The Bible records the dying words of only four men: Jacob, the first Israelite; Moses, the first lawgiver; Stephen, the first Christian martyr; and Christ, the only Savior. After being raised on the cross, Jesus opened His eyes and probability in the back of the crowd He could see the curiosity seekers. As He looked closer, He could see a little group of His disciples, made up mostly of the women from Galilee. Closer still were the priests who were ridiculing Him and the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him.
Christ’s dying words are the foundation of Christianity. Perhaps everyone expected Him to say something, but no one expected Him to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The Greek verb here is in the imperfect tense which indicates continuance of action. Each time an insult was hurled, a snide remark was made, a tongue-lashing was given, Jesus repeated His prayer. These dying words have become the standard of Christian forgiveness. Jesus wanted Pilate forgiven for his failure to enforce justice. Jesus wanted the house of Caiaphas forgiven for hitting and spitting on Him. Jesus wanted the soldiers forgiven for ridiculing and finally crucifying Him. Jesus wanted both Judas and Peter forgiven.
Jesus never withheld forgiveness from anyone who sincerely asked for it. Jesus came to teach about forgiveness. He came both to forgive and to tell us we are forgiven. Human nature has not changed through the centuries. We have the same needs, the same drives, and the same capacity for good or evil. The sins of Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome are the sins of New York, Chicago, and __________, U.S.A. So when one preaches on forgiveness he is preaching an all-important phase of the gospel.
The Meaning of Forgiveness
There are four words in the original language translated forgiveness in the New Testament. The first is a legal term, the second is a gracious term, the third and fourth are synonymous with the removal of guilt. Let’s look at each one of these:
The legal term for forgiveness, apoluo, means to set free, to dismiss, to release, or even to divorce. It is the term used in Matthew 5:32. In John 19:10, Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to release (legally forgive) you, and power to crucify you?” Paul said in Acts 28:18, “When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.”
The gracious term for forgiveness is charizomai. It means to freely grant as a favor, to remit, to forgive, and to pardon. Jesus graciously restored sight to the blind (Luke 7:21). God freely gave His Son and will He not freely give us all things (Rom. 8:32). The disfellowshipped man was graciously forgiven when he repented (2 Cor. 2:7, 10). Christians are to have this attitude. In Ephesians 4:32, “and be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And in Colossians 3:13, “forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” In Colossians 2:13, “And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses. . .”
The third and fourth words for forgiveness are the most common in the New Testament: aphiemi and the noun form aphesis. These words have to do with the removal of guilt. “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Peter’s question about forgiveness involved these words (Matt. 18:21, 35). This is the word Jesus used on the cross (Luke 23:34). Every Christian needs and receives this kind of forgiveness (I John 1:9; 2:12). The Jews began to question Christ’s authority because He so easily and graciously forgave sin and removed guilt (Luke 7:47ff; Mark 2:5-12). Jesus repeatedly told His apostles, disciples, and all Christians to forgive. This means to remove the guilt and refuse to hold it against one another (Mark 11:25).
How wonderful it is to be released, divorced from sin, and unconditionally forgiven, removed from all guilt.