Summary: Jesus teaches us how to release the pain of unforgiveness through his prayer on the cross in which he is able to forgive his enemies.
I'll never forget the rejection and loss of the wonderful friendship I had with Shawn. At eleven years old we were best friends and did everything together - biking all over town, listening to music, playing games. Nothing could separate us until one day Shawn turned his back on me and began to hate me and he convinced all our friends to reject me as well. To this day I don't know why but from that moment and for the two full years that followed, I had to learn what it was to forgive and love my enemy. Although I haven't forgotten the pain of rejection, I long ago have given up any anger or resentment toward Shawn. Through it all I learned what Jesus said in Matt 18:21-22 "I do not say to you, up to seven times but up to seventy times seven." - unlimited forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an important issue in the Gospels mentioned over 50 times. Jesus is probably most known for his amazing miracles of healing as he gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raised the dead. But the most important healing miracle was his forgiveness of sinners. In fact at one point a paralytic was brought to Jesus and instead of healing him he said: “Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mt. 9:2) And it was only as a footnote that he actually physically healed this man. It is forgiveness that is what we need more than anything from our Lord. And it is also from our Lord that we discover that it is forgiveness that we need to GIVE to others just as he did.
This morning we are looking at only one verse that is taken out of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. These are the first words of Jesus from the cross and they are the words of a prayer. And this one prayer of Jesus reveals to us how Jesus dealt with offense and forgiveness and as his followers, we ought to do the same.
1. Jesus forgives because of his amazing love
This was not a prayer for his comfort, for his own strength, for his peace. It was a prayer for his enemies. Just think about this for a moment. Jesus is not concerned about himself but for those soldiers below him who had just nailed him to the cross, who had just whipped and mocked him, who were that very moment playing a game to divide up his clothing. He could have prayed that God punish them and take vengeance – that justice would be done. But instead we find compassion! Take that in and be in awe of our Savior.
How quickly we become resentful, angry, and bitter at only one word or one action done against us. We secretly plot vengeance and seek the downfall of our enemy. And then we see Jesus who was not only insulted and cursed but physically beaten and the result was love.
And yet, if Jesus is your Lord and Savior, that same love and compassion can flow through you. We are to follow Jesus and have compassion on even our worst enemies. But it’s only possible through a miracle of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
And it’s happened over and over again in history – beginning with Stephen, the first martyr who was stoned to death and listen to his last words: Acts 7:60 “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Mary Khoury, 17 from Damour, Lebanon and her family were forced to their knees before their home. The leader of the Muslim fanatics who had raided their village waved his pistol carelessly before their faces. His hatred for Christians burned in his eyes. “If you do not become a Muslim, you will be shot.”
Mary knew Jesus had been given a similar choice and he chose the cross. Her choice was similar. “I was baptized as a Christian, and His word came to me: ‘Don’t deny your faith.’ I will obey Him. Go ahead and shoot.” The report of a gun from behind her echoed in the valley and Mary’s body fell limply to the ground.
Two days later, the Red Cross came into her village. Of all her family, Mary was the only one still alive. But the bullet had cut her spinal cord leaving both arms paralyzed. Even though handicapped, she knew God still had a plan for her life: “Everyone has a vocation. I can never marry or do any physical work. So I will offer my life for Muslims, like the one who cut my father’s throat, cursed my mother and stabbed her and then tried to kill me. My life will be a prayer for them.”