Forgiven To Death
By Anthony Casperson
Sitting in the chapel of the bible college I attended, my Greek professor began his sermon by asking us to raise our hands if a parental figure had taught us to hit back if someone hit us. Over half of the audience raised their hands.
He said that whoever taught us this didn’t do a very good job of teaching us the ways of the bible. The bible speaks of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. God’s word sounds strange to us because our culture teaches otherwise.
Getting revenge against those who have wronged us is the normal train of thought. We like to quote the Old Testament here. “An eye for an eye. Yeah, that sounds like vengeance.” But all the while, what we mean is we’ll make them pay, plus interest. Not realizing that this understanding does more than an eye for an eye.
But that’s the way that characters act in the stories we love. Our hero loses a loved one, or is beaten to near death, or is made fun of by the bully. But then, as the story unfolds, the antagonist is not only defeated, but overcome and pays even more dearly for their crime. Sometimes, the antagonist ends up dead in the stories that we love. “I will find you. And I will kill you.”
Stories of revenge are some of the most common tales because it is so easy to set up the conflict around which the story revolves. The protagonist lives peacefully. The antagonist messes that up. The protagonist seeks revenge. The antagonist is defeated. Everybody celebrates (except for the antagonist and his/her consorts).
How many movies, books, video games, and other stories follow this standard equation? And we understand it because we just know that those who have done us wrong need to pay.
But the fact of the matter is that we who are followers of Jesus need to follow his example. During this season of Lent, we’re looking at what the cross teaches us.
And one of the most obvious lessons is forgiveness.
The cross exists to bring us into proper relationship with God. Our sins, the things we do that are against what humanity was created to be, need to be forgiven. The sacrifice of the cross paid the price for those unholy deeds. It makes forgiveness possible.
But the cross doesn’t only teach us that we need forgiveness from God. It also calls us to a life of seeking and granting forgiveness to others.
The Savior of the world laid upon a beam of rough wood. His back torn open by whips. The flesh looked more like hamburger than a human’s back. Blood dripping from the open wounds, Jesus peered through nearly closing eyes that had been beaten. Over him stood the Roman soldiers with hammers and nails. Metal resounded as human flesh was mounted to the cross.
What was Jesus’ response here? Was it, “Oh, when you learn the truth, you’ll be sorry,” or “I hope you rot in hell,” or something revenge-like? No. He said, “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”
Creation sentenced its Creator to death, and he called out for forgiveness. In that moment, Jesus (God enfleshed in humanity) could’ve called forth his power and unleashed his fury upon those who dared to kill the immortal God of the universe. The Father could’ve stepped in have the earth swallow up all those who sought the death of his beloved Son. The Spirit could have descended, empowering someone to stop this atrocity.
But they didn’t. Why? Because through this act, forgiveness could be given and taught. The travesty of the cycle of revenge had to be stopped. Someone had to pay the price to bring an end to the suffering.
And that price is suffering without revenge.
The only way to stop the cycle of revenge is to suffer, but not hate. It’s a high price. And one that few are willing to pay. But Jesus paid it so that it’s possible for us.
Who has wronged us? Who has hurt us? Who has brought us pain and suffering? The cross calls us to forgive them. It calls us to seek their good. Even if it ends in our own death, perhaps the forgiveness we give might lead them to see the forgiveness of the cross. And we can celebrate with God for the one who has just discovered the truth of forgiveness.