Did He really say that? – Praying for enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 ESV

Many of us (myself included) have been earnestly praying for the people of Ukraine during this last 6-8 months as we have seen the terrible suffering of her people. But the current media reports over the victories that Ukraine has been winning lately, also brings us face to face with a heart issue that Jesus addressed about our attitude towards our enemies. When I read of soldiers being wiped out or large numbers of casualties on the Russian side, it is too easy to fall into a celebratory mood, saying under our breath, “serves them right!” But we cannot call ourselves Christians forgetting the fact that our Lord Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for them.

You see, the people of Israel faced some very real, very evil enemies, like Pontius Pilate, who slaughtered a number of people from Galilee while they were going to the temple to worship. Then there was Herod, who had John the Baptist decapitated and Pharisees who were plotting some way to have Jesus killed. None of these guys would have been anywhere on my prayer list, and that is a shameful disobedience to Christ’s command. So, as the sunsets tonight and we start our prayers, we need to add some people to the list. There are poor young teenagers from Saint Petersburg and Moscow, and farmers from little villages in the Caucuses. They have chosen a different side in this war than we would have liked, but their lives are also precious to Jesus. He also chose to die on the cross for them, as He did for us, and for all of us, He cried out, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they are doing!”

Broken Windows

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and  took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. Colossians 2:14 KJV

When I was about twelve, my mom separated from my stepdad and took my sister and I to move hundreds of miles away to live her parents. Leaving behind all that was familiar, I was eager to make new friends, so when I found three guys about my own age in our new neighborhood, I immediately joined their circle. Just down the street from my grandparent’s home was an elementary school with a playground where we liked to hang out. Right next to that playground was a house which the school had bought, with the plan of tearing it down to make room for an addition. Since the house was soon to be demolished one of the guys in our group wondered who would care if we broke a few windows. We were astonished at his brilliant and exciting plan! Wasting no time to think of things, such as the town hall and police station being only blocks away, we quickly filled our pockets with stones and began a contest to see who could break the most panes. Of course, it wasn’t long before someone called the police, and soon the sirens and flashing lights of two patrol cars came racing up and we all ran inside the house to hide. It didn’t take the officers long to round us up and trot us all into the elementary school. There they lined us up in the hallway just outside the principal’s office. By the time it was my turn to enter, my knees were shaking and though I forget what was said, I remember that the principal took out a black book where he had written our names. Then he showed me that he was marking a large black circle right next to mine. I had no idea what that meant, but it felt as if I was doomed for life!

Photo by Kevin Malik on Pexels.com

Looking back on how we were then simply released to slink quietly home, I am pretty sure that all of our parents were in on the elaborate ruse. It really was a great plan, because not one of us got into any trouble again that summer! In fact, we did not even have the courage to speak about our moment of infamy to each other! That time reminds me of today’s verse. Just as we each received a black mark next to our name, so everyone who has ever lived has been caught by the justice system of God. We have all sinned and the penalty for our sin is death. We have broken, not only the windows of heaven, but also the heart of God. He has sadly marched us in and one by one placed a black mark by our names. But unlike in my childhood experience, God’s plan did not end there. Instead, God sent His only son, to die in our place, so that He could erase the black mark. And the even better news of the Bible is that instead of simply releasing us to go to our own homes, God has invited us to come to live in His forever!

Forgiveness – The Greatest Legacy of All!

Then said Jesus, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” And they parted His raiment and cast lots. Luke 23:34 KJV

What if Jesus had died for us and yet not forgiven? What if He gave us Heaven but not His heart? What if angels were sent to dry our tears instead of Him or if when we sat at His banqueting table, that His chair was empty? What if we were restored and given an eternity of mansions of delight but never saw His face?

But the greatest prayer and the greatest legacy of Jesus Christ is that He looked at the soldier’s and the thieves, the self-righteous priests and the mocking crowd and prayed Father forgive! And every time we receive the bread and drink from the cup, we are reminded of what this cost Him until He comes again. He has given us a legacy greater than miracles, more powerful than the armies of Heaven and more precious than all the rest of God’s creation. We are forgiven and we are loved! We are received and welcomed and embraced and He has given us HIs own Spirit of adoption by which our hearts cry out to Him – “Abba Father!”

Jesus what a friend for sinners
Jesus lover of my soul
Friends may fail me foes assail me
He my Savior makes me whole

Hallelujah what a Savior
Hallelujah what a friend
Saving - Helping - Keeping - Loving
He is with me to the end!

Our Great Savior by William Chapman 1910