Who understands forgiveness best—the forgiver or the forgiven?
A betrayed husband (call him TK) wandered in rage, tears, thoughts of revenge, and prayer throughout the night. In the morning, he found himself heading to church, which was his practice.
It had started ten years before when their son and daughters were young. TK and his wife enjoyed life in a family that loved adventure, each other, and the Lord Jesus. But without warning, she became quiet, emotionally absent, and even bitter toward him and their children.
The tension grew as the weeks, months, and years dragged on. Then TK’s wife found a new “friend,” one that came in a bottle. At times, when intoxicated, she would laugh and chatter a bit but always slip back into her darkness. Spiritual, emotional, and medical counseling didn’t break through the frosty night of her soul. As soon as he could, their son moved away to escape the constant bickering. Their daughters withdrew into their private, high school lives.
A decade into her silence, she drank more than usual and started talking about their romance. She recounted the happy times of their early marriage when suddenly she paused and stared into the distance as if searching for the courage to proceed. She stumbled ahead, saying that a man began visiting her when TK was at work and their children in school. His visits increased, and she began welcoming their passionate encounters.
“But,” she said, “I won’t tell you who he is. He’s your friend!”
TK anguished for weeks until another night when his wife drank more than intended, and she named the man who had accompanied her in their bedroom.
Shocked, TK left the house, unsure where to go or what to do. He wandered in the darkness of the night and his soul. Filled with rage, disbelief, and confusion, he planned how his betrayer “friend” would pay—and pay dearly—for robbing him and his wife of ten years of marital joy and their children of a healthy home environment. It was a Saturday night.
Sunday dawned. He went to worship, as he usually did on Sundays. None other than the man he wanted to suffer met him in the foyer. His trusted, longtime friend extended his hand, smiled, and wished him “Good morning.”
As TK shoved his hand deeper into his pocket, he “heard” a prayer he had voiced hundreds of times, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
His hostility melted, his fist unlocked, and he extended an open hand to the betrayer.
So I ask again, “Who understands forgiveness best—the forgiver or the forgiven?”
David Augsburger says it is the one who forgives,1 and I agree. The adulterer will never comprehend the pain TK suffered or the cost he “paid” to forgive him. Neither can we grasp the depths of Jesus’ anguish nor the heights of his mercy as he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus’ contemporaries knew they had called for his crucifixion. Still, they did not realize the heinousness of their guilt or the enormous cost of being forgiven. Neither do we recognize the extreme cost to Jesus of absorbing our sin, of being made to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Some women went to Jesus’ tomb early on Resurrection Sunday. To their surprise, a person dressed in absolute whiteness was seated inside.
The divine messenger said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid (Mark 16:6-8).
The angel addressed their fear. He confirmed they were looking for “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” Then he declared, “He has risen!”
He told them to tell the disciples Jesus would meet them in Galilee.
The text says the women fled from the tomb bewildered, trembling, and afraid.
The mob had demanded Jesus be crucified. His disciples betrayed and abandoned him. Now he is alive! What will Jesus do? Is this judgment day? Jesus’ resurrection is either the best of all news or the most frightening of all reality.
Remember how Joseph’s brothers felt when they were invited (told) to dine in the Egyptian palace? As they were interrogated, they realized the officer knew more than they wanted anyone to know. Likely, they wondered if their past was “catching up to them.” After they told the royal official that one brother was dead and their youngest was with their aged father, the officer ordered his attendants to leave the room. Then he said, “I am Joseph!”
The brothers were speechless “because they were terrified at his presence” (Genesis 45:3). They were petrified with fear of the living Joseph who had authority over them. They knew they deserved to be thrown in prison.
But Joseph embraced them! He assured them that while their deed was evil, God turned it for good!
Likewise, Jesus’ resurrection is terrifying until we are told the Good News that he wants to see us, “just as he told you” (Mark 16:7, cf. 14:27-8).
Satan engineered Jesus’ death, but God turned it for our salvation. Scripture declares that Christ died for us while we were sinners. It assures us that having been forgiven through his death, we will certainly be saved through his life! (Cf. Romans 5:9-10.)
“And Peter,” the angel emphasized.
It was early the first Resurrection Sunday that Peter received news of forgiveness. He had denied knowing the Lord the same night he claimed to be the most loyal of all Jesus’ disciples. Amazingly, he was personally identified as included in the invitation. In preparation for their future relationship, Jesus led him in confession and affirmed his calling to feed and care for God’s people (cf. John 21).2
While Peter would never grasp his salvation’s full cost, he knew the price was far greater than any human could sacrifice. He declared that God redeemed us “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).
Jesus, crucified and risen, extends his arms to embrace and assure you that he included you in praying, “Father, forgive them…”
The Risen One says, “I forgive you.”
Rev. Joel Egge served as president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren from 2000-2014. He is a member of Bethel Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
- Augsburger, David W., 70 X 7, The Freedom of Forgiveness, Chicago, Moody Press, c 1970, 3rd printing. From pages 9-12.
- ibid. After worship on that Sunday of forgiveness, the newly liberated TK went home and forgave his wife. It took time for her to believe him. It took longer to accept his forgiveness and relax in the reality of forgiving love, but their marriage was renewed.