36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
(Luke 7:36-50 NIV)
At the end of the encounter in Luke 7, Jesus makes a direct connection between forgiveness and love. Those who are forgiven much, love much and those who are forgiven little, love little (v. 47). Jesus is not saying that people who have sinned more in their lives are better equipped to love; rather, Jesus is communicating to the Pharisee that he needed forgiveness like we all need forgiveness. If we view ourselves as righteous or less in need of a Savior and his grace than those around us, then we love God less, love other people less, and judge them more.
On the cross, Jesus took on himself our guilt and sentence for the sins we have committed. But what is also true is that Jesus took on all the pain and suffering that has resulted from sin. In my work with those who have endured physical and sexual abuse as children, this is an incredibly important point that makes the cross more than just something for those who abused them. It answers the question: Where was God when this happened to me? And the answer is that he was hanging on a cross taking into his own body, mind, and heart all of your experience, so that for all eternity there will be only two people who know what it was like for you to endure what you have endured—you and Jesus. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering . . . and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4–5 NIV). God, for all eternity, will use something evil which he never desired for us to bring us closer to him. How he did this is surely a mystery, as is how he took on the guilt and sentence of all sin; but it is just as true.
Therefore, Jesus offers forgiveness to the person who has sinned against us not from a position of ignorance, but from the position of having experienced what we have experienced. Jesus is not asking us to do anything he has not already done. Nor is he asking us to offer anything he has not already offered to us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). Again, God’s Word connects love and forgiveness. When he asks us to forgive, he knows that it will reconcile us to him, to others, and to ourselves in a way that heals us and increases our capacity to love. It is his love for us and his desire for our healing that is behind his command for us to forgive as he has forgiven. It is another way in which he calls to us, “Take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
One exercise that many people have found helpful in forgiving someone, particularly someone who has died, is to write a letter to the person you need to forgive. You will not send the letter, so do not filter your sadness, frustration, anger, or rage. Write until you can write no more, then put it away for a few weeks before returning to read it. If necessary, write more or clarify what you’ve written. When finished, you can either destroy it or ask one of your group members to stand in the place of the person who wronged you, read the letter to him or her, and have that person ask for your forgiveness. When you are ready, destroy the letter and express out loud your decision to forgive.
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