(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)
As Christmas approaches and our world continues seeking some sense of normalcy during this pandemic, some people are not social distancing from family because of the virus. Some are grieving over unresolved family conflicts. Some have given up on broken relationships long before the pandemic. And some are licking their wounds and widening divisions over differing opinions on masks, politics, and tension caused by racism and an idolatrous sense of nationalism.
Instead of singing carols about Jesus’ birth, some are crushing hearts with careless words and graphics shared on social media.
Not many of us can escape the crossfire.
The enemy doesn’t have to work hard to divide God’s people when we do most of the legwork work for him.
As I prayerfully prepared to write this Christmas article multiple times, I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. After a few personal attacks I endured over the last year , I’d allowed resentment and bitterness to take root in my heart.
How could I write about celebrating the birth of Christ if I couldn’t obey the Greatest Commandment ̶ to love God and to love my neighbor as I love myself?
The Bible clearly explains God’s command to love our neighbors includes all people who are created in His image no matter what their beliefs, differences, or sins.
When I truly love my neighbors, I’ll treat them as Jesus would treat them.
It’s easy to love the kind neighbors, the neighbors who agree with me, who encourage me, who understand me, who stick up for me, who don’t rub me the wrong way.
But Jesus calls me to love the neighbors who need the most grace, the neighbors who are as depraved and dependent on God’s mercy as I am.
How can I do this if I allow pride and hurt to fester until gaps of resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness feel too wide and too deep to repair?
I cried out to God, trying to justify the list of people I had tucked in the dark corners of my unforgiving heart. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”
But I’m angry.
But I’m tired of forgiving when there seems to be no remorse, no repentance, no willingness to listen to learn or even empathize.
But I’m still hurt.
But I’m afraid to get hurt again.
As I wrestled with God, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.
While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for my sins, He paid the insurmountable debt my wickedness earned.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
Our loving Savior intended on offering us radical forgiveness before He left His heavenly throne, put on flesh, and allowed Himself to be wrapped in swaddling cloth and placed in a manger.
During Christ’s earthly ministry, He had countless reasons to hold grudges, to become bitter, to seek revenge, to refuse to forgive . . . especially when He chose to endure the suffering on the cross.
But as He looked on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).
The ones Jesus loved, the ones Jesus asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.
In Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (p. 3).
Though I’ve read this book over half a dozen times and have read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I still choke up when I consider the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.
Am I truly willing to love with such selflessness?
When we think of Jesus in the manger, we cannot forget Jesus on the cross.
So this year, would you join me in asking God to help us give the gift of radical forgiveness for Christmas?
No more pleas for payback.
No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.
No more harboring resentment.
When we ask God to help us release our offenders into His loving and merciful hands, we can trust Him to work in and through their lives as He continues working in and through our lives.
The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.
When we offer radical forgiveness, we’re not condoning, minimizing, or even forgetting an offense. God is righteous and just. He is full of compassion and understands our need to process, heal, and sometimes close the door on a relationship.
But when we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer have to carry burdens that don’t belong to us.
We can choose victorious freedom through right relationships with God and others instead of insisting on being right, gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness, or demanding apologies before forgiving.
As imperfect humans in desperate need of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, we will need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of our lives. We’ll need prayer and encouragement every step of the way.
Radical forgiveness requires an ongoing commitment to surrender to the Holy Spirit but begins with the choice to love Jesus and love others like Jesus loves us.
Will you give the gift of radical forgiveness for Christmas this year?
Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love. Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of a relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I ordered a revised and updated copy of Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God has used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.
I’ll be reading Total Forgiveness as I read through the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread Ministries reading schedule, which is posted with each day’s devotion starting on January 1, 2021.
Please let me know if you are going to join me in reading Total Forgiveness and/or if you are going to join me in reading through the Bible in 2021, which only take 15 minutes per day (30-45 minutes if you read slow like me).
I look forward to growing with you!
To inhale God’s truth, exhale prayers and praises, and rest in God’s presence, please join me for Pause for Prayer: Thriving through the Wait by subscribing to my new YouTube Channel today.