Compassion: Gracious Forgiveness

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 14, 2011 Pentecost IX

Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:21-28

From the Book of Genesis:
And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And Behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon. … Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Amen. †

I am sure all of us can think of at least one instance where someone has hurt us in some way. Perhaps you have been lied to; perhaps someone stole from you; perhaps you weren’t given credit for some good deed; or perhaps someone said something to you that you found embarrassing or hurtful. How did you respond? A very human response would be to seek revenge. “I want to hurt him as much as he hurt me!” Yet God expects all of us to forgive.

What is forgiveness? Are Christians considered clean by God? And what should our attitude be toward others who have hurt us?

There are two types of forgiveness that appear in the Bible: God’s pardon of our sins, and our obligation to pardon others.

What is forgiveness by God?

Mankind has a sinful nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and humans have been sinning against God ever since.
God loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves in Hell. He provided a way for us to be forgiven, and that way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus confirmed that in no uncertain terms when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God’s plan of salvation was to send Jesus, His only Son, into the world as a sacrifice for our sins.

That sacrifice was necessary to satisfy God’s justice. Moreover, that sacrifice had to be perfect and spotless. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. Only Jesus was qualified to do that for us. At the Last Supper, on the night before His crucifixion, He took the cup of wine and told His disciples, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).

The next day, Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment due us, and atoning for our sins. On the third day, He rose from the dead, conquering death for all who believe in him as Saviour. John the Baptist and Jesus commanded that we repent, or turn away from our sins to receive God’s forgiveness. When we do, our sins are forgiven, and we are assured of eternal life in heaven.

What is forgiveness of others?

As Christians, our relationship with God is restored, but what about our relationship with our fellow human beings? The Bible states that when someone hurts us, we are under an obligation to God to forgive that person. Jesus is very clear on this point.

In Matthew 6:14-15 we read, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others for their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Refusing to forgive is a sin. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us. That does not mean we must forget the offense, however; usually that’s beyond our power. Forgiveness means releasing the other from blame, leaving the event in God’s hands, and moving on. In a very practical sense, until you forgive the person and move on, that person will have a hold on you and continue to hurt you over and over again. Trust God to deal with that person and forgive him.

What better example do we have of someone who had been hurt and who showed forgiveness than Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. You know the story. I’ll give you the short version. Jacob, Joseph’s father, loved him more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.
So, Jacob made his son a luxurious long robe with sleeves. This made Joseph’s brothers jealous and it caused them to hate him. One day while they were out in the fields, Joseph’s brothers grabbed him, stripped him of his robe and threw him in a pit.
He was later sold into slavery and eventually ended up in Egypt and sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Because God was with Joseph, he was blessed with the ability to make things prosper. Eventually, he found favor with Pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams and was put in charge of Pharaoh’s entire household.

A famine engulfed the region and Joseph’s family came to Egypt for help and in search of food. His family came before him and it was time for Joseph to reveal to his family who he really was. Since this was an official meeting, other Egyptian officers were present; but now that he was about to settle a long-standing family matter, Joseph wanted his brothers all to himself. His interpreter, and perhaps other officials present, would understand Hebrew, and everybody would be able to witness the brothers’ tears and expressions of love. It was time for family privacy.

The simple statement “I am Joseph” exploded like a thunderclap in their ears and brought terror to their hearts. All kinds of confused thoughts suddenly began to tumble about their minds. How could this Egyptian ruler know the name of their deceased brother? Why is he claiming to be somebody they know is dead? But if he truly is Joseph, why has he been treating them this way and what will he do to punish them for their sins? They were speechless. Every mouth was stopped as they stood guilty before their judge (Rom. 3:19).

There were two things that should have encouraged them: he was asking them to come closer, something Egyptians didn’t do with the Hebrews (Gen. 43:32), and he was weeping uncontrollably. This is now the third time Joseph has wept because of his brothers, but this is the first time publicly. He spoke to them again and not only identified himself as Joseph but also told them what they had done to him! The family secret was a secret no more.

Since Joseph could see his brothers’ mixed responses of fear and bewilderment, he encouraged them with words that came from a loving and forgiving heart. He had compassion and demonstrated gracious forgiveness. Yes, they had done wrong and were guilty; yet he told them not to dwell on their sins but on what God had done for all of them. God overruled the brothers’ hateful attitude and cruel actions and worked it all out for good. His brothers were responsible for Joseph’s sufferings, but God used them to accomplish His divine purposes.

The story of Joseph and his brothers encourages us to recognize the sovereignty of God in the affairs of life and to trust His promises no matter how dark the day may be. In Proverbs 19:21 we read, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.” God sent Joseph to Egypt so that Jacob’s family could be preserved and the nation of Israel be born and ultimately give the Word of God and the Saviour to the world. Without realizing it, Joseph’s brothers were helping the Lord fulfill His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).

Since there were five more years of famine ahead of them, Joseph instructed his brothers to hurry home, give the good news to their father that he was alive, pack whatever belongings they needed, and come to Egypt to live permanently.
He promised to protect them. The land of Goshen was a fertile area of Egypt where Jacob’s family and their descendants could live close to one another without fear.

It wasn’t a time for explanations and excuses but for honest expressions of love and forgiveness. Joseph embraced his brothers and kissed them, especially Benjamin, and they all wept together. Because a hidden sin was exposed and dealt with, and forgiveness had been granted, mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and truth kissed each other (Ps. 85:10).

Keep in mind that this reconciliation was possible only because Joseph had suffered and triumphed, and it’s a beautiful picture of what the Lord Jesus Christ did for sinners in His death on the cross and His resurrection. Like Jesus, Joseph went from suffering to glory, from the prison to the throne, and was able to share his wealth and glory with others. In his defense before the Jewish council, Stephen took pains to point out that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers “the second time (Acts 7:13). This too is a picture of Christ’s experience with His own people Israel: They rejected Him when He came the first time (John 1:11; 5:43), but they will recognize Him and receive Him when He comes the second time, and they will weep and repent (Zech. 12:10-13:1).

When Joseph was a teenager at home, his brothers so hated him that they couldn’t even speak to him (Gen. 37:4), but now that they have been reconciled and forgiven, communication is possible. The reconciliation of estranged brothers and sisters ought to lead to restored fellowship and joyful communion (2 Cor. 2:1-11). Joseph didn’t put his brothers on probation; he freely forgave them and welcomed them into his heart and his home.

For centuries people have been puzzled by the nation of Israel. The Roman government recognized the Jewish religion, but it still called the nation “a nefarious or evil sect.” St. Paul spent the entire eleventh chapter of Romans presenting proof that God is not through with Israel.

If you want another example of God’s forgiveness, look at Paul. Paul was travelling around the countryside persecuting and killing Christians; until he was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4)

If God has cast away His people, then how can the conversion of the Apostle Paul be explained? The accounts of Paul’s conversion tell very little that parallels our salvation experience today. Certainly none of us has seen Christ in glory or actually heard Him speak from heaven. We were neither blinded by the light of heaven nor thrown to the ground. Paul’s conversion is a picture of how the nation of Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. The details of Israel’s future restoration and salvation are given in Zechariah 12:10-13:1.
The fact that Paul was saved does not prove that there is a future for Israel. Rather, what is important is the way he was saved.

We must remember that God chose the Jews so that the Gentiles might be saved. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” was God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). The tragedy was that Israel became exclusive and failed to share the truth with the Gentiles. They thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved. But God declared both Jews and Gentiles to be lost and condemned. This meant that He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

In our Gospel reading today, we are reminded that faith and repentance lead to healing and forgiveness. We have a Canaanite woman crying out to Jesus for mercy; that her daughter is severely possessed by a demon. It was the woman’s faith that Jesus acknowledged, and immediately He healed her daughter. It is worth noting that both of the persons in the Gospel of Matthew who had “great faith” were Gentiles: this Canaanite woman and the Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-13). In both cases Jesus healed the one in need from a distance. Spiritually speaking, the Gentiles were “afar off” until Calvary, when Jesus Christ died for both the Jews and Gentiles and made reconciliation possible (Eph. 2:11ff).

In order to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation, we need to put God in the equation through prayer. What better prayer is there, but the prayer that our Lord Jesus gave us: “Our Father who art in heaven… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.”

If someone has wronged you, yes, turn the other cheek. Have compassion on the person; turn the matter over to God; and offer gracious forgiveness to the person. Receive the blessings and cleansing power of God and through His Son Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, cleanse us with your saving power. There is so much evil and pain in this world; help us to confront evil with good; hate with love. May we have compassion on those who need our gracious forgiveness. May we share your love with others. Help us to surrender to your will. Take what we have Lord, bless it, and give it back to us so that we might feed your hungry people. Help us to grow in the knowledge of your Holy Word; that we may share this with others. Put us on the road to salvation and transform us to be your disciple. May we always look to you, until your coming again. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>