, and while he resisted at first, Louis finally went and heard about the forgiveness that is ours when we come to the cross. Louis finally made that trip to the cross. He accepted the grace and love of God and as he walked up the aisle at the Billy Graham crusade he remember what he had told God in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, if you save me, I will serve you with my life.
Coming to the cross that night changed Louis. He was no longer filled with anger, he was never again plagued by nightmares and his plans for killing Watanabe transformed into a plan to return to Japan to forgive him. In a powerful scene, Louis returned to Japan and faced all his captors and as each guard stood to approach Louis he was seized by a childlike giddy exuberance and before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle, his hand extended and a radiant smile on his face. He was forgiving them, all of them, but one man wasn’t there Mutsuhiro Watanabe.
Watanabe had been on the run since the end of the war and when Louis first returned to Japan he was told that Watanabe had most likely committed hari-kari. But Watanabe had not died and he emerged on the public scene in the late 1990’s, 50 years later. So Louis once again made plans to meet the man who had so severely tortured and abused him. He wrote Watanabe a letter and headed off to Japan to meet him, but that meeting was not to be, but I’d like to share with you the letter Louis wrote:
To Matsuhiro Watanabe,
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that cause me to hate you with a vengeance.
Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war, but also as a human being were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.
The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”
As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison… I asked about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kari, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.
And that is what the application of this principle looks like. Like Louis, we embrace the cross and accept God’s forgiveness for ourselves and then through the grace and power of God alone, we turn to forgive others. And Louis shows us that forgiving others doesn’t mean we let them off the hook or pretend that what they did wasn’t that bad, we need to acknowledge the evil done to us, but we don’t seek revenge, instead we seek to live at peace and even pray for others. Louis’ life story shows us a couple of things. First it shows us that anything can be forgiven and then he shows us that with forgiveness comes freedom. With forgiveness comes life. So I invite you today to accept God’s forgiveness but don’t stop there because forgiven people forgive. Application is everything; forgive, because forgiveness brings life.
Life Apps ~ Forgiveness
Forgiven people forgive.
1. Embrace the cross. Read accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion* and reflect on how Jesus’ death and resurrection brings you forgiveness. In prayer, accept God’s forgiveness.
(*see Matthew 27:32-54, Mark 15:33-47, Luke 23:26-56, and John 19:16-37)
2. Ask God to show you what grudges you are holding on to. What kind of freedom would you experience if you let go of the grudge?
3. Letting go of the grudge (forgiveness) does not excuse the pain caused to you, acknowledge the reality of what has been done to you but then give it to God.
4. Ask God to show you what it will mean to forgive those who have hurt you. What one step can you take to forgive this person this week?
5. Share this situation with a trusted friend who can pray with you and help you seek God’s forgiveness and the power to live a life of grace and mercy.