Forgiveness changes the course of eternity. It binds the creator of the Universe to a new plan of action. No wonder the Pharisees murmured when Jesus declared a sick man’s sins were forgiven. Who was this human who presumed to tell God what He was going to do with His own creation?
Jesus replied, “Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘pick up your bed and walk?'” To show His authority to forgive sins, Messiah healed the bed-bound man. Nevertheless, more amazing than giving His people the power to heal, is the fact He gave them the power to forgive. Even more startling, He gave them the power to retain other men’s sins.
It is easy to forget we are ambassadors of Christ. As Paul commented, it is our destiny to judge not only angels, but the people of this world as well. God has always chosen to bind Himself with our free will decisions. Although the Father’s original will was to slaughter the Gibeonites, Israel was severely punished for violating Joshua’s agreement not to kill them. Even the throne of David, on which Messiah will sit, was never God’s plan. Kingship was the creation of the LORD’S faithless children.
Messiah said those who receive us receive Him. Yahweh bestows blessing and salvation on those who bind themselves to His people and curses on the enemies of His people. God has so intertwined His life with ours He became human and invades the hearts of all those who love Him.
Perhaps the question we should be asking is, since we are called to act on God’s behalf, whose sins should we forgive and whose should we retain?
While Jesus is clear about our duty to forgive a brother who repents of his sin, it is not clear we should forgive unbelievers, who do not repent, for heinous acts of cruelty. We are told to forgive our debtors, and therefore we are to forgive all trespasses against us, regardless of who commits them. The term trespass, however, is equated with debts in this passage. A man who murders my wife is not my debtor. He has done something far more serious than trespass against me.
But what does Jesus expect from us, when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” Messiah came to be sacrificed for His people. His death was an act of love that was inexplicable to the powers who killed Him. It was a trap they never would have entered into had they understood the consequences of His death.
Jesus’ life was not offered so He could further condemn an already condemned world. Instead, He offered them forgiveness, for it was only by His death that He could save them. It was not a statement of what we should do to unrepentant axe murderers. Indeed, the Nazis knew exactly what they were doing.
In fact, Paul explains, those who live outside the law have been placed under the judgement of civil magistrates. In such cases, the magistrate acts as a minister of God’s righteousness. The magistrate does not bear the sword in vain. He does not spank offenders with it. Instead, he kills them and this is a righteous act of God. It is the concrete manifestation of God’s love for defenseless unbelievers and believers alike.
But what of the servant who was forgiven a large debt, yet refused to forgive another servant who owed him far less? He was turned over to the tormentors by his angry lord. However, in this case the first servant had done far worse than his debtor, who owed only a pittance. Just because someone gets angry in a traffic jam does not mean he must forgive the serial killer who slaughtered his family.
All sin is not equal. Most people would rather be cussed out by an impatient motorist than have the angry driver step out of his car and shoot their children in the head. One is a trespass. The other is a capital crime.
Peter did not forgive Annanias and Saphira. He retained their sins. Solomon brought judgment upon those who betrayed his father, at David’s direction. We stand as the family of the Living God, and while being merciful is essential, to be just is equally important. We stand as a solitary barrier against the evil in this world. Fearless justice is necessary if there will be mercy for the oppressed.
Remember, Jesus is the Rock who crushes all those who will not repent. We are the manifestation of that Rock in this world. As the scriptures tell us in Deuteronomy, all our ways must be judgement, if we are to be like Jesus.