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By Jim Killebrew

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[April 26, 2014]  On Sept. 30, 2011, I heard a news report on the radio that a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan had misspelled the word "Mohammad" on a paper. The teacher of the class lost it emotionally and almost had an emotional breakdown. The school made a big deal of the girl's spelling mistake and when word got out, over 50 religious Muslim leaders called for the girl's arrest and for her to be charged with blasphemy, which carries a sentence of death. The incident caused the girl and her family to go into hiding for fear of their lives.

Perhaps it is just the consequence of a lifetime of Western culture and socialization from living in a democracy in the 20th and 21st centuries that has established my thinking, but does this sound a bit too harsh a punishment for misspelling a word? I know there is a vast difference between the theology of Islam and Christianity, just as there was a difference between Isaac and Ishmael. The subsequent feud between those two brothers has likely created more hatred and bloodshed than any other feud in history. All the same, if the peoples from those two brothers could examine themselves deeply enough to reach to the core of their basic humanity, I would hope that they would find some level of commonality. If nothing else, I would hope that commonality would be forgiveness.

If the God of Abraham could find it within His heart to find a way to provide forgiveness to His crowning creation, I suspect that somewhere deep within the deoxyribonucleic acid shared by human nature, there is a glimmer of hope for finding a shred of forgiveness for each other. If this 13-year-old girl could be the object of that micro step toward forgiveness from a tradition so deeply rooted in reactionary hatred, it might be the first step onto a path that would lead to healing for humanity.

I will pray for that balm of forgiveness and a glimmer of a new day.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian message. Indeed, since sin had entered the creation by the poor choice of Eve and Adam, mankind had been lost because of their disobedience. It was the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that had ushered in the way for God, through Jesus, to provide salvation to all people who believe in Jesus and the work He did on the cross. For that forgiveness to affect the individual, there was a need for faith to occur. Jesus had spoken to those disciples who loved Him and followed Him.

Jesus said before he ascended to heaven: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Matthew 28:16-20

After having been with the resurrected Jesus from the first day of the week after Passover, Jesus had shown Himself multiple times throughout a 40-day period before His ascension. Peter operationalized the words of Jesus from His "Great Commission" by preaching on the Jewish "Day of Pentecost," 50 days after the Passover. When he related the story of Jesus and how He had been put to death, it pricked the hearts of those listening, and they wanted to know what they should do. Peter responded: "Repent and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  Acts 2:38

Peter had clearly heard the words of Jesus ringing in his ears. An inspired-by-God preacher, the Apostle Peter laid out the answer to the people's question, "What must we do?" Not only was Peter "making disciples" and having each one baptized in the name of Jesus, but he further claimed the reason was "for the forgiveness of your sins," which follows with the gift of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Even though Peter was there when Jesus gave the "Great Commission" to go and make disciples of all nations, it is possible Peter might have had some reservations with moving outside the confines of the "chosen people" from the house of Israel. But Peter had a vision. When the Apostle Peter had seen a vision of non-Jews, or Gentiles, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit from God and receiving from Him the gift of acceptance into the worldwide church that was being formed, Peter arrived at the house of the centurion Cornelius, of whom Peter had seen the vision. Cornelius had gathered his entire household in one place so they could hear what the apostle of Jesus had to say.

"Then Peter started speaking: 'I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)  you know what happened throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John announced: with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.'"  Acts 10:34-42

Peter's conclusion with his discussion with the Gentiles was that of forgiveness:

"About him [Jesus] all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name."  Acts 10:43

So forgiveness has always been a part of the plan of God initiated through the work of Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness is an essential benefit from God Himself: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." This is not the shedding of blood of animals on an altar, but the righteous blood of Jesus with His work on the cross.

So just a hint to people as they contrast the essence of the story reported regarding the 13-year-old girl who had misspelled a word that was taken as an insult by the leaders of Islam. Forgiveness is embedded in the very core of the love of Christ and passed on to the Christians of the world. That forgiveness that emanated from Christ on the cross was forgiveness of all the sins of the world; forgiveness from the Islam leaders seemingly cannot even extend to a young girl who has a spelling problem.


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