Today is the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday. Today we remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, in less than a week, the same crowds that hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday were calling for his crucifixion. And it all leads up to that moment where Jesus prays from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Forgiveness is often like that. Often it is not something we seek, but simply something Jesus gives to us without our ever asking for it. We see this often in the Gospels in Jesus' various encounters with people.
But once we are aware of our need to be forgiven by God, there are steps we can take to receive this forgiveness. And the first step is faith, trust. We must simply trust Jesus to forgive us. In Acts 10:43 we read, "All the prophets testify about him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Many people ask, "But how can Jesus forgive me for what I have done? My sin is too great." Sometimes guilt overwhelms us.
I remember a time twenty years ago when I suddenly felt overwhelmed by guilt. Our eldest son was just two years old at the time. Our middle son had just been born. We were visiting my family in the mountains of Virginia, and went out to a restaurant to eat our first night there. We had a delightful time.
After dinner we were standing around while my brother paid the bill. My father had already walked out to the car parked on the main street of this little town in which the restaurant was situated. Minutes passed. Suddenly, a stranger walked up to us holding my two year old son by the hand. "Your son went outside but I brought him back." We had been so engrossed in conversation that we did not realize what had happened. But my father witnessed the whole thing from his vantage point in the car. Being incapacitated by Parkinson's disease, there was nothing my father could do about it. When we got back to the car my father explained to us that he had seen our son James running back and forth across the street, weaving in and out among the passing cars.
I was grateful that our son was not hurt, but at the same time I was horrified and guilt-stricken. How could I have let this happen? How could I have been so careless? I talked with the Lord about this in prayer, but still I had a hard time accepting his forgiveness. It was only after a few days that the sense of guilt began to dissipate.
Perhaps you can identify in some way. Sometimes we have a hard time accepting God's forgiveness. We want to hold on to our guilt and somehow punish ourselves and even try to pay for our sin ourselves. Our hands are so full of fretting that we find it impossible to receive free forgiveness from Jesus.
The story is told of a grandfather who went to see his little grandson one day. The grandfather took his son some books as a gift. However, when the grandfather arrived he found his grandson with hands full, holding a blanket, a toy, a fire engine, and a sticky bun. When the grandfather said, "I have some books for you," the grandson could not do anything about it. His hands were too full to receive.
In order to receive forgiveness from Jesus, we have to empty our hands of our own works, our own fretting, be willing to let go of our guilt, and simply receive the wonderful gift Jesus has to give us. Trusting and receiving is the first step to freedom.