When Jesus arrived at the place of execution, the Roman soldiers offered him some wine mixed with Myrrh. He took a sip, but found it too bitter to drink. Then they placed him on a wooden cross, nailed his hands and feet to it and raised it upright. Hung between heaven and earth, the Son of God gave his life as a ransom for our sin. I believe he was looking down on the battle-hardened soldiers who were dividing up his clothing when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” What a remarkable act of forgiving love!
Forgiveness is the decision not to repay, the willingness not to seek revenge. Some might regard it as a weakness, but Gandhi was correct when he said, “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” That Jesus – in pain from the scourging, the long trek to Calvary, and being nailed to the cross – was able to muster the strength to ask God to forgive his tormenters is beyond comprehension. Apart from supernatural strengthening, to undergo such an ordeal would have been impossible.
It is obvious that to live as Christ lived we must be willing to forgive those who have belligerently blocked our path in some way. That there can be no exceptions is clear from the fact that Jesus forgave in the most radical situation – he forgave his executioners. He even acted like a defense lawyer and stated the grounds on which the guards could be forgiven. Earlier he had taught his followers that being forgiven depends on one’s willingness to forgive. The critical words are, “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Forgiveness is a power that changes the life of the forgiver. It frees the one who embraces it and puts it into practice. No longer do they have to be concerned about paying back the offender. Revenge demands that we give full attention to getting even and that concern robs us of our only irreplaceable treasure – time. And while we are spending precious time trying to figure how to get even, our supposed offender goes scot-free. That’s a bad tradeoff! Sin has a way of destroying the one who sins. In a similar way, forgiveness blesses the one who forgives. Once we get our minds off ourselves, it is easy to see that actions, good or bad, undoubtedly benefit or harm the doer more than the recipient. Who can deny the continuing pleasure of practicing random acts of kindness! While forgiveness is specific rather than random, it certainly brightens the day of the giver as well as the recipient.