Sunday, March 27, 2016

Them? Count me in!

One of my life themes is captured in the simple word GRACE.

Every good and unmerited gift from our Father in Heaven is rooted in the grace bestowed on us when Jesus said "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Who was Jesus talking about when he said "Father, forgive them..."  Who are the 'them'?  Obviously, it is all of us. But... that is way too easy.  When all of us are guilty for the death of Jesus, then none of us are.  Is the jail really big enough to hold all of mankind... centuries and centuries of mankind?

This could be a topic for another blog.

Instead of hiding behind the sophistry of group guilt, we need to personalize the role we played in Jesus' execution.  Of the multitude in and about Jerusalem as Jesus labored on the cross, we need to see who we were among those standing and looking on.

Let's survey the throng Jesus addressed when he said, "Father, forgive them."

Soldiers beating and mocking Jesus
Religious officers like Caiaphas
Political leaders like Pilate and Herod
An angry belligerent mob calling to 'Crucify Him'
Criminals about to die alongside of the King of the Jews
Judas who betrayed Him
Peter who denied his teacher and friend
Nine of his closest disciples that fled
One more group I'll talk about later.

This is an un-ordered list.  I have made no attempt to order the various groups based on culpability, the need for forgiveness, or the willingness to be forgiven.  This is simply a list (as complete as I can make it).

Look over the list.  Which person or group do you think you most closely fit?  Let's elaborate on the members of each group, again in no particular order.

Peter: He denied knowing his friend and master three times. He personally knew Jesus better than most anyone and had insights about Jesus that were remarkable.  Peter was commended by his Lord for recognizing Jesus is the son of the Most High.  Peter needed the grace of forgiveness.  Are you like Peter, intimately familiar with Jesus, but denying him when the pressure is on?

Roman soldiers: Jesus certainly could have been focused on showing grace to the soldiers who beat and mocked Him.  Jesus had famously said, "Turn the other cheek".  Perhaps when He asked his Father to pardon 'them', He had these soldiers in mind.  The soldiers were enjoying their work too much, but after all, they were only following orders.  Is that where you stand?  You recognize your guilt, but after all, you are only following modern society's orders.  In the 21st century, slamming the Godly is part of our our evolved understanding that goes beyond ancient dogma.

Political leaders: Pilate and Herod both had the opportunity and authority to release Jesus. Neither did. They chose what was politically expedient to advance their own careers. While this is not unusual for politicians, how many of us have chosen political correctness over truth?  How many of us have the opinion that Jesus is an innocent man, but wouldn't fight for it?

The two men hanging on the left and right of Jesus: One of these men ultimately received the gift of forgiveness, but initially, they both railed against Jesus as the crowd and soldiers did. Interestingly, these men represent people in dire circumstances of their own making. One of them recognized his own guilt and the contrast of Jesus' goodness.  The other one wallowed in his own misery biting at Jesus rather than seeking the grace that could have been his. Have you dug a pit for yourself?  Are you asking the Lord to throw down the rope to paradise, or cursing Him that you fell into your own pit.

Caiaphas, the Pharisees, the Saducees, and other self-righteous people: In some ways, these people seem the most culpable.  Jesus frequently criticized members of this group because they were righteous in their own eyes. He called them white-washed tombs.  They arrested Jesus on false charges (after spending months and months attempting to catch Jesus in verbal traps). And yet, he offered forgiveness to them as well. Are you in the category of those who are satisfied with their religious existence and place in the religious pecking order?  Do you look down on those who don't have the pristine Christianity you have? Are you sure you have received the gift of forgiveness?

Judas: He betrayed Jesus.  Metaphorically, Judas didn't swing the hammer, but he showed the soldiers where to place the nails. Did Jesus really say 'Father forgive Judas, he doesn't know what he's doing'? Yes, Jesus did. How many of us have betrayed Jesus and done something unthinkable-- unforgivable in human terms.  Yet, the gift is still there.  Judas chose not to receive the gift.  Instead of repenting, he opted to end his life to spend eternity in Hell.  What will you choose?

The angry mob: The mob mentality is as alive today as it was in the first century. We are sheep that have gone astray.  Left to our own devices, we will fall over the cliff with the entire crowd. Father forgive us, we clearly do not know what we are doing.  A week earlier, this crowd had cheered Jesus, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord"! Now they yell violently, crucify him.  Let his blood be on us and our children's children. How good is God!  In about two months from Jesus' crucifixion, many in this crowd will be among the thousands of new believers who will hear Peter's sermon at Pentecost.  If you need forgiveness because you have simply followed the crowd, grace can be yours.

Nine other disciples: Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed him, and nine disciples ran away. Are you scared to be with Jesus?  Do you need to be forgiven for fleeing Jesus rather than standing up for him. You know Jesus is the greatest, but you are afraid.  When Jesus greeted his disciples after his resurrection, he said 'Do not be afraid'.  Father, forgive us for our fear-- make us bold for you.

If you are only modestly good at math, you realized that only 11 of the 12 disciples were mentioned so far.  There is one more group of people that made up the throng, and the disciple John the beloved is among that group.

So far, we have considered the openly belligerent, like the soldiers, Caiaphas, and Judas, all in need of forgiveness and grace. We have also considered the indifferent, like Pilate and Herod.  The crowd and criminals were among those who joined in with herd-like mentality.  And then, there were those who loved Jesus but were too scared to stand up for Him.  How many of these groups do you fit in?

Like I hinted, there is another group.  I feel like I fall in this group.  You may as well.

The final group that Jesus may have been focused on when he said 'Father forgive them' includes one of Jesus' closest friends, the disciple John.  It also includes his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other women close to His ministry. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who had prestige and privilege could also be counted in this group.

This group of people loved Jesus!  They stood with Jesus rather than hiding on his final day.  They cried tears rather than hurling curses.  Yet, they too failed Jesus and needed forgiveness. You may say-- obvious-- they were human and guilty of sin!  There was something else... a failing I see in myself. They stood and watched instead of rising to fight!

Admittedly, it was God's timing for Jesus to die on the cross.  Jesus did not advocate his disciples take up arms to battle the Chief Priest and Roman government. That said, I accuse them and myself of resigning ourselves to stand and watch rather than rising up.  Instead of standing by stunned and disillusioned, could John and the women have worked through the crowd reminding people of all that Jesus had done?  Could they have boldly expressed faith that God was still in control and Jesus the instrument for salvation?  As respected members of the community, couldn't Nicodemus and Joseph have done more on behalf of Jesus?

When the world opposes Jesus, do we stand with Jesus, but in silence and inactivity?  Are we, like John and Mary, just waiting for Jesus to die?

All of our hands are stained with innocent blood.  All of us were included when Jesus prayed, 'Father forgive THEM'!  Whatever group or groups you fall in, each of us is offered the gift of grace.  The gift is forgiveness and salvation.  In every circumstance grace always wins.  Whether you have been openly belligerent, indifferent, prone to bad behavior, scared, or unwilling to fight, grace always wins.  Father, thank you for your forgiveness. Grace wins every time.

Grace Wins by Matthew West.

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