Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie had been arrested for hiding and protecting Jews during World War II. They were sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. Betsie died in prison. Two years after the war, Corrie was in Munich speaking at a church about forgiveness. A former guard from Ravensbruck was in the audience that night.
After her talk, the guard approached Corrie and extended his hand asking for forgiveness. As the horrible memories flashed before her, she realized she was not capable to forgive. Corrie prayed. Lord Jesus, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
She describes what happened next in her book, The Hiding Place:
“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
I then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Forgiveness is central to the Christian faith. Jesus often spoke of forgiveness. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He gave them the words, “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12 NLT
Yet often it is difficult to forgive. Evil exists. We are broken, and we live in a fallen world. People have experienced horrible atrocities. And yet, Jesus clearly tells us we must forgive. How?
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” John 20: 22, 23 NKJV
We learn how from the passage above. It was shortly after Mary Magdalene discovered Jesus was missing from the tomb. The disciples were hiding behind closed doors in fear. Suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst. He brought comfort and encouragement. He also brought their assignment. He was there to send them out for mission.
Jesus commissioned his followers. They would not be ready for their work without the power of the Holy Spirit. Their work included teaching others the expectation of forgiveness. Without Jesus, it is nearly impossible to truly forgive. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we fall short of genuine forgiveness. Jesus never expected us to go at this alone. He knew we would need him.
Notice he told his disciples to receive the Holy Spirit before he spoke to them about forgiveness.
As followers of Christ, we too are on assignment. We are called to forgive and to teach others about forgiveness. Jesus gives us his love so we can love others. On our own, we are not capable to forgive. We must allow Jesus to breathe on us. We must receive his Holy Spirit.
Corrie says it best: “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”