On the cross Jesus prayed for us … and the guy or gal next to you. That’s right. Everybody else in and around your life. The “them” includes tyrants, murderers, heads of countries like Hitler and Hussein – leaders and members of the political party you didn’t vote for?
Jesus began His ministry calling people to “Follow me…” (do as I do). In Matthew 5:43-44 He teaches, “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Personally, I don’t want to be left out of His choice, do you? He further explains, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers (sisters), what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect (complete), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:47-48)
Sometimes, I find that passage as hard reading. But then, Jesus lives out His words while being crucified … midst the most horrible form of execution … following betrayal by His friends, false conviction, and then the torturous death on the cross. Details of what a crucifixion was like doesn’t make easy reading. I dare you!
I remember seeing a giant painting of “The Crucifixion” located in a special viewing auditorium at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California. It was perhaps 40-50 feet wide and 15-20 feet high. Our tour guide informed us that the artist had painted himself into the painting amongst the hundreds surrounding the scene (even pointing out the artist). I’ll always remember - that’s my cross. He took my place for me (and the “them” too!)
Jesus finishes His brief prayer to His Father with “they know not what they do.” We tend to deal with brokenness in different ways. When it’s our own mistake, we long for mercy and forgiveness. But when we're faced with someone else’s failure, we are often very quick to respond without any grace at all. Jesus teaches us to respond to brokenness the way He did, with the kind of mercy that’s hard to follow. I’ve painfully learned about two kinds of people in my life: mentors who teach me how to be and tormentors who teach me how to pray.
Why pray as He taught? Because He said so? What happens in the process? We are praying for ourselves and we become changed. Paul reminds us that, “This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from Him by your evil thoughts and actions, (Col. 1:21) and Jesus died for us “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8b).
Let’s look to the Lord to move us with compassion. Loving others who love us is natural … enemies supernatural. Seeing people through the eyes of Jesus, will move us to pray with compassion. I love the saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”