Monday, February 11, 2019
Numbers 14:19 – 23 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” 20The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.
Many times we confuse forgiveness with the removal of consequences. That’s the lesson we learn from today’s Bible story.
When Moses asked God to forgive the people of Israel for their rebellion, he was asking God to restore His relationship with them. Moses understood fully the consequences of sin and did not ask God to remove those consequences. Moses did not ask God to deny His nature of justice. What Moses did ask was for God to “lift them up” above the consequences into the incomparable fulfillment of relationship with Himself.
The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home and fell into a life of sin. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 “Pacos” showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.
Each of us is a Paco. We have rebelled against God. We are afraid of the consequences of our sin, so we try to hide our sin. But when the Father extends His arms of love in an act of forgiveness, we run to Him. Even though the consequences of our sin may remain, the restoration of relationship with the Father completely overshadows any of the pain of our sin.
When God forgave the Israelites, He told them they would still pay for what they did. But the fact that they were not separated from God was intended to make their consequences bearable. If our focus is on relationship with Christ, then the sufferings of this world will seem insignificant, even when caused by our own sin.
Imagine the joy you could bring to another person’s life if you offered them the same love. They are suffering in their sin. They need to be forgiven. They need to know that someone will love them even while they are suffering the consequences of their sin.
I remember the day many years ago that I had a young man in my office who confessed to me that he had been stealing from local stores. He even stole a larger item from outside a business and dragged it behind his car to his back yard. He wanted to know what to do. I told him that he must immediately go and confess in person to the people from whom he had stolen and return the merchandise. He was scared. He knew that meant being arrested and charged with theft. He knew it meant paying restitution and possible jail time.
As we talked, I led him to understand that the pain of the guilt he would carry by not confessing would be much more severe than the pain of the court system. He also began to understand that his greatest need was to know that he and Jesus were in right relationship, and if that were true than nothing could separate him from the love of God. He agreed that he wanted the love of the Father more than the stuff, and more than his image and reputation. He confessed and faced stiff fines and jail time, but he learned that the love of God is far more satisfying than what the world can offer.
As a part of our conversation, I promised him that I would go through this with him, and that nothing he had done could stop me from loving him and serving him. That was a key turning point. Even though he had not sinned against me personally, I was still tempted to separate myself from him until he got his act together. The Holy Spirit showed me that what he needed was someone to walk with him while he got his act together.
Maybe that’s what God is showing you also. Have you separated yourself from someone because of their sin, when God may be calling you to forgive them and walk with them through the restoration process? That takes time and energy, and it’s hard work – but isn’t that what Christian community is all about? While we tend to think that the person who has committed the sin is the one in prison, maybe we are really the ones in prison because of our unforgiving spirit.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.