Forgiveness, the Mark of a Believer

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In studying Acts 7 you immediately focus on the ending, when Stephen is suddenly stoned to death by an angry mob, and his last words jump off the page at you. Today we will look at the way Stephen died because the way he died should show us something about how we should live.

Stephen’s last words in this world were “Father do not count this sin against them.” It is an echo of Jesus on the cross, saying “Father forgive them.” It is what all of us should be known for saying as well.

The mark of Christian, if you can only find one, should be a form of love that is quick to forgive. Of course, “love is the greatest of these,” (1 Cor. 13) but the Bible is clear that the specific form of love that we are to have is a love that faces the terrible truth, and then forgives anyway.

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This kind of forgiving love is not only found in Stephen and Jesus. It is also demanded by Jesus.

There is one story that occurs in all the gospel accounts and which Jesus himself says will be told everytime the gospel is shared. Only one. Even the resurrection is not described this thoroughly in all four gospels. The story is the story of the woman who washed Jesus’s feet.

In Luke 7, we read there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

Jesus responds with a parable and then explains himself with one simple statement: For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

This is a simple principle. If you have been forgiven of much, you will love much, if you are forgiven little, you will love little. Likewise, if you have been forgiven of much, you will also be quick to forgive. It is a simple concept.

Is it any wonder that this story is told in all four Gospel accounts? In Matthew 26, Jesus says this: 3 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Why would he say that? Why is this particular story included in all four gospels? The birth of Jesus is not even recorded in Mark and John. Mark brushes over the resurrection as though it was only a footnote, John skips nearly all of Jesus’s sermons and preaching, yet all four of them tell this story. Why?

Because forgiveness done in love is the primary characteristic of a Christian.

We have been forgiven much. When you put your faith in Christ, at the middle of your faith is the faith that he forgives and removes your sin outright, forever. You know that he suffered and died on the cross in order to forgive you. You know that, it strikes into the core of your heart, and you decide, from that moment on, that you can forgive others too, in his name, because he forgave you.

Ask yourself this: If Jesus can forgive ME, then who can I forgive?

Anyone, everyone, always.

The message of Stephen, whose last words are to forgive his murderers, is the same as that of Jesus on the cross and the same as the woman with the perfume. We forgive others because we know how much Jesus has forgiven us, and we remember how much it cost him to do it. So when we do it, we are doing it out of his love and forgiveness towards us.

That is why the story of the woman with the perfume is told in all four gospels. That is why Jesus says it will be told everywhere the gospel goes. It is told everywhere because it is the primary characteristic of a believer. We love and forgive others because in our humility we remember what Jesus has done for us.

I don’t think Stephen had to think very hard about his last words. I don’t think he stopped and thought to himself about how to best handle the situation. I don’t think he had to check his What Would Jesus Do” bracelet. I think he forgave them because he was a forgiver, who knew he had been forgiven, and therefore was quick to forgive others as second nature.  It was an automatic decision.

He was being stoned to death, yet he wasn’t thinking of ducking rocks, covering his head, or calling to God to protect him. He wasn’t thinking of how to get away, or how to convince them to stop killing him. He was only thinking of forgiveness.

He was thinking of it so much that his face glowed at the trial.

How often do Christians hold grudges over relatively small things? I know believers who have torn down churches over petty facebook posts and started rumors over small jealousy.

If you claim to believe in Jesus and claim to follow him, then follow him to the most obvious place. The cross.  The place of forgiveness. Forgive your spouse, your dad, you mom, your brother, your neighbor, the kid at school, and everyone else.

Look for opportunities to forgive them. When you are wronged, thank God that you have a chance to forgive and to be like Jesus. Then do it. Do not let grudges hold you down!

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