Standing before a crowd of people that hate you. Receiving strike after strike to your head, neck, back and face as people whip you, throw stones, and clenched fists, swinging violently. They hate you and want you dead! In their opinion you are guilty. But guilty of what? You are laid upon a wooden beam as metal spikes are driven through your flesh to hold you in place. Three times your skin is pierced. Three times a new wound opens allowing your life blood to fall to the ground. Nearly dead you hang half naked, bloody, beaten, and weak, and as you are await your final breath; you speak, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
You, a being with the power to call all of heaven’s angels, with swords of flame capable of rescuing you. You, a being with the power to call fire to rain down upon your adversaries, the power to fly down from the cross without injury — and yet you remain upon the very representation of shame. While you die, you ask your Father to forgive. You ask Him to do what you have already done, forgiven them. Then you breathe your last blood stained breath and you die!
Loving and forgiving an enemy — wow! what a concept. But how? How do we forgive and love as Jesus did?
Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice — the giving of His life and the forgiveness of those who would have Him die; loving His enemies. This is the image we are to follow. We who are human, who are weak, prideful and fearful, we are to forgive as Jesus did, to love as Jesus did. We who cannot forgive the woman in the grocery store for hitting our heel with her cart. We who cannot forgive someone for calling us stupid or ugly. How can we forgive on such a huge magnitude, like Jesus, when we cannot even forgive the minor and trivial things in life?
To understand what we are to do, we need to see more clearly what Jesus did and why.
Let’s look at the pain He endured. The price He paid and why He was willing and able to do this.
I know that there are many people who read or hear the torment Jesus went through and yet you never really picture it to the point of feeling His pain. I urge you now to vividly picture the price Christ paid.
See His body hanging, as the warm life blood drips from his hands and feet. Imagine the pain he endured, the ridicule, the pain he took upon himself for you! But He did not do this for you alone. He did it for everyone, including those very people who spat upon Him, drew lots for His clothing, beat Him, placed a crown of thorns upon His head and mocked Him as he hung on the cross. They challenged His Godly power!
(Matthew 27:40: “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Mark 15:31-32: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!”
Luke 23:39 “And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are you the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”)
By our standards, Jesus did the unthinkable. He willingly died! We who are taught to fight back, to kill or be killed, to take rather than give, to do for ourselves not for others, to be stronger because only the strong survive, to hit first before someone hits us and to gather and amass as much material wealth as we can. It is by that wealth that our worth will be measured.
How are we supposed to follow Jesus’ example of love and forgiveness when we would rather make excuses? “It was easy for Christ, He was God! There is no way I could do that.” But nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only can we forgive as Christ forgave but we can do greater things than Christ (John 14:12) and through Him we can do all things!! (Philippians 4:13). You must stop thinking of Christ solely as God. He was human as well. He was God who came in physical form in order to better understand us. He felt what we feel. Jesus himself felt the same emotions, thoughts, questions, etc. that we feel.
He cried when Lazarus died even though He knew the power He possessed to resurrect His friend. Why mourn the death of someone you know is not really dead or that you know will not be dead for long? Jesus was about to raise him from the dead and He wept (John 11:35). Jesus Himself, did not want to die. He asked the Father to allow the cup to pass from Him but God’s will be done. So Jesus, knowing that in order to save the world, He must make that unimaginable sacrifice — death.
I still don’t think you fully grasp the magnitude of what Jesus did. He died for us. For all of us, He took on our sins and the penalty of those sins; separation from the Father, separation from love. That is death! At that one time in all of creation, God the trinity became a duo!! God became something less, yet more, through the death of Christ. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) unable to experience sin, had to literally divide Himself so that Jesus could experience the weight of the world — alone! Imagine you ripping off your own arm to save a stranger or better yet as a Father (of Mother) tearing your child’s arm off to save someone who does not know you or hates you!! God split Himself into two rather than one. Jesus was alone! “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
You ask, How can I do that? How can I forgive the person who is car jacking me? How can I forgive the person who is raping me? The person who is mugging me? The person who is bashing in my skull and calling me faggot? The person dressed in a white sheet, placing a noose over my head as he ignites the cross in the backdrop in the name of Christ? The person who would no sooner shoot me than say hello? How do I forgive them? You do it just as Christ did!
Jesus did everything he did throughout His life, every miracle, every sermon, every deed, He did to display to and to demonstrate love. The Love of God the Father in human action! It is through that, that we too can do as He did. Through Love He sacrificed His life, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Jesus loves us, His friends. I hear some of you saying, “Yeah, I’d die for my friends. I love my friends.” But I ask you, who were Jesus’ friends? Did Jesus just die for the disciples? Just die for His mother, father, brother, Lazarus, Mary? Who did He die for?
Did he die for the thief that mocked Him on the cross? For the soldiers who hammered the nails into His flesh? For the soldiers who spat and whipped and struck Him in the head? Yes, he died for all of them and all of us! For every single man, woman, and child ever born past, present, and future! Jesus died for His friends!
Are you starting to see what you need to do in order to have that kind of forgiveness, that kind of Godly power and influence in the world? The secret, the key is Love. You must learn to love. To love not just those you know but those you don’t know as well. Those you like and those you don’t like as well. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gatherers do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)
We are urged to do more, to go beyond our comfortable little sanctuaries. We must be self sacrificing. I’m not saying we should all seek to die but I am saying that we should not be afraid to die. After all what is there to fear when Heaven is your home? And the sting of death is no longer a threat to you? However that fear is a real and terrible beast we must face! It is fear that prevents us from doing all that we could do. Fear blocks us from the gifts, blessings, and fulfillment God has planned for us. Fear of poverty, of pain, of illness and disease, of shame, of guilt, and of death!
Did you know that fear is pride? Many people never realize that fear is related to Pride, which is one of those things that could lead to our separation from God.
Pride is exhalting yourself above the will of God. When God tells us to do something and we tell Him wait. Or we tell Him, “IF”- If you do this for me first then I can do that for You. When we tell Him, “Wait. Hold on a second, I have other things to do.” We tell Him we can’t because it’s something we believe to be impossible or something that scares us. That is pride! How dare we presume to tell God what we can or cannot do; what we will or will not do!
That fear/pride is also a factor when we exhalt ourselves above others. How can we presume to be above any of our brothers and sisters? We are raised to pick on and ridicule; to put others down rather than pick them up. How often do we think positive thoughts or give praise and support of others? We give more criticisms than compliments, more complaints than praise, more negativity than positivity. It is easier to say how fat she is than how nice she is. Easier to say how ugly, how stingy, how stupid, rather than how gentle, kind, patient. We tear down rather than build up and it’s all because of our pride. We feel threatened by anyone who looks different, thinks different, feels different and from those threatening feelings we get hostile and superiority complexes — all from pride.
Yet deeper down is fear. We fear becoming fat, so we mock those who are. We fear becoming old, so we avoid those who are. We fear getting a disease so we condemn those who contract something. We are afraid of being poor so we judge those who are trapped in poverty. We fear death, so we become obsessed with anything that will prolong our lives. We seek material gain and wealth (which is temporary and fleeting), rather than spiritual and intellectual wealth (which is forever). We seek physical beauty, also temporary rather than spiritual and emotional beauty which is forever. All because we are afraid of being exposed as imperfect and flawed.
However, those willing to follow Christ and His example of Love (which is patient, kind, confident, humble, sacrificing, giving, forgiving, truthful, enduring of all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) We are free to unleash God’s holy power in their lives and the lives of others. So in order to love and Jesus did and forgive as Jesus forgave we must not allow pride to dictate to us what we can or cannot do! We cannot allow pride to convince us of what God cannot or will not do!
“If a man strike you on one cheek, offer him the other also.” (Luke 6:29)
Through changing our feelings about violence and aggression, we can begin to create a life of love rather that vengeance and destruction. If you look at the racial tensions in the ’60s and how the non-violent power of the civil rights protesters overcame. As Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi led the multitudes to protest through non-violence, they changed the world!! Not just their small local areas but the Global understanding of freedom! They became a light unto the world and we too can call this power of the light.
We must put it into practice daily however. When driving and someone cuts us off or does some other annoying or even dangerous automotive maneuver, rather than blasting a string of profanity or flicking that finger or other similar gesture what more positive, more Christ like, more loving thing could we do? Pray for them. Ask God to help calm us and continue to protect us and them as well. Thank God for not letting an accident occur.
We must plant seeds of thankfulness in everything! Even when physical death comes knocking, we need to thank God for the life we enjoyed with the departed one, thank Him for the time we had with them and the love we felt and were able to give. That is the love and power of Christ. We will mourn, but mourning does not mean we can not praise God!
So praise and thank rather than swear and curse. If something slips out occasionally or even more often (smile) then take time to refocus in more positive ways, say a prayer for forgiveness and still throw out a prayer for the other person, whom we should strive to love as ourselves.
When we are stuck in traffic or in a long line at the grocery store, why stomp and pout. If it is beyond our control, give it to God. We tend to cling to things we should let go of. Again, that is pride. We would rather handle the emotions or problems ourselves rather than allow God to handle it for us. We need to plant seeds of patience. Calm and accepting patience. If we are stuck, listen to the radio, read a book, hum a cute song that makes us smile. What is the point in honking the horn? Will honking the horn make the traffic jam dissolve? No. Then why do it? Pride! Spoiled conceited pride. We are upset and we want to annoy others and let them know we are upset. Would it not be better to sing than to curse?
Whatever we have that we can give (money, time, knowledge, prayer, etc.), we need to give. In giving we will transform the world. In giving we will help our neighbors. In giving we will help ourselves. It is in planting genuine seeds of giving, we will receive God’s blessings. Many times we say we have nothing to give. I argue that there is always something we can give. If not money then time! Take the time to read to a child. Time to read to the blind. Time to help a senior go shopping. Time to say a prayer! Giving of ourselves is one of the truest forms of love. After all did not Jesus give of Himself. He took the time to speak, to teach, to heal, to comfort.
Practice Carrying the Cross
Long ago, I had no idea what carrying the cross meant and sometimes as I learn new things in my spiritual life I realize I have much yet to learn about that cross I must carry. Carrying the cross means that we must take upon our shoulders the pains and the sorrows of this life and yet triumphantly rise! Nothing can keep us down when we take up the cross and follow Him! No amount of pain, sorrow, or depression can co-exist in soil where we have planted seeds of faith, power, love, thankfulness, and praise to a God who loves us unconditionally, eternally! Just as Christ conquered death through the cross, we too will conquer or barriers through carrying our cross. Follow Him and receive a yoke of freedom and love.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:29, 30)
Practice Walking in Love
Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
Literally, focus your mind on love. Let words of love flow from your mouth. Let your actions be selfless and done in love. Regardless of who the person is, practice loving them as you love yourself. Imagine that you are looking at yourself in that person’s shoes. How would you respond to you? That is you on the corner asking for spare coins. What will you do, give, or say to you? That is you holding up the line in the store counting your pennies or writing a check. What will you think, feel, say about you? That is you lost and separated from the love of God; that’s why you are abusing your child, your wife, husband, etc. What will you think, feel, say about your lost life? Realize that the only enemy you truly have is Satan and yourself when you allow him to convince you of untruth and to lure you away from God. You are the one in control of your life. You decide who to follow- God or Satan? You decide what to say to others- kindness or hatred? You decide how to live your life- fearful or empowered? You decide who, how, and when-to love or not to love? How will you live? How will you treat that person as if He/she were you?
Once you begin to practice these small but powerful steps, begin planting in small ways the seeds of Holiness, you will see a power you would never have imagined. You will begin to manifest the very power Christ has given you! It will be through that power that you will be able to love your neighbor, your friend, and your enemy. After all love encompasses and surrounds all just as the Sunlight shines upon saint and sinner alike (Matthew 5:45). Love — Unconditionally and Eternally, just as your Father in heaven loves you.
So I ask another question. What will you now do? Will you seek to love you neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:19)? Will you love one another as Christ has loved you (John 13:34, 35) that the world will be able to look at you and know you are a disciple of Christ because or your love?
You have heard it said about nutrition, “You are what you eat.” Well more important than actual food, is food for thought! “Be careful what you think; for your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (Proverbs 23:7) If you think hate, then those seeds of hatred will grow. If you think guilt and pessimism and shame, then those seeds of misery too will grow. Yet, how wonderful it is to realize that if you think of love, of Christ, of forgiveness, and Godly power those seeds will grow and manifest into such a glorious beacon of light to the world that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16). And you will love as Christ loves and you will live with Christ living within you!
Senior minister at the Center for Spiritual Living Greater Baltimore, Rev. Dr. Raymont L. Anderson is an author, visual artist and ASL performing artist. He earned doctorates in metaphysics and theology from the American Institute of Holistic Theology, a master of fine arts in theatre pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a bachelors in education from Carlow College.