At a webcast Sabbath service from Buford, Bob McCurdy discusses the need for God's people to consider our forgiveness of others as part of a Passover examination.
The two families were each described in a similar manner - “simple, hospitable mountaineers” They were for the most part – “affectionate and home-loving, but also having an overpowering family pride”.
However, all too often members of these two families were quick to take offense. And they were too stubborn to forgive. From the colonial days they had lived on opposite banks of the Tug River, which runs through the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.
The first serious trouble began in the closing days of the Civil War. Even though the families lived within a few miles of each other in the hills of Appalachia, the war had further separated them.
Ironically, those that lived on the West Virginia side of the Tug River were Southern sympathizers. West Virginia was formed during the War as a northern state. Their neighbors on the Kentucky side fought with the North.
During the war, there were some minor thefts of property and livestock – but small in comparison to what would soon follow.
On Jan. 7, 1865, Harmon McCoy was returning to the family homestead in Kentucky with a broken leg, after being discharged from the Union army on Christmas Eve of 1864. As he neared the mountain coves where his kinfolk lived, a group of Hatfield’s found his tracks in the snow and followed. They cornered him in a cave - and shot him dead.
Even though it was a brutal crime, the exact murderer was never identified - and no one was ever brought to justice. But hard feelings began to permeate the members of the two families.
Over the next twenty-six (26) years, twelve (12) additional kin of the Hatfield and McCoy clans were murdered. Multiple relatives were charged with crimes and many sent to prison. Marriages were destroyed, whole communities in which they lived were disrupted.
At one time during this period the turmoil from the hatred and violence got so out of hand that the highest civil authorities became involved.
The governor of West Virginia’s filed a lawsuit against the State of Kentucky involving the extradition of McCoy members who had been charged in West Virginia. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Finally, this most famous of American feuds ended in 1891. At least there was no further reported violence after that date.
Ironically, at least one prominent clan patriarch during the period of violence was both a Baptist minister and a justice of the peace. It’s been reported that the Hollywood game show, “Family Feud” was inspired by the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.
It’s clear that many members of these two families had a major problem: Their unwillingness to follow a fundamental Christian requirement – one that Christ emphasized before His last Passover – that of the need to forgive one another.
Unfortunately, we know that this failing has been repeated throughout man’s history. Nations have been willing to go to war over unforgiven sins.
God’s Spring Holy Days, including the Passover are just days away. As we as God’s people begin to examine our innermost being, it’s important that we take time to consider the subject of forgiveness.
So for just a few minutes, let’s look at what Christ said about forgiving others.
Please turn over to Matthew, chapter 6. From the start of His ministry Christ addressed many aspects of human relations. I won’t read all of this section, but here he gave His disciples some important guidelines for personal prayer to our Father. And in Verse 12, He says this -
And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
There are several other requirements that He mentions about prayer. Forgiveness is not the first, but it is the first one listed here that touches on our relationship with our fellow man.
The Greek word here translated as “debts” is - opheilema (O fi lee ma). It has the meaning of –
1) that which is owed; that which is justly or legally due, a debt,
2) in a spiritual sense, an offense or sin
But especially important is the 2nd half of His statement – “as we forgive others”. God clearly shows that those who come to Him in prayer are expected to have already forgiven all of those who have offended, or sinned against us.
And in case there was any doubt, he makes this requirement clear in verses 14 – 15 -
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
As we read and consider these verses, notice that Christ offered no conditions or exceptions as to whether we forgive someone. But our active forgiveness of others is shown as a condition of obtaining the forgiveness of God - for our sins.
Now when a person who has sinned against us makes an apology for their mistake, and they express a willingness to change, it’s obviously much easier for us to extend our willingness to forgive.
On the other hand, if neither of these things are given, it’s much harder. But Christ doesn’t say that our forgiveness of another person is conditional on the attitude of the person.
Later in His ministry, Christ used a question by Peter to expound in more detail about forgiveness. Turn forward in Matthew to chapter 18; let’s begin with verse 21 -
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
So Peter wasn’t too sure about Christ’s earlier statement about forgiveness – he wanted to know what conditions or parameters might apply to the requirement to forgive.
The word here for brother can mean a physical brother, or can be expanded to mean countrymen or all men.
Perhaps his own brother Andrew had sinned against Peter so often that he wanted an exact guideline?
To Peter, seven seemed like the farthest limit that a person could be expected to go. He must have been shocked with Christ’s answer - verse 22 - ]
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
[There are some slight differences in various translations – some record seventy, others seventy times seven. That would be 490. Whichever number it is, Christ intended to explain to Peter that there is no upper limit to the number of times we’re required to forgive another person.
Then, to further clarify the importance of his answer, Christ gives a parable about forgiveness using a man who wants forgiveness for a debt, but refuses to forgive one who owes him money.
Again, I won’t take the time to read the whole parable, but He concludes it with verse 35 –
“So, My heavenly Father also will do to you, if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
So as he did in chapter 6, Christ clearly lays out His expectation for us.
And He includes a statement that makes it clear that our forgiveness can’t be a just a shallow event. Forgiveness must come from our heart. When we’ve forgiven someone there is no longer a debt to be repaid.
Now while I was preparing for message, I came across a sermon by a UCG minister that made reference to two quotations on this topic.
The first was a quotation by Tim LaHaye, who wrote a book entitled, Anger Is a Choice. I think the commentary that he provides on forgiveness is insightful. Here’s what he says -
“Forgiveness is very costly. It costs you, not the person being forgiven. Forgiveness means that justice will not always be fulfilled. Forgiveness does not rebuild the house that has been burnt down by someone carelessly playing with matches.
Forgiveness does not always put a broken marriage back together. … Forgiveness is letting go. It’s the relaxation of your death grip on the pain you feel.”
The 2nd quote was by another author, Archibald Hart. He says the following - “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back, if you hurt me.”
Forgiveness often involves our emotions – and it’s sometimes hard to let go of the emotions that were formed when someone sins against us.
Our carnal nature wants to either strike back, or tuck the memory of the event away, so we can use it against the person at a later time.
It’s not a natural human reaction to forgive someone from the heart in such a way that no further hard feelings remain.
There was a time several years ago in which I performed an examination prior to the Passover. When I got to forgiveness, I realized that there was someone who had greatly offended me, and I hadn’t forgiven them. Instead, I kind of just let it slide. So, at that time I forgive the individual.
However, some time later, this person again committed what I considered an offense. When they did, I immediately dredged up the first offense – the one I had supposedly forgiven. I had to sit down and re-evaluate whether I really had forgiven them before.
I had to admit that the earlier forgiveness had not really been from my heart. If it had, I wouldn’t have immediately remembered it when a 2nd offense was committed.
When we truly forgive someone, we have to let go of the anger and any resentment that we may be harboring inside.
Still, as humans, it’s sometimes hard to forgive. But we can recall what Christ said in 1 John 1:7 1 John 1:7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.
American King James Version×– “… the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin”. That would even include the sin of not completely forgiving another person.
If we ever find that we’re facing that problem – the inability to truly forgive - we can ask God to apply Christ’s blood to our own sin of unforgiveness.
So, as I begin to finish, let’s consider one more statement about forgiveness. It’s found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3. I’ll read verses 12 and 13; [repeat]
Therefore, as [the] elect of God [as God’s people, we’re called the elect] holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also [must do]. [pause]
Let me wrap up the saga of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s:
In June of 2003, representatives of the two clans met together and signed a peace treaty in Pikeville, Kentucky. They stated that it was their intention to show symbolically, that Americans could ultimately bury their differences.
That was certainly a laudatory action - but as Christians we’re expected to go far beyond just setting aside differences.
As we’ve seen from the words of Christ and Paul, we must forgive one another from the heart - without conditions, and without exceptions.
The death of Jesus Christ at the Passover makes possible the payment and covering of our sins. But to receive that, we need to strive to forgive others that have offended us.
So, as we rapidly approach the 2020 Passover, we need to each ask ourselves – “Is there anyone whom I’ve not forgiven?”