The 2014 Film Unbroken tells the story of a young American man named Louis Zamperini who at the age of just 18 competed in the 1936 Olympics in the 5000 meters. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl harbour he immediately volunteered to fly on the American Airforce raids on Japan. On a return flight from a bombing mission his plane ran out of fuel and they all crash landed into the sea in enemy territory. He was captured and subsequently spent 3/1/2 years as a prisoner, 30 months of it in solitary confinement. Three of his closest friends were executed during his time in captivity and another died of slow starvation. During his time in captivity he gained access to a Bible. He said he read the bible back to back 7 times before he finally accepted Christ into his heart and asked for forgiveness. He wrote that after accepting Christ he looked at his captors and the guards and realized that, “if Christ is not in someone’s heart, then it is natural to be cruel”. He wrote that later “my hatred turned to loving pity”. Remembering Christ's word on the cross he too prayed “father forgive them for they know not what they do”.
How should we respond when we feel we have been treated unfairly? Injustice or even persecution happens to just about everybody at some point in their life, but when that happens how should we handle it?
The most painful and tragic of all examples of betrayal and injustice beyond anything we can even imagine occurred in the life of Christ. For three years Jesus lived with the disciples, he took them with him wherever he went. He taught them and he loved them, and he showed them how to live a life pleasing to God. For three years Jesus travelled around the then Roman province of Palestine, and he instructed the disciples about righteousness and forgiveness. He also spoke to the ordinary people, he taught them, he loved them, he healed them. The result of which, they drove nails through his hands and his feet and they hung him to a cross. (Luke 23: 33-34) They crucified Him, and He prays for them.
He could have said nothing, he could have been bitter and angry. He didn’t even speak out against those who treated him so badly. In the midst of His suffering, in the midst of his betrayal, he prayed. He did not seek revenge and He didn't even call out for justice. He didn't do any of these things, He just prayed for them. The only words that came out of his mouth were, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Sometimes when we pray, we seek out places of peace and tranquillity and we find a place to think quiet thoughts and pray to our father God. We don't have to pray in agony nailed to a cross, but Jesus did. Imagine going through that kind of physical suffering, and in the midst of it, praying for those who are doing it to you, and praying by asking God to forgive them. But why did he do that? Why didn't he use his power to do something else? Perhaps He prayed that they might know forgiveness in full the knowledge that in order to be forgiven someone always has to be in a position to receive it. In order to truly receive forgiveness, we need to reach a point where we acknowledge our need of forgiveness. Jesus did not pray and ask God to ignore their sin. Jesus asked God to forgive their sin. The word translated as “forgive”, means to dispatch or to send away. Jesus in praying, and by asking that their sin be taken away means that the sin obligation must be met elsewhere. That prayer now means that means the debt of sin would now be placed on Him as he hangs on the cross. In praying forgive them he knew he was placing the penalty of their sin on himself. A Holy God cannot ignore sin. A Holy God cannot just excuse sin. A Holy God can only forgive sin.
There is another idea at play here. The Bible throughout its entire narrative not only offers the notion of forgiveness, but also the idea of justice. In Christ these two concepts are brought together. In Christ, Gods need for justice against sin is met and because of that God is then able to forgive us. On the cross of Christ God’s justice was satisfied, in order that, God’s mercy could be expressed. So, the next time you are let down or betrayed.
The next time you feel stabbed in the back. The first thing you ought to do is pray for that person and pray sincerely that God forgives them. I know how tough a call that is, but the reason I tell you to do this is because the Bible tells us to do this. There is a profound and powerful Biblical truth unleashed here when we apply the principal of praying for the forgiveness of others.
One final point. Ignorance of sin in our lives does not mean it is not sin. There is sin in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, but it is still sin. But praise God right from the start God made provision for the forgiveness of sin, conscious or otherwise. Right from the beginning in the Mosaic law there was atonement for what where called sins of omission. The Old Testament law provided a special sacrifice you could make for sins done ignorance. A goat would be sprinkled with blood and cast out into the wilderness. It is from this concept we get the term scapegoat.
God is holy and God cannot lower his standard of righteousness by not dealing with the sin in our lives just because we are not aware of it. God cannot lower his standard of sacredness down to our level of ignorance. Ignorance of sin does not give us an automatic claim on God’s forgiveness, but it does bring us into the range of His mercy. So, the next time you feel persecuted, pray for your persecutor’s forgiveness even if they don't accept or understand they’ve done anything wrong.
Let me finish by telling you why this is important. Someone else, somewhere is very likely to be praying the same prayer about you. Someone else in another arena of sinful ignorance in your life might be making the same type of petition for you. And thanks be to God for that. That’s really important, because we’re not going to be praying about those things because we are not even aware of them. This is I believe one of the most profound and practical truths found in the scriptures. Isn't it appropriate that Jesus should try to express the width and depth of God’s forgiveness in what is almost his last dying breath. We rarely recognise the magnitude of our actions or our mistakes, and when we do it can take years for God to work it through with us. Hear me well this morning beloved, we come to the cross to be forgiven, but we also come to cross to learn to forgive others. We all need to learn to forgive those who have wronged us even when they don’t acknowledge or recognise that they have done anything wrong. In this type of situation, it doesn’t help to harbour anger or forgiveness is. It doesn’t affect the other person because there often not even aware of it. It just damages you, and it hurts your relationship with God. So, come to the cross and be forgiven, and come to the cross and learn how to forgive.
Now you might say to me I'm able to forgive everyone, but when you dig deep there might be that one person. You’ll forgive everyone except that one person. Well I'm sorry to make it so tough for you this morning, but it's that one person that God is asking you to forgive today. Jesus made no exceptions, he forgave everyone. You too can make no exceptions, we must forgive everyone who has ever let us down.
This is the single hardest truth of the Christian faith. There is nothing like it in any other philosophy There is nothing like it in any other teaching or any other writings and there is nothing even close to it in any other religion. No matter what this person has done, the best thing for them, and the best for you, is that they should be forgiven.
Someone else who had the right to remain bitter and angry with his persecutors was Louis Zamperini. After 40 months as a Japanese prisoner of war Louis Zamperini was liberated from his prison cell by American paratroopers. After the war the American Bible Literature society looking for someone who could help with the healing process between the Americans and the Japanese. They interviewed him and put his story in a booklet and circulated it among the Japanese population, it was called “I was a prisoner of Japan”. A Japanese man called Hisodo Mifude who was a Japanese military commander and the main man responsible for leading the raid on Pearl Harbour was handed a copy of the booklet as he stepped off a train in Tokyo. Upon reading it he too trusted Christ as his saviour. Many years later at the age of 81, Louis Zamperini returned to the town of Nagano where he had been held prisoner by the Japanese and ran a leg in the torch relay for the 1988 Winter Olympics held there that year.
When you feel treated unjustly, or when you feel persecuted. When you feel betrayed. Please pray they your persecutors are forgiven. Pray for them, even if they don't even know or care about what they have done.
Maybe you’re not sure you can do that in your own strength. Well neither am I, so it a good job we don't have to do it on our own because God will help you to find that place of peace in him that allows you to do it.
The Road to Calvary - Part 1