In addition to the physical torture Jesus endured during His trials and execution, Jesus faced those who mocked him, lied about him, mischaracterized his ministry, and aimed to destroy his reputation. And not just by anyone, but by His own people. Pilate was ready to set him free when the crowd shouted for the release of Barrabas and the crucifixion of Jesus. The Romans may have carried out the sentence, but it was the Jewish people – Jesus’ own – who sentenced Him to it.
We know that throughout Jesus’ ministry, He taught us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and persevere persecution. But there is a degree of pain that is unique when we are persecuted by “our own people” – those who once claimed to have loved us – a family member, a spouse, a close friend, a church member, or a spiritual leader – that makes it particularly difficult to endure.
Adding to our hurt, we might feel emotionally or spiritually paralyzed because no matter how “right” we think we are, nor how sure we are that we sit in “Truth,” we can’t break through to the inner chambers of the other person’s heart. Where there was once a warm, vibrant, loving relationship is now overtaken by cold, hard apathy at best, and intentional, focused aggression at worst. As such, the knowledge that there truly is nothing we can do increases the paralyzing, panicky, anxious sensation in the pit of our stomach. How, then, ought we respond? Is there godly “action” we can take when we are being persecuted by those whom we love, who once claimed to have loved us?
We fully acknowledge that Jesus’ purpose for dying on the cross was to take on our death – the punishment of our sins – and thereby, secure our salvation by His grace. And Jesus’ death on the cross also reminds us that He endured infinitely greater suffering than we ever will – and that every relationship in the Lord will be fully restored in the New Jerusalem. But, from the cross, Jesus also provided us with just the action plan we need on this side of heaven when, as Christians, we, too, are persecuted by “our own.”
And, as I would expect, Jesus gives us a solution that requires us to look only inside our own hearts – and not at the hearts of those who aim to hurt us. From His place on the bloody tree, Jesus spoke seven times. It is in these seven statements where Jesus gives us an action plan for how we are to respond when we, too, are persecuted by our own. The result is complete release and total freedom, even amid ongoing persecution.
“Do not cry for me; cry for yourselves and for your children…If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)
Spoken just prior to being lifted onto the cross, Jesus urges the women who mourn for Him to instead call out to God for His mercy to be on those who persecute Him.
I will not cry for me and indulge in self-pity, but I will “cry” (get on my face and cry out to God) for His mercy to be on those who persecute me – and for others whose lives are impacted by my persecutors. Lord have mercy.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus goes before The Father to ask forgiveness for all those who are in the midst of crucifying Him. He doesn’t wait until after the Resurrection to forgive them. He doesn’t expect the crucifixion to stop because of His act of forgiveness. (In fact, His enduring the crucifixion is the very act of forgiveness.) He doesn’t wait for those who persecute Him to be sorry or to ask for forgiveness. His forgiveness is between Him and The Father. He gives it freely and He gives it first.
Jesus’ forgiveness is perfect and complete, and therefore, it can be once-given. Mine is not. If I have to repeatedly go before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay. If I have to go daily before the Father to forgive those who persecute me, that’s okay. Any un-forgiveness in my heart toward those who persecute me will inhibit my relationship with the Father. And if that means I have to daily take it before Him, admit my imperfect forgiveness, and ask for His help to make it complete, He will make it perfect for me.
(To the repentant criminal): “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43)
Jesus continues His ministry, even during His crucifixion. He never strays off message. He is not distracted by His own pain and suffering.
I will not allow Satan to distract me from completing my ministry every day – whether at home, in a secular workplace, or a Christian organization – even amid ongoing persecution. I will repent of my own sin, daily claiming the promise of salvation for me, which will, in and of itself, give me all I need to then lead others to the Lord.
(To His mother and to John): “Dear Woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)
Even in the midst of his own suffering, Jesus leaves no business unfinished nor any relationship uncared for.
Setting aside my personal pain, I will finish every task The Lord puts before me to my fullest ability and make sure every relationship is well cared for.
“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
Jesus did not need something to drink. He asks to taste the vinegar just prior to giving up His Spirit. Rather than asking for the drink as the means of physical refreshment, I wonder if He is simply choosing to continue to engage with those who persecute Him, continue to show His love for them, even though that means willingly accepting their bitterness and ugly-tasting offering.
I will continue to engage with those who persecute me, willingly accepting their bitterness because to shut off the relationship with them means to shut down my testimony of God’s love for them.
“It is finished.” (John 19:30)
Jesus FINISHED His part in God’s plan for our salvation. He couldn’t go halfway and ask God to just take away the rest. He had to finish the task completely in order for God’s plan to be complete. Because Jesus finished, His is not only an example for us to follow, but a promise for us to claim of a final END to our persecution when we reach heaven.
I will finish my part completely. I will complete whatever task I have. But, I will also claim that Jesus FINISHED death (physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual death), and therefore, we have the promise that eternal suffering, persecution and condemnation are NOT for those who are in Christ Jesus.
“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Upon finishing His task, Jesus commits His spirit unto God the Father. He is completely surrendered to the will of the Father.
I commit my life and my work into the Father’s hands because I belong to Him alone. I live to glorify and please Him, not those who persecute me. My life is not in their hands; rather, I place my life into His hands, completely surrendered to a loving Father whom I trust.