Human beings are capable of egregious depravity toward one another. The atrocities of war. Horrifying crimes. The cruelty of torture and persecution. All in an attempt to fill a wicked heart’s insatiable lust for evil, power, money, or the approval of a god.
And no one knew more about that than Jesus.
Jesus was born into a tumultuous and oppressive world. Long gone were the golden days of David and Solomon when Israel was a self-governing nation at the peak of power and opulence. In Jesus’ time, subjugation and sorrow were the order of the day as God’s people writhed under the iron boot of the Roman Empire.
Even from Jesus’ birth narrative, we catch a glimpse of the terrorism running roughshod over his homeland. The first event Matthew relates to us about Jesus’ life is what is often called “the massacre of the innocents.”
Herod the Great, in a yet another paranoid frenzy to protect his throne, had his soldiers march through the streets of Bethlehem and the surrounding area and slaughter every baby boy under the age of three. Infants, ripped from their mothers’ arms, only to have their skulls savagely crushed. Toddlers at play, run through with the sword.
Luke tells us that Jesus’ relatives resided in Bethlehem, so it’s probable that this heinous event directly impacted His family. Perhaps He lost a cousin he would have played with as a child, or a nephew He might have apprenticed alongside in Joseph’s workshop.
Jesus was also no stranger to crucifixion. It was a common occurrence in His day, and victims of crucifixion were made a public spectacle to serve as a warning to any that dared disturb the tenuous peace of Pax Romana. It is likely He witnessed crucifixions on occasion and might even have been acquainted with someone who was crucified.
We know Jesus was well acquainted with one casualty of brutality. Jesus’ beloved cousin John – who had baptized Him, about whom Jesus declared there was no one greater – was imprisoned by Herod Antipas to appease his ill-gotten wife, and subsequently executed, his head on a platter a present for a dancing girl.
All this misery at the hands of the Romans is to say nothing of the of the scorn, rejection, and persecution Jesus experienced from His own people. “A prophet is not without honor,” He said, “except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
And in the end, Jesus was personally subjected to unparalleled agony from an alliance between those in His household of Israel and His Roman enemies. Betrayed by a close friend. Slandered, falsely accused, and convicted by Jewish leaders. Flayed, mocked, and spat upon by soldiers. Scorned and reviled by the crowds. Coronated with a crown of thorns and nailed to a cross by the decree of Pilate.
Jesus lived a life despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
If anyone had cause to hate someone who had hurt Him or those He loved – an individual, a people group, a religion’s adherents, a nationality, a race – it was Jesus.
And yet time and again Jesus’ example and mandate to those who would follow Him was not to hate, take revenge, or curse the enemy, but to love and forgive.
It is spiritually dishonest to claim to be a follower of Christ while nourishing and cherishing hatred in your heart against an enemy. Here are just a few of the reasons God gives us in His Word:
You can’t love Jesus with a heart full of rebellion
“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Christ instructs us love our enemies. This isn’t an option or a suggestion. It is a direct order from our Commander in Chief. Who has the right to say he is a loyal soldier of the King while knowingly standing in rebellion against His command?
You can’t love Jesus with a heart that hates His creation
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God
he created him; male and female he created them.
Your enemy was created in the image of God, and intimately and intricately formed by His hands in the womb – just like you were. To hate another image bearer is to hate what God lovingly created, blessed, and said is good.
You can’t love Jesus with a heart
that denies the sin He saved you from
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
The dirt you were saved out of wasn’t any cleaner than the dirt your enemy currently wallows in. You used to be just like him. And it was only the grace and mercy of God that snatched you up out of that dirt, washed you off, and saved you. You don’t have any bragging rights. You’re not any better than he is. You’re just a sinner God rescued.
You can’t love Jesus with a heart full of unforgiveness
…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you,
if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Your enemy – that person you hate and refuse to forgive because he hurt you – has sinned infinitely more against a holy and righteous God than he could ever sin against you. And yet God is still willing to forgive him. Who do you think you are to deny him your forgiveness if your Master is willing to forgive him? Are you above God?
You can’t love Jesus with a heart full of rotten fruit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The things in this list characterize the person who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, a.k.a., a Christian. Hatred isn’t on the list. The heart that is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control leaves no room for hatred, and indeed is antithetical to hatred.
You can’t love Jesus with a heart full of lies and murder
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 2:9,11; 3:15; 4:20
Hatred is so out of place in the heart of a Christian that God says you’re still lost if hatred characterizes your life. Hating shows the world a picture of an unsaved person, not a saved person. It is not a truthful testimony that you are a new creation in Christ.
You can’t love Jesus with a heart
that won’t follow His example
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus didn’t just tell us to love, forgive, and extend mercy to our enemies. He practiced what He preached. In the middle of His agony and suffering, He forgave. Jesus gave every drop of His blood, every beat of His heart, and absorbed every ounce of God’s wrath for people who hated Him. His enemies. People He had every human and divine right to annihilate for what they had done to him. Including you and me. If we aren’t willing to follow His example and lay down our lives that our enemies might be saved, we have no part in Christ.
There are some things Jesus never said about loving and forgiving your enemies.
He never said it would be easy.
He never said you could do it in your own strength.
He never said you’d have to do it alone.
Forgiving someone who has wounded and scarred you in unimaginable ways might be the hardest thing you ever attempt in this lifetime. Do it anyway.
Yes, you can.
You can do it with the strength of the One who endured the cross to forgive you.
You can do it with the peace He purchased for you with His blood.
You can do it through the love with which He first loved you.
You can do it as the God of all comfort wraps His everlasting arms around you.
You can do it as Christ’s nail-scarred hands draw you close to His riven side and carry you from the bondage of hatred to the freedom of forgiving.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Because you can’t love Jesus with a heart full of hate.