FREEDOM THROUGH FORGIVENESS

January 4, 2012

"He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted...to set at liberty them that are bruised." (Luke 4:18).

Maybe your wound is fresh. Or perhaps it is old. A family member abused you. A spouse was unfaithful to you. A friend betrayed you. A co-worker used you for a stepping stone. Someone you trusted let you down. You are hurting. And you are angry...at life...at people...perhaps even at God.

But not only are you hurting, you are bitter. Part of you wants to cry, but the other part of you wants to fight back. Part of you wants to get over it, but the other part wants to get even. It is no wonder then that the writer of Hebrews penned, "Looking diligently... lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." (Hebrews 12:15).

It seems strange, when you think about it, that Jesus said He came to set at liberty them that are bruised. People who are bruised need healing. But freedom? Could it be because many people who have been bruised and broken in heart have become bitter, their minds consumed with anger, trapped in a desire for revenge?

This is why Jesus taught, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44).

The act of forgiveness is probably more important to the one forgiving, than to the one needing forgiveness. With forgiveness comes freedom. Without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.

"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:31-32).

Please do not be hard on Peter. He boasted that he was both ready to go to prison and to death for Jesus. And Peter was in the garden where Jesus and His disciples were surrounded by temple guards, Peter drew a sword and cut off the high priest's servant's right ear. Surrounded, in the midst of a hopeless situation, Peter charged with a sword!

But the battle coming soon is very different. Not physical, but spiritual. Jesus warned Peter, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times you even know Me. Satan wants you Peter. He wants to sift you as wheat. But I am praying for you Peter that your faith would not fail."

It happened just as Jesus said. After Peter's third denial, somewhere in the darkness a rooster flapped his wings and crowed an indictment against him. Peter turned and looked straight into the eyes of Jesus (Luke 22:61-62). Was it a look of "I told you so, how could you do it to me?" I don't think so. It was a look of pity, of sympathy. Jesus went through forty days of sifting by Satan. He knew how ruthless the enemy can be, and He understood what Peter was enduring.  Peter turned and ran away into the night, tears stinging his eyes. All night he wept bitterly. "Why did I do it? Why didn't I stand for Him? How could I have denied Him?" Satan was sifting Peter as wheat, beating the grain with a stick until the outer husk was broken, leaving only the kernel of faith within. But, Satan could not touch that kernel of faith, for Jesus said, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."

Darkness reluctantly gave way to the morning's light, revealing Peter laying in a heap, eyes swollen from a night of bitter weeping, his clothes and ground stained with tears of disappointment, regret and repentance. He failed the Lord. He failed a Friend. Sifted, his faith lay bare for everyone to see. For the next few days, he would replay his failure over and over again in his mind, until he could not take it anymore. His mind weary, he needed an escape. He needed to get away, just for a little while. So he picked up that thing he had left behind so long ago - "I go a fishing," Peter said.   A night on the sea fishing with a few of the other disciples did not help much, for they did not catch anything. Peter threw his net until his shoulders ached, but to no avail. "I can't even do this right," Peter thought to himself. A somewhat familiar voice disturbs the morning stillness. "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find." (John 20:6). They reluctantly threw the net into the water, and it filled with so many fish, they could not carry it. A memory joggles Peter's mind. "This is just the way it happened the day when Jesus called me to follow Him."

Suddenly, John cries out, "It is the Lord!" Peter cannot contain himself. What do you do when you fail a friend? You go to him. Peter jumped out of the boat half-swimming and half-running toward Jesus as fast as he could. Wet and shivering, Peter stands before his Lord. Jesus did not call him a coward, and betrayer..... He did not say, "You let me down. I was so wrong about you." No. He said, "Peter do you love Me?" Peter said quietly, "Yes, Lord."

"Then feed My sheep," Jesus responded. "Maybe you failed, but I still think you have what it takes. Come and follow Me."