Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. ~ Saint Paul
My oldest son, Cole, was UNinvited to preach at a church because the previous week he had quoted from Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible—The Message. He didn’t use it as his main Bible, he just quoted from it to add color and nuance to a familiar verse of Scripture.
It hurt his feelings. He told me about the dis-invitation and it didn’t hurt my feelings, it made me flame-throwing mad. I wanted to call up the church and give them a piece of my mind that I can’t afford to lose. I wanted to spray paint on their front door, “Legalists!” I would have done it but I couldn’t find my black spray paint and the Broncos were playing.
Another time a business partner and I got into a disagreement in his office and then he tried to physically block me from leaving his office until we had settled the issue. (Which meant that I capitulated to his will.) I was dumbfounded that a man would try to physically keep me from leaving a room. I’m a big guy and I don’t suffer fools who try to impose their wills on me physically. My anger meter began to rise to a dangerous place.
He eventually moved and I walked out and drove away. On the drive home I processed the incident and began to replay it in my mind—over and over again. Bitter bile began to rise in my throat and leached over into my soul. I began to imagine things I would like to do to him with black spray paint.
Jesus told a story about a king, and he had a servant. The servant owed the king 10,000 talents. Commentators always freak out over that number, because it really meant billions and trillions of dollars. It was a ridiculous sum. It could not have meant, therefore, a loan. No king could’ve possibly given any servant 10,000 talents.
It must mean the servant was a high official in the kingdom and through mismanagement and malfeasance he had lost an enormous amount of money, so the very economy and very kingdom was in jeopardy. So the king comes to the servant and says, “Where’s my money? Pay me.” The servant says, “I can’t. Forgive me.” The king, though he had every right to sit in judgment, forgives him and has mercy on him.
So then that servant walks along and sees a second servant. That second servant owes the first servant (the forgiven servant) a few dollars. The first servant says, “Pay me.” The second servant says, “I don’t have it. Forgive me.” The first servant says, “No,” and throws him into prison.
When the king hears this, he grabs the first servant, and he says, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you? Didn’t you have an experience of my mercy? How can anyone who has experienced my mercy have a grudge and hold their fellow servant liable?”
At the end of the parable, he throws the first servant into prison. Jesus ends with this chilling line:
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
What is Jesus saying? “If you hold a grudge, if you retaliate against somebody else, then even though you say you believe you’re a sinner saved by grace, you don’t functionally believe it. You’re denying it, no matter what you say.”
When a servant acts like a king or a judge, it’s incongruous. That’s why we’re angry with each other. That’s why we’re paying each other back. That’s why we’re sitting in judgment. We’re servants acting like kings and judges.
What will change our hearts? The only thing that will change a servant from acting like a king is by getting a view of the amazing love of the King who became a Servant.
We should be in the dock; we put ourselves on the judgment seat. But the Lord, who was on the judgment seat, came down, put himself on trial, and he went to the cross. The Judge of all the earth was judged. He was punished for us. He took the punishment we deserve for all the ways we harm each other.
The gospel humbles us. We can’t stay angry at somebody unless we feel superior to them. It humbles us out of our bitterness. Then we can forgive.
When Jesus Christ was dying on the cross because he was being executed unjustly, do you remember what He said?
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24
Do you see the balance? He says, “Father, what they’re doing is wrong. They need to be forgiven. They are guilty, and I’m dying for their guilt.” And instead of screaming at his enemies, “You’ll get yours,” what does he say?
“Father, they really don’t understand the magnitude of what they’re doing.”
Jesus has something good to say about his executioners.
If he treats his executioners like that, how dare you and I be cold and withdrawing to people or sarcastic, insulting, slashing, and burning people? How dare we talk like that?
He wouldn’t even talk like that at the very end.
Much less scrawl graffiti on their doors with black spray paint.