by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lessons: 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Passion of our Lord
Catechism: The Fifth Petition
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are two cases near Kansas City that I know of in the past 3 years in which men who were convicted back in the 1990s have finally been set free for crimes they did not commit. In 1994 Lamonte McIntyre was convicted of double murder when he was only 17. He was finally set free in 2017, after 23 years in prison. In 1996 Ricky Kidd was also convicted of a double murder when he was only 21. He was finally set free in 2019, after 23 years in prison.
It is painful to think about how this changed their lives, forcing them into prison when they are young, coming out of prison as middle-aged men. Both were innocent of those crimes. Money cannot repay the evil done to them when they were falsely tried. Their friendships and families were no doubt strained as they had been dubbed murderers. Such a horrible thing had happened to these innocent men!
But there’s another innocent Man who faced a far more horrible trial and sentence. He, too, had done nothing wrong. Yet He suffered. He’s betrayed. He’s arrested. He’s denied and abandoned. He’s ruthlessly mocked and brutally beaten. Those who hate Him are too numerous to count. They shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Away with Him! Release Barabbas”
Pilate does the unthinkable. He gives in to the crowds. After announcing that he found no fault in Jesus, Pilate hands Him over to be crucified. Pilate tries to wash his hands in innocence, but Pilate is not innocent. Pilate did not stop the false trial and he agrees to our Lord’s death. So spikes are hammered through His hands and feet. He is hoisted up to hang. He is suspended in agony for all to mock and jeer. He is in utter anguish and pain. He is dying. Even our Father in Heaven had forsaken Him for bearing our sins in His own Body.
But what does Jesus—the innocent One—do? Does He yell out, “You will all pay for this after I rise from the dead—I’ll unleash my angels and they will kill you all so that your cities are dripping with blood?” No. Jesus does not speak this way at all. For, as we heard in 1 Peter, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return.”
Bearing the sins of those who hate Him in His body, Jesus prays. He doesn’t pray for retribution or vengeance. Instead, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Father, forgive them. Is that your first thought when you are sinned against? When people falsely accuse you, when people insult you, when people hurt or harm you, do you immediately pray, “Father, forgive them?”
The Scriptures teach that we are to forgive our neighbors seventy times seven times. That is, we are to continually be a forgiving people.
Why? Because we have been forgiven in Christ. Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross. He willingly went to the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world. He established churches and the ministry to deliver this forgiveness to His people.
In other words, Jesus has done everything to grant you the forgiveness of sins so that you are reconciled to God the Father.
You need this, because your sin had separated you from God. You were born blind, dead, and enemies of God. You were born, as I stated on Sunday, without fear of God, without trust in God, and with evil lusts and inclinations.
God could have put you on trial and found you to be guilty. For you are. You cannot claim innocence or prove innocence.
But instead of holding you guilty, God sent His only-begotten Son. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was pronounced guilty in our place. He paid the penalty for our sins by shedding His innocent Blood. He reconciled us to the Father. Through Him, the gates of Paradise are opened and we have access to God.
He did this willingly and out of love for you.
In like manner, since we have been reconciled to our Father through Christ as a free gift, we are then to be reconciled with one another. We forgive, as Christ has lovingly forgiven us, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In fact, the forgiveness by which we forgive our neighbor is not forgiveness that originates in ourselves, but it is Christ’s forgiveness. So when we withhold forgiveness from our neighbor, we are withholding Christ’s forgiveness. We are making the claim that Jesus did not die for their sins, even though we expect Jesus to die for our sins. Refusing to forgive is hypocrisy.
You may think you know what you’re doing when You decide something should be your way, rather than our Lord’s way. You may think you know what you’re doing when you refuse to forgive someone. But you don’t. Regardless of how enlightened you figure you are, whenever your behavior contradicts the Word of God, you are sinning.
Your sin put Him on the cross, and yet He prays for you, “Father, forgive My children. Do not hold their sins against them. Look, Father, here are My wounds. Here is My innocent Blood. I am the Passover Lamb! I am the sacrifice. Condemn Me and acquit them. Give Me what they deserve. Father, forgive them, for My sake!”
And our Lord’s prayer is answered. Christ’s mercy bears fruit. One of the criminals heard this prayer and says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The criminal was saved. Even the Roman centurion was moved by this forgiveness. When Jesus died, the centurion proclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Because Jesus has taken our sins away at the cross, we now pray with all boldness and confidence, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
And we testify in the Fifth Petition, “So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “God has promised us assurance that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet on the condition that we also forgive our neighbor. Inasmuch as we sin greatly against God everyday and yet he forgives it all through grace, we must always forgive our neighbor who does us harm, violence, and injustice, bears malice toward us, etc. If you do not forgive, do not think that God forgives you. But if you forgive, you have the comfort and assurance that you are forgiven in heaven” (93-95). Jesus also says, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Oh how blessed it is when brothers forgive one another and live in unity! As you forgive others, you are a visible sign of God’s love for all. You are like a sacrament in that God is using you to speak God’s Word of reconciliation to those who sin against you. Your forgiveness which you speak is the very comfort of God. It is the divine assurance that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.
When you say to your neighbor, “I forgive you,” you are forgiving him with God’s forgiveness. In this forgiveness, God’s kingdom comes and He reigns among us. And you are strengthened in the truth that God in Christ has forgiven you.
“So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” No wonder He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen