It is ingrained into us a Christians. We read about it in Scripture so many times. One of the greatest marks of a Christian is love. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39; “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Luke 6:27; and the new command that Jesus gives us in John 13:34-35, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” There is even a song that we have sung many a times in church that testifies to the mark of love, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they know we are Christians by our love.”
But after this journey of reading through the Gospel of John during the Lenten and Easter season, I have begun to realize that there is another mark of a Christian, that may be even a harder virtue to fulfill as we strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ—forgiveness. I had not realized how prevalent the theme of forgiveness fills the pages of John’s writings, until this reading through his Gospel. Of course, there is the theme of Jesus’ work of freeing us of our sins, as when John the Baptist first sets his eyes on Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River and exclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.
Yet, we are commanded to forgive as Jesus has forgiven. This was really impressed on me in the passage where Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection, in John 20:21-23. He gives them a blessing, then breathed upon them to receive the Holy Spirit, anticipating the receiving of the Spirit at Pentecost in a few days. And what command does he give them at this time? Not the command to love, but to forgive, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” By proclaiming the message of Jesus to the world, they are in essence, announcing the message of God’s gift of forgiveness, through Christ’s work on the cross.
And not only that, but throughout his life, Jesus is showing us how we are to forgive one another. On the cross, he offers forgiveness to his tormentors, “For they know not what they do.” In the gospel of John, we see Jesus offer forgiveness to Peter in John 21:15-19 after he had denied him three times. And he offers forgiveness to the other disciples in John 20:19 when he first appears to them. Instead of scolding them, he stood among them and proclaimed, “Peace be with you.”
I like what Max Lucado says about forgiveness, “Forgiveness doesn’t diminish justice; it entrusts it to God” and, “Revenge builds a lonely house. Space enough for one person. The lives of its tenants are reduced to one goal: make someone miserable. They do. Themselves.” Christ not only commands us to love, but to forgive. Not only for their sake, but for ours.