“When they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
from Luke 23:33-34
The above is a powerful statement. Jesus has been beaten, flogged, nailed to a cross, and tortured in various other ways as well. However, He asks God to forgive His tormentors. While He is suffering, dying for all of our sins, Jesus thinks not of Himself but of those who are killing Him. He thinks not of vengeance but of mercy.
This sets Jesus apart from any other would-be deities – at least the ones that I’ve ever heard about, anyway. Looking at Greek mythology, for example, would Apollo have asked his father, Zeus, to forgive humans who were torturing him? No. The lightning bolts simply would have started raining down. End of problem.
Not Jesus. He asks His Father to forgive His tormentors. Stop and think about that action. The beauty of it. It is the inverse Kingdom come to life. What an incredible example Jesus sets. He lives up to His own words, for during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated:
“Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
from Matthew 5:44-45
Do you want to break the chains ensnaring you with your enemies? Love them. Though it is difficult to achieve, if you love your enemies, they no longer have any control over you. They want you to react, to stray from your values, from your God. Instead, you love them, and in so doing, you rise above and declaw them.
Paul explains in a much more eloquent fashion than I can:
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. […] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
It is only natural to want revenge in certain situations, but you are misplacing your energy. Do you really think any revenge you come up with is going to be superior to what God can deliver in His righteous anger? “I will take revenge,” He says. Let Him handle it. Trust Him.
I try not to label people as “enemies” in my life, for even that gives them energy, but there are certainly some individuals that come to mind who have, from my perspective, either hurt or attempted to hurt me or loved ones over the years. Inspired by the words of Jesus in Luke 23:34, I have started praying for them. No matter what they did or attempted to do, none of them have committed atrocities like the tormentors of Jesus, so surely I can be as forgiving as He was?
Easier said than done, though, and I struggle each time. My Bible Study Partner suggests one approach is to pray to see them as God does. How can we see them through the eyes of God, rather than our human eyes? Doing so can lead to a new perspective and a different heart when dealing with them. You may find pity or sadness for them, rather than responsive hurt or anger.
Even if I am able to accomplish the above, I must admit, however, that I doubt I could have the presence of mind to be as gracious while in the midst of undergoing torture like Jesus did. “Jesus is perfect, so of course He responds perfectly” I think to myself, looking to excuse what I suspect my own failings would be in such a situation.
Then, another Biblical example flashes to mind (thanks, Holy Spirit). In the early days of the church, in the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection, Stephen is persecuted for being a follower of Jesus. While in the process of being stoned to death and becoming the first Christian to die for his faith, Stephen – as imperfectly human as you or I – follows the example of Christ:
“He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.”
Acts of the Apostles 7:60
Jesus and Stephen have set a high standard for us. As with many of the ideals of the Bible, loving your “enemy” is best achieved by starting small and working at it each day. Think of someone who “torments” you in some way. Begin praying for that individual today. Feel how it changes your perspective of him or her. Feel how it changes you.
Thank you for reading. May Jesus bless you.