When someone crosses the line and causes us offense or even harm, forgiveness is the last thing on our minds. When we cross one of God’s lines, forgiveness is preeminent in our thinking, even taking priority over guilt or remorse.
Our Lord Jesus left us a pattern prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer. In it he taught us to ask for forgiveness for our transgressions in the same way we extend forgiveness to those who transgress against us. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
The little word “as” can’t mean what it seems to, can it? That we are asking God to forgive us to the extent that we forgive others? We want total and complete forgiveness of our transgressions (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9), but who can extend the same kind of total and complete forgiveness to others?
Well, for little transgressions, sure, but forgiveness is a lot more difficult for the big offenses. And there is the problem; even the best among us carries around a carefully graded mental list of offenses from big to small. The big ones are harder to forgive. It is easier to hold the grudge and abandon the transgressor.
Few personal offenses flung at Jesus could match that of Peter who denied that he even knew Him three times as he warmed himself by a charcoal fire as Jesus was being condemned just a few feet away. They were so near to each other, Peter and Jesus, that when Peter denied knowing Jesus, denied it with a loud voice and curses, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
Peter went out and wept bitterly.
After all Jesus had done for Peter, after all they had shared, this surely was an unforgivable offense. But, no. John records the Lord’s tender restoration of Peter in John chapter 21.
For it was not what Jesus and Peter had done together, their relationship and even friendship, but it was what Jesus was about to do that would become the basis for all forgiveness. On the cross He did away with all transgressions.
John the Baptist predicted it: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Our forgiveness extended to those who transgress against us is not to be determined by the severity of the offense or by the extent of our relationship with the offender. The measure is nothing less than the cross of Jesus Christ.