Once upon a time there were two young men named Peter and Frank. Peter and Frank were friends. Not good friends, not best friends, just friends. They saw each other at school, occasionally played on the same teams in sports, and were generally friendly to each other. Peter never gave Frank much thought – and neither did Frank think much about Peter.
One day that all changed. On a beautiful day in July, Frank was riding his brand-new bike down the sidewalk – a little too fast. And on that same beautiful day in July, Peter came running out of his door because he was, once again, late for baseball practice. As fate would have it, Frank was going a little too fast down the same street as Peter’s house was on. And, as fate would have it, Peter burst through his front door seconds before Frank crossed his driveway.
Peter was still zipping up his bag as he ran out the door headed towards the sidewalk. Frank was changing gears to get more speed. This was Frank’s first bike with gears, so it was absolutely amazing to steal a glance at his feet to watch the mechanism guide the chain up and down the gears.
You can probably guess what happened next. WHAM! Frank hit Peter, Peter hit Frank, bags and bikes and baseballs went flying – and so did Peter and Frank. Frank landed on the grassy place near the road, but Peter landed with a CRUNCH on the sidewalk. The doctor would tell him later that he had fractured his wrist and got a concussion – nothing too serious, but it would mean a night in the hospital – and worse, no baseball for the rest of the Summer.
As Peter lay there in his hospital bed, he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t really allowed to sleep much, since the nurses kept waking him up. With his head on the pillow some thoughts began to rumble around in Peter’s mind. “Why would Frank do that? I’ve never done anything to him. I’ve always been really nice to Frank! Frank could have gotten out of the way. And he shouldn’t have been going so fast anyway…”
The more Peter thought about it, the angrier he got. “Nothing even happened to Frank. Not even his bike got a scratch!”
Peter tried to sit up in bed, but when he put pressure on his wrist, it hurt – a lot. And when He finally did manage to sit up… it made his head feel dizzy and achy… and this made him remember that his baseball career was over for the summer. “Maybe forever!”, Peter whispered aloud, through his tightly clenched teeth.
His heart and his mind began to race his head filled with more and more thoughts. “Did Frank do this on purpose? Maybe he did! Wait a minute… I was the last person chosen for the team, and he wasn’t even on it! Maybe he wanted to be, but was jealous. Maybe he wanted me out of the way!”
All through the night, Peter thought of more and more ways that Frank had hurt him, more and more scenarios and plots that Frank must have concocted to stop him from having a good summer, from being a great baseball player, from having any future at all! And Peter began to think of how terrible Frank really was, and how Frank had always been like this, and how Frank had fooled everyone into thinking he was such a good guy, and how Frank would never even be punished for what he’d done because everyone was calling it “an accident.” It was no accident – and Peter was sure.
Peter left the hospital the next day with a cast on his wrist, a list of things he wasn’t allowed to do that summer, and a very big grudge. His clothes were dirty since they were the ones he had come to the hospital in, and his mouth tasted terrible because he hadn’t brushed his teeth since the morning before. The bitter, yucky taste in his mouth was really, really bad. He asked his mom for something to eat on the way home. She smiled and said, “I suppose we can!” They pulled into Frank’s favourite restaurant to get him an orange juice and a breakfast sandwich.
He wolfed down the sandwich and drank the juice – but it wasn’t nearly as good as it used to be. And the bitter taste in his mouth was still there – and it was even worse. He went home and brushed his teeth – with the wrong hand, since the right one was in a cast – and he thought of Frank. He spit out the toothpaste, rinsed with mouthwash, but the bitter taste remained. He brushed again – and it was still there.
No matter what he ate or drank or how much he brushed, his mouth always tasted bitter. Which made Peter even madder at Frank. “This is all Frank’s Fault! He’s why everything tastes bitter!”, Peter yelled at the bathroom mirror.
Then the doorbell rang. Peter’s mom answered the door and yelled upstairs, “Peter, honey, come here. Frank’s at the door!” Peter’s face was red and he had tears in his eyes. In his calmest voice he yelled back, “Ok, mom!”. He quickly washed his face, took a deep breath, and walked down to the entryway. He stood on the bottom step, not willing to come all the way down.
Frank stood there with his baseball cap in his hand, looking at the carpet. Peter took note that the picture on the cap was the crest of team that he would no longer be playing for. “He came to rub it in,” Peter thought.
Frank spoke in a quiet voice, “Hey, Peter. I’m really sorry about what happened. I didn’t mean to crash into you. I was going too fast and I wasn’t looking where I was going. I know you got the worst of it. My bike got a little scratched, but you ended up in the hospital! I just wanted to come over and say that I’m really sorry and that I forgive you too for the accident.”
Peter winced. “Forgive me?” he thought. “You forgive me?” Peter slowly replied.
“Yeah, well”, Frank replied, “I talked to my mom and your mom and they both agreed that it was partly your fault, but I still feel bad, so I wanted to forgive you too. Ok?”
Peter’s face grew red. “Whatever. I have a headache. I need to go.” Peter shot back and stomped upstairs. Frank stood in the doorway for a moment and then walked out, closing the door behind him.
Peter ran up to his room, slammed the door, and grew angrier. The bitter taste in his mouth grew worse. “He forgives me?!“, Peter spoke allowed.
All at once, almost out of nowhere, a plan began to form in Peter’s mind. A plan of revenge. He would get back at Frank. And he knew just how to do it. But he knew he couldn’t be caught, and that no one would understand. His parents had told him to “get over it”. His coach told him “There’s always next season!”. His friends told him “it isn’t that big of a deal” and to “leave it alone”. But he just couldn’t just leave it alone. To Peter, it was a big deal.
The next day Peter laid his trap. His plan was to hide in the bushes outside Frank’s door with a pile of sticks and stones. His plan was to throw the sticks and stones at Frank and then take off as fast as he could. Then Frank would be hurt and they’d be even. Frank would never know what hit him! And so Peter sat there, crouched in the bushes, waiting, seething, with the bitter taste in his mouth getting worse and worse and worse. He tried to spit, but he was afraid the noise would give him away.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Frank came out of his house. He grabbed his bike from the garage and began to peddle down the drive. Peter grinned and grabbed his first stone, throwing it as hard as he could… and WHAM! it hit Frank right in the head – and it bounced off. Frank didn’t even seem to notice it! Peter grabbed another and threw it as hard as he could… and WHAM! he it Frank right in the chest! And again, it just bounced off… and Frank didn’t even seem to notice.
Peter was confused, and saw he had only one chance left before Frank would get away. He grabbed the largest stick, and from his crouched position in the bushes he aimed for Frank’s ankle and swung as hard as he could. WHAM! and this time something did happen.
Instead of Frank feeling hurt… Peter’s head started to hurt… bad! Peter reached up with his hand and touched the spot. He brought his hand down and saw blood on his fingers.
And then, out of nowhere, he suddenly had a pain in his chest! And then, just as out of nowhere, his ankle exploded into pain! His head, his chest, his ankle – all the same places that he had hit Frank, Peter was now bleeding and in excruciating pain. Peter let out a SCREAM of agony!
Frank heard the scream. He turned his bike around. It sounded like it was coming from the bushes by the driveway. He pulled his bike up to it, looked inside, and saw Peter lying there, surrounded by sticks and stones, looking terrible – like he’d been beat up.
“What happened, Peter?!? Are you OK?!?”, Frank asked. “I’m going to go get my mom!”
But Peter, rolling on ground, holding his ankle and his head, shouted back through his tears, “THIS IS YOUR FAULT! I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP! LEAVE ME ALONE!” and forced himself to get to his feet. On his way up he grabbed another stone and threw it at Frank’s face… it hit him right in the cheek, but bounced off… and immediately, a huge, painful scar opened up on Peter’s face. A trickle of blood ran down his chin.
Peter yelled again, “NOW, SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!!” And began to limp, as fast as he could away from Frank, cursing and trying to spit out the bitter taste from his mouth – which had never been worse.
And as he hobbled away, looking more and more pitiful with every step, he thought about Frank. “I hate him so much. He did it to me again. Why do I let him do this to me?” And he began to consider another plan. Tomorrow… when he felt better… he would get bigger stones… and bigger sticks… and really teach Frank a lesson.
And as Peter walked away, planning how he would get revenge on Frank, he noticed that he was actually starting to get used to the bitter taste in his mouth… it was still horrible… but he was getting used to it. And in time… he thought… he might even learn to like it.
This is a story – a parable about unforgiveness – and I hope it helped you learn something, because it’s something a lot of us have experienced.
People do bad things to us – sometimes on purpose, other times by accident – and it’s up to us to decide how we should respond. Jesus said that we are to forgive our enemies, just like He forgave us. Even though we are sinners who break God’s law, God loved us so much He was willing to send Jesus to take the punishment for our sin. In response, Jesus asks us to forgive others too.
That can be hard. Sometimes we want to have revenge, like Peter did to Frank. He thought that if he hurt Frank that he’d feel better – but that wouldn’t help, would it? No, in fact, trying to hurt Frank only made him feel worse.
In my story, the sticks and stones represent our words. Peter was trying to hurt Frank with words, but it wasn’t working. Why? Because Frank had already forgiven Peter. Frank wasn’t angry. Frank new Peter was speaking out of pain, so he wasn’t hurt by Peter’s unkind words.
That’s one of the greatest things about forgiveness. Not only does it show that we love God, but it helps us to love others and to rise above the evil they want to cause us.
Do you remember the bitter taste in Peter’s mouth? The Bible warns us in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble”. Bitterness is what happens when we don’t forgive, and it causes all kinds of trouble for us. Holding onto anger and not forgiving someone is like chewing on an orange peel or a bitter root — it makes everything in life taste worse.
So, if you’ve been hurt, let me encourage you to talk to God about it and forgive the person – not because they deserve it – but because in Jesus God has forgiven you, even though you didn’t deserve it.
The sinless One and judge of mankind was arrested in the middle of the night, dragged into a mockery of a trial where he was falsely accused publicly humiliated. The King of Kings was and brought before the foolish and wicked Herod Antipas, who had beheaded his cousin John the Baptist and wanted Jesus to perform tricks for him – while the religious experts of the day vehemently accused him. The Lord of Lords was then sent to Pontius Pilate, a cowardly prefect who knew Jesus was innocent, whose wife was warned in a dream to let him go, but succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and had Jesus severely beaten in hopes of quelling their blood lust.
But it didn’t work. The crowd of Jews, the people of God through whom Yahweh had chosen to love despite all of their wickedness, started chanting “crucify him, crucify him!”. Pilate tried again, hoping to use custom of releasing one prisoner during the feast of Passover to free Jesus – but the crowd wouldn’t have it. Instead, the people of God, the scribes and elders of the people, chose to release Barabbas – a murdering terrorist – instead of the one who had taught peacefully, harmed no one, healed the sick, and raised the dead.
Since his arrest at midnight Jesus had faced six different trials, three before Jewish officials, three before Roman officials – full of false accusations, foolish judges, and cowardly officials.
The sun had only began to rise when Pilate succumbed to the crowd’s anger, looked Jesus in the face, and condemned him to crucifixion – the most terrible form of punishment they had, usually inflicted on slaves and enemies of the state.
The first stage of crucifixion would be to take Jesus – who had already been beaten once – to the Praetorium to be stripped and scourged with a leather whip that had pieces of sharp instruments embedded in the cord, designed to remove flesh quickly. Then the soldiers took him so he could be mocked further by having a crown of hard thorns driven into his head and beaten with a make-shift scepter made out of a reed. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they would shout as they spit on him and beat him with their fists.
He was then forced to carry his own heavy, wooden cross through Jerusalem, from the Praetorium to Golgotha – a 600 meter trip that took three hours to complete – all the while being ridiculed and beaten. Because of His wounds and blood-loss, Jesus wasn’t physically able to carry the cross, so another man, Simon, was forced to carry it for him.
When they finally reached the place where the crucifixion would take place, Golgotha, called the Place of the Skull, Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, was laid upon the cross, had his feet and hands nailed to it, and was raised up for all to see.
As He hung there, for six hours, in ever-increasing and excruciating agony, gasping for air – only able to draw a breath when He put weight onto the nails driven through His hands and feet, He spoke in short sentences.
His first words – the very first words He spoke from the cross – are recorded in Luke 23:34:
“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
“Father, forgive the ones who stand before me now, grinning in their senselessness, in total ignorance of the cosmic treason they are committing. Forgive the soldiers who drove nails through my hands that healed the sick and blessed their children, and the feet which went from town to town teaching truth and offering peace. Forgive the ones who scourged this flesh – the body I chose to take so I could come to this place to save them. Forgive the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who stirred up the crowd to call for my crucifixion. Forgive the crowd who chose a murderer over the One who offered them life. Forgive the rulers and judges who bent the laws and cowered to pressure, sentenced me to be here, perverted justice and condemned the only person to ever live a perfect life. Forgive my disciples who abandoned me, most of whom are too afraid to admit they know me, let alone stand with me in my most dire hour. Father, forgive them all. They have no idea the depth of evil they are committing, the depravity of their action, the utter darkness of their words and deeds, that they were killing the Son of God, the Light of the World.”
Jesus Loved His Enemies
It wasn’t just words when Jesus said:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).
He lived and died by these words. At the beginning of the Gospel of John it says:
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
Jesus loved His enemies. He came and “His own people did not receive Him”, but He loved them anyway. His loved showed His love for us by dying on the cross.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus died so His enemies could live. From the cross that they had nailed Him to, Jesus was able to forgive them. Was this just pious platitudes from a holy man who wanted to impress people with His holier-than-thou goodness? Certainly not. These words were spoken out of real and true love for the people He came to save. Love for blind fools who preferred their sin, pride, idols, and pleasures, more than they loved anyone or anything else – and certainly more than they loved the God who created them.
Did His words change anything? No. As Jesus spoke, the Jews continued to mock Him, the Romans continued to cast lots for His clothes, the criminals that hung next to Him hurled more insults. He gained nothing from these words – except to demonstrate His infinite love for humanity.
Christians know what we are no different than those who stood at the foot of that cross. We too have hurled insults at Jesus, mocked His ways, made ourselves Lord of our lives, worshipped ourselves, and revelled in sin. We know that it was our sin that put Jesus there. It was not just the world’s sin that Jesus died for, but our sin. We are as guilty as those who traded Barabbas for Jesus, as guilty as the ones who drove nails through His hands, as guilty as the disciples who abandoned Him, because we have also traded righteousness for sin, unholiness for holiness, darkness for light.
And yet, Jesus forgave us. He forgave me? He has no reason to. I’ve given him every reason to feel resentment, bitterness, anger and coldness towards me. I don’t deserve His forgiveness – and certainly not His love, kindness and blessing.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:2-9)
What amazing love. Our response to the amazing love that Jesus has shown us must be to show that kind of love to others. Especially forgiveness.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
Do you see how this section starts? “If then…”. If you’re a Christian, if you know the deep love of God, if you have admitted your sin and met the Saviour… then it’s going to change your heart. Instead of living like one of the normal people “on earth”. If you’re a believer, then you’re not normal. Your heart is now connected to things that are “above, where Christ is”. Jesus is the longing of your heart, the preoccupation of your mind, the North that your compass points to. And so, “set your minds on things that are above”.
Forgive As You’ve Been Forgiven
In light of what Jesus has done for us – the love He’s shared, the example He’s shown, the commands He’s given, and the Holy Spirit He’s placed inside us – we have all that we need to fight against sin. When you became a Christian, Jesus changed your identity. He took off your old self (the one that loved sin), destroyed it, gave you a new self (one that loves Jesus), and has promised to give you everything you need to live a new life in Him.
After this declaration comes a whole list of sins, and then something that is given special emphasis. Look at verses 12-13.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
There it is. As a chosen one of God – a special person that Jesus chose, not because of anything you had done or ever would do, not because you deserved it, but only because the Amazing Grace with which He loved you – share that love with others. How is that love demonstrated? Through compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance. There is one action that epitomizes and exemplifies everything in that list: Forgiveness.
“Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
This is, for many, the hardest command that Jesus gives us. To love our enemies and to forgive those who have wronged us. To love them and forgive them as much as we’ve been loved and forgiven by Jesus. That’s hard. Actually, that’s impossible without God changing our hearts first. But God takes it very seriously.
God Takes Forgiveness Seriously
There’s no place in scripture that says it’s easy. And there’s no place that says you have to feel like it. Forgiveness is an act of love and obedience, not towards the one who offended you, but towards the One who forgave you. You muster the strength to forgive only because of the miracle that Jesus has done in your heart – it’s impossible otherwise. Unless Jesus has taken off your old self and given you a new self, there are going to be some kinds of forgiveness that are impossible. Some kinds of forgiveness require a movement of God’s Spirit, and an act of total humility before Jesus to accomplish.
Jesus takes forgiveness so seriously that He says:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
And elsewhere, at the end of the parable of the unforgiving servant:
“And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:33-35)
Why does God take forgiveness so seriously? Because our response to forgiveness shows our understanding of what He’s done for us. (Tweet this.)
If Jesus has transformed your heart, then it will result in a changed life. (Tweet this.) A person who has experienced the immeasurable mercy, grace and forgiveness that Jesus purchased for them on the cross, cannot look at another person and not grant a smaller portion of it to someone else. Unforgiveness shows that a person hasn’t really experienced God’s forgiveness. It diminishes what Jesus did on the cross.
“Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” is sometimes the only thing we can say to a deep hurt, and is often the only place we can start to grant forgiveness. Sometimes all we can pray is:
“God, they don’t know how much they hurt me, and I don’t know how to get over it. I loved them, opened my heart to them, and they crushed it. But, in obedience to You, out of love for You, because of the love you’ve shown me, in light of the sin debt that you forgave in me, I will choose to forgive them. I don’t feel like it right now, but I will forgive them anyway. I’m still hurt, but I will forgive them anyway, so You can help me heal. I’m still angry, but I will forgive them anyway, and trust your justice. I’m still sad, but I will forgive them anyway, and come to you for comfort and peace.”
I implore you, in the light of what Jesus has done, to begin this year by forgiving those who have sinned against you. Kill the bitterness inside you. Put resentment to death and live in the life and light of the love of Jesus Christ.