Luke 23:34, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
These were some of the last words of Jesus while hanging on a Roman cross. Having just undergone, six hours of beatings, floggings and a full frontal attack of mocking in the early morning hours. He was now completing six additional hours of crucifixion, suffocation, and torture in the late afternoon. After all that, he is now about to give up his spirit and be released from this earth in death and he utters those unforgettable words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
What goes through the mind of such a person who can utter sentiments of forgiveness while undergoing such horrendous torture and brutal treatment? How can those words even be on the forefront of your conscious thought and concern within such a painful vortex. What goes through your mind when you’re forced to deal with various people in life’s journey that are looking for ways to harm you and are not sorry about it in any noticeable way?
I wish it was not so, but if you go through life long enough, people like this will come across your path. And when, not if, you meet up with someone with this nature, what do you do? How should you act? What should be your mindset that will help you not just survive their presence, but thrive in the midst of it? I have noticed from scripture there are three keys to having out outlook that allows forgiveness when every circumstance in your life would seem to screams for revenge, punishment and retribution. It all begins and end with God.
First, God promises he has a purpose for every circumstance and person that comes across your path.
Romans 8:28, “For we know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed into the likeness of his dear Son.”
If you are wanting to have the mindset of Jesus in offering forgiveness towards those around you not wanting it, Romans would suggest the first step. That step is having a bedrock, unshakable, and unwavering trust in the promise that God has a purpose and a plan for every painful circumstance and person that unexpectedly shows up into your life.
And shocking as it may be, that plan has very little focus on your happiness or comfort and instead is fixated about your growing transformation. The transformation of moving away from your old and selfish past and growing into the present and future likeness of your Savior Jesus Christ. A transformation that is far more important in God’s economy for your life journey through all eternity than your constant preoccupation with your acquisition of life’s temporary comforts.
Second, God promises he will bring every detail to justice.
Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
If you are wanting to have the mindset of Jesus in offering forgiveness towards those around you not wanting it, Romans would suggest the next step. That step is having a bedrock, unshakable, and unwavering trust in the promise that God is tracking every situation in your life and will bring it to justice . . . in time . . . without your help. Listen to these verses.
Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
Matthew 12:36, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”
It is a sobering reality to think that God is currently tracking every idle word and action I direct toward others. Nothing is missing from that list. Not one idle word or action. And for all those idle words and actions, I will either be rewarded or face judgement. Not a pleasant thought really.
And then to think that God is keeping the same type of list for everyone around me as well. Not one idle word or action directed towards me will ever be forgotten. Then on top of it all, God promises to some day act as prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, jury and judge all at the same time over every detail of every list for every person all by himself. He will not need or want my help in any way.
As a result of his excellent record keeping abilities, not once does God ever tell us anywhere in scripture that we have to be our own compliance department. Not once are we expected to keep accurate documentation files on all the wrongs people have committed against us. As if we do not keep such files, then God’s Justice Department will somehow be unable to keep all the facts straight and our case will somehow fall through the cracks. That is not how it works. Quite the opposite.
The reality is God is constantly telling us throughout scripture to not keep a record of wrongs. Do not create a list of sins for those around ut. Stop replaying the details of painful situations over and over again in your head so as not to forget them. Why? Because God is already doing it for you and his list is perfect, complete and accurate. He promises to bring everything to a resolution within his timeframe not ours. Why? Because it is part of his plan for us. A plan that has as its highest goal, your eternal transformation, not your earthly comfort. See step 1.
Finally, forgiveness starts with the eternal end in mind.
Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
Revelation 20:15, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
If you are wanting to have the mindset of Jesus in offering forgiveness towards those around you not wanting it, Proverbs would suggest the next and final step. That step is having a sober understanding that for some, God’s justice for what they have done here on earth will end badly for them. It will end with an eternal existence in hell.
Question. If it were possible to know for certain that the person currently hurting you without remorse or regret, will ultimately stand before God in judgement and as a result of their judgement, spend eternity living in the fires of hell; would you have a greater compassion to help that person avoid such a eternal fate or would you remain far more concerned that your present situation find resolution and be free of pain?
Jesus seemed to suggest that we should have more compassion for their eternal condition and let God make things right and comfortable for us when he feels it is best served. Listen to the writer of Hebrews that give us some insight into how Jesus could have uttered those fateful words of forgiveness towards those overseeing his death.
Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
There is your secret. There is your key. There is your hero setting for us an example. Jesus kept a steadfast focus on the eternal joy of heaven that was about to be his reward instead of becoming bitter and vengeful over the temporary pain of his death while here in earth. By keeping his focus longer term than the pain of the cross, he was able to endure. He was able to press on. He was able to not just survive but to thrive and still have the internal perspective to say with his dying breath, “Father forgive them for they do not know not what they are doing.”
Jesus could see into their future and the coming judgement that would eventually overwhelm some of those overseeing his own death. A judgement that would end tragically with darkness, separation and the unending pain of hell. Jesus could see their ultimate end and found it lacking in comparison to his present pain and suffering.
His compassion for their looming eternal condition overcame the momentary pain of his own.
In turn, that should be our goal as well. When people come into your life and cause us harm with no apparent remorse or regret, first remind yourself that God has a plan and a purpose in all of it. A purpose that is highly focused on your eternal transformation and less concerned about your temporary earthly comfort.
Secondly, remember God is keeping a list of every idle word, thought and action you are engaged in towards others. Stop worrying whether or not God is keeping that same type of list for the lives of the people around you. He promises to bring justice and resolution to every person’s list at some future date in time. Focus on your own list for the time being, and let God worry about the other person’s list within their own life journey.
Finally, keep your focus on the promised joy of heaven. If you have placed your full faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then your sins have already been forgiven and the promise of eternity in heaven awaits you. Nothing and no one can take that away. Allow that enduring promise to give you compassion towards those around you that might be setting themselves up for missing that same blessing. Your kindness towards them just might be the only taste of heaven they will ever experience. Give it to them graciously, even if they don’t seem to outwardly deserve it.
Just remember that while you are giving them a little taste of heaven, you have never been in the place of deserving the promise of heaven yourself. God sought you out and gave you his gift in spite of your many faults not because of your amazing lack of them. Go and do likewise.
For if your focus remains truly fixated how you can genuinely help others know God more deeply for all eternity and less about how to increase your temporary earthly comforts, maybe then you can find yourself in a place to truly say from your heart to theirs, “Father, forgive them for they do not know not what they are doing.”
Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
It’s just a better way to live.
D. Mike Collins
Habakkuk 2:4 “The Just shall live by faith.”