Once a friend of mine prayed for people at the end of a church service. That day his wife was taking pictures.
Afterwards, one of the young men who had received prayer came to talk to my pastor friend. “Pastor, something strange happened while you were praying for me. It’s like there was a flash of light. What do you think it means?”
My friend may have been tempted to offer a super-spiritual explanation but he simply told him that it was probably the flash from his wife’s camera.
Have you ever had a flash? I’m not talking to you ladies over 50. “Flashes? Sweetie, you don’t know the half of it. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to smother.” Not hot flashes, but a “flash,” when suddenly you see something you’d never completely seen before.
It happened to me once at the end of a service when I was still in Luxembourg. I had preached on our need to forgive others, and had noted that on the Cross Jesus even said, “”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” to those who hadn’t even asked for forgiveness.
One of my friends, André, led the communion service which followed and he tagged on to the idea with something that bowled me over. He reminded us of these words of the Lord Jesus:
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (NIV)
“Jesus knew that he was shortly going to offer his blood on the altar of heaven,” André reasoned. “He forgave them, even if they didn’t ask for forgiveness. He made things right with those who were angry with him, before entering the temple of heaven to give his blood.”
How about those calloused soldiers under the Cross, gambling for his clothes like a pack of dogs fighting over a bone with a scrap of meat still hanging to it? He offered them forgiveness.
And those smart-alec priests, mocking and making rude jokes at the expense of the dying Savior? “He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now if He cares for Him…” they sneered, unconscious of repeating the very words of the prophecy of the Messiah’s sufferings in Psalms 22:8. Forgiveness for them? Jesus offered it.
A little parenthesis here. I don’t think anything makes me madder in the whole story than the mocking priests.
“He saved others—he can’t save himself! King of Israel, is he? Then let him get down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then! He was so sure of God—well, let him rescue his ‘Son’ now—if he wants him! He did claim to be God’s Son, didn’t he?” (The Message).
Right there I would have been sorely tempted to say, “Time out Father!” Then I might have descended from the Cross, grabbed one of those yammering priests by the front of his robe, lifted him into the air and slapped him three of four times. “You don’t know who you’re messing with, buddy,” I would have snarled. Then I would have gotten back onto the Cross and finished the job.
He could have. He could have called ten-thousand angels and blasted all his enemies into oblivion. But he didn’t. He offered them forgiveness.
He kept His heart right so that He could do His job. If He had hated those who were crucifying Him, could He have offered His gift, His blood, in heaven’s temple?
I wonder if attitudes of unforgiveness don’t keep me from being as effective for the Lord as I should be. Can I effectively offer my service in the Kingdom of the Lord if I’m ticked off against someone else? Can the sweetness of God’s love overcome a bitter root in me, a root that refuses to forgive pain that someone else caused me?
Fact is, unforgiveness will always keep me from being all that God wants me to be. Forgiveness is as important to me as it is to the person to whom I give it. That person may refuse my forgiveness. Most of those around the Cross refused the Lord’s forgiveness.
But it was offered.
This is heavy stuff. It’s easy to talk about being like the Lord, Forgiveness is tough and at times I have to come back to the Lord over and over again because my emotions want to take up the battle once more.
When it’s possible (and it often is), we need to make a move towards that other person and try to settle things between us. That doesn’t mean they are right. That means that unforgiveness in our life makes us wrong whether we were wronged or not.
Here’s something I ran across in a Washington Post article. Fabiola Briones says, “”A hand went inside of me, and I felt God was pulling out roots,” she said from the pew of a Pentecostal service here last week. “I know now that they were the roots of bitterness. I forgave my ex-husband, and I was healed from the abuse.”
May God give us, not only a “flash” to recognize this truth, but the power of His Spirit to put it into action in our lives.