213. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as Saying No.1 “You must forgive God!” (5th in series of 10.)

‘”You must forgive God!” Good advice or bad advice? It is not always easy to work out what is helpful and what is not helpful regarding the advice people give to one another. One lesson I learnt when conducting many funerals was to hold my tongue when people greeted, for example, the grieving widow or mother who were standing beside me at a funeral service.  Often friends would come up to the grieving person beside me and say what I thought were very inappropriate words. But the grieving person would throw their arms around their friend and say, “Thank you.” Or “Thank you for being here.” The words were overlooked because the grieving person looked beyond the words to the genuineness of the sympathy and love being offered to them by their friend.

It may be the same thing when friends try to help each other in giving advice. The words said are often overshadowed by the sincerity of the people offering the advice. Sometimes the advice is heard but not acted on. At other times though, the advice is heard and acted on even when the advice is ultimately unhelpful.

In this study we look at three bits of advice that on first appearance seem to be good advice. However closer investigation shows that they are unhelpful and could be quite counterproductive as a means of helping people. The sayings are:-
1. “You must forgive God!”
2. “You must forgive yourself!”
3. “You’ve got to forgive and forget!”


The first time I heard this said was at a meeting of ministers. One of those invited to speak at the meeting talked about his ministry as a Chaplain. He described how he tried to break down the barriers some people had towards God. Part of the process he said was this, “I get them to forgive God.”

I could understand his thinking in the sense that if the people had a barrier towards God they needed to get rid of it. So instead of holding a lingering resentment against God he encouraged them to get rid of that barrier by forgiving God. He stated that it seemed to help some people.

I understood his logic but disagreed with it. I told him that I felt it was not really helpful to get people to do that. Some discussion followed. As we left the meeting a senior Bishop said, “I agree with what you said. It’s almost blasphemous isn’t it?” We both respected the minister involved but disliked the saying because we both saw it as being ultimately unhelpful.

Why then do people encourage people to forgive God? The minister gave one explanation. He said that many people blame God for some or all of the adverse things that happened in their lives. They believe, for example, that He failed them in not providing for them or in allowing some tragedy to happen in their lives. Because of that they maintain a hardened attitude towards God. Naturally that hardness has to be removed before such people are willing to draw on the love and grace of God.

One writer added that of course one can’t really forgive God but when people are encouraged to do it and feel a bit better as a result, they can then ask Him to forgive their presumption in “forgiving” Him. So in that sense it is helpful he suggested.

What does the Bible have to say about this topic?


1. One can only forgive someone who is guilty of sin. If no sin has occurred then there is nothing to forgive.

2. God has never sinned and never will.
• Abraham declared before God his confidence in Him, Gen 18:25 … Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
• Moses praised God in his song. Deut 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
• David spoke these words before God when He delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.  (2Sam 22:31) This God–his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Also in Ps 18:30)
• Jesus spoke of His Father as being perfect. (Mat 5:48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
• James wrote of God’s unchangeable nature. Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

3. If we think God has sinned against us in some way, is our opinion of Him right or wrong?
It is obvious that our opinion is wrong and needs to be repented of. God is a God who loves to give and especially to those who love His Son.
• As Paul wrote of His generous love, Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
• His purposes centre in His Son in whom believers have all things. Rom 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
• His purpose for His people is good. As Jeremiah wrote, Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
• Paul expressed it as God working all things for good for His people, Rom 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

4. God commands us to do many things such as to worship Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to serve Him etc, but never does He command us to forgive Him. Why should He if He has never done anything wrong?

5. God is never the originator of evil. He may allow it in His world, but He does not introduce it.
• Joseph saw the over-ruling hand of God in all that happened to him. His brothers may have had evil intent in their treatment of him but Joseph saw that God had over-ruled their sin to preserve a generation through him. Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
• In a Psalm that speaks so much of the sin of humankind, David wrote, Ps 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
• James saw that God is not evil; nor does He tempt people to do evil. Jas 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
• Paul wrote that God may allow temptation but He provides the way of escape so that people need not sin. 1Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

6. We sin against Him when we accuse Him of evil. It is blasphemous to look at what God does in his world and call it evil. That was the sin of many of the Jewish leaders who saw God at work through Jesus and called it evil.

It is also blasphemous to look at the course of our own lives and to accuse God of not caring for us or of initiating evil against us. The problems humans get into are often the result of their own foolishness or sin and are not caused directly by God.

7. It is sheer presumption to think that humans can stand in judgment of God. God is infinite and beyond all human judgment. Finite beings are not in a position to judge God the infinite. His thoughts and His ways are far beyond the capability of humans to understand. God spoke through Isaiah in Is 55:7-9, let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.


There is an old saying that says “The end does not justify the means”. It is true in the sense that the way to establish a good end (or result) requires a good means of achieving it. To achieve a godly end, godly means have to be used.

The lessening of a person’s hostility against God is a wonderful aim but the way to achieve that aim has to be godly as well. A godly “means” does not mean attributing guilt to God who is never guilty and never needs to be forgiven.

It is the truth that’s sets humans free, not lies. Jesus reminded His Jewish followers of this fact, Jn 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To accuse God of being or doing evil is a lie or comes from deception. Satan is “diabolos” the accuser and he functions through lies and deception. We see this even in Genesis where the serpent tried to confuse Eve saying, Gen 3:1 … “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve replied, Gen 3:2 “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

The serpent then told Eve a lie, Gen 3:4 “You will not surely die”. He followed that with a besmirching of the character of God. 3:5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. In other words, “Don’t trust God. He is a liar trying to deceive you.”

Jesus taught that Satan was a liar, Jn 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Satan tries to prevent people from hearing and responding to the truth that can set them free, Mk 4:15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

Paul saw unregenerate humankind as under the power of Satan. Satan desired to keep people bound in darkness and in his power so that they did not turn to God for acceptance and forgiveness. Acts 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 

Satan as the accuser is opposed to God and to His purposes for humankind. He deceives mankind and tries to blacken the character of God by saying He has evil intents.

My very deep concern with encouraging people to forgive God is that to some extent we may be doing the Devil’s work for him, in suggesting to the people we are trying to help, that God has sinned against them and needs to be forgiven.

If we start people on the process of forgiving God, where will it end? Instead of encouraging them to see the loving hand of God in the circumstances around them we are encouraging them to look for faults in God that they can then “graciously forgive”. The concept of forgiving God is dangerous stuff indeed!


How then can we help people who feel some degree of anger or resentment against God? We do it by stressing the truth as found in the word of God. These are some suggestions that do work in practice. The resentful people need to do the following:-

1. Recognise that God is perfect in all His ways, and that His promises are to be believed and acted on.
Reality is not what people feel but what God says in His word. His word describes the loving nature of God who has done so much for humankind in sending Jesus to die for sinners and to reconcile them back to Himself. They need to feed on the passages which describe His love for us in Jesus, in order to overcome their unjustified resentment. .

2. Recognise that God is so much greater than we are. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, for they are “higher” than ours, Is 55:8-9. God knows exactly what He is doing in His world. He is in complete control. We may have thoughts about what is happening in the world and what God may be doing, but we can never fully comprehend the incomprehensible wisdom of God.

His ways are also beyond our limited understanding. We may think that God should work in a particular way as we pray about a situation but God does something completely different which we see later was a much better answer.

3. Confess any anger or resentment on our part against Him as sin.
God demands our total love and our trust. So anger and resentment have to go. They cannot be excused or held on to. “Confessing” our sin means acknowledging our sin before God and calling it sin.

He has done nothing wrong. So instead of “forgiving God” as a means of getting rid of our resentment against Him we ask Him to forgive us for our resentment.

4. We must ask Him to forgive US for harbouring negative feelings towards Him.
God hasn’t sinned in His relationship with us. We have sinned as humans. As David showed in the Psalms we humans can tell God exactly what we feel and can even question His ways. But the time must come when we cease from harbouring those negative thoughts and emotions and humbly submit ourselves to Him. We do it without getting all the answers we were seeking. We need to get right with Him as soon as possible through confessing our sins, receiving His forgiveness in Christ and moving on in our Christian pilgrimage.

5. The fault is not with God but with our distorted picture of God.
Our God is unchanging. He has a track-record of caring for His people. If our concept of God does not fully appreciate all He is and all He has done, then the picture we have of God in our minds has to change. It is a distorted picture coming from the pain we may have experienced and from believing the lies of the enemy.

Having confessed our sins against God we can ask Him to break any wrong pattern of thinking about Him we may have had and to renew our minds according to the truth of God’s word.


1). When you went through difficult times were you tempted to blame God for being uncaring?  What help (or otherwise) did you find from doing so? What do you think now about blaming Him?

2). When you were tempted to blame God for difficulties you faced did you ever try to work out your own personal responsibility (or irresponsibility) in the situation or did you find it easier to simply see it as God’s fault? Do you now see that as fair? Why or why not?

3). Do you think that people can become more healed if they have a picture in their minds that God is unloving? What needs to happen for them? How can that best happen?

4). If a friend shared with you their resentment against God for some difficulty they experienced, how would you try to help them open up to God to receive His healing? What biblical truths about God and about humans would you share with them?

5). Do you think you can help another person who is antagonistic to God if you yourself are harbouring some form of resentment towards Him? What might you need to do and how would you do it?

Blog N0. 213.  Jim Holbeck. Posted (Easter) Monday 17th April 2017


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212. Examples Of Forgiveness In Action In The New Testament. Jesus. Stephen. Paul. (4th in a series of 10)

During a period of heavy rainfall in Sydney I asked a friend, “Are you enjoying the rain?” I was somewhat taken aback by her reply but eventually saw how she had made a very interesting answer to my simple question. She replied, “I have no problem with the concept of rain. It’s the practicalities I have difficulty with.” She was right of course. Rain is wonderful because it renews the earth and brings plants to life and delights the farming community when it falls at the right time. But the practicalities are not always easy to manage. Rain brings problems with slippery roads to travel on, children being cooped up inside the house unable to go out and play, the tramping in of mud and so on.

I have thought about her reply a lot as it has applications in many areas of life. It certainly applies in the area of forgiveness. Many, many people have no problem with the concept of forgiveness. They think that it must be a good thing to be forgiven by God or by other people. It must also be good to be able to forgive those who hurt you rather than carrying ongoing bitterness in one’s heart.  But the practicalities involved in asking someone for forgiveness or actually forgiving someone seem much less attractive to them. That it is why it is helpful to have examples of people who not only believed in the concept of forgiveness but who also went on to practise it.

We see such examples in the New Testament in Jesus, Stephen and Paul whose lives we will examine in this chapter. But first we will look at a contemporary example in a woman named Helen who knew of those examples and was encouraged to act as they did in forgiving those who hurt her.

A TRUE STORY. (Names have been changed to ensure privacy and confidentiality)

My wife and I had been prayer counselling a young woman for over an hour and we seemed to be getting nowhere. It wasn’t surprising because she didn’t seem to know what her problem was either. Her doctor had months before sent her to a psychiatrist because Helen had just dropped her bundle and wasn’t functioning either as a mother of a couple of small children nor as a wife. Successive trips to the psychiatrist had not made her any better. In desperation she asked that Carole my wife and I pray with her even though she was from another parish. Her minister gave his approval.

What do you do when you have tried to find some breakthrough when talking to someone in need and nothing is happening? If you are wise, you pray. I suggested that we spend some time in prayer just waiting on the Lord for His help. My unspoken prayer to God that night was something like this, “Lord she really does need help. The psychiatrist hasn’t been able to help and we’re not doing very well at the moment so would you as THE Counsellor take over and show her or us what the problem is?” We spent a few minutes in silent prayer.

“I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.” These words from Helen broke the silence as she banged her fists on the sides of the chair in which she was sitting. I remember thinking at the time, “Now we’re getting somewhere. Thank You Lord!”  My question of course was “Helen, whom do you hate?”  Her answer was both emotional and immediate, “My fellow missionaries.”  The story unfolded that Helen and her family had served on a Mission field, living in community where they were the only married couple with children. It seemed that everyone had “helpful” advice on how she should bring up her children. The advice was readily forthcoming but less and less appreciated by Helen as time went on. The only way she felt she could cope was to return home early from the Mission field.

In our presence Helen asked God to forgive her for harbouring resentment and bitterness for such a long time. Then she named the people who had wounded her and forgave them one by one. She also forgave them of the things they had said or had done that had hurt her so deeply. We knew she was genuine when she asked God to bless her former fellow missionaries wherever they might be.

Some months later Helen told us that after that night she had seen her doctor who told her that she did not have to return to the psychiatrist. Her doctor could see that she was obviously healed and normal. She also told us that she had written to her fellow missionaries and invited any of them to stay with them when they were returning from the Mission field. With obvious joy she told us what a delight that had been to her when several did come and they had enjoyed wonderful fellowship together.

God enables us to turn the “concept” of forgiveness into a “practical” forgiving of those who hurt us.


1).    THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS. (In His life on earth)

Luke 23:33-34 “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Jesus asked His Heavenly Father to forgive those responsible for His crucifixion. What a motley collection of people they were. We look at those for whom He asked forgiveness from God.

  • The whole company. Lk 23:1. It meant members of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews. They had decided to kill Jesus but had no authority under Roman law to do so. So they brought Jesus to Pilate the procurator of Judea who could give such permission. The leaders of Jesus’ own people had rejected Him and wanted to destroy Him. Jesus forgave them.
  • 23:2. Pilate took sides against Jesus as well, though he tried to evade responsibility for Jesus’ death. Jesus forgave Pilate.
  • 23:8. Pilate sent Him on to Herod who was glad to meet Jesus, hoping He might do one of His signs. Jesus forgave Herod.
  • The chief priests and the scribes. 23:10. While Jesus was before Herod, they stood by, “vehemently accusing Him”. Jesus forgave them.
  • Herod and his soldiers. 23:11 They treated him with contempt and mocked him. They dressed Him and sent Him back to Pilate. As Herod and Pilate united in their mutual rejection of Jesus they formed a bond with each other. Jesus was meant to die to bring reconciliation with God and between fellow humans for those who accepted Him. But these rulers, Herod and Pilate were united in their rejection of Him. Jesus forgave them all.
  • The chief priests and the rulers and the people 23:13. Pilate called all these people together and told them that he and Herod had not found Jesus guilty of the charges they had made against Him. He told the crowd that his choice was to punish Jesus and let Him go. However they demanded that a rebel and murderer named Barabbas be released rather than Jesus. “But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”– . They wanted Jesus to be crucified. Pilate released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to the Jews to do what they wanted to do with Him. The result? 23:30, “They crucified Him.” Jesus forgave them.

 It can be seen that there were many people indeed who were involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. Many of them had heard His teaching. Others had also seen the miracles and healings He performed. Yet in spite of all this evidence, they were willing to see Jesus be put to death. They were accountable even though many were ignorant as to what was really happening.

What was Jesus’ response to all this rejection by so many people? 

23:34  “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

They were crying out for His death. He was praying that God would forgive them. But was it true to say as Jesus prayed that these people did not know what they were doing?  Perhaps it was true to a large extent. Many of those opposed to Jesus may have been guilty of blind prejudice so that they did not recognise that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. Paul wrote in 1Cor 2:7-8,  “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 

It is probably true that if the religious leaders had really understood who Jesus was they would not have had Him crucified. However they were not without fault because they should have known what their scriptures had to say about the coming Messiah. They should have known about His role as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. They should have taken Jesus seriously when they heard His teaching and witnessed God’s power at work through Him.

Jesus prayed that they might be forgiven. Did it mean that they were in fact forgiven? His prayer did not seem to have much effect on many of those who heard Him pray for their forgiveness. Luke records what happened immediately after Jesus prayed. Lk 23:35  “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ 36  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37  and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ “

 Forgiveness is only available to those who turn to God in repentance and ask for His forgiveness. But Jesus’ words were powerful. To pray for forgiveness when one is suffering cruelly at the hands of those being prayed for, would leave a strong memory in the lives of those who heard Him. He was praying that they would eventually recognise their sin and turn to God for forgiveness. Even His prayer could be seen as a fulfilment of the prophecy regarding the Suffering servant in Isaiah 53:12  “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.They were transgressing against Him even while He was praying for them.

 There was more than blind prejudice present that day. In this appalling scene we see two lights in the darkness.

  • One was a criminal who recognised that Jesus was indeed a King. He entreated Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
  • The other was the centurion at the scene who heard Jesus cry out His last words on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” His response as he saw and heard Jesus, was to praise God saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

It would be almost certain that as the gospel was later preached throughout the surrounding countries that the story of Jesus’ prayer for His persecutors in Lk 23:34 was also shared with those wanting to know more about Him. Such a person may have been Stephen our next example.

2).    THE EXAMPLE OF STEPHEN. Acts 7:60

Stephen was one of the seven chosen to wait on tables to ensure that the Hellenistic widows did not miss out on the distribution of food. (Act 6:1-5). The qualifications of the seven outlined by the apostles were that they might be “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4)  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

 The choice was made and the seven were prayed over and had hands laid on them for their ministry, 6:5. Luke made special mention of Stephen. He described him as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,”  7 and as being, “full of grace and power… doing great wonders and signs among the people.” 8 Not only that but when his ministry was later challenged Luke records of Stephen, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking,  6:10.  Moreover as he faced his accusers,  those who sat in the Council saw that his face was like the face of an angel, 6:15.  He appeared in every way to be a genuine instrument of God.

When challenged, he began to outline the history of Israel and spoke of times when God’s people had rebelled against Him and His servants. Stephen recounted the rejection of Moses, Acts 7:39-40 and other times when they rejected God’s servants. Acts 7:41-50. The climax came when he challenged his hearers with having the same rejection. 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52  Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53,  you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”    

 The reaction of the hearers to Stephen was predictable, 54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.” He was telling them the truth but they were in no mood to hear it from his lips.  He knew the intentions of their hearts and began to pray. Again Luke recorded what took place, Acts 7:55  “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Luke recorded also his words, 56 “And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'”  His words show that he believed that Jesus was alive and standing at the right hand of God. By these words he was proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of Man (Jesus’ favourite title for Himself as the Messiah) and divine. His prayer that followed was addressed to Jesus as “Lord Jesus”.

The next reaction of the crowd was to prevent Stephen’s voice from being heard any longer, 7:57 “But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” Not only that but they went further in their sin and rejection of Stephen by casting him out of the city and stoning him, 58 “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

 It is significant that Luke mentioned the presence of Saul (later known as St Paul). Not only was Paul present but he was in favour of Stephen being put to death as Luke wrote in Acts 8:1,  “And Saul approved of his execution.”

 What then was Stephen’s response to the uncontrollable reaction of the crowd to him? Even as they continued to stone him he cried out to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”, Acts 7:59.  Then in words reminiscent of those uttered by Jesus on the cross, he prayed for his enemies, “‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

 Stephen as he faced death may have been consciously following the example of Jesus in His final moments.

The Death Of Jesus The Death Of Stephen
Lk 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Acts 7:59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Lk 23:34  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Acts 7:60. And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Stephen was praying for his enemies. His prayers in verses 59 and 60 show that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was divine and that He would judge the world. He asked Jesus not to hold this sin against them. What sin? The sin of rejecting the purpose of God in having him stoned to death. God had been at work through Stephen as His servant and now the leaders and the people were in the process of killing him. Yet another servant of God would be killed by God’s people.

There was only one hope for the murderous crowd. It was through receiving God’s forgiveness. Only then could they escape judgement on the day of Judgement. Stephen graciously prayed for their forgiveness. Until they were forgiven they were accountable. They had sinned against him in seeking to stone him to death. But they had also sinned against God in the murder of Stephen the servant of God.

The example of Jesus in His death may have motivated Stephen to ask forgiveness for his enemies in the same way.

But did Stephen’s example influence anyone? It seems that later it did touch the life of the young man Saul of Tarsus who was holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. This action showed his consent to what was happening on that day. Saul met the living Jesus on the road to Damascus and became Paul the believer and the apostle to the Gentiles.

Many years later in Jerusalem Paul shared details of his life and of these events. He spoke of praying to God just after he became a believer, in these words,  Acts 22:19  “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20  And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.'”  Paul had sinned against many believers. He knew he had sinned against Stephen as an individual. He had sinned against God. What was God’s response to his prayer, Acts 22:21 “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles”

 God had forgiven him and was now commissioning him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. The example of Stephen eventually had a great effect on Paul. He could see that in retrospect that Stephen was God’s “witness”. There may be significance in the use of that word. It is ( μάρτυς = mártus) which can mean “witness” or “martyr”. Paul may have had in mind that when Stephen was stoned to death (his blood was shed) he was actively witnessing to His Lord and at the same time becoming a martyr for his faith in Jesus.

 3).    THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL (Formerly Saul of Tarsus)


We have seen above in the story of the death of Stephen that Paul was involved. Act 7:58  “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Luke then added that Paul was guilty as he also approved of Stephen’s death, Acts 8:1 “And Saul approved of his execution.” There are many other references to Paul’s sins when he was known as Saul.

Paul guilty of the persecution of believers

Act 8:3.  “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

Acts  9:15-16In Damascus Ananias “informed” God regarding how dangerous Paul was.  Acts 9:13 “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

 But Saul the persecutor met the Risen Christ and was  transformed by that experience. He was to discover that God had a purpose for his life. God told Ananias what that purpose was and that he should go and pray for Paul to receive his sight, Acts 9:15  “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.'”

 Paul recognised his sin as a persecutor. Act 22:4  “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5  as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.”

Paul became a changed man

When people saw the transformation in Paul they were amazed,  Act 9:21  “And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?'”


There are many references to the difficulties Paul faced as a believer. He wrote of many of those difficulties in 2 Cor 11.  Verse 23  “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”

As this passage shows there were obviously many people he needed to forgive for the difficulties they had placed on him and for the hurt and pain they had caused him. He had been persecuted in many of the cities he had visited but he later wrote to the churches in those places to encourage the believers. He was concerned for the spiritual state of the people who had rejected him in his missionary journeys. He wasn’t going to hold on to bitterness against them but had let it go as he forgave them.

Ephesus. One such city was Ephesus where many had rejected his ministry. He wrote about his experience in the city, 1Cor 15:32 “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” Paul wrote deeply about forgiveness when he sent a letter to the church there. Paul had known God’s forgiveness of him. He knew he had to forgive others as he had been forgiven by God. Because he had done it, he could teach it with authority. In Eph 4:31 we read,  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  God had forgiven Him in Christ. Now as one in Christ, Paul forgave those who had sinned against him.

 Jerusalem. Acts 21:26-31. Paul had brought Gentiles into the temple. He was accused of defiling the temple. Many reacted against Paul and his companions and were seeking to kill him.  Acts 21:30  “Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31  And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32  He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done.” 

 Paul was able to bear testimony to what God had done in his life in Christ. The crowd listened to him but when he mentioned that God had chosen him to go to the Gentiles they exclaimed, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live,” 22:22. The inference from Paul that God was interested in the Gentile people was too much for them to bear.  They wanted Paul killed. Here was another group of people Paul needed to forgive.

Galatia.   Paul had established the church in Galatia but later had the sadness of hearing that false teachers had come in to try to turn the people against him and the message he had brought them. However Paul didn’t give up on his Christian brothers and sisters in Galatia. He forgave their failure to uphold the teaching he had given them. He wanted the best for them. He was forthright and honest in dealing with them. His usual salutation was shortened as he immediately told them what was concerning him, Gal 1:6  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–7  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

 Later in chapter 3 Paul again wrote strongly to those whom he saw as having been led astray by the false teachers,  Gal 3:1  “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

Paul really cared about his friends in Galatia. He wrote to encourage them to walk by faith as they had begun to do at the beginning of their Christian lives and not to rely on works of the law. They had originally received him and his ministry with open arms,  Gal 4:13  “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14  and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” The false teachers didn’t really care about them in the same way he did. He described his attitude thus, Gal 4:19  “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  In his forgiving love he didn’t want them to remain as they were. He wanted them to become what God could make them, by His Spirit within them. They could become more like Christ Himself by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 Philippi. Paul remembered the city of Philippi. He remembered it also as a place where he had been badly treated. He had cast out an evil spirit from a girl but the owners of the girl had him brought before the magistrates. A severe beating took place, Act 16:22  “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. “ Paul later wrote to the Thessalonians about his experience in Philippi, 1Thess 2:2  “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”

 He also remembered the city with joy having seen God at work through his ministry there. Not only was a girl set free of an evil spirit but God miraculously opened the prison doors where Paul was imprisoned. It happened when he was in the process of praising God. The end result was that the jailer and his family believed in the Lord and were baptised. A nasty experience had led to a joyous outcome.

When Paul later wrote to the church in Philippi he looked back with affection to his fellow believers who had come to mean so much to him, Php 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4  always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

 These were not the words of a bitter man struggling to forgive those who had been involved in his assault and imprisonment. His confidence was in God who could transform people, Php 1:6  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7  It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He had transformed many of those in Philippi who had become his dear friends as is seen in Php 4:1  “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”  

 Paul had been in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving when he had been imprisoned in Philippi. God had moved powerfully at that time. Later when he wrote to them as friends he stressed the importance of rejoicing in the Lord and handing everything over to Him in prayer (as he had done in prison in Philippi many years before), Php 4:4  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   

It seems that the believers in Philippi had initially given Paul a large degree of support. Later that support had faltered. But Paul forgave them and told them he knew it was difficult for them to continue to give him the support he so much appreciated. But they had revived their concern, Php 4:10  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”

Others may have found it difficult to forgive those who had treated them badly or who failed in their support, but not Paul. He was able to trust in the Lord in the good times and in the bad. He encouraged them to adopt the same attitude he had, Php 4:11 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

2 Tim 4. Paul took a pragmatic view as he shared with Timothy his concerns about those who had been with him as he ministered.  Some people had disappointed him or caused him harm but he didn’t dwell on what they did or didn’t do. He just mentioned it in passing.

  • He had been deserted by a friend. 2Tim 4:10 “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
  • Someone had brought great harm to him and posed a threat to Timothy as well, 2Tim 4:14 “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
  • Paul looked for support when he went on trial but there was none, 2Tim 4:16 “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”  But he added in words reminiscent of Jesus on the cross and Stephen when he was being stoned to death, “May it not be charged against them!” He wanted them to repent of their sin and know God’s forgiveness. In that sense he had forgiven them as well.
  • Humans may have failed him but the Lord didn’t, 2Tim 4:17 “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”
  • Paul’s confidence in God continued even as he wrote to Timothy, 2Tim 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”


Is it possible to forgive people who have still not repented of their sin against us nor asked for our forgiveness? It is an important question because that is precisely where many people are today in their experience. How can you forgive if people don’t say “Sorry!”

We will look more at that question in a later chapter. However suffice it to say that we see in this chapter three people who were sinned against in very significant ways but who found it in their hearts to forgive those who sinned against them.

Such forgiveness was perhaps unknown in the world of Jesus’ day. It must have been an incredible shock to hear Him answer Peter’s question about how often one should forgive. Seventy times seven seemed to be an impossible task for His hearers.

Jesus didn’t just teach about forgiveness, He practised it. We see that in those incredible words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Stephen had the same attitude as Jesus towards those who were stoning him to death,  Acts 7:60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

 Paul also had to forgive many people and he did. He commanded the believers in the churches in Ephesus and Colossae to forgive others in the same way God forgave sinners, Eph 4:32  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” AND Col 3:13  “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

 These three humans found it possible to forgive by the grace of God and set an example for others to follow. Forgiving others is necessary according to the word of God. It is also possible by the grace God gives us in His Son and in the gift of his Holy Spirit who can motivate us to forgive in love.


1).        Have you found it difficult to forgive people who hurt you and have never said to you, “I’m sorry!”
What help might you find in the examples of Jesus, Stephen and Paul?
2).        Do you feel that there are some people you could never forgive? If so what answer do you have for those who say forgiveness is a choice we make?
3).        In all honesty do you really want to forgive the people who hurt you or your loved ones? If not, how can you change so as to be willing to forgive?

Blog No.212.  Jim Holbeck. Posted on (Good) Friday 14th April 2017.

Posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, GROUP DISCUSSION MATERIAL on "Forgiveness", Healing, Prayer, Real Life Stories, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

211. “Forgiveness in the Teaching Of Jesus.” (The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. Matthew 18:21-35.) (3rd in series of 10).


A True Story. (Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality and privacy)

Janice had a problem. In fact she had two problems. The first was a physical problem that meant she could not control her hands that were continuously shaking. The shaking was getting worse as the months wore on. She found it almost impossible to write or to sign her name. Doctors had given her a bad prognosis that suggested she would not get better but would only get progressively worse.

The second problem arose because of the teaching she had heard that day. It was teaching on the need to forgive in order to remain in good health or to experience God’s healing power in one’s life. She asked the question at the end of the teaching seminar, “Do you mean to say that if I forgive someone I could receive more healing?” My answer was “I really do believe that if we do what God tells us to do (such as forgiving others) we open ourselves to receive more healing from Him.”

At home that night Janice faced a moment of decision. She realised that the person who had brought so much damage into her life was her own mother. She realised she did need to forgive her mother but really didn’t want to. She didn’t want to let her mother “off the hook” for the hurt and pain her mother had caused her. Her choice was a difficult one. Should she humble herself and forgive her mother or should she hold on to the resentment and unforgiveness she had? If she forgave her mother she would no longer have a hold on her and could no longer play the victim.

She reached her decision. She had previously come to experience God’s forgiveness of her sins when she surrendered her life to the living Jesus. God had forgiven her of so much. Now she needed to forgive her mother. Her prayer went something like this, “Dear Lord, I confess that I have been harbouring so much hate and bitterness towards my mother. Please forgive me. I see the need now to forgive her. ” Then in words that were to change her life and her health she cried out, “Mother I forgive you in Jesus’ name.”

Immediately the shaking stopped. She had been healed! The next day she wrote easily and legibly for the first time in many months. That was only part of the healing. She testified later that she had come to know a wonderful emotional release as well. Those who knew her well saw a wonderful change in her physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Janice had decided to show mercy to her mother in forgiving her. She had cancelled the debt her mother owed her for the damage she had caused to Janice. She let her mother “off the hook” of her unforgiveness and in so doing was wonderfully released herself.

She had followed the example of the merciful master in the parable Jesus told in Mat 18. As we look at this parable we will see that the characteristics of true forgiveness are summarised in Mat 18:27. They are

  • a decision to show mercy.
  • cancelling the debt owed
  • letting the offender go free

Paul wrote in Col 3:13  “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  When we act on what God says, and forgive others in the same way that He forgave us, deep healing can take place.

We will now look at the parable to find out more about the nature of true forgiveness.


The significance of this passage is that Jesus responded to a question put to Him by Peter about forgiveness. His response was direct and uncompromising. People needed to forgive completely those who had sinned against them. He also gave an illustration in the form of a parable to show how forgiveness works out in practical living. It is known as the “Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant”. It shows examples of both forgiveness and unforgiveness.

Peter asked Jesus, Mt 18:21  Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?  Rabbinic teaching at the time seems to have taught that forgiveness was needed only three times against an offender. Peter was being generous in suggesting seven times. Jesus’ reply probably shocked those who heard Him. Mat 18:22  , “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. He was really saying that there is no upper limit to forgiveness. Jesus then told the parable to illustrate the meaning of true forgiveness.

1).           AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE FORGIVENESS. Mat 18:23-27

A servant was indebted to his king who required payment of the ten thousand talents owed. Suffice it to say that it was an impossible debt for him to repay.  All the servant could do was to plead for mercy, Mat 18:26  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

Jesus then showed what forgiveness is like. In very simple language Jesus declared what were the true elements of forgiveness, Mat 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. We will look at those three elements in more detail.   True Forgiveness requires the following:-

a).        A Decision To Show Mercy.  The servant’s master took pity on him

The word for “took pity” is from the Greek word (σπλαγχνίζομαι= splagchnízomai) which is found about a dozen times in the New Testament.  It comes from the noun splagchnon used for the intestines or bowels. They were seen at that time to be the seat of the emotions. The verb can mean to yearn, to feel deeply, to have compassion. It was often used in connection with Jesus’ ministry. He had compassion on many people, eg., in Mat 9:36, Mat 14:14, Mk 6:34; (Mat 14:14), Mar 6:34, Mat 15:32, Mk 8:2; Mat 15:32,  Mar 8:2, Mat 20:34; Mk 1:41, Mk 9.22;  Lk 7:13, Lk 10.33,  Lk 15:20.

What form then did this compassion take in the parable? It led to two consequences. He let the debtor go free. He cancelled the debt that was owed.

b).        Letting The Offender Go FreeAnd let him go. “Let go” is from apoluō meaning to loose or to forgive. It can mean to set free, let go, dismiss, loose, send away, divorce, depart, forgive. It is used in Lk 6.37 for “forgive”, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.

The master in his compassion had decided not to have the man put into prison. The servant was no longer obligated to the master. He was free to go and now owed nothing.

c).        Cancelling The Debt Owed.  “forgave him the debt”.

This is from (aphiēmi) meaning to “cancel” or to “forgive”. Instead of having the man imprisoned for not repaying the debt, the master cancelled all the debt and freed the sinner. Such a simple term is used to explain an incredible amount of generosity of spirit in the master. The cancellation of any debt comes at great personal cost to the person forgiving. The amount of debt mentioned in the parable was an impossible amount to repay, yet the master chose to let it all go. The servant no longer owed his master anything. The debt had been cancelled. He had been loosed from it.

 In many ways the same elements are present in the forgiveness God offered humans in His Son.

i). God chose to have mercy on those who would ask Him for mercy and forgiveness. John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

ii). He released them from the punishment they deserved because of the death Jesus died in their place to take away sin.  2 Cor 5:15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

iii). Their sin was cancelled as believers took hold of the salvation and forgiveness offered them in Christ.

2).           AN EXAMPLE OF UNFORGIVENESS. Mat 18:28-30

As we look at these verses we see that the servant did not put into practice the elements of true forgiveness.

a).        He chose NOT to show compassion or pity. Mat 18:28  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

 One would have expected that a man who had been shown such compassion by a superior would have been motivated to show compassion to an equal. However he chose to reject his fellow servant’s plea for mercy even though the latter used the same plea for mercy that he had used himself,  ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

b).        He chose NOT to release the debtor.  30 He refused and went and put him in prison.  What chilling words are used to describe the attitude of the first servant, “He refused”. In spite of seeing and experiencing compassion in action; in spite of having his debt cancelled; in spite of not having to go to prison, he made the decision not to be merciful to his fellow servant. He put him in prison. The word for “put in” is from
(βάλλω = bállō) which normally has the sense of force. It is translated here as “cast” in the KJV and as “threw” in the NRSV.

c).        He chose NOT to cancel the debt owed.  30 …  until he should pay the debt. The first servant had been forgiven of an impossible debt. Having been forgiven, he owed nothing. Again one would have expected that because he had “saved” so much due to the generosity of the master that he could let little debts go. But he refused to cancel the small debt his fellow servant owed him.

 3).           THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORGIVENESS.  Mat 18:31-35

Injustice cannot be tolerated.  A great injustice had taken place. The fellow servants who saw what happened were appalled. Mat 18:31  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. The unforgiving servant was accountable for his attitudes and actions.

We reap what we sow.  The first servant, in spite of all the compassion he had been shown, had sown a lack of compassion and forgiveness in the life of a fellow servant. He was to reap what he had sown. Mat 18:32  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

 He had shown in his actions two principles by which he lived. The first was that showing compassion was not necessary for him. The second was that debts should be paid no matter how small. He wanted to live by the application of law and not by the manifestation of grace.

The master applied the same principles to him. Compassion was withdrawn. Now law would come into force. Mat 18:34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

We note that though the master was angry at the blatant injustice he had witnessed, he acted in a restrained manner in dealing with the unforgiving servant. He didn’t throw (ballō) him into prison but handed him over to the jailers. “Handed over” is (
παραδίδωμι = paradídōmi) which usually describes a more restrained approach.

Unforgiveness leads to imprisonment

Mat 18:34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  The word for “jailers” is (βασανιστής = basanistēs which is translated as “tormentors” in the KJV and as “to be tortured” in the NRSV and as “to the jailers to be tortured” in the NIV.  The unforgiving servant would undergo torture in jail until he had paid all his debts to the master. As the story is told by Jesus that would mean he would never be released from prison.


It is unwise to press every small detail of a parable and extrapolate it to understand its meaning for today. A parable normally has one main point to stress. Jesus in answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” has shown in the parable what elements are involved in forgiveness and what that means in practice. He also showed the danger of continuing in unforgiveness.  He applied the parable in Mat 18:35, So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

 What is it that God will do to those who refuse to show compassion in forgiveness? There are those who see this as referring to the final judgment of humankind. Those who are refused mercy and remain in torment at the judgment are those who refused to seek mercy from God throughout their lives. They had not tasted God’s mercy and thus were unable to show it to others in forgiveness.

Another explanation focuses on the unforgiving servant being handed over to the jailers to be tortured. It is suggested that those who refuse to forgive are “imprisoned” in their unforgiveness. They remain in a negative bonding to those whom they refuse to forgive. Many counsellors will testify that people who refuse to show compassion and to forgive are indeed imprisoned by their bitterness and resentment. They bring upon themselves what we might describe as self-imposed torture. Their minds are habitually thinking of the person they need to forgive and they can go through renewed pain and emotional distress with every memory.

Jesus set before Peter and those who heard Him the way forward. It was the way of forgiveness. In forgiving others they could become free themselves. The elements of forgiveness He outlined in the parable bring the healing and release that will not come in any other way.

To be rid of the inner torment that unforgiveness brings means taking the steps taken by the master in the parable. That is, people need to decide to show mercy and compassion. They need to cancel all the debt owed to them by the person who hurt or offended them. They need to let them go free, or in other words, to let them off the hook of their unforgiveness. That is God’s way for becoming free and being rid of the inner torment. The freeedom that comes from forgiving brings healing to those who forgive.


1).        To what extent is the relationship between the Master and the first servant similar to the relationship that exists between God and humans?
2).        Was there any other way the first servant could have solved his problem apart from pleading with the Master for mercy. If not, why not?
3).        In what ways did the first servant show a lack of appreciation for what the Master had done for him?
4).        In our relationships do we sometimes act like the first servant in our attitudes towards our equals?
5).        Does the parable say anything about believers losing their salvation? If not, why not?
6).        What “good news” is there in the parable for those who feel they are too unworthy to draw near to God?
 7).        When we ask God to forgive us how forgiven are we really?


Blog No.211.  Jim Holbeck. Posted (Good) Friday 14th April 2017

Posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, GROUP DISCUSSION MATERIAL on "Forgiveness", Healing, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

210. FORGIVENESS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. The Meaning of Forgiveness. (2nd in series of 10).

A TRUE STORY. (The names have been altered for the sake of privacy and confidentiality).

“I choose to forgive him.” They may seem to be very simple words to say. But for Bernice it took more than twenty years to be able to say them. Her husband had walked out on the family when their children were still in Primary School and Bernice had been left to bring up the children while her husband began a life with another younger woman. He had subsequently failed to give any real support to Bernice or the children. There followed a hurtful divorce and Bernice was deeply wounded. She said that every time she thought of him (and it was often) she went through renewed pain. She feared every occasion when she might see him again.

Bernice had learned over those twenty years what was involved in forgiving someone. She knew she needed to forgive her husband for many, many things.  He had never said “Sorry” to her and she felt that he did not deserve her forgiveness. In the teaching on forgiveness she had been challenged by the command in Col 3:13  “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  She saw that humans must forgive in the same way God has forgiven them, even though they didn’t deserve His forgiveness. She made a choice to forgive her husband and in the presence of a couple of friends declared those words, “I choose to forgive him.” She felt more at peace as a result.

Then came a day that she had formerly feared would come. A member of her family had died and she knew her ex-husband would be at the funeral. She would not be able to avoid him then or at the family get-together that would follow later.  She knew she had chosen to forgive him and had declared that before God and before her friends. But would she have the same feelings she had previously had when she had met him? For example, the sick feeling in her stomach; her mouth dried so that she could barely speak; wanting to run away from his presence.

Bernice returned home from the funeral quite ecstatic. Why? She had seen her ex-husband and she suddenly felt to her surprise a sense of compassion for him. She was able to speak to him without becoming emotionally distraught as had happened in the past. She felt she had been released in some deep way.  What joy she had to share that with her friends who had been praying for her.

In the teaching which follows we will be able to see some of the truths that brought such healing and release to Bernice as she acted on them.

We will look briefly at the different words used for forgiveness in the New Testament with some scriptural references to note the different shades of meaning for each word.

  • We will read of the amazing grace of God in forgiving sins committed against Him and those committed against our fellow humans.
  • We will also see His grace described as He forgives the people involved as well as forgiving the sins.
  • We will be challenged (as Bernice was) by His command to show to others the forgiveness He offers to us.

Terms Used For Forgiveness. Words used in the New Testament are:- 

 1). Aphiemi.       Verb. To forgive
2). Aphesis.       Noun. Forgiveness, remission.
3). Apoluo.        Verb. To loose or forgive
4). Charizomai.    (From charis = grace.) Verb. To (freely) forgive


The word is used in many ways and can mean to send away, to let go or forgive, to allow, to depart or leave. In the following passages we see its use in terms of forgiveness.

i).         Receiving Forgiveness From God Necessitates Extending It To Others. Mat 6:12-15, Mk 11:25,26, Lk 11:2-4

Jesus taught His followers to pray, Mat 6:12  and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  Lk 11:4  and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us ….”

He taught them to extend forgiveness to others having received it themselves. (Mat 6:14)  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

He taught them the need to forgive others as a means of receiving forgiveness for themselves. Mk 11:25  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

ii).        A Paralysed Man Is Forgiven And Healed By Jesus.  Mat 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12, Luke 5:18-26

Faith in Christ is needed to receive forgiveness from Him. (Mat 9:2)  And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

(Mat 9:5)  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6)  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he then said to the paralytic–“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

iii).       Forgiveness Not Sought May Be Withheld. (In the teaching on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). Mat 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, Lk 12:10.  This will be covered more fully in a later chapter).

Mt 12:31  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32)  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

 (NOTE:- Other verses on this theme. Mk 3:28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.  29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness (the noun, aphesis) , but is guilty of an eternal sin.  Lk 12:10) And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.)

iv).       In The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant.  Mt 18:21-35

Jesus showed in this parable that forgiveness involved three things, a choice to be merciful; cancelling the debt owed; letting the sinner go free.  Mat 18:21  Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 

Mat 18:27  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

Mat 18:32  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

Mat 18:35  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

(We will deal more fully with this important passage in a later chapter.)

v).        In The Story Of The “Sinful” Woman Who Anointed Jesus. Lk 7:37-50,

Forgiveness is not easy to understand as it is based on God’s grace or unmerited favour. Those who heard Jesus forgive a sinful woman did not understand the grace of God. How could a religious teacher forgive someone so wicked, was the thought in their minds. Again what right did He have to forgive someone like her? They failed to see that forgiveness brings release to those held captive to sin’s power and that the woman loved much because she had been forgiven of so much. Lk 7:47)  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”48)  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49)  Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”

vi).       Forgiving Those Who Keep On Sinning And Asking For Forgiveness   Luke 17:3-4.

Repentance is the key to receiving forgiveness. When fellow humans ask for forgiveness we need to offer it to them without first ensuring that they are absolutely sincere about their repentance. Lk 17:3  Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4  and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

vii).      Forgiving Those Who Don’t Ask For Forgiveness. Lk 23:34 

Jesus asked His Heavenly Father to forgive those who were ill-treating Him even while they were in the midst of doing so. They were ignorant that they were crucifying the Jewish Messiah. His words may have later impacted on some of those who heard Him ask for their greatest need, the need of forgiveness from God.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

viii).     Unforgiven Sin Remains Unforgiven. (Jn 20:23)

We will look at this verse later but suffice it to say at this point that God’s people have the authority to declare sins forgiven when people confess them in repentance.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  (NRSV 23  … if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”)

ix).       Repentance And Asking God For Forgiveness Are Needed To Receive Forgiveness.  (Acts 8:22) 

Peter said to Simon the former magician. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.  Simon needed to recognise that what he desired was wicked in the sight of God, so he needed not only to repent of his attitude but to ask God to forgive him.

x).        The Blessing Of Forgiveness.  Rom 4:7.  (Quoted from Ps 32:1)

Paul argued in Rom 4 that a right standing with God came from putting one’s trust in Jesus and not from the works one did. He quoted the words of Psalm 32 where David declares the blessing coming from being forgiven by God. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered..”

xi).       Confession Of Sin Leads To Forgiveness.

In these verses both James and John wrote of the forgiveness available to believers when they turned from sin and believed in Christ. Jas 5:15,  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

1Jn 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1Jn 2:12, I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.

 xii).      Forgiveness Is Available Only To Those Who Have Faith In Christ. Acts 10:43, 13:38, 26:18

Peter in Acts 10:43 recognised that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. He thus made forgiveness available to the people of God. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

In Acts 13:38, Paul preached Jesus as the Messiah who brought forgiveness.  Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything …

In Acts 26:18, Paul told of God’s commission for him to minister among the Gentiles.  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  Faith leads to repentance and brings forgiveness AND a place among God’s people.

2).        APHESIS. Forgiveness

1) The word means release from bondage or imprisonment, or the removal of punishment for sin.

2) Can also mean forgiveness or pardon of sins (letting them go). It may involve the remission of the penalty.

i).         John The Baptist Commanded People To Repent In Order To Be Forgiven.

John was preparing the way for the coming Messiah. Part of the preparation was commanding the people to repent of their sins. Mk 1:4  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. AND Lk 3:3  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

ii).        John The Baptist Was To Prepare The Way For Jesus Through Whom People Could Be Forgiven.  Lk 1:76  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77  to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,

iii).       Jesus Taught That Forgiveness Was Not Available To Those Who Blasphemed Against The Holy Spirit.  (Mk 3:29)  but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”–   (NOTE:-  See also 1 (iii) above under Mt 12:31-32.)

 iv).       Jesus Saw His Prophesied Death As The Central Feature Of The New Covenant. His death would make forgiveness available to those who would receive it in Him. (Mat 26:28)  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

 v).        The Risen Jesus Commissioned His Disciples To Witness To Him Throughout The World. They were to proclaim Him as the One who by His Death and Resurrection had made forgiveness available for those who would believe in Him.  (Lk 24:47)  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

 vi).       The Apostles Commanded People To Repent Of Sin In Order To Be Forgiven. 

Peter. Acts 2:38.  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. AND Acts 5:31,  God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

 vii).      Peter Preached That Jesus Fulfilled The Role Of The Messiah. (Forgiveness was available in Him).  He would die to make forgiveness available. Forgiveness became theirs as they put their faith in Him. (Act 10:43)  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” AND Act 13:38  Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything  39  from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

 viii).     Paul, In His Defence Before King Agrippa, Shared How God Had Commissioned Him. He was  to preach Christ to the Gentiles so that they might turn to God and be forgiven.  (Acts 26:18)  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

 ix).       Paul wrote of Jesus as the one in whom forgiveness for sins was to be found. Christ had come to redeem His people from sin by His sacrifice of Himself. The resulting forgiveness was to be found in Him and in no other.  Eph 1:7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, AND Col 1:14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 x).        The writer of the letter to the Hebrews showed that forgiveness for sins required a blood sacrifice. Heb 9:22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. That sacrifice was the death of Jesus as the ONE sacrifice to take away sins for ever. No further sacrifice was needed, Heb 10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

3).        APOLUŌ. To loose, forgive

This is translated in several ways in the New Testament. It is used thus:- to set free, let go, dismiss, loose,  send away, divorce, depart, forgive.

It is used in Lk 6.37 for “forgive”, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.

 4).        CHARIZOMAI. To give freely, to forgive

This word is the verb form of the noun, “charis” meaning grace. It means to act in a gracious way towards someone, to be kind, to give freely, to bestow, to pardon or forgive.

i).         It Is Used In Terms Of Forgiving The Sins Or Debts Committed Against Another Person

Lk 7:42-43.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

 ii).        It Is Used Of Forgiving People Who Sinned Against Another Person

Eph 4:32.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Col 3:13. bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive

iii).       It Is Used Of Forgiving The People And The Sins Of Which They Were Guilty

2Cor 2:10.  Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,

2Cor 12:13.  For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Col 2:13. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,


We noted at the beginning of the chapter that we would read of

  • The amazing grace of God in forgiving sins committed against Him and those committed against our fellow humans.
  • His grace described as He forgives the people involved as well as forgiving the sins.
  • His command to show to others the forgiveness He offers to us.

We have seen in the above teaching that forgiveness may be described in different ways.

The verb “apheimi” (= to forgive) and the Noun “aphesis” (= forgiveness) both speak of forgiveness as the taking away of sin and the release from its penalty and power by trusting in the death of Christ on the cross.

The verb “apoluō” in its context in Lk 7:37 stressed the need to have a forgiving heart rather than a condemning attitude to other people.  Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. The person who is able to forgive is the one who will be forgiven. They have already experienced the grace of God in becoming open and willing to forgive.   

 The wonderful aspect of the word “charizomai” is in seeing the forgiveness as freely given to the penitent believer in Christ. Having experienced the grace of God in Christ they are able to be motivated and empowered to forgive. In fact they can forgive others in the same way God forgave His people, freely and absolutely. They as people are forgiven and set free. Their sins are forgiven and taken away as well.


1).        Do you think it is presumptuous for Christians to say that forgiveness from God is to be found only through faith in Christ? Give at least two reasons for your answer.

2).        What is the basis of God’s forgiveness towards those who turn to Him for forgiveness? Why can He forgive people?

3).        In the light of the above teaching what would you say to someone who has become a Christian believer but now feels guilty because they later committed some obvious sin?

4).        Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished?” What does that saying have to do with our understanding and experience of forgiveness today?

Blog No.210.  Jim Holbeck. Posted (Good) Friday 14th April 2017

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209. “STUDIES ON FORGIVENESS.” Is It Possible To Be Forgiven? Is It Possible To Forgive? The Good News! (1st in series of 10).

Freedom at last! The Bible shows that people are able to be forgiven by God of all sorts of various failures and sins. Not only that but it also shows that, miracle of miracles, we are able to forgive those who have hurt us in varying degrees. These are wonderful truths that I have acted on and taught and many have testified that they found help in the teaching to reach out for forgiveness from God. They also found to their surprise and great delight that they were enabled by God to forgive those who had hurt them in the past. Such experiences of being forgiven and being freed to forgive brought them, by their own admission,  wonderful spiritual and emotional freedom. Indeed some also found unexpected physical healing as well.

Some years ago I prepared some booklets on forgiveness but have not had the opportunity to publish them in book form. So I have decided to publish them as blogs so that they might reach a wider audience. The material for the first booklet on “Forgiveness in the Old Testament” I have  published as blogs on this website. They are blogs numbers 001 to 016. 

I now hope, as time permits, to publish aspects of  the New Testament teaching on Forgiveness which can be used for personal study or meditation. But the articles can also be downloaded and used in Study groups perhaps using the suggested questions I have added after each section. 

The following is a summary of coming blogs in this topic.

 CHAPTER   1.    Forgiveness In The New Testament. Some terms used to describe forgiveness
 CHAPTER  2.   Forgiveness In The Teaching Of Jesus.  Lessons From The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. Mat 18:21-35 
CHAPTER   3.    Examples Of Forgiveness In Action In The New Testament.  Jesus. Stephen. Paul.

 Other aspects regarding forgiveness I hope to publish in later blogs including practical steps in how to really forgive other people.

Blog 209. Jim Holbeck. Posted (Good) Friday 14th April 2017


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208. Good Friday. Good for whom? God’s wrath “satisfied”?

Should we sing these words on Good Friday and at Easter? They are these words ‘Til on that cross as Jesus died,  The wrath of God was satisfied.” They are from the beautiful hymn “In Christ Alone.” Many people would say “Why not sing them? They express exactly what happened on that first Good Friday.” God’s wrath towards sin was satisfied by the death of Jesus as He bore the sin of the world on the cross.

Others are very reticent in using the term “wrath” in relation to God.  Some of these people stress God’s unconditional love to such an extent that there is no place for such a concept as the “wrath” of God.

However you cannot appreciate the holiness of God until you understand the sinfulness of sin and vice-versa. Neither can you understand the incredible self-giving love of God until you realise the incredible wrath He has towards the damage that human sin does in bringing hurt, shame and pain into the lives of other humans. Sometimes His wrath is described as the reverse side of His love. His love is freely offered to all but the rejection of His love is the personal rejection of a loving, living gracious Creator God by miniscule (in comparison to Him) rebellious created beings. Each person is fully responsible before Him for their attitude to Him. Each individual is responsible for what they do with Jesus whom God sent to be the Saviour of the world.

That’s why those words “‘Til on that cross as Jesus died,  The wrath of God was satisfied” are so challenging. Jesus’ death on the cross was eternally planned to be the way that God’s wrath would be poured out on human sin so that sinners might be forgiven through faith in Him. Jesus was indeed “the lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” Rev 13:8. Anglican teaching stresses this truth in Article 31 of the 39 Articles of Religion which states, “Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross. The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.”

The word “propitiation” used in the above Article 31 is used twice in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ death on the cross. It is the Greek word hilasmós (ἱλασμός) used in these verses, 1Jn 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” and 1 Jn 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The word has the meaning of removal of sin by the single sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but also involves the possibility of restoration of relationship. Thus God’s wrath was poured out on human sin as Jesus bore the sin of the world and His death was sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice and love.

However it is important to note that God’s forgiveness can only be found and obtained in Christ Himself. As Paul put it in Eph 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” Those who do not believe in Jesus nor receive Him are not “in Christ.” As such they are not redeemed or forgiven until they accept Christ as Saviour and receive forgiveness in Him. As John recorded, Joh 3:36  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” 

Does it mean that the wrath of God remains on those who do not believe in or obey Jesus? If words mean anything at all, then it means precisely that. But they can avert the wrath by receiving Christ as Saviour and obeying Him as Lord. As Paul wrote in  Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  They are acquitted, justified as they believe in Him. As another verse in the hymn “In Christ Alone” reminds us, the death  of Jesus was followed by His resurrection from the dead and we can be set free from the penalty and power of sin as we trust in His sacrificial death for us.

“There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”

Blog No. 208. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 13th April 2017

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207. A Sermon Outline For Easter. Luke 24:13-35. “THE JESUS WHO BRINGS HOPE.” What Easter means.

As Easter approaches I am reminded of my experience of almost 50 years of preparing sermons for Easter. So I have posted this sermon to help those who may be pushed for time to prepare a sermon. The outline or parts of the sermon might be helpful to such folk. It is also meant to help those who would like to explain to friends what the Easter message is all about.  Or it could be used for personal meditation on the Person of Jesus and what His death and Resurrection should mean for us today. It was preached at a Healing Service so it has that facet as well for those who wonder if God’s healing is available today. I trust you may find it helpful. (If you find it helpful or if it raises questions for you, you could contact me on jimholbeck@gmail.com  Unfortunately I can’t promise to answer all of the questions but I would love to help if I can.)

The sermon

Have you ever had your dreams shattered? Someone let you down and your dreams never came true.

Have you ever been surprised at some turn of events that left you confused and hurt?

If you have, then you will be able to identify with the two disciples of Jesus we read about, walking home to Emmaus on that first Easter evening. As we meet them, we see them as:-

1).  CONFUSED DISCIPLES. (Lk 24:14-16)

i). Confused about the EVENTS of that first Easter.

The Jesus they had followed, Who claimed to be the Son of God, and the long-promised Messiah, was now dead. He had been rejected.

  • Rejected by the religious leaders. 
  • Rejected by the common people who preferred a murderer to be set free.
  • Betrayed by Judas, one of His own apostles.
  • Forsaken by His disciples.
  • Crucified in weakness on a cross.
  • Seemingly rejected by God Himself because Jesus had cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? He must have felt forsaken.
  • Was He an imposter after all, some religious charlatan?
  • Had the religious leaders been right after all, in their rejection of Jesus?

ii). They were confused as to WHY Jesus died.

Jesus had predicted

  • that He would go to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed.
  • That He would be raised on the third day, but it was now almost the end of the third day, and His body was still missing.

God had allowed Him to be crucified and to die. Why?

  • There was no doubt that God had turned His back on Jesus.
  • He must have been under the curse of God when He died, because God didn’t save Him from such an ugly shameful death. 

iii.           They were confused as to THEIR OWN FUTURES.

  • Had they been deceived by a religious impostor?
  • Had the miracles been real or just deceptions?
  • Did it mean starting life over again vowing never again to be taken in by someone so plausible and attractive as Jesus had been?
  • (Some of us might be thinking, “I can understand how they felt. I too was taken in by someone whom I felt would never deceive me. But they did. It hurt and it still hurts.”)


We see that disillusionment in:-

i).  – Their downcast faces. V.17

  • Grief that Jesus their friend was dead.
  • Disappointment He had failed to be what He appeared to be? 
  • Questioning
    • Did it mean that evil would always overcome good?
    • That sin and death could not be defeated?
    • Did it mean that there would be no resurrection after all, when Jesus promised that His followers would be raised in the resurrection?

 ii).   Their inability to recognise Him.

  • They didn’t recognise the stranger as Jesus.
  • They obviously were not expecting Him to rise from the dead.
  • So you have the ludicrous picture of the disciples of Christ telling the living Christ about a dead Christ!

iii). –     Their lament. “We HAD hoped”.

  • For them, Jesus was past history.
  • “We had been hoping” sounds so final. “We were hoping He was the Messiah who had come to set us free, (but obviously we were wrong.)”
  • No doubt they felt that their faith had been misplaced, and their hopes were shattered.

iv).  There was not even His body as a reminder.

  • The final disappointment was that the body was missing.
  • No tomb to visit to honour someone who meant so much to them.
  • No eternal life if Jesus was dead. (Yet they told the stranger (Jesus) there had been rumours just that morning.
    • women had found the stone rolled away from the tomb
    • the body was missing.
    • a report that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that He was alive. Others who went to the tomb, found it empty.)

 But a number of things happened that turned them from confused and disappointed disciples to enthused disciples.  The truths they discovered can turn our own scepticism, unbelief, disappointment, disillusionment and despair into faith and commitment as we act on them.

3).    ENTHUSED DISCIPLES.  Changes In Their Thinking. 24:25-33.

i).  Jesus challenged their slowness of heart to believe. V 25, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

  • They had failed to grasp what He had said in His teaching.
  • He had often pointed to the Scriptures to show that He had come to fulfil the role of the Messiah, in His preaching and teaching, and in the miracles He performed.
  • He had acknowledged Peter’s affirmation that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.
  • (Almost all of us have access to a Bible. We all have enough evidence to discover who Jesus is. So often it is not lack of evidence, but lack of willingness to look at the evidence that is there. Jesus expects us to believe Him and to believe God’s word.)

ii).    Jesus explained why the Messiah had to suffer.

As they walked along the road to Emmaus, Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. He began with Moses and went through the Scriptures pointing out how He was the Messiah, the Christ, and how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer as part of His role in redeeming the people of God. Eg., He may have referred to the following:-

  • Deut 18 where Moses declares that God would “raise up a prophet like unto me”, in the days ahead.
  • From King David would come a greater Son, whose kingdom would last for ever. There were many such prophecies in the Old Testament.
  • Isaiah 53, and other servant songs of Isaiah where the suffering role of the Messiah was outlined in detail. Is 53, 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows,  and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  AND verse 10, Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;
  • Psalm 22. A graphic detailed description of the crucifixion given hundreds of years before.  Especially these verses, Verse 1, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Verses 7 and 8,  7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Verses 14-18, 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
  • We might imagine the light beginning to dawn in their minds, as they began to understand that Jesus had come to fulfil the prophecies of the Messiah the Anointed One, the Christ, the Redeemer, the One who had come to set His people free.
  • It meant that Jesus’ death wasn’t a great tragedy, but a glorious victory by Jesus over sin, death, and evil.

 iii.   Jesus revealed Himself through His words and actions. (Luke 24:30-33)

  • The 2 disciples asked Jesus to join them for the evening.
  • He sat with them to eat. Then He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then it says, 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
  • We’re not told how they recognised Him? His words? His actions? The nail prints in His hands? But they knew!  Jesus was risen from the dead. Sin and death had been defeated.
  • The stranger who had joined them on the road had been the Risen Jesus Himself.
  • Jesus risen from the dead, had expounded the Bible to them as they walked along the road home.
  • He had shown them why He as the Christ had to die.
  • The Risen Jesus had broken the bread before their eyes. Only then had they recognised Him.

 We read what followed as the 2 disciples raced back to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the other disciples.

  • But before they could share, the other disciples greeted them with the news that Christ was risen and had appeared to Simon.
  • As they shared together their experiences of the Risen Christ, He appeared to them. “While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
  • The man Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah (the Christ) had indeed risen from the dead and was alive evermore.


Jesus promised He would be present wherever His people gather in His name.

  • That’s what we believe as we come together in our Healing Services.
  • We act on the promise of Jesus, that as we gather in His name, He is in our midst. Jesus said,  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Mat 18:20.
  • We can “practise the presence of God” by thanking Him for His presence amongst us.
  • We don’t have to feel His presence necessarily. We can take Jesus at His word. If He said He would be where His people gather in His name, He will be there.
  • We act on the other part of His promise in that same passage in Mat 18:19, “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.
  • The agreement is not agreeing to ask that our wants are met but that our needs are met.
  • The agreement is not agreeing to command God to do what we want done . Rather it is asking Him to do what He wants done in our situation.
  • The agreement has to be in accord with God’s will in His word and not contrary to it.
  • The agreement has to be to allow God to do as He alone can do, as Paul wrote in Eph 3: 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us
  • We can agree together in prayer for God’s blessing, and in faith thank Him for His provision for our need, to come in His way, in His time, through whom He wills. God made a twofold promise through John in 1 John 5:14 -15, that leads to a twofold confidence for us, 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (Or as I once titled a sermon based on these verses, “We ask. He hears. We have!”)

Blog No.207. Posted on Thursday 6th April 2017. 

Posted in Bible verses. Comments, Evangelism, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Glorification, Healing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment