I want to quote something from Robert Farrar Capon, a brilliant writer. He writes this:
Jesus didn’t shy away from sinners, so why should the church? And don’t tell me the church welcomes sinners. I know better. It welcomes only sinners who repent and then never seriously need forgiveness again.
And unfortunately I think that may be true. And you might even be able to confirm that, to share stories of how the church let you down, or let someone you know down.
But today I don’t want to use this quote to jump all over the church, and its failings. Because I think that misses the point. It’s so easy to read that quote and say, “yeah the church is screwed up.” To get all high and mighty and condemn those people in the church who don’t get grace, and forgiveness.
But here is the truth: the church is people. And if you follow Jesus you are part of that people, for better or worse.
And this quote loses its convicting and compelling power if it becomes about “other people”. If we are part of the church, we should use this quote to examine our own lives. We should stop, and reflect and ask the Holy Spirit, “Is there anything I need to change in my life”.
Because what I think the Holy Spirit is asking me through this quote is to really examine my life.
Do I truly welcome people where they are at, no agenda, with love?
Am I truly okay with broken people, or do I expect them to get “fixed”?
Am I in anyway being an obstacle to the Holy Spirit working in my community because I’m not really ready to welcome sinners?
Because this quote isn’t about “other people rejecting sinners”. This quote is about each of us asking ourselves, “am I living like Jesus with welcome and hospitality?” And that’s a lot harder question, a lot more personal question, and a much more worthwhile one.
On Sunday we really waded deeply into this well known saying of Jesus. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23:43.
The first thing we noticed is how the “them” in this prayer is pretty vague. Jesus is surely referring to the guards killing him, the officials who sentenced him, and the religious leaders who arrested him. But I also think when Jesus says, “Forgive them” he also means “Forgive us”. I think the “them” includes us. And here is why:
Is it not also our sin, that causes Jesus to be killed? Is he not killed because we too are sinful, and complicit in a sinful and evil world?
I think that this “them” must include us, because we cannot so distance ourselves from this event to pretend that we are innocent of it. We cannot say, since we were not there we have no part in it – since we take part in the culture of sin everyday that nailed Jesus to the cross. We too are complicit and also then thankfully included in his forgiveness.
The second thing we noticed is that when Jesus said “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. That in one sense the guards, officials, and religious leaders knew exactly what they were doing. They were killing someone who might be innocent, for the claims of being the Son of God and upsetting the political power structures of the day. That’s why Jesus was killed. So what does he mean by that statement when he says? It’s not as if the people involved didn’t cognitively know they were killing someone. What I think they didn’t know, and didn’t see is how the kingdoms of this world are caught in systems of violence, power, evil, and sin. We get in Genesis a picture of the world being founded on sin and violence and it continues today. Power, violence, and empire all get wrapped up into one – so much so that we lose sight of what we are doing. The guard, officials, and religious leaders believe they are saving and keeping society going by killing Jesus. That’s what they don’t see, how complicit they are in a system of violence, evil, and sin – and so often neither do we.
We also noticed how odd Jesus’ prayer must have struck his hearers. What people would be expecting is vengeance, promises of retribution, and curses. That’s what was expected. Just look at the story of the Maccabees, or Samson, or even Elijah. People expected judgment and vengeance when a prophet or a revolutionary was killed, not forgiveness. But here Jesus forgives his oppressors, as they are killing him. This is so radical and so unexpected that it shocked some of the guards into believing Jesus was the Son of God. We’ve heard this verse so often that’s it’s lost its shock, but it should shock us. Because it is revealing to us the heart of God, and it is radically about forgiveness.
And that’s where we landed at the end. That this amazing prayer of Jesus, while it certainly involves us, is not about us.What this prayer is actually about is revealing the heart of God. Jesus prays to the Father, “Forgive them”. We are getting a glimpse of the inner heart of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is all centred on forgiveness. So while this prayer affects us and frees us, we cannot just narrow it to be about us. Because it is really about revealing God. And what it should evoke out of us, is a sense of reverent awe and thanks.
And that’s where we closed on Sunday. Challenging people to sit in reverent thanks of a God who died, to answer his own prayer of forgiveness. To sit in thanks of a God who would be killed for us, so we can be saved. To sit in worshipful awe of a God who would rather forgive than kill, and for that we should be thankful.
Big Idea: That God’s heart is forgiveness
Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers, 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
Who is the “them” Jesus is forgiving?
We are all complicit in Jesus’ death.
Society is built on murder and sin
The kingdom of this world is built on rivalry, accusation, violence, and domination.
Messiahs weren’t expected to forgive oppressors, but overthrow oppressors.
The story of Luke has a trajectory of forgiveness first.
That we are tempted to narrow this amazing last request to about us and being forgiven by God
Jesus’ last prayer reveals the heart of God.
God is still about forgiveness because God is always about forgiveness
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you thought about this verse deeply before? Do you think that the “them” does include you? How come? What else was new to you in this sermon? Can you imagine how unexpected these words of Jesus would be? How can we regain some of their initial shock and radicalness? How can you be thankful to God today for what he did for us?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Today read the story and talk to your kids about Jesus words. Share with them how Jesus even when he is being hurt, forgives. That at his heart is forgiveness. Tell them today that if they need anything forgiven, Jesus is willing because he is always willing.
Challenge for the Week: Today spend time being grateful to God