“There’s nothing worse than a milkman gone sour.”

1 Peter 2:2: “As newborn infants, long for the pure logikos (logical, spiritual) milk.” We drink it. And we preach it. We are to be “The Gospel Milkmen.”

Ben was the prototypical milkman: cheerful, encouraging, wholesome, and kind. However, one November morning in 1962, he didn’t greet Shirley with his characteristic smile. He explained that a pretty young woman with six wonderful children had skipped town with a $79 debt. The resentment only grew. He didn’t speak about the woman and her children in the same way after that—now the children were “brats who drank his milk,” and that young mother wasn’t “pretty.” Ben was in torment. One day Shirley said, “Ben, give the lady the milk. Turn that debt into a Christmas present for those six kids.” Ben scoffed at the idea and said, ‘It wasn’t your $79.'”

Ben wanted vengeance. . . and far more than $79; she had taken some of Ben’s self-respect.
That lady dishonored Ben and, in his mind, Ben dishonored that lady. And in this way, vengeance grows, and humanity is torn to pieces. “There’s nothing worse than a milkman gone sour.”

Shirley kept asking Ben, “Have you given the Milk yet?” Six days before Christmas, with a sparkle in his eye, Ben answered, ‘Yes, in my heart, I gave her the milk for Christmas. And I do feel better! I keep thinking of those cute little kids with milk on their cereal—a gift from me.”

What Shirley told Ben to do, and what Ben did, is called “forgiveness.” We all struggle with forgiveness, partly because we don’t know what it is and what it is not. I hear people say, “I can’t forgive that, for I can’t excuse that; that’s just wrong; I’ll never forget that; they cannot change; I cannot forgive them for I don’t trust them—they never said, ‘I’m sorry’ . . . I cannot forgive.”

1 Peter 2:2: “As newborn infants (infants don’t earn anything; everything is free) long for the pure [Gospel] milk that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is chrestos (kind, good).”

1 Peter 3:8: “And the telos (the completion, the perfection, the End)—all of you same-thinking, co-suffering, brother-loving, tender-hearted, and humble-minded…” He’s describing a body. “Not repaying evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing…” He’s describing forgiveness.

#1 Forgiving is not excusing. If you can excuse it, there’s nothing left to forgive.

#2 Forgiving is not blaming, and not not blaming. Ben actually didn’t know what had happened to that Lady, and yet he forgave. Jesus does not blame us as if we knew better when we took his life. And he does not . . . not blame us as if we did not sin; it’s actually the definition of sin, and once you’re righteous, you will know.

#3 Forgiving is not judging. Jesus said, “I judge no one… The Father judges no one but all judgment has been given to the Son.” Forgiving is surrendering all judgment to God. Forgiving is not judging and yet forgiveness is judgment on all of our unforgiveness. Forgiveness is “The Judgment.”

#4 Forgiving is not forgetting. Ben forgave, but every time he checked his bank account, he remembered that he was out $79. And yet, he didn’t think “She took my money;” He thought, “I gave my money,” and he was happy. Jesus looks at the wounds in his hands, and he doesn’t think, “They took my life;” he thinks “I gave my life” and he’s happy. He doesn’t remember your sin (Jeremiah 31:34) for he knows it for what it is—nothing but the beginning of the revelation of Grace. Forgiving is not forgetting; it is remembering that “it is finished (telos)” and “everything is good.”

#5 Forgiving is not trust (faith). Ben didn’t trust that lady, but he forgave that lady, and he shouldn’t have trusted that lady, at least not without an explanation. The institutional church has taught that God will only forgive you if you choose to have faith. But Scripture teaches that you cannot have faith until you’ve seen that you are forgiven. Jesus cried “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” long before you sinned or could even think of saying “I’m sorry.” He fore-gave you before the foundation of the world. Forgiveness is not faith, but there is no faith without forgiveness.

#6 Forgiving is not fixing. But no one is fixed until they forgive. And you can’t help God fix until you forgive. In Greek, “to fix” is the word “ekdikesis,” often translated into English as “vengeance.” “Vengeance is mine,” says the Creator and Savior of the World. In Isaiah, the Arm of the Lord who is the Scapegoat, who bears all our sin, comes in from the wilderness and tramples the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God turning vessels of wrath into vessels of mercy who bleed blood that’s wine and wine that’s blood. It’s the Day of Vengeance and the beginning of Jubilee. God does not repay evil with evil; everything he does is good, for he is the Good. But he will discipline us for a time that we may enjoy him for all eternity. Forgiving is not fixing, but no one is fixed until they forgive, and you can’t help God fix anyone else until you forgive that someone.

#7 Forgiving is not something that you can “do.”

What if the Milk didn’t belong to Ben? He didn’t create the Milk; he stole it from a cow. What if your life doesn’t belong to you; you took it from God . . . on a tree in a garden?

Simon Wiesenthal famously exclaimed that he could not forgive a Nazi; he wrote “Who was I to forgive? Nobody had empowered me to do so.”

To Simon Peter Jesus said, “What you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That is, “What you forgive, I have forgiven. They took my life, and I fore-gave my life, and now I’m asking you to tell them. I am the Life fore-given to all.”

Forgiveness is not something you can “do” and yet unforgiveness is the unforgivable sin. Forgiveness is not something that you can do but you must “let” happen. In Scripture that’s what the word translated “forgiveness” actually means—”to let, to allow.” Forgiveness is giving life. Jesus is the Life, and the Life is in the blood. Forgiveness is letting the Life flow through living tissue in a living body. You are the Body, the vessel, the blood vessel. You cannot push the river; you have to let it flow.

You can damn the river and be damned. That’s our decision. But, by the Grace of God, you can be un-damned and “let it flow.” That’s the decision of God for you, about you, and in you. Forgiveness is letting life happen.

After Christmas, that lady found Ben, the not sour milkman. She explained the situation and gave Ben $20 toward her bill, but Ben refused her offer, saying “It’s been paid.” She asked, “By whom?” He said, “By me.” Later he told Shirley, “She looked at me like I was Jesus or something. Then she started crying, and I started crying. And we just hugged each other there in the street.” For both of them, milk had never tasted sweeter.

Forgiveness is letting life—eternal life—happen. And it will, for God’s decision is stronger than your decision. He will make you in his own image.

1 Peter 3: 18-19, 4:6: “Christ… being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit… went and preached to the spirits in prison who formerly did not obey in the days of Noah… This is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”

For too long the institutional church has argued that this is impossible, and it’s made all of us milkmen rather sour. Repent, forgive everyone, and be happy. That’s the telos, the End.

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