“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots” (Luke 23:33-34).
How do you handle it when you have been mistreated and hurt by others? Do you find yourself seeking revenge and crying out for justice or do you muster the strength to be able to forgive those who have wronged you and to show them love? The former is the human reaction to being hurt when we have been wronged by someone. The latter is the godly reaction to being hurt by others.
I can think of no greater example of forgiving those who have wronged you than that of Jesus as He endured the cross. The events leading up to Jesus’ death show the incredible injustice and mistreatment He endured. He was betrayed by one of His close friends, Judas (Luke 22:47-48). His other close friends had abandoned Him during His hour of trial (Matthew 26:56). He had been wrongfully accused by His countrymen and who wanted Him to be sentenced to death (Luke 22:70-71; 23:20-21). Because he wanted to please the people, Pilate, who knew Jesus to be innocent, allowed injustice to occur by giving in to the people’s desire to sentence Jesus to death (Mark 15:9-15). Furthermore, Jesus endured being mocked, spit upon, and the incredible painful scourging at the hands of the soldiers who held Him captive (Matthew 27:26-30). Finally, Jesus was taken and nailed to a cross as He was crucified (Luke 23:33).
If anyone had the “right” to cry out for revenge and bemoan His being treated unjustly, it was Jesus at this moment. However, is that what He did? Did He call upon His Heavenly Father to send 12 legions of angels to come and rescue Him and reap revenge on those who had treated Him this way (cf. Matthew 26:53)? Did He harbor hatred in His heart to those who had hurt Him? No, Jesus opened His mouth and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples to forgive those who had wronged them: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Understanding forgiveness was so foreign to His disciples that some of the questioned about whether or not they should be willing to forgive everyone who wronged them: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’ ” (Matthew 18:21-22). Now as He hung upon the cross Jesus gives us a powerful example of His teaching on forgiving others!
As Christians, we are to follow Christ’s example and practice this type of forgiveness towards those who have hurt us. Instead of clinging on to our hurt, pain, desires for justice, and thoughts of revenge, we need to release those negative feelings by letting go of them as we forgive others. One of the early Christians, Stephen, learned from Christ’s powerful example when He said regarding those who were in the process of stoning him to death, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). I acknowledge that I will have to suffer hurt, pain, and injustice committed against me by others in this life. However, I do not have to react by harboring hate, bitterness, and revenge in my heart. Today, I will follow the example of Christ and practice forgiveness!
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).