You can’t forgive if you don’t understand forgiveness.
Our nation is divided from our homes all the way up to Washington D.C.. Part of the reason for this tension is a lack of forgiveness towards those who have wounded us (or perceived wounds).
What I would like to suggest to you today is this: we refuse to forgive other people because we don’t understand the gravity of our own sin, don’t grasp the holiness of God, and don’t understand forgiveness ourselves.
In John 8, we read an interesting story about sin, holiness, grace and forgiveness: At dawn [Jesus] went to the temple again, and all the people were coming to him. He sat down and began to teach them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.
Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord,” she answered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
From this story we can see some big picture ideas about God, mankind, judgment and forgiveness.
First, we see that God is holy. God gave a law and that law had high demands. The Pharisees were right that the law said that this woman deserved to be stoned, but they failed to understand the character of God. They viewed God as a plug-n-chug formula as opposed to a thinking, feeling, emotional being, which leads us to the second thing that we see - God is compassionate towards sinners.
This idea, that a holy God would be compassionate towards sinners is striking, especially when you consider the fact that Jesus says “let the one without sin [judge].” In the scheme of reality, God is the only one without sin, yet he chose not to judge mankind, but instead to judge Christ so that he could forgive mankind. So, we see from this story that God is holy, just, compassionate, and loving.
In terms of mankind, most striking is that nobody is perfect. This woman was not perfect - she was most likely caught in the act of adultery - but neither were her accusers. Beginning with those who had the longest memories of their sins and heading in reverse towards the youngest in the crowd, one by one they realized that they were just as guilty before a holy and righteous God as the next person. They had no right to throw a stone of condemnation.
Here, at the crossroads of a holy God and sinful man is the tension. In order to be forgiven, you need to know that you are in need of forgiveness. If you, like the Pharisees when they first arrived on the scene, think that you are without sin, then you will condescend and point your boney finger at anyone you don’t like or who is “worse than you.”
If, however, you know the depth of your own failures, and know that the only way you can stand before God is by his grace and mercy and not your own merit, then you view other people differently. You don’t condemn, you love. You show compassion. You have mercy because you’ve been shown mercy.
The gospel is all about forgiveness. Forgiveness received by trusting in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, but also forgiveness given. Given to who? Undeserving people. Why? Because I am undeserving too. If I know my own lack of merit, I can look at another through compassionate eyes.
If, on the other hand, I think that I am where I am because of my own hard work, I have never done something foolish that could have resulted in inadvertently harming myself, someone else and ruining my life, that I never cheated on a test which could have gotten me expelled, and so on and so forth. If you truly think that you are meritorious, you won’t be a forgiving person. Why? Because you are self-righteous rather than resting in righteousness given to you on the basis of forgiveness.
Forgiven people forgive people. It’s that simple. Until we receive the forgiveness of God ourselves and show it to other people, we will never truly have a unified nation.