Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Removing The Sting

"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law."
I Corinthians 15:55-56

This morning, during my time with the Lord,
I was praying and seeking Him concerning some issues in our lives that have left deep wounds.

"God, please just remove the sting from this", I prayed.  

Some things can hurt so deeply.
They can leave such deep wounds.
They can take so long to heal.

As I prayed, asking God for this somewhat unusual request,
I Corinthians 15:56 came to my mind.

"The sting of death is sin."

If there is no sin in one's life,
if all is clear between one's soul and God,
there is no reason whatsoever to fear death.
Death loses its sting, when it is faced with a pure heart and a clear conscience void of sin.

If death loses its sting, when faced without sin in the heart,
is it possible that other painful situations could also lose their sting when handled in a sinless manner?
Is it possible that we can rise above the pain, hurt, and tears
even though the situation still remains in our path?

As I pondered these thoughts,
I began to examine my own heart.
I began to ask the Lord to help me.
Am I perpetuating the sting because I am harboring the sin of unforgiveness?
Are there grudges on board....hiding...camping out somewhere deep inside?
Is there any ill will?
Any malice or wishing bad things upon the ones who caused the hurt?

What exactly is causing this lingering sting?
Is it just the natural reaction to things that have transpired?
Or is it because I have allowed the hurt to turn into full-blown offense?
Am I nursing the sting by clinging to sinful tendencies?

These were tough questions this morning...as I lingered before the throne.
They may as well be asked.
I'd rather face it here and now,
than when I stand before Him on the day of Judgment.
Then it will be too late to make adjustments.
Now, thank God, I can do something about it.

I am transparent to God.
So are you.
Everything inside our hearts, no matter how carefully and skillfully we may try to cover it,
is "naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do."  Hebrews 4:13

We may as well just confess,
admit our true condition,
and deal with the root of the problem.

I don't know about you, but I do not enjoy the sting.
I don't like feeling the prick every time I think of a person.
I'd rather feel a sense of peace, no matter who crosses my mind.

Is this possible?
Can the sting really ever be removed?
When the wound is this deep?

His answer said it all...spoke unfathomable volumes...to my anguished heart.
"It is possible, child.
Forgiveness removes the sting."

Oh, precious Lord!
All I could think of was how He hung there, bleeding, dying, agonizing on the cross!
How He didn't cry out to His Father to strike the perpetrators of His pain.
How He didn't call for legions of angels to remove the nails and stop the abuse.
How He didn't ask God to hold their heinous crimes against them for eternity.
How He sought no retribution.

His words?
Oh, those words!
They will echo throughout the endless chambers of eternity.
They will forever remove any alibi we try to conjure 
to justify our grudges.

"Father, forgive them; 
for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34

Jesus harbored no sin....even then.
Even there.
Tortured, mutilated, and shamed...
hanging there for everyone to see.

Jesus knew that not forgiving His murderers would add an unbearable sting
to His already merciless plight.
So, He chose to forgive.

He was a Man more familiar with sorrows and more acquainted with grief
than you or I will ever be able to comprehend,
yet, He forgave the very ones who were responsible for His sorrow
and the very ones who caused His grief.

How can we do anything less?

"This is the secret, child...to removing the sting.
Remove the sin, and the sting will disappear",
His still, small voice continued.

"Oh, Lord, help me!" I cried.

Sometimes, it is so hard to let it go.
It is so difficult to move on...
when you just don't understand.
When you can't successfully analyze or find the logic.

Lingering there too long creates breeding opportunities 
for the bad stuff...
bitterness, resentment, hatred, malice, ill will, wrath, strife, contention, revenge, and retaliation plots.

Not everything in this life is fair.
Nor will everyone treat us fairly.
Professing Christians can wield the most painful of blows.
After all, think of it....
who gave Jesus the most trouble?
Who caused Him the most persecution?
Who continually followed Him around, waiting with bated breath,
hoping to find some fault in Him, some reason to justify their disdain for Him?
Who continually criticized, nit-picked, condemned, questioned, blamed,
reprimanded, lambasted, and disparaged Him?

Most shocking of all, I ask you this....
who caused Jesus to be put to death?
Who dealt the final decision?
Think of it.
Pilate found no fault in Him.
Herod wanted no part of the decision.
Was it the sinners?
Surely, we think, it must have been the sinners.
But, then we recall the entire season of Jesus' earthly ministry, 
and we must incontestably conclude that the sinners loved Jesus.
They were drawn to Him.
They longed to be in His presence.

The ones who hurt Jesus the most deeply...
the ones who sentenced Him to the most ugly, vile, cruel, torturous, most disgraceful of all means of death...
 were none other than the religious.

Yes, you read correctly.
It is true.
"As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw Him, 
they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" 
But Pilate answered, "You take Him and crucify Him. 
As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him."
John 19:6

Did you catch that?
It doesn't say, as soon as the worst of sinners, the bottom dwellers,
the depraved, the corrupt, the degenerate, and the reprobate saw him,
they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!".

No, my friend.
As unbelievable as it may seem to us who look on the scene in retrospect,
Jesus' agonizing fate was decided, with much enthusiasm,
by the chief priests and their officials.
It is sad.
It is nearly incomprehensible.
But, it is absolutely, indisputably true.

The scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests, and their officials...
the religious....
 were the ones who hurt Jesus the most.

Sadly, the Pharisee spirit is still very much alive and well.
It is still rearing its beyond-ugly head, injecting hurt and dispensing poison.
You may find that you are on the receiving end of what is dished out...
in the name of religion...even Christianity.
It is a very painful place to be.

But the bottom line is this....
regardless of who causes the hurt, you and I must forgive.
Whether or not they ask for our forgiveness.
They may never ask.
They may never acknowledge their wrongdoing.
You may tell them how much they have hurt you.
They may ignore your pain and justify their hateful behavior...
convince themselves that they are in the right...
even do it all under the guise and false-conception that they are operating under God's approval.

On a side note, does it really hurt any of us to say, "I'm sorry"....
even if we feel we have done nothing wrong???
Once we are made aware of how much hurt we have caused another human being?
Would it really be that hard....to apologize?

If we will ever heal...if we will ever move past the offense....
if we will ever remove the sting....
we must forgive...
just like He did...
whether or not we ever receive an apology.

The only one who wanted forgiveness at the scene of the cross was the repentant thief.
The Roman soldiers did not beg His pardon.
The religious elite did not ask Him to forgive.
Only one person sought His forgiveness,
but it was lavishly, unselfishly bestowed upon everyone there...
even those who didn't ask for it.

We have no excuse.
Jesus removed justifying any kind of sin in the heart,
when He spoke those penetrating, remarkable, amazing, grace-saturated words,
"Father, forgive them..."

Asking His Father to forgive them proved in the most significant way 
that Jesus had already done the same.
He faced death through the most torturous means known to man
with no sting.
He forgave.
The sins for which He died upon the cross were my sins...and your sins....
and the sins of the whole world....
not His Own.
He did no sin, neither was deceit found in Him.

Ever notice how once you forgive someone, 
those old feelings still try to creep back up...and in?
How when you hear the mention of their name,
you feel a tendency to resurrect those old memories and start nursing those old hurts again?
Sometimes, it takes more than once...to completely let it go.

I think it is all a matter of choice, every single time.
To forgive, or not to forgive?
Deciding requires weighing the misery options.
Which scenario fosters the misery of a sting?
Which choice brings the serenity of peace?
Does it take more effort to carry the weight of the grudge
or would it require more energy to cast it on Jesus and turn it loose?

He is our Example.
He bore more hurt than you or I will ever comprehend.
He knew that the secret to maintaining the absence of a sting in His heart
was to forgive....
to the nth degree....
without omission.

He held no grudge.
No ill will.
No animosity.
No thirst for revenge.

His forgiveness of His abusers removed the sting.
He faced beyond-cruelly inflicted death,
with no trace of fear.

There are things in this life we will never be able to understand or figure out.
We can't always dissect the behavior of another person or cause it to make sense.
I will more than likely forever be puzzled by certain happenings in our lives,
and, in all probability, I will never be able to rationalize it all.

It is not a sin to question or wonder why.
Jesus did.
Remember some of His other words, also uttered from the cross?
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

Jesus wondered.
He felt the bewilderment.
He had difficulty reconciling the questions in His Own mind.
But, He still forgave.

"Father, help me do no less than You."

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