jasonbwatson

March 30, 2015

Not a Math Problem

Though I have not been able to find definitive evidence that she did so, I have seen this statement attributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton in a number of places: “In the bible it says you have to forgive seventy times seven. I want you all to know, I’m keeping a chart.” And while I have not found that definitive evidence, it does strike me, if you don’t mind me saying so, as something Clinton would say.

If she did say it, she was referring, of course, to Matthew 18, where Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone who sinned against him. Verse 21 says Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter thought he was being quite magnanimous, of course, and, if understood in context, he was. The Pharisees, after all, taught that one need only forgive three times. So Peter doubled it and, for good measure, added one more. Knowing Peter as we do, we can easily imagine him asking the question with an air of confidence, thinking that he would be commended for his generosity. Jesus, however, had something else in mind. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven,” Jesus told him.

Seventy times seven is a lot of forgiveness. Who could keep track of forgiving someone 490 times? That, of course, was Jesus’ point. He was teaching Peter that there is not to be an end to forgiveness. Even if you go with one of the translations that presents Matthew 18:22 as “seventy-seven times” the point is that we are to keep on forgiving. We are not to keep a list. If someone kept track of forgiveness, whether seventy-seven times or 490 times, the implication of that would be that once that magic number had been reached, all bets were off, and revenge was coming. That, of course, was what Hillary Clinton was implying in the quote above. She was suggesting that there would come an end to her forgiveness, and when that point was reached, watch out!

God, however, never stops forgiving us. If he did, I would have long ago exhausted by 490 chances, as would everyone else on the face of the earth. Jesus went on, after answering Peter, to deliver the parable of the master who forgave a servant an insurmountable debt that he could never have paid on his own. That is the forgiveness that God offers. There is only one unpardonable, or unforgivable, sin, and that is refusing to accept that Christ died on the cross as the only possible perfect sacrifice that would satisfy a holy God. Beyond that, there is nothing you can do, I can do, or anyone else can do, that God will not forgive.

As incredibly comforting as that should be, the inverse is just as incredible. Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus said that if we do not forgive others their sins, God will not forgive our sins. Followers of Christ are called to demonstrate God-like forgiveness when others offend or wrong them. We need not keep a list, because it isn’t a math problem anyway, it is a heart condition. And the heart that is surrendered to Christ and yielded to the Holy Spirit will forgive the offending brother–every time.

July 15, 2014

“Glad to be with Christ”

I do not remember where I read it, but I have a quote from John Piper written on a 3×5 card in my Bible that is a regular reminder to me of how I should be living my life. Piper said, “There is an infinite chasm between the one who is glad he’s not going to hell and the one who is also glad to be with Christ.”

There is incredible truth in that statement and, if you’re anything like me, it is very convicting. Of course I am glad I am not going to hell. But is that all my Christianity is about? Did I get my “get out of hell” card and now I can do my own thing? Or is knowing hell is not in my future a very nice benefit of the more important fact that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Since I cannot remember when or where I came across the quote from John Piper I am also not sure if I found it in reference to I Peter 1:3-9 or if I added that reference to the note card in my Bible later, but that passage is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Here is how it reads in the ESV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter emphasizes the fact that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior have been born again to a living hope. It is not temporary, not conditional and not finite. Rather, it is a living hope because it is received through the acceptance of Christ, who is Himself living now in Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The inheritance that believers are promised–an eternity in heaven in the very presence of God–is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” It will never go bad, it cannot be tainted in any way and it will always be just as bright and wonderful as it is now. There is nothing on earth that compares. The reality of this inheritance can be hard to fathom because everything we know in this world is perishable, can be defiled and does fade.

Not only is this inheritance unlike anything we can relate to on earth, it is being kept for us by God Himself. He is protecting it, preserving it and defending it. No one and nothing can take it away. Thank goodness this inheritance is not being kept by the government or Wall Street or my bank! No, my eternity is being kept by the sovereign God of the universe!

I may encounter difficulties in life. No, scratch that–I WILL encounter difficulties in life. Those difficulties, though, cannot threaten or diminish my relationship with the Lord or my inheritance through Him at all. Those trials may test my faith, but through the power of the Holy Spirit in my life they can refine me and draw me closer to the Lord–and allow Him to be displayed through me.

The question is, am I, as Peter wrote, “rejoic[ing] with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory”? Do people who interact with me see that joy in me? Does the fact that I have an inheritance through Christ that is preserved forever by God show through in the way I live my life? I am not the most visibly-expressive person in the world and that is not likely to change, but I don’t think that is Peter’s point. He is not calling us to be giddy all the time or to have a fake smile plastered on our faces. But he is reminding us that we have received an incredible promise, we have a relationship with the almighty God, and if that is not evident in our lives then there is a problem. If salvation is just about missing hell then once we’ve got it that’s pretty much it. But it is far more than that, Piper reminds us. Am I glad to be with Christ? And if I am, can you tell by how I live my life? Thought-provoking questions…

April 20, 2014

The Day Between

These days there is not much notice or attention generally given to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Many churches hold Good Friday services to remember the death of Jesus on the cross. Communion is often a part of this service. Oftentimes these services are solemn, which is appropriate given the event they commemorate, but they also include–and tend to end with–a note of hope, looking forward to the service on Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. It is because we know Christ rose again that we can both commemorate Good Friday with gladness and appreciation and that we can, for all intents and purposes, ignore Saturday, “the day between” Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Imagine, though, what that day between was like between the very first “Good Friday” (surely no one then considered it good, with the possible exception of the Pharisees) and Easter Sunday. That Saturday was the Sabbath day, and we know from Luke 23 that the women who would be the first on the scene on Sunday, to discover the empty tomb, rested according to the Sabbath tradition (indeed, the Law). I imagine it was an incredibly sad day, though. There likely would have been no motivation for anyone who had followed Jesus to do anything. They had probably had trouble going to sleep, thinking about the horrible events of the preceding days, and once they had drifted off they are unlikely to have slept peacefully. One the dawn broke and sunlight pierced the room there was probably no desire to get up. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did get up early and go to the tomb to take the spices they had prepared because they loved Jesus so and wanted to be sure that His body was properly dressed. But they surely walked through tears and with heavy hearts. Apparently none of Jesus’ other followers ventured out because Luke 24:9 tells us that when the women returned from the tomb they told “the eleven…and all the rest” about what they had seen and heard.

As everyone who is familiar with the Gospel accounts knows, however, no one believed the women. Luke tells us that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” We know that Peter and John then ran to the tomb to see for themselves but we also know from Luke that Peter then returned to the group “marveling at what had happened.” I like the way The Living Bible presents this verse; it says Peter returned “wondering what had happened.” The Message says Peter “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” In other words, despite the fact that he had seen the empty tomb for himself, Peter still did not remember that Jesus had told him, and all His followers, that He would rise again on the third day. Either that or he just did not believe it.

In I Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul writes that if Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is futile. Easter, Christ’s resurrection, is the event on which the entire Christian faith hinges. It is the defining moment, the difference maker. Christ’s sinless life, the miracles He performed and His death on the cross would have all been incredible but meaningless if He had not risen from the dead. The futility, the hopelessness, that defeatism is exactly what Peter and the other followers of Christ were feeling on that very first “day between.”

Today, however, because we know the rest of the story, the day between is of little consequence. It is just another day. We do not fear it, we do not mourn, we do not dread getting out of bed or wonder what may happen to us if we venture out. That’s because…and only because…we know that Easter is coming tomorrow. We know Christ rose from the dead. And because we know, we have hope, and our hope is not in vain.

August 1, 2012

Seventy Times Seven

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you have undoubtedly heard the expression “three strikes and you’re out.” It turns out, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day took the same approach to forgiveness. They taught that, when wronged, individuals were obligated to forgive an offender up to three times. After the third time, however, there was no longer the need to forgive–the offender had “maxed out” and the forgiveness would not be forthcoming.

With this background in mind, it becomes clear that Peter thought he was being quite generous when he proposed forgiving up to seven times. In Matthew 18 Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” in light of what we know about Peter it does not take a lot of imagination to picture an almost-smug look on his face as he asks this question. He may have hoped his colleagues would be impressed by his magnanimity or that Jesus would give him an “attaboy” for his generous approach to forgiveness.

Jesus, though, quickly corrected Peter by informing him that even seven times was not nearly enough. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven,” Jesus answered.

A little quick math reveals that Jesus suggested 490 times was a more appropriate limit, but the reality is that Jesus was telling Peter, the other disciples, and you and me, that there is to be no limit to our forgiveness.

In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “[B]earing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”

That’s where it gets really tough. For me to forgive others the same way that God has forgiven me means two things: unlimited forgiveness, and unconditional forgiveness. There can be no end to the number of times I forgive, and there can be no offense for which I will not forgive.

I have experienced hurts in my life that were painful, as I am sure you have. I have been wronged by others, and seen how the careless or self-centered or misguided actions of some can wreak havoc on the lives of others impacted by their actions. There have been offenses which still hurt to think about years after they have happened. And the truth is, there are some offenses that I cannot forgive, in my flesh. More often than not my natural inclination is to get even, not to forgive. And if I do find it in my heart to forgive, it would be once, maybe twice, but rarely three times and certainly not seven.

Truth is, though, I am incredibly thankful that God has no limit to His forgiveness. If He did, I would have exceeded it long ago, whether the limit was 490 or seven times seven thousand. God is perfect and righteous and holy, and I, in myself, am anything but.

Three strikes is a good rule for baseball. It keeps the game moving. But it’s a lousy rule when it comes to forgiving others.

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