If you forgive

Looking back to Sunday

John 20:19-31

IMG_286923If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

Sometimes I start writing and the words take me in a different direction than I first expected. What started as a comment on this verse is now posted as “The sound of a hundred snakes” at my blog Jacob_Limping (Jacob, wounded by his wrestling with God and limping towards the promised land.)

There is a paragraph in that post that says:

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority – and the task – of declaring to the whole world that our debt to God has been erased. Forgiven. Blotted out. Washed away. Though your sins are as scarlet they shall be white as snow.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

This is where I wanted to linger.

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority to speak forgiveness on his behalf. He binds himself to our words: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” And in another place: Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

There is a shadow side to this authority. If we don’t speak it, who will? A therapist can help us accept and live with our past, but they cannot forgive it. A judge can assign a penalty, but when that penalty is paid it does not relieve us of guilt. Time and forgetfulness can sometimes help, but they bury wounds they don’t heal them.

Christians are a unique people on earth, authorized to speak on God’s behalf. Of course, we have this terrible habit of claiming to speak on God’s behalf on a wide range of topics from gun control to parenting to international politics that God has not authorized. It would be helpful if we would stick to the message we were given. But this is the point: we have been given a very specific task: to release people from the burden of their sins. No one else in life can do this. Family and friends can love us. They, themselves, can forgive us. But they cannot speak for God.

We can.

On this matter we can.

On this matter, we must.

Such an awesome authority and responsibility.

Such an amazing privilege.

And such a difficult task – for forgiveness isn’t cheap. Forgiveness is not permission. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that our words and actions haven’t harmed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there aren’t wrongs to be righted. Such a message would be simple, but without power. The message with which we have been entrusted is that our debt towards God is lifted. The barrier between God and ourselves is torn down. New life stands before us if we will enter. The accusing voice of the law is silenced. Eyes shuttered against others by fear, greed and guilt are released. Closed ears are opened. Those crippled by shame or guilt are summoned to rise, take up their pallet and go home.

This is the ministry we are given. This is the life towards which we point.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Such a mission is not simple. But the risen Christ has breathed his spirit upon us. And given us a wondrous promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”


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