“Forgive us, for we know not who we really are”

Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” in response to his killers and the mob rule that got him killed. He looked beyond their actions to the ignorance that caused them.

I hope desperately, therefore, that the Holy Spirit will do the same for me in my response to the actions of government, the medical profession, schools, psychotherapists and parents allowing young children to decide who they really are and identify as. Children have no idea who or what they are. I know I didn’t. I wasn’t born with an inbuilt understanding of who I was or what my purpose on this planet was before I died. Those things did not come to me naturally. I needed to be taught those things by people in the know.

But therein lies the problem, right? Because who are these people “in the know”? Who actually knows for certain who or what we really are, and what our purpose is? And who knows for certain that those people “in the know” really know? And to what ultimate source do we go for confirmation? Science? But those who believe young children know who they are ignore science. Politicians? But politicians hardly ever agree on anything, and the same goes for philosophers, psychologists, mystics and religious folks. It’s total confusion out there.

And that’s what Jesus saw when he looked out on the crowds following him wherever he went. He saw them as sheep without shepherds, and that’s what really got to him. Here were all these lovely humans, struggling with all sorts of mental illnesses and sicknesses that no one had any idea how to solve. They had no idea what their purpose in life was either, other than following a culture shaped by people who were messed up mentally themselves.

And isn’t that the way it is today? The people we idolize for their great wisdom turn out to be corrupt and selfish, and their ideas and teachings conflict. Not only can’t they agree on who and what we are before we’re born, they now can’t agree on who and what we are after we’re born too.

So we still have no certain idea as to who or what we are. Like a field of corn, meanwhile, we sway to wherever the prevailing wind of culture blows us, and we have no idea if we’re in the right track or not. But rather than condemn and berate people, Jesus saw ignorance as reason to ask God to forgive them. Could God do the same for us today, therefore, and forgive us for still not knowing who we really are?


Why did Jesus heal people?

When Jesus healed people it was to show them their sins were forgiven. And to a Jew in the first century that was probably the greatest news he could hear, because the entire nation had been waiting for God’s forgiveness for a long time. Forgiveness would be the sign that their time of exile was over and God would restore their nation to its former glory.

It was all there in Isaiah 40:2 – “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” And when would this happen? When they’d hear “A voice of one calling in the desert,” verse 3, “prepare me the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God,” and that’s when, verse 5, “the glory of the Lord will be revealed.”

Imagine being a Jew, then, and hearing John the Baptist in John 1:23 repeat Isaiah 40:3 as a description of himself, and “the next day,” verse 29, when “John saw Jesus coming toward him,” he announces, “‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'” In other words, the forgiveness Isaiah had predicted had arrived.

Jesus then confirmed John’s announcement when he healed a paralyzed man in Mark 2:10, so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Healing was Jesus’ way of showing them he truly was the Lamb of God who’d come to forgive their sins. And with forgiveness came the realization – for those with their ears to the rails – that their long-awaited time of healing had come, and a new future beckoned.

And when James wrote to “the twelves tribes scattered among the nations” in James 1:1, he gave them the same message, that if any of them had sinned they would be forgiven, James 5:15, so feel free, therefore, to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Again, healing and forgiveness went hand-in-hand, as evidence that God had forgiven Israel’s sins, and a prayer offered by an Israelite elder in belief of that, verse 16, would “make the sick person well,” and “the Lord will raise him up.” A believing prayer in what God had now made possible through Jesus was that “powerful and effective” (verse 16).

Imagine the effect healing would have had, then, on Jews and the rest of the scattered tribes, wanting to know if their time of exile was truly over and God had truly forgiven them, and he really was raising them up and making them well again…

“You’re forgiven, you’re forgiven!”

I wonder how many kids grow up in homes (and schools) where they’re constantly yelled at and punished for making mistakes. I wonder how it affects them in later life, too.

I know how it affected me, because much of my childhood was spent in a British Boarding school and I have vivid memories of how I was treated. I remember being locked in a room for bad behaviour and being left in total isolation, and many times being hauled out of bed at midnight to stand outside in the corridor, shivering with cold for hours. And during my teenage I was constantly being punished, the punishment sometimes extending for weeks.

I learnt that the only way adults could deal with my lapses and stupidity was by punishment. They weren’t the least bit interested in my apologies or explanations for my behaviour, and there was never a hint of forgiveness. The only time I remember an adult even mildly accepting my apology and reason for my behaviour, the punishment was meted out anyway. So I assumed that even if I was forgiven, I’d still be punished.

Not surprisingly then, when I became a Dad, I thought this was the way I should deal with my own children. I based my relationship with them on their behaviour. I didn’t forgive easily, if at all, until I realized how God operates. It was an eye-opener! All I could hear from God’s word was, “You’re forgiven, you’re forgiven!” Every stupid mistake I’d made, every lousy action I’d done, every rotten mood I’d ever been in, all of them had been erased by Christ’s death and wiped from God’s memory forever, Hebrews 8:12.

Years of guilt and self-loathing evaporated in seconds. My head was clear of it. It was so freeing that when I heard a crash in the kitchen and found my granddaughter cowering in the corner, crying her eyes out because she’d broken one of our dishes, I knew exactly what to do. I grabbed her by the shoulders and I yelled at her, “You’re forgiven, you’re forgiven!”

The effect was electric. She looked up at me, stopped crying, and said, “OK,” and off she went, as happy as can be. It was amazing. I’d never experienced the power of forgiveness on someone else like that before. Her mind was completely cleared of all guilt and self-loathing and off she scampered as if the incident had never happened.

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said in Matthew 9:2 – or – “Cheer up, kiddo, it’s already forgotten.” Imagine growing up in a home (and a school, and a church) like that.

Is forgiveness really that important?

in Luke 24:47, Jesus tells his disciples “forgiveness of sins must be preached among all the nations.” Jesus wants the whole world woken up to God’s forgiveness through his disciples relentlessly preaching the message of forgiveness publicly.

Jesus goes one step further, though, because in John 20:22-23 Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples and tells them, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus wants his disciples forgiving people personally too, so that people learn about God’s forgiveness through our forgiveness, and they get to experience what being forgiven is like, too. If I don’t forgive a person on the other hand, he won’t learn about God’s forgiveness, and he won’t get to experience being forgiven is like. So my forgiving someone personally – and letting the whole world know about forgiveness publicly – are hugely important to Jesus in showing people that their sins truly are forgiven. And that’s why he breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, to enable us to preach forgiveness publicly and to practice it privately.

And why is that important? Because if people don’t believe their sins are forgiven they’re stuck with all the mental and emotional damage their unforgiven shame, regrets and guilt are doing to them – until they believe.

The one gigantic wall holding people back from knowing God loves them – and being able to love him in return – is their guilt, because (as one author asked), “What do you do about the things you did yesterday that you are sorry for? What do you do about that sharp word, that loveless deed, that selfish attitude, that malicious lie you told? These things stack up in our lives and build a residue of guilt that haunts us from the subconscious. How do you relieve this guilt? Here is the good news: There is forgiveness of sins. Every morning, every day, a dozen times a day you can claim again this wonderful sense of the forgiveness of sin, because ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ 1 John 1:9.”

Our great cry as Christians to the world is, “Your sins are forgiven,” and not to hold back on preaching it publicly and practicing it privately, because we know what being unforgiven feels like. Without forgiveness the mess in our heads continues to haunt us, causing us all sorts of stress and anguish, and even serious mental illness, NONE of which is necessary because “every one who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name,” Acts 10:43.

Can Christians forgive sins too?

In John 20:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It sounds like Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to forgive sins. Do Christians today, then, have the authority to forgive and not forgive other people’s sins as well?

Well, of course I can tell people their sins are forgiven because, thanks to Christ, their sins are forgiven. I have the full right and authority to say to a person that no matter what he or she has said, thought or done, it has already been forgiven, because “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting mens’s sins against them,” 2 Corinthians 5:19. Every sin, no matter how severe or awful, has already been dismissed and neutralized by the full authority of God, because, verse 21, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus took all our sin into and onto himself.

So when my granddaughter broke one of our dishes and she was devastated I grabbed her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and with all the authority of God, Scripture, the world being reconciled to God in Christ’s sacrifice, and Christ taking all our sin into himself, I pronounced her “forgiven.” And was she forgiven? Well, of course she was, because there isn’t a sin, mistake, deliberate nasty act, or insensitive stupidity in her life that wasn’t forgiven by Christ’s death. Breaking our dish was already forgiven 2,000 years ago.

So I’d done my part correctly, by pronouncing her forgiven. The focus then turned to her, as to whether she believed me, or not. If she believed me, that yes, her mistake was totally forgiven, she could run off feeling totally free of all guilt and worry. If, on the other hand, she doubted me, then I would have to say, “Well, if that’s what you prefer to believe – that you’re not forgiven – then fine, you’re not forgiven and you can jolly well live with the consequences, my dear. Let your guilt and worry continue. You’re a silly fool, because Christ died to free you of all guilt and worry, but that’s your choice not to believe me, so I pronounce you ‘not forgiven,’ and may you live with what it feels like not being forgiven until you believe you are forgiven.”

It’s like the person who “does not believe standing condemned already” in John 3:18. That’s his choice, so with all the authority of Christ I can say, “You can jolly well live with your choice not to believe, and may you stand condemned until you believe.”