by Mike Ratliff
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36 ESV)
Probably the command from our Lord that is the most difficult for us to obey is found in Luke 6:35 (above). That is, it is hard or difficult if we are full of pride and are self-focused. However, as the master vinedresser prunes us as we abide in the True Vine and the refiner burns away the fleshly dross from us in the refiner’s fire, we will be humbled as we surrender to the potter, as the clay should. This humbling is what is required for Christlikeness to become manifest in and through us. Why? If we are being driven by pride then we will be self-focused and operate as if we are the center of our universe, much like my one-year old grandson does. However, the humble believer is one who has given that up as something that hinders their walk with the Lord. He or she sees the things of this world, the very things the world runs after, as nothing but dung in comparison to what they have in Christ. He becomes their all-in-all. Their love for Him spills over into all parts of their lives and for the Saviour’s sake they love their enemies and are merciful to all just as He was and is. Our Lord demonstrates the epitome of this as He was crucified.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:32-34 ESV)
32ηγοντο δε και ετεροι κακουργοι δυο συν αυτω αναιρεθηναι 33και οτε ηλθον επι τον τοπον τον καλουμενον κρανιον εκει εσταυρωσαν αυτον και τους κακουργους ον μεν εκ δεξιων ον δε εξ αριστερων 34[[ο δε ιησους ελεγεν πατερ αφες αυτοις ου γαρ οιδασιν τι ποιουσιν]] διαμεριζομενοι δε τα ιματια αυτου εβαλον κληρον Luke 23:32-34 WHNU)
The word translated here as “forgive” is the Greek word αφες. This saying by our Lord on the Cross is the turning point in His work of atonement. What do I mean? Before this prayer by our Lord, the whole thing was a horrid spectacle. While the horror continued, the fruit of redemption began to be revealed after our Lord prayed this prayer asking for forgiveness from the Father for those persecuting Him, hating Him, or ridiculing Him. For instance, in Matthews’s account of the crucifixion of our Lord, Matthew 27:32-44, we see everyone deriding the Lord including those who passed by and the two criminals who were crucified with Him. However, in Luke we read of the first one drawn into the light because of our Lord’s prayer for forgiveness for these who “knew not what they were doing.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)
This is truly amazing my brethren. Go and read Matthew’s account of the crucifixion and you will see that both of these men ridiculed our Lord, insulting Him, et cetera. However, our Lord prayed that prayer for forgiveness and here we have one of the two exhibiting saving faith right there on his own cross. Notice carefully what he says. Before he was dead in his trespasses and sins and going to his death in bitterness just like the other criminal, but here he suddenly reveals that he now fears God. He knows He is a sinner and confesses it. He admits that his execution is just. He recognizes the purity and holiness of Christ his redeemer. He prays for the Lord to have mercy on Him and save Him. What is our Lord’s response? He tells him that this very day that this is accomplished. Wow!
Remember, the ones passing by on the road were ridiculing our Lord as well. The bystanders were shouting insults at Him, but then our Lord prayed that prayer and died like no other man.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. (Luke 23:44-48 ESV)
What we see in these examples of the repentant criminal on the cross, the centurion, and the crowds is God working in hearts by drawing them to their redeemer. Just 50 days later on the day of Pentecost, we see the fruit of this. In Acts 2:1-43 Peter preached a spirit-filled sermon as crowds rushed to hear as they heard the Apostles praising God and preaching in their own languages. The harvest came quickly.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (Acts 2:41-43 ESV)
Do you suppose that any of those who departed Calvary beating their breasts were among these three thousand souls? My brethren, people are saved when God draws them to the Son and it is an answer to that prayer to forgive them. No one deserves this salvation. It does not come by works. It does not come by being religious. It does not come by repentance first. No, it comes by the Father drawing them to the Son with the gift of faith through the washing of regeneration. Then they believe the Gospel and are justified by faith as the Father imputes our Lord’s Righteousness to their account just as He did for that criminal on the cross and those who responded to the call of God at Pentecost. It is all about forgiveness made possible by the Lord’s atoning work on the Cross.
My brethren, are you forgiving your enemies and doing good for them as you pray for them to be drawn to the Son? Does the world look at you and see one who is “different” from the crowd? We should stick out at work as the employee who is above reproach who does great work and is never divisive or a gossip or a troublemaker. When your neighbor takes advantage of your good nature do you still forgive or do you become bitter? When you do good works, do you want everyone to see and know about it?
We may indeed be in the last of the last days. I do not know that, but I do know that my time is going by fast. It seems like I was a baby Christian just awhile ago, but it was in 1986. Time has flown by. My children are grown and one of them has a child of her own. The other is a Physician. My parents are nearing their time of departure and I look at this body and realize that I have got to stop living as if this life is all there is. I must live as if eternity is the true reality for me for I am in Christ and I am His δουλος.
Soli Deo Gloria!