Two of the most powerful words in the human language may be the words “I’m sorry.” These words express contrition and empathy for the wrong done to someone else. But, what happens when these words don’t come from our lips or the lips of someone who has wrong us? Then, we may find that there are two even more powerful words – forgive them.
It’s these words that Jesus prayed from the cross as He hung dying for our sins. Luke 23:32-34 tells us that Jesus was led away and crucified with two other criminals. The language reminds us that Jesus was counted among us and died in our place. How appropriate is that picture? Jesus dying on a cross in the place of another being counted as a sinner among sinners, even though He was never convicted of any wrong doing. Paul sums up the theology behind this when he reminds us that Jesus died in our place and become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Luke’s account also tells us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes as he hung dying in the morning sun. The only possession Jesus had was stripped from him and was a prize to be won by His executioners. What a rebuke of the false teaching we know as the “prosperity gospel” which teaches God wants to shower us with stuff in this life. It is fascinating that Jesus dies with nothing, yet He gives us everything. Through our faith in Jesus and His provision on the cross, we have been forgiven and restored into a right relationship with God. We have been welcomed into His family. As His adopted brothers and sisters, we are co-heirs with Jesus of everything God the Father gives to Him (Romans 8:17).
It is Jesus who opens the door to forgiveness. He prays for it to be extended to His tormentors and those who put Him on the cross. And, in case you’re wondering, you and I helped put Him there. He not only prays for it, but He also models it. Throughout His ministry, teaches commanded His followers to forgive those who have wronged them (Matthew 5:44). So, we understand that forgiveness is not an option for believers. We must forgive those who have hurt us.
As Jesus hangs on the cross praying for and modeling forgives, we see that He also offers it to us. As followers of Jesus, we have been forgiven. His forgiveness is complete and brings us into right relationship with God. And, because of His forgiveness, we in turn can forgive others. Our natural tendency is to push back against this and to hold grudges. Yet, the love of God constrains us to extend mercy and forgiveness. Jesus frees us from this sinful nature and this far too human reaction. His forgiveness compels us to forgive.
May we embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers, and as we do share it freely with others.