Forgiving the Unforgivable
On a Friday morning on Skull Hill, Roman soldiers laid Jesus of Nazareth on a wooden cross, drove spikes through his hands and feet, and then pulled the cross up with ropes and set it into place. Jesus was naked and exposed before the world … beaten, bruised, and bloody.
What happened to Jesus that morning was unforgivable. When you crucify the Son of God, you have done that which is beyond forgiveness. And yet, Jesus said, in his first words from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NASB).
No one standing near the cross expected him to say that. A dying man might scream or curse or utter threats, but you never heard a word of forgiveness when a man was being crucified. Yet that is precisely what Jesus offered to the men who were murdering him. He offered them forgiveness.
If we know anything about God, is that he is a forgiving God (Exodus 34:6-7a, NASB). He forgives because that’s the kind of God he is. There is another way to say it. He forgives people we wouldn’t forgive if we were God. We know that “his ways are not our ways,” and no place can we see this more clearly than in his willingness to forgive even the worst sinners.
How do you forgive the unforgivable? How do you forgive someone who has done something to you so terrible that it defies any attempt at human forgiveness?
As we study the remarkable words of Jesus, two things come to mind that will help us understand how to forgive the unforgivable:
1. Have you been forgiven by God?
If Jesus can forgive those responsible for killing Him, then He can forgive you! No one is beyond the reach of His prayer of forgiveness. No one is good enough to save himself or herself, and no one is so bad that God cannot save. The truth of the matter is that we’ve all done something to disqualify ourselves from a relationship with God. But Jesus has made a way.
2. Have you forgiven others?
Someone has said that forgiveness is the virtue we profess to believe but fail to practice. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to forgive. It’s easy to preach about it; it’s much more difficult to practice it. But let’s start by forgiving the people who have hurt us so deeply. To forgive us cost Jesus His life. To forgive others will cost us something too.
We’ll have to give up our anger, turn away from our bitterness, release the right for revenge, and decide by a conscious choice that we will forgive those who have sinned against us. And, God may call us to perform this unnatural act of forgiveness over and over.
However painful forgiveness may be, it is infinitely better than refusing to forgive. We can find that courage if we will remember that when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” he was talking about us.