As she recalls in her book called ‘The Hiding Place” Dutch Christian Corrie Ten Boom was confined in a concentration camp at Ravensbruck, Germany for her part in sheltering Jews from their Nazi oppressors during World War 2. Her father died in another camp, and in the dehumanizing conditions of Ravensbruck she was not only humiliated and degraded, but she watched the life of her sister Betsy ebb away. Yet God’s grace was real in her life in the midst of all the suffering, and after the war she actually went back to Germany to preach God’s forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.
Following one service, a man came forward whom she recognized immediately. This man was one of the SS Guards from Ravensbruck, a man who had been one of the cruelest, especially to her sister. Now he stood in front of her with his outstretched hand and said, “It’s wonderful that Jesus forgives all our sins, just as you say.” Corrie froze as all the memories flooded back, but the man carried on.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck. I was a guard there, but since then I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me, but I would like to hear it from you as well. “Fraulein,” he said, “Will you forgive me?”
Corrie stood there paralyzed. She couldn’t forgive. She had been humiliated, and her sister had been killed. At the same time she was ashamed that she could preach about forgiveness but couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive. In her heart she cried, “Lord, forgive me. I can’t forgive.” As she prayed, she felt not only forgiven but set free. The glacier of hate melted inside her, and her hand unfroze. As she reached out her hand and spoke her forgiveness, she felt another burden of the past fall away.
I wonder how I would have reacted if I were in Corrie’s shoes, for that story is very personal to me. In 1939 my father, who was six years old at the time, and his parents, German Jews, fled the city of Bonn and were able to escape, fleeing the country before the soon coming Holocaust. The remainder of my father’s family remained in Germany and were murdered by the Nazis during the war. I wonder if I could have forgiven that SS Guard, for the pain of that experience deeply affects me and my family even to this day.
Whether it’s trauma in our past or pain in the present caused by the offense of another person, all of us are confronted with this challenge of forgiveness. We’re involved in a struggle that is common and constant, the struggle to forgive one another. For we all have been burned by the sin of another, whether it be a family member, a friend, a co-worker, an acquaintance, or in the case of Corrie Ten Boom, a total stranger. And some of those wounds are deep, some of them fresh, some we still smart from years later.
Yet, in the midst of our pain, we have to acknowledge forgiveness is divine in origin and nature. It is supernatural. God helped Corrie Ten Boom at her moment of great need. We must also affirm the fact that there are times it’s only by God’s grace and by the power of His Spirit that you and I can forgive.
As believers, we have received God’s forgiveness, for the sacrifice of Christ He has paid our sin debt in full. As God’s people we are children of the King and a major part of our Kingdom responsibility as the Church is to forgive one another. For God says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
At the same time, there is a critical outreach component of forgiveness. Since forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel message, our understanding, experience, and application of forgiveness will affect our evangelistic effort.
We, the Church, individually and corporately, experience, celebrate and proclaim forgiveness in Jesus’ name. And so a watching world, including people in your life and mine, look on and wonder if those claiming to be forgiven will give that which they’ve received.
The forgiven people are called to be a forgiving people, for this is key to healthy relationships inside the church and outside the church, but it must start with the household of faith, for if we can’t forgive one another, how will we reach a lost and hurting world?
Forgiveness is a topic as vast as it is complex, and because of our limitations, we’re only briefly touching on its evangelistic importance. With that stated, I call your attention to a great book called Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall. It’s an excellent resource and he covers all the bases.
To avoid any confusion let’s attempt to define forgiveness. The word forgive comes from a Greek word which literally means to “lay it down, to let go and leave alone.” Kendall defines forgiveness as “refusing to punish those who deserve it, giving up the natural desire to see them “get what’s coming to them.”
The Lord provides much instruction on forgiveness in Mathew 18:21-34.
Jesus stated that forgiveness requires an unlimited response in Matthew 18:21-22:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
In that day, the rabbis taught three times was Judaism’s limit. Peter thought he was doing phenomenal with seven times. But Jesus made those seem minuscule in comparison. And what He was really doing is setting a new standard which is this – when it comes to keeping a forgiveness scorecard, don’t!
He then told the an illustrative story to make the point:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:23-27).
This slave is in big trouble! Ten thousand talents represented an enormous debt that would be impossible to repay. A denarius was one day’s wage for a laborer. A talent was worth about 6000 dinarii, so 10,000 talents would be 60 million day’s wages, an astronomical figure. But Jesus wasn’t challenging the math whizzes with this number. He was simply exaggerating to make a point.
This poor slave was in a hopeless situation and facing the consequences of his unpayable debt, namely judgment. The king had every right to execute judgment, which would have been totally appropriate in the culture. But what was totally atypical of the culture in Jesus’ day was the king’s shocking response to the slave’s mercy cry – moved with compassion, He released him and forgave him!
What an amazing picture of God’s grace! He has every right to judge and condemn us, but in His mercy and grace, he forgives our sin debt when we cry out to him in faith.
Let us rejoice in God’s forgiveness and begin pondering the expression and proclamation of His forgiveness to others in our witness, which we’ll address in our next submission. Until then, the Lord bless you and keep you!
“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will saved” (Romans 11:13).