At 3pm, as the High Priest was sacrificing the Passover lamb in the temple, Jesus lifted himself and tried to inhale but His lungs had flooded and there was no room. Only gurgle. Having 'poured out His flesh,' He let go and exhaled for the last time.
There on The Cross, Jesus -- the Lamb upon the throne -- died.
Darkness fell. An earthquake shook the giant stones. The veil in the temple was torn in two. The crowd hushed. Many cried. Groups huddled together. All shook their heads. "Surely, He was the Son of God."
Their eyes focused on Him. Lifted high. Silhouetted against the sky. Bruised. Battered. Unrecognizable. Bloodless. Limp. Lifeless.
A rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who had become a disciple, spoke to Pilate. "I am here to ask for the body of Jesus."
Pilate was happy to be rid of him. He waves him off. "Take Him."
Careful not to rock the body, they slid the Cross out of its hole and set it down. They peeled off the crown, pulled out the nails and some brave soul reached up and closed His eyes. They then all lifted Him on their shoulders and carried Him quietly to a room where they laid Him on a table. One by one, they stared at Him. The silence was unbearable. How could this be? The voice of Jesus was gone...
Through tears, they washed Him. Anointed Him. Kissed His forehead. Wrapped Him in a clean linen cloth. Then they carried Him to a new tomb which he, Joseph, had hewn out of the rock. Inside, they lay the very dead and now decaying body of Jesus. When they'd said their goodbyes, and prayed over the Body, they walked out and rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb -- leaving Jesus' flesh and bones to lie in darkness. I don't pretend to know what they knew in that moment, but I have a feeling that when they rolled that stone into place, an unseen stone covered their own hearts as well. Heavy, impenetrable.
Walking away from the tomb, the images flashed back across their mind's eye. The depth of their sorrow was more than their minds and hearts could grasp. "How could this have happened? How did He let it? Why?" Their last image of Jesus was a man dying in anguish, and torment, screaming out at the top of His lungs. Seemingly helpless. Powerless. His body ripped and torn. Inhuman suffering. In their minds, the unfathomable had happened. Jesus had lost.
Walking away from the Cross, from Jesus' tomb, as they wiped away tears and swore at the memory of the soldiers, as they plotted and planned, each asked one impossible question:
For these simple two words, they had no answer. No game plan. All they could do was shake their heads and fists. No one, not even Peter, James and John, had an answer. They did not know what we know. All they knew was that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the hope of all mankind, the One who came to sit on the throne of David, the One who healed the sick, walked on water, drove out demons, the One who raised the dead to life, could not defeat death. Could not save Himself. He was gone. And they were left to mop up the mess.
By the time they took down the body, Jesus' Spirit had already left the building. The moment He died here, His work wasn't over. Jesus Spirit climbed down off that Cross and -- cloaked in the sin of all mankind -- starting with mine and yours -- He descended into Hell where there was a party underway, an orgy, unlike any seen in the history of this world or any other. I realize that what I'm about to suggest is not in scripture and maybe theologically suspect but just work with me here a moment. Jesus descends, walks through the gates of Hell where demons and spiritual forces of wickedness throw blood-stained metal and bronze and run out of the crowd and punch him or stab him with a sword or whip him or thrust a spear completely through Him. The road is littered with bones and rotting flesh. The pandemonium rises as He approaches the throne where Satan has placed himself. The raucous is at a climax. The noise deafening. The stench nauseating. The evil horde has created a mosh pit and they are foaming at the mouth because they think they are about to feast on the body and blood of Jesus the Christ.
The only one not enjoying the party is Satan. He knows the prophecies. He knows The Word. He was there when God spoke it. Don't think so? Read Ezek 28. Want further evidence, when He tempted Jesus just 3 1/2 years prior to His crucifixion, he quoted verbatim from Deuteronomy -- 6:13, 6:16, 8:3 and 10:20. Satan is not happy. In truth, he is squirming. he's been dreading this day. Trying to find a way out. A way around. A legal loophole. His eyes are frantic. He is looking for a way out because he knows he is about to be exposed as the fraud he is.
Jesus and Satan have known each other a long time. When Lucifer rebelled, God the Father, the Ancient of Days, cast him down like lighting out of heaven and Jesus tells us he saw it in Lk 10:18. I have no way of proving this but I think Lucifer was an archangel, created by God the Father, for the sole purpose of tending to Jesus. To be at his beckon call. That's why he rebelled -- he wanted the glory, honor and praise due to the Son. He got tired of ushering in the dawn, of reflecting Glory and wanted to absorb some of it. Problem is, created beings are not made to absorb. We're made to reflect. As a result, Satan reached up and fell. In response, Jesus stooped down and God raised Him up.
The road leads to Satan's court. Hordes of demonic entities hang on the rafters and balconies around Him. They are taking turns on the ceiling fans that do little to alleviate the heat. Everything that is evil is in attendance and salivating at the coming final blow which they know will eradicate Jesus once and for all. Total universal, otherworldly domination! In their mind, they have salt and peppered the body and are turning Him over the spit. They can taste Him.
But a funny thing happens here.
It is here -- in the pit of Hell -- that Jesus strips off the sin of mankind that has masked Him. Like a dark blanket, or cloak, he rips it off his shoulders and hurls it like Haley's Comet at the skeletal throne comprised of skull and vertebrae on which Satan has parked his fat self. The light shoots forth from Jesus body and the darkness rolls back like a scroll. Demons screech and writhe. Those closest to Him go up in smoke. Literally. 10,000 degrees fahrenheit in less than a second. Don't believe me? Try staring into the sun sometime. Just dark spots on the dirt where their souls once stood. Satan turns, party's over, and kicks it into high gear, cowering. He's defeated. Powerless. Dethroned. Exposed. He's a punk. His kingdom is crumbling all around. Jesus, the Word made flesh, who 'upholds all things by the word of His power,' says 'Stop' and Lucifer can't move. He knows what Jesus came to get. Jesus lifts the keys dangling on Lucifers belt. "I'll take those." Then he places His heel on Satan's neck and speaks for all eternity to hear. Here, too, He is silhouetted. All of this universe and every can see and hear His proclamation. His thundering voice sounds like many rushing waters. Like Niagara. Or, the waves breaking at Pipeline. The Lion of Judah roars, "All debts are paid. All past, present and future claims are cancelled. Forever. I have bought mankind back with my blood. They are Justified, Redeemed, Sanctified and I have snatched them back out of the hand of the deceiver."
Face down, Satan lies in excruciating pain. He writhes as Jesus' foot presses his mouth into the maggot-filled, worm-crawling dirt of hell. Satan raises a finger. "But, what about that scum-sucking sinner, Charles Martin?"
Jesus nods and considers me, then He squeezes His hand like a sponge. Given the hole, it should have produced blood. At least a drop. But there was none. Not one single drop. "Nope."
Satan protests. "But, what about that thing he did..."
Another squeeze. Nothing. Evidence that on The Cross, Jesus had held nothing back. He'd left it all topside. Bled out. "Paid in full."
Satan reaches in his pocket and holds up the record of my wrongs of which I was and am guilty. Every last one. The claims were true then. They are true now. I'm guilty as sin. Jesus reads it. "You got them all. Even missed a few. But..." Again, he held out His hand. One last squeeze of the sponge. The hole is dry. Veins empty. "Your claims are revoked."
Jesus, dangling the keys, makes one final declaration, carving it into the walls of hell with His very voice -- "Be it known this day...All is forgiven. I have Redeemed mankind with my blood on the altar. It is finished."
Upon hearing the words of Jesus, the foundations of hell crack and crumble. Satan's throne crumbles. The kingdom is in chaos.
The defeat was absolute. The victory complete. Eternal. Irrevocable.
This right here, this moment, this is the picture of the victorious conquering king. This is where we see the Revelation picture of Jesus with feet of burnished bronze, eyes of fire, white hair, fire coming from His mouth, His sword girded on His thigh. This is where -- in my mind -- that heavy, lumbering, splinter-laden cross, the nails still dripping with my saviors blood, is snapped like a toothpick. Reduced to splinters. It doesn't hold Him anymore.
As Jesus walks out of Hell, He exits through the prison of cells -- the Alcatraz of Hell -- where His people have been held in bondage. Slavery. Every form of addiction. And as He walks by, every lock clicks, shackles fall off, every door flings wide, ripped from its hinge.
Prisoners, long held captive, begin screaming at the top of their lungs. "Freedom!" and "Long live King Jesus." "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain! Worthy to receive honor and glory and praise." And then my favorite, "Let the King of Glory come in!"
1 Cor 15 tells us that upon his resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary, Peter, his brother James who later founded and led the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James, to the 12 where He invited Thomas to stick his hand into the hole in his side, to 500 brethren, to Paul, and the last recorded appearance we have in scripture is with John on the island of Patmos.
Here's what I'd like to know -- what did He do when He met them? Seriously, he defeated death. Defeated evil. He just gave the biggest butt-whooping in the history of history. I think it's worth asking, "What did he do when he returned? What'd he say?"
Luke records this: " Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."  But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.  But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"  So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.  And He took it and ate in their presence.  Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,  and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:36-49)
You see those two words: "repentance and remission of sins"? -- I always thought He was using those two words to talk about the same thing. Like our repentance and His remission of those sins.
But I'm wondering if there's not another layer.
The Greek for remission is 'aphesis.' It means, "to send away, the word signifies a release from bondage, or imprisonment, dismissal, sending away, a forgiveness, with the added quality of canceling out all judgment, punishment obligation or debt." I know He does that with our sin but is there more here?
If you could see me I'm scratching my head.
Is Jesus just talking about His relationship with us and ours with him? What if he's talking about a third relationship?
John says this: " Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit..." Then he says this --  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:19-23)
Two things: First, in the same way He was sent, He is sending us. But sent to do what? The answer is quick in coming. Jesus doesn't say 'If' you forgive. Says 'when you forgive.'
If forgiveness is not the signature piece, the foundation, the anchor of a walk with Jesus then tell me why it's the first word out of His mouth when He returns from Hell.
The foundation, the anchor and bedrock of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is Forgiveness. Forgiveness is love with legs. Period. The mushroom cloud rising out of Hell was caused by two words: "I forgive." And for that, Hell had no answer. Death lost its victory. No sting. Captives set free.
If life on that side of the cross is, "Lord, please forgive me..." then life on this side begins with, "Lord, I forgive _________..." Let the reader fill-in.
The resurrection does not guarantee you a life free from hardship and suffering. The resurrection guarantees you the power to die Jesus death and live Jesus life. Read that again. It's a paradigm shift.
How sure am I that He's serious about forgiveness? Let's look back at His words.
" Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:37-38)
"And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions." (Mark 11:22-26)
See those words 'And,' 'So that,' and 'IF'? They are conditional. That means that certain conditions must be met in oder for the second half of the equation to come true.
And here's the rub. God’s forgiveness for you is in direct proportion and relationship to how you forgive another. Don't think so? Let me send you back to Mark 11:. "If you do not forgive...neither will your Father...forgive you." It's pretty simple.
This is a non-negotiable, kick in the gut which begs the question: Do you meet the conditions?
For those of you that have been dinged by legalism -- meaning your salvation and happiness and worthiness is somehow tied to your deeds and how well you measure up and check all the boxes and obey all the commandments or you've been beat over the head with the idea that Christianity is nothing but a list of rules, take a deep breath. I'm not hitting you with a list of don't dos or thou shalt nots. Satan has twisted this.
I am echoing an invitation offered by Jesus.
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you... be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:44-48)
Zero in on the phrase, “Be perfect…” If you look up the definition of this phrase, you'll find that this ‘perfection’ is specific to having a nature like His in forgiveness.
Let's look at The Lord's Prayer -- He's teaching His friends how to pray: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:12, 14, 15)
There it is in black and white -- "If you do..." and "if you do not."
Are you sitting there asking yourself if Jesus is really serious about this? "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents ($7.4B) was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii ($11,700); and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:21-35 NASB)
My eyes have settled on two phrases: "...in the same way that I had mercy on you," and "If each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.." They cut me to the quick. As does the knowledge that his lord handed him over to the torturers. If you could see me, a wrinkle has settled between my eyes.
This requires an honest look in the mirror. A truthful glance at my soul. Do I meet the condition? Do you?
But Charles, that's a hard word.
Yes. It is.
Don't kid yourself. -- It is one thing to ask for forgiveness it's another thing entirely to offer it. Look at John 2:20-23: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
In Greek, forgive/remit means to send forth or away. To let go from oneself. Like, "when Jesus gave up His Spirit." "When Jesus let forth with a loud cry." It means to let go from one's power or possession. To let go free. To let go from obligation. To remove the sins from someone. To liberate a person from them, their guilt and their power.
Forgiveness is not freedom in sin but freedom from sin, to thrust away, to loose, to send forth as a voice, to leave or let alone, leave behind, to remove the sins from another.
The toughest part for most of us is, "to let go from obligation."
Now let's look at "retain." It means "to use strength, seize, retain, hold fast, to hold as in the hands, to have power over, rule over, to take the hand of, to hold by the feet, to cleave to, hold fast in mind, to hold a prisoner."
Have power over? Rule over? Hold a prisoner? You mean, when I don't forgive someone I do this to them?
Yes. And what's more, that same power imprisons you, rules over you and holds you a prisoner.
Forgive vs retain. That's it in a nutshell.
Unforgiveness is the anchor in us where hatred, bitterness, racism, envy, self-pity, jealousy, anger...it's where they attach. It's where they purchase. Latch hold. It's like rotten meat in our spirit. Velcro of the soul. You can shake those things loose till your blue in the face but until you remove the rancid stuff, you're just swatting flies.
Forgiveness is an attitude of your heart toward another. It is an act of your will. Not emotion. It is often in direct opposition to your emotions.
Does this sound familiar?
As you've been reading this, many of you have been having internal dialogues. I have and I'm writing it. They sound like this: "Do I really need to forgive that person?" Their face keeps flashing in the corner of your mind. "No, I don't really need to forgive them..." You're trying to talk yourself out of it. I'm trying to.
Yes, you do. You and I need to start with them.
Want to know who to forgive? — Who is it that pings you when you see their face or hear their name in your mind? (And they don’t have to be alive. It can be a dead person. The wound is still real.)
I've prayed with a lot of people about this. And don't think I'm immune. This stuff has eaten my lunch. As I've prayed for me and others, here are a few names that have filled the space around us:
• the biological parents who abandoned you at the hospital
• Brother -- sister
• Ex wife
• Her attorney
• Mother in law
• Father in law
• Current Boss
• Former Boss
• Opposing counsel.
• The man that molested you when you were a kid
• The drunk driver that killed...(fill in your loved one)
• That white guy
• That black man
• that Jew
• that muslim on the news that just beheaded the journalist
• that Mexican
• that guy who didn't hire you
• the guy that fired you -- without cause
• that former partner who sued you for ownership -- and won
• It can also be an entity -- like the IRS. The Democratic or Republican or Tea Party. Fox News. The President. The Congress.
• Or, it can be as close as someone sitting next to you.
• Even, God himself.
Who is it in your mind that you envision meeting on the street and reaming them a new orifice? Where you give them a piece of your mind and talk through some type of defense? Who's head do you rip off their shoulders and post on a stake outside the city walls?
Scripture says the Holy Spirit is the finger of God. So, if you want to walk in the power of the resurrection and the love of Christ, give Him permission to point out in you those people. Can you pray this: Lord, I give You permission to point out in me every person I need to forgive...
If you do, buckle up.
In my experience, it's not just one big blow and one person. It can start with that but the more I allow God to point out the hardened places of unforgiveness in my heart, it's more like death by a thousand cuts. Because make no mistake, unforgiveness is death. Forgiveness is life. And it's also a lifelong process. I believe you can tell the maturity of a Christian, and how much they have been transformed by the love of Jesus by how quickly they are to offer forgiveness -- no matter the offense.
In my experience of walking with other men out of their prison cells, as we have dug down to the root, we have inevitably encountered the stone of unforgiveness. Rooting it out, laying the axe to that root has been the toughest thing they or I have ever done.
Name something tougher.
Consider this -- If you can not get free from some type of bondage, if you are stuck in some habitual sin, be it infidelity, pornography, alcohol, pick your prison, chances are that unforgiveness lies buried beneath that. It's the velcro to which everything else is sticking.
This is a big boy gospel where we admit "I am holding onto something and Satan is using that something to torment me."
Three days ago, we crucified Jesus. Nailed him to the tree. Today, the stone is rolled away and we, like Peter, are running to the tomb. Out of breath, we jump in. "Where is He!?" The angel smiles. "He is not here. He is risen!" It is the best news any of us have ever heard. As we walk away, whistling and fist-pumping we hear the faint echo of his voice. He is issuing an invitation. "Follow me." We want nothing more. So, we, like giddy school children, shoulder that splintery thing and take a step like Simon where we immediately bump into Jesus who is staring at us. He is mopping up the puss spilling out of our heart. His eyes are sympathetic. "What's that?"
We stammer, wrapping our cloak tighter about us. It's an old wound. "Oh...I was wronged. Somebody hurt me..."
He cuts us off. He knows the answer. The puss is proof. But He asks anyway, "Have you forgiven them?"
We shake our heads. As if it's self-explanatory. Offended at the question. We throw up our hands. "You don't understand. I was wronged. Deeply."
He holds out His hands. "You mean like me?"
Now He's starting to get it. We smile. "Yes! Exactly!"
He looks behind us. "What's that you're carrying?"
He sniffs the putrid stuff spilling out of our chests and shakes His head, "No. No, it's not."
Jesus wants Justice. It's the foundation of His throne. He just wants you to let Him administer it. Tucked deep in our pocket, each of us carries an invisible IOU -- a record of others wrongs committed against us. If you really want to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him... then tear up the IOU.
Note: I am not telling you to be a doormat and let someone continue to walk all over you. Nor am I telling you to continue to suffer abuse at the hand of someone else. Don't hear that. It also does not mean to compromise the truth of the whole counsel of God, or to give up your desire for justice. Scripture says 'stand firm' and 'hold fast.' I am simply holding up The Word of God and showing both you and me that the centerpiece, the epicenter, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is forgiveness. We are commanded to forgive.
And, I am horrible at this. But my failure and sin in this, does not disqualify me from communicating the Truth of His life, words and ministry. We are commanded to forgive. Whether or not we do...well, that's up to us.
Forgiveness is a spiritual transaction. When you forgive, you proclaim the resurrection to this world and to every other. Let me say that again: When you forgive, you proclaim the resurrection to this world and to every other. Forgiveness echoes through eternity. To the enemy it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. When you forgive, Jesus wins and the doors are torn off prison cells. Chains are broken. Captives set free. You are used to usher in the kingdom of God.
Don't believe me? Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it.
Some of you aren't at this place. You're raw, you're wound is Gibraltar, and it's crushing your chest. You can think of little else and you're not real interested in proclaiming the resurrection. The only thing you want to echo through eternity is your own displeasure and shaking fist. I get it. I do. So does He. I am not denying the pain or severity of that. But His command is not conditional upon the depth or age of your pain.
Here's the rub. Just as Jesus will not take your Isaac, He will not make your choice for you. We choose to forgive. That's right. We choose.
But, God knew this about you so He made a provision here, too. And listen to this because it frees you up -- The power to forgive others does not start with you. It starts with Jesus.
" work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)
This is seriously good news. "It is God who works..." For which I am thankful. For left to my own devices, I'm strapping on gloves.
"... the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
His love poured out in me. That means I can receive it. Having received it, I can either put a lid on it. Or pour it out.
" ... according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." (Titus 3:5-6)
Want to know what kind of pouring we're talking about? " When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables." (John 2:15)
It is a complete pouring out. You haven't received a little bit -- you have been greedily and zealously poured into. Completely overturned with nothing held back.
This is Jesus: " And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:16-18)
He "dwells in us." I need that.
" But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26)
Jesus has given you -- given me -- everything we need to forgive.
I know of no more powerful force in the universe than the power to forgive. The blood of Jesus cries a better word than that of Abel. (Heb 12:24) And each of us wields it. You're ability to forgive does not depend on your size, strength, speed, intellectual smarts, good looks, money, the power you wield in the corporate world, who you know or what your father did or didn't do. You have everything you need. The question is not can you forgive but will you.
The answer is: Yes or no. The grade is: Pass / fail.
Just as we desperately need it from Jesus, there are people who, whether they know it or not, need it from us.
Taking up the cross is saying, "please forgive me." Walking with it is saying, "I forgive..."
As The Lord has pointed out in me the hardened, calloused places of unforgiveness -- He has drawn me closer to Himself and each time I have not heard him say, 'don't do' or 'thou shalt not.' He has said: "Charles,let me have that. Give it to me. It'll kill you. Your body is not designed to carry that. Let me have it." When The Word says, He is "Faithful and True," He's not kidding. He is. In those times, when I've obeyed, I have forgiven and he has released me. I know. I've felt it. I've felt some unseen weight lift off me.
You and I each have people right now that need our forgiveness and that we need to forgive -- if we don't, that will eat us from the inside out. Want a good image of this? Pour gasoline in a styrofoam cup. Go ahead. It's eye-opening.
In some cases, you need to go to that person, and verbally forgive them. They need to hear it from you in the same way we need it from Jesus. They need to be released by your voice. In every case, you need to give that person audibly to Jesus.
And the key here is audible.
Whether today, or seventy years from now, you and I will stand in judgment before the King. No one escapes this. Remember that scripture about how "With the measure we use, it will be measured to us."? This is where it comes home to roost.
My image of judgment is rather simple. I die here and wake up in the throne room. Blink to blink. God the Father -- the Ancient of Days -- is seated. His Son, My Redeemer, is seated at His right Hand. The Holy Spirit is sort of hovering in the background. Revelation says: "He who sits on a white horse, who is called Faithful and True, who in righteousness judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written that no one knows except Himself.  He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, follow Him on white horses.  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
This is the King who judges us.
God is staring at a giant power point presentation on the back wall of the Milky Way. Every sin I've ever committed is listed -- in detail for all humanity. A wrinkle between His eyes. He points to the list. "You do all this?"
There's no denying it. "Yes sir."
"What defense do you offer?"
I point to Jesus. "Him."
"Oh." He raises an eyebrow. Long pause. He turns to Jesus who whispers in His Father's ear.
God turns back to me. "My son tells me that in the time He's known you, that you've repented. Of everything. And forgiven. Everyone. Of everything." He leans back. "Is this, true?"
Uncertain if I've turned over every rock, I speak softly. "Yes...sir."
Jesus whispers again. God nods. Returns to me. "Tells me that you Believe and have openly confessed Him before men." I am trembling and I can't stop shaking. God stands, where the entire Host of heaven bows. His voice thunders. "Is this True, Charles?"
This will either be my end or my beginning. So, I tuck my knees beneath me and raise my hands to God Most High. "Yes. Yes, that's true! I did all that. I'm guilty." I point to Jesus who I can't look at because He's shining like the sun. "But, I know Him and I have not denied Him. He knows me. And my wife and kids know Him. And people who know me know I know Him. Your Son withheld from me what I deserve and gave me what I did not. He forgave me. He's my king. My redeemer. My sanctifier. My justifier. And the lover of my soul." I pause. "Your Word tells me that 'endured the shame for the joy set before Him...' Well, I am the cause of that shame and the source of that joy."
The Ancient of Days scratches His beard, swivels and stares intently at the wall of heaven which, once covered in pages and pages of ink, is now blank. White as snow. Control-Alt-Delete. He stands, sucks through His teeth, steps down off that throne, and walks forward. My body gives way and I crumble. Face up. Kneeling, He breathes on my face and whispers the words my spirt has been dying to hear since He spoke me into existence. "Well done, good and faithful servant..."
The way to 'good and faithful,' -- to eternity with Him -- is through repentance on one side of the cross and forgiveness on the other. Neither of which Jesus will do for you. They are flip sides of the same coin and they require a daily choice. A daily humbling. And it may well be the toughest thing you and I ever do. If the struggle of that causes you trepidation, concern, keep your eye focused on the prize. His Lovingkindness is better than life.
Don't let Satan twist this -- Forgiveness is not a "thou shalt not". It's a "get to." It's an invitation. When we do this, we get to be like Him and with Him.
Three days ago, you celebrated -- or remembered -- the crucifixion. Jesus death. But here, on this side of The Cross, He's alive. Stone rolled away. You really want to celebrate His life? Want to walk in the power of the resurrection? Hear the words "well done"?
Inside each of us a deep-seated desire for justice. A reckoning. A hope that others get what they got coming. But, truth be told, if justice is going to be leveled, then we got it coming, too. Let's don't lose sight of the basics -- the King of the Universe stepped off His throne, disrobed, laid down his crown and walked your death for you. For me. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." "Jesus Christ did not come to be served, but to serve and offer Himself as a ransom for many." He gave us what we did not deserve and withheld from us what we did. Now, He's alive, seated at the right hand of God Most High and beckoning. "Child, I've prepared a place for you. Come join Me in My Father's house." Entrance into His Kingdom, passage through the gates, starts with repentance. "Please forgive me." Residence in His kingdom, a homestead exemption, occurs with "I forgive ________."
His last step onto that Cross purchased your and my redemption. Our first step walks it out.
Note: While I'm writing this, this right here, I get a phone call where I learn that someone has done something hurtful to someone I love. Very hurtful. My anger bubbles. I am hot. An injustice has been committed. And trust me, I want justice. The Perry Mason moment. I am halfway through the conversation in my mind, rehearsing all the soul-cutting words I'd like to tell them before I realize that I'm having that conversation. So, here I am, facing a choice. Staring me in the face. And don't think it's any easier cause I'm sitting here writing about it. If anything, it's amplified. Proving I'm no expert and need to read my own stuff.
Forgiveness is a spiritual transaction. When you forgive, you proclaim the resurrection to this world and to every other. That act echoes through eternity, and nothing, and I do mean, no thing, can silence it.
Remember -- there are people out there in slavery and in chains and we have the power to cut them free. To tear doors off prison cells. When we forgive, Jesus wins and we are used to usher in the kingdom of God.
Need some help? Start with those who don't deserve it. Forgive them. Outright and completely. Tear up the IOU. Release them from obligation. Give them to Jesus. This doesn't make you weak. It makes you more like Jesus.
Pragmatically, it sounds like this. And pray this out loud. Why? Because it matters:
Lord, I want to be more like You. Please forgive my unforgiveness. Here's my heart, take this stone from me. I don't want it anymore. I forgive _____ (name them out loud one by one). I forgive them for what they did to me. (If you want to name the acts, do it.) I give them each to you. I give justice to you. I take my hands off the outcome and release them to you. Having done so, I ask that you release me from these chains. As I have cut them free, I ask that You cut me free. I declare that no matter the injustice, no matter the pain, no matter the hurt and anguish they have caused me, I forgive them outright and completely. I tear up the IOU. They owe me nothing from this day forward. As You forgave me unconditionally on The Cross, I forgive them. Your Word says pray for those who persecute you and bless those who curse so, so in obedience to Your Word, I pray for them and I bless them in the Name and by the Blood of Jesus. And, Lord...just being honest, when I grow weak in my conviction, and the pain of the memory returns and I shake my fist and want to turn the screw, see justice done my way or take back the IOU, please forgive me, let me return here, and give them to You again and again. I know me and this might happen. Please forgive me when it does.
Listen to Paul. He's speaking to the Ephesians. This should fire you up. Can you hear the promise? The hope in his voice? " Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,  do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power  which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." Amen. (Ephesians 1:15-23)
I want all of this. Turn on the fire hose. I'm in. "The spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." "The hope of His calling." "His inheritance in the saints." "The exceeding greatness of His power." If you could see me I have both hands raised and I am screaming, "Yeeeessssss!!!!!" at the top of my lungs.
Let's try this one last time. We run to the tomb. The angel eyes us with amusement. "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
"But, please Sir."
"He is not here. He is risen." We are electric with hope. Our feet barely touching the ground. That night, He appears. Keys dangling on His belt. We hug His neck, stick our hand in His side. Watch him eat fish and honey comb. It's Him! Really! It's Him! We are giddy. We want to join Him so we pick up The Cross, lay it across our shoulders and start walking. Onward Christian soldier.
After one step, we bump into Him. His hand in our chest. His face inches from ours. He is wiping the puss from our bosom. What Isaiah calls "wounds and bruises and putrefying sores." (Is 1:6) He's right. We're leaking. Shrapnel lies inside. Jesus eyes it. You know the drill. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead rests on the tip of your tongue. It's living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword. It separates soul and spirit. Will you wield it? Will you set the captives free and speak the two words that cut chains, and fling wide prison doors?
Or, will you spit in His face?