Thursday, October 9, 2008

Forgiveness (Part 2)...

I’m not sure we could find anyone in the Bible who had more stuff to forgive than Jesus. He’s always getting garbage dumped on him by others, but I hesitate to use him as an example.

I’m afraid some of you will see his forgiving attitude and protest. “Yeah, but he’s the Son of God. He’s different. I can’t do what he did.” And I understand your objection to a point, but let’s not forget that Jesus was not only the Son of God, 100% deity. He was also the son of Mary, 100% man. He felt pain when others mistreated him. He knew anger. He was not immune. His friends wounded him. You can say he always handled things right, but you cannot say he was unaffected by the evil actions of others.

To you who are skeptical, I ask this one favor. See Jesus as a man. Know him as flesh and blood. Know him as someone a lot like you. Know him as one who is able to sympathize with your weakness. Know him as one who was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)

Believers, this same Jesus lives in you. You can do what he did. You can forgive as he did – not because of who you are, but because of the Spirit of God.

Let’s take a look at the mistreatment and abuse Jesus endured. Jesus was judged harshly by religious folks. He ate with sinners and tax collectors and they complained. He didn’t wash his hands before he ate and they pointed and stared. He accepted praise from children and they griped. He forgave sins and they shouted, “Blasphemy!” He healed people on the Sabbath and they came unglued. He cast out demons and they said he was possessed himself. He spoke forthrightly about their hypocrisy and they hated him. He accepted adoration from a sinful woman and they shook their heads. He showed them the way to salvation and they rejected him.

Jesus was betrayed by a man in his inner circle. Judas was one of the twelve. He was the Jesus crew’s accountant. He held the money bags. Can you get any closer than that? This man betrayed Jesus. Sold information on his whereabouts to the highest bidder. Thirty silver coins was his sellout price. Judas led the mob to the garden where Jesus was arrested.

Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends. They all deserted him when the soldiers took their Master away in chains. One of them, scared for his life, left his clothes behind. He fled the scene naked. Not one of them testified on his behalf at the trial that followed.

One of them, Peter, came as far as the courtyard of the high priest’s home. A servant girl eyed him warily as he stood by the fire warming himself. “Aren’t you one of his followers?” she asked. “You were with him.”

Peter denied the connection: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He moved to the gateway. Another girl saw him there. “This guy was with Jesus,” she told those standing nearby. Everyone turned toward Peter. He denied the connection again: “I don’t know the man.”

A short time later the subject came up again. “Surely you’re one of them,” someone said. “Your accent gives you away.” The others nodded their agreement.

Peter started cursing. He swore up and down: “I don’t know that man!”

Immediately the rooster crowed. Jesus had told Peter he’d deny him three times before the cock shouted out the morning. Peter remembered. He went out and wept bitter tears.

Jesus was falsely accused, spit upon, beaten mercilessly. His trial before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s religious court, was a sham. All the judges were looking for was an excuse to drag Jesus off and kill him. They allowed false evidence, but couldn’t find two “witnesses” who could agree. The only way they pulled off the death sentence was to ask him if he was the Son of God. He answered truthfully. “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

That was enough. What he claimed was too much for these men steeped in tradition. They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him and struck him with their fists. “Prophesy!” they taunted. “Who hit you?”

When they’d had their fun they drug Jesus off to Pilate’s judgment seat.

Jesus was killed in the most barbaric fashion. Another crazy trial behind him, Jesus was flogged mercilessly by the Roman soldiers assigned to carry out his crucifixion. They ripped his skin with a cat-o-nine-tails. They tortured him and mocked him. He was led away, forced to carry the instrument of his own death. He stumbled under the weight of that cross. He fell numerous times. Finally, they grabbed a man from the crowd to help him. They were wasting time.

At Golgotha, the place of the skull, they did their worst. Jesus’ wrists and feet were pierced with sharp spikes. He was hoisted up to die. His last moments alive were torturous, public, shameful. Folks passed by and mocked him. The soldiers paid him no mind. They’d seen death up close and personal dozens of times. They cared little for the man in the middle that day. They sat at the foot of his cross playing games of chance to see who got his clothes.

Jesus can relate to your pain. He knows what it’s like to be hurt by others. He’s been there. You can’t deny it.

Jesus forgave. Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus forgave. He let judgmental religious folks off the hook. The priests were among those in his face day in and day out. After his death, the church grew and, Acts 6:7 reports, “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” I bet some of these guys were present at the kangaroo court that sent Jesus to the cross. Perhaps a few of these new believers spit on him and beat him with their fists. Still, Jesus embraced them and they were saved by faith, forgiven just like everyone else.

Jesus didn’t hold a grudge against his friends after his resurrection. He shared meals with his followers. He assuaged their fears and ignored their doubts. He reinstated Peter as a leader in the church. He would’ve greeted Judas warmly had his betrayer not hung himself.

He had pity on those who mistreated him. From the cross he looked down and spoke the most amazing words. Listen in on his brief conversation with his Father. Referring to the soldiers who have just nailed him to the cross, he says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 adapted from the NIV)

Jesus forgave all who hurt him, even those who did not ask to be let off the hook. He chose forgiveness over bitterness. He chose mercy over judgment.

Kind of adds weight to what this guy says about forgiveness, doesn’t it? He lived out what he taught. He showed us the way. You can trust a man like that. You know he knows what he’s talking about.

Tomorrow we’ll see what he has to say to us.

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