They called the Truth, “Blasphemer,” and beat the Healer to the bone. Then, they gave a criminal’s death to the only righteous person who ever lived. They couldn’t have been more wrong in their judgments. And the Man’s response? No defense, simply, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Forgive them? Jesus did and said many shocking and miraculous things during His life, but this might have been one of the greatest. I know that when I’m mistreated, my first instinct usually isn’t forgiveness. It’s a desire for justice and validation. I want my offender indicted and my innocence proclaimed.
But not only were these people’s statements untrue and their actions unjust, they expressed a complete lack of respect for Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. The people mocked the Immortal Ruler of the Universe with a crown of thorns and a plaque inscribed, “King of the Jews.” They were sadists and bigots, and He chose not to confront them.
The worst part of all? He loved these people. He was giving His life for these very people. I might be able to brush off insults of an anonymous troll on the Internet or the rude gesture of a driver on the highway, but hurtful statements from someone I care about wreck me. As Jane Austen’s protagonist puts it in Pride and Prejudice, “I cannot bear to think that he is alive in the world and thinking ill of me.”
Jesus would have been more than justified in defending Himself and His reputation. It would have made perfect sense for Him to turn His back and say, “You know what? Fine. You’re on your own.” But instead, He offered forgiveness. He chose not to ascribe to malice what could be explained by ignorance, and He pleaded for them before the Father that they might receive mercy.
To say, “He humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:8), is certainly an understatement. Jesus bore a punishment He didn't deserve on behalf of people who didn’t even know they were guilty. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), the apostle Paul would later write.
How could we turn down such an offer? And if we accept that kind of forgiveness, who are we to hold a grudge? Even more, who are we to keep His offer to ourselves? For Jesus didn’t die only to forgive those who drove in the nails that day; He died for all of us. We have all fallen short (Rom. 3:23). In our rebellious ignorance, we have all gotten it terribly wrong at some point.
So the next time we are unfairly judged, let us remember the extreme forgiveness afforded us and from whom exactly we received it. Let us put aside our desire for vengeance and vindication, and may we be generous in bestowing mercy instead.
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