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The Giving of Christmas
“Christmas is For-Giving”
Last week we looked at the first giving of Christmas, which was “Thanks-Giving,” and that’s because Thanksgiving is always before Christmas. Today I’d like to look with you at the second giving that is associated with Christmas is that Christmas is “For-Giving.”
Forgiveness is something that touches every aspect of our lives. One of the Scriptures often quoted during Christmas bears this out when the angel of the Lord told Joseph what to name the child.
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 NKJV)
Jesus came because all of us need to be delivered from the devastating effects of sin.
Have you ever given a gift to someone knowing that it was really going to benefit you more than them; kind of like when husbands give their wives a vacuum cleaner, a tool chest, or a riding lawnmower for Christmas. (And guys, let me just say, don’t do it)
Forgiveness, however, is just like that when we extend it to others, because it benefits us far more than those we extend forgiveness too. Forgiveness, like thanksgiving, is one of the healthiest things we can do.
But to be able to give forgiveness where it is able to do the most good, we first have to be recipients of God’s forgiveness. Now God’s forgiveness isn’t something we deserve. This is seen in Jesus’s own words on the cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJV)
Jesus forgave us even though we don’t deserve it. In fact, He forgave us even though it was our sins that put Him on the cross in the first place.
The Apostle Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NKJV)
Through His death on the cross, Jesus canceled out the guilty verdict against us, which is what makes this gift of forgiveness so huge. This is what you might call the big gift under the tree.
Further, God doesn’t give us this forgiveness to expend it solely upon ourselves. Rather, the Lord wants us to take this gift of forgiveness in order to grow us into the image of Jesus, who forgave all of us. What does this mean? It means that forgiveness must be received and then expended.
It’s kind of like the story of an old miner back in the 1800’s. There was a gold stike, but it took several hot and tortuous weeks through the desert to reach it, and many died of thirst just trying.
On this treacherous journey, this miner saw something in the terrain. He started to dig and found water. To retrieve the water for himself and other travelers, he installed a handpump, and beside the pump he put a flask filled with water along with a note.
“By the time you get to this here watering hole you will be awfully thirsty. This flask is filled with water. You can do one of two things and your life will depend on the choice you make. First, you can take this water, drink it, and then water your mule. If you drink it that is all you will get. Or, secondly, you can trust the pump and pour this water to prime the pump. If you are willing to give this away instead of drinking it, you will be able to get all the water you will need for yourself, your canteen, and your mules. Make the right choice because your future depends on it.”
That is what forgiveness is like. God gives us the gift of forgiveness, but it is not simply for us to consume. Forgiveness is something God gives as a gift to arrest the infection of sin. It’s the only antidote for this terrible disease. And Paul makes it clear that the result of sin is death, but God’s gift is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
Our sins are forgiven because Jesus died upon the cross so that whosoever believes in Him and what He did upon the cross, taking our place and dying the death we all deserve, will have eternal life (John 3:16).
Jesus paid for our forgiveness with His life, and He offers the gift of forgiveness freely to all who come to the cross and believe.
But the Lord doesn’t want us to take this free gift of forgiveness and use it upon ourselves exclusively. Instead, He wants us to take this gift and give it away. This is exactly what Jesus taught in what is commonly known as the “Lord’s Prayer.”
“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us … If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15 NLT)
What this tells us is that if we want God to forgive our sins, then we have to forgive the sins that others have committed. And here’s the real scary part of what Jesus is saying, and that is, we’re asking God to forgive us the same way we forgive others. So if we want God’s forgiveness, we better do a better job at forgiving others.
Now, to understand the importance of forgiveness, we need to understand that we are all dead men and women walking, in other words we’re all dead in our trespasses of sin (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 2:1). The reason is because we have all been born with the sin nature. You might say that it infused into our DNA. So no one is immune from sin’s deadly effects.
Sin is a slow, deadly march to death and hell. This is especially evident in the sin of unforgiveness, because it sets in motion a progression that is meant to steal, kill, and destroy our lives.
If I could use this analogy, it’s like contracting HIV and AIDS. The day after our initial contact, we think we’re fine, but we are now carriers of this disease, and it’s the beginning of a slow death march in our bodies. It is a slow and invasive erosion of our immune system that will not stop until we are dead.
The same is true of the sin of unforgiveness. When we let unforgiveness fester inside our lives it turns deadly. It therefore needs to be confessed and dealt with by forgiving these people. It is at this point that we not only arrest it, but we begin to eradicate it as well.
Further, our forgiveness of others for the wrongs they have done, like God’s forgiveness of our sins, has nothing to do with ours or their deservedness. We must forgive whether they deserve it or not, because if we don’t then this sin of unforgiveness will be felt in our marriages and relationships. It will affect our hearts, our heath, and our children. If we tolerate unforgiveness we’ll develop a negative culture that will affect not only this generation, but the generations to come.
In the giving of the commandments, the Lord said to Moses that He is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger while abounding in love and faithfulness, along with forgiving sin, transgressions, and iniquity. Then He said,
“But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7 NLT)
If we tolerate sin or iniquity, it will set a negative example for the generations that follow. And so to stem the tide we need to forgive.
And please understand, forgiveness is about sin, not about deservedness, because no one is righteous, and no one deserves God’s forgiveness, but Jesus gave it none-the-less there upon the cross as He said, “Father, forgive them, for they haven’t a clue as to what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 paraphrase) Therefore since Jesus forgave us of so much, we can do no less and forgive others.
I remember one occasion where someone did something to me that was really bad, and later when I said I forgave them, they wondered how I could forgive them. And the reason I remember my response is how it snapped their head back when I said, “How can I not forgive you, seeing how much God has forgiven me.”
Jesus purchased our forgiveness on the cross, that is how much He loves us and forgave us. Therefore, the least we can do is forgive others. But some people reject this advice stating what was done to them, so how could they forgive that.
Now I don’t want to be insensitive, but that’s not what matters the most. What matters is that we stop unforgiveness from destroying our lives, and then the lives of those who love us. Again, it’s not whether they deserve forgiveness, it’s got to do with our health, that is, our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
On October 3, 2006, a gunman came into an Amish village in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was a milk truck driver who lived just down the road from the Amish community. About two years prior, his daughter was born prematurely and died. He was angry with God, and this anger worked on his emotions to the point where he rounded up ten Amish school girls and shot them, killing five. He then shot himself.
Now two of the girls who died were sisters. Can you imagine how you would feel if these were your children and grandchildren?
But the Amish people love God and want to apply God’s word to their lives. They knew that if they do not forgive then they will not receive forgiveness. So, on that very evening, the grandfather of those two sisters went to the man’s house and offered forgiveness to his wife and children.
The authorities sent trauma units into the Amish community to help them recover, but by the time they got there, the families of those girls were already past the forgiveness stage and were now trying to figure out how they could get food to this man’s widow and children to see them through the difficult days ahead.
Now, while I may not buy into the Amish culture and lifestyle, I do want to buy into their character and love for God and for others.
They knew the outcome if they held back forgiveness, and that would be bitterness and resentment. If they didn’t know, then all they had to do is to look at what happened to this man and their children as a result.
They realized that holding onto unforgiveness wouldn’t restore or heal anything. They knew the message this would send to their children for generations to come, not to mention the unraveling of their whole culture and way of life.
And so by offering forgiveness probably saved the future of their culture and protected their children from the effects of unforgiveness. And it was from this remarkable display that the world stood in awe and amazement of the wonderful power of God’s grace.
One reporter said this.
“The Amish funerals are always by invitation only. Their whole life revolves around their faith. They don’t dress this way to be quaint. It is an expression of their desire not to be conformed to this world, but to truly live in the kingdom of God. All of those teachings about love your enemies; turn the other cheek; you will be forgiven as you forgive others are very real, very alive in how they live their lives every day. They don’t necessarily wait to feel forgiveness. They understand it as a holy obligation that is expected of them. It is sincere.”
Forgiveness is that powerful. As a human being we’re going to struggle with our emotions; but our forgiveness is not determined by our emotions, otherwise we may never get around to feeling like forgiving. We’ve got to be free from unforgiveness’ devastating effects before it encroaches and destroys our lives and our families.
How then can we get closer to God’s amazing grace of forgiveness? Let’s take a moment and look at a couple of things.
1. Prioritize Forgiveness
All of us have priorities in our lives. Our problem is that we don’t prioritize our priorities. In other words, we live different lives than what we say we believe in.
However, the closer we get to death, that is when our true priorities begin to surface. It is when death is right around the corner that our relationship with God matters the most, followed by our relationships with others. Everything else simply doesn’t matter. We don’t care if someone owes us $20, or scratched our car.
Once this priority of forgiveness is established, it is then we can forgive the stains on the carpet, the $20 we’re still owed, or the scratch on the car. But, if we forget to prioritize forgiveness, then our lives are made that much more difficult in the end.
“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:3 NLT)
Here is our goal in life, that when we come to the end of our lives that we still love Jesus, and that we have had a godly influence on our children, family, friends, and the world. But if we allow unforgiveness in our lives, then will miss it; we’re going to miss the goal.
That is what the Amish did. They understood what the most important thing was, and that was their relationship with God, and with others.
And so, the first thing we need to so is to prioritize forgiveness, and that over most everything else.
2. Forgiveness Brings Health
Jesus tells a story about a man who refused to forgive.
It was about a servant who owed the king a great deal of money, but he could not pay it back. So, the king order that the man, his family, and all their possessions to be sold to repay the debt. The servant then begged the king for mercy, and the king relented, releasing him and forgiving his debt.
Later, the man found a fellow servant who owed him some money, but nothing near what he owed the king that had been forgiven. Because the servant couldn’t pay he likewise pleaded for mercy, but the first servant would have none of it, and so he him into prison until his complete debt was paid.
When some of the other servants saw what had happened they told the king, which made the king extremely angry. He chastised the servant and sent him to prison saying, “Should you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you? (Matthew 18:33 NLT)
The king then sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Now, look at what Jesus said and how this applies to all of us.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NLT)
We need to forgive for our own health and wellbeing. Medical doctors have done studies and found that those patients who refused or could not forgive had chemical changes to their physical makeup causing all kinds of medical and psychological problems.
What they found is that when we have unforgiveness in our lives that it upsets the chemical makeup of our bodies. Hormones, endorphins, and our serotonin levels go all haywire, and violent mood swings occur, from heights of euphoria, to deep valleys of depression.
So, unforgiveness throws our equilibrium off, and physically it causes our immune system to weaken.
Unforgiveness is like taking a piece of paper that somebody has written something bad about us upon, but we won’t let it go, even when it is set on fire. In essence, unforgiveness burns us.
So, let’s prime the pump of the living waters of the forgiveness God has so graciously given and put out that fire of unforgiveness.
3. Forgiveness Must Be Given Before It Can Be Received
Again, let’s look at prayer that Jesus taught His disciples.
“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15 NKJV)
We need to follow Jesus example and offer the precious gift of forgiveness to someone.
One of the greatest gifts we can give this Christmas is forgiveness. So who can we give this gift to this Christmas, and remember that in the process of forgiving we get the gift of healing in return.
Now, under where it says, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness” write the name or names of those you need to forgive. Why do we need to take this step, because while it’s in your mind now, Satan will make sure that by the time you reach home, that this will be a forgotten memory.
Remember, God will not forgive our sins if we refuse to forgive the sins of others.