Pray Like Jesus
The Prayer for Enemies
Observe the Prayer of Jesus:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
The physical setting.
- The cross. See this public prayer in its full context. Jesus is suspended above the ground, having been literally nailed to a cross-member affixed to a stake. This seems to be the usual Roman form of execution.
- The place. He is hanging outside the city gate and beside a well-traveled road near servicing the city of Jerusalem. He has been stripped naked.
- The crowd. It is time for the largest feast in the religion and culture of Israel. Pilgrims have arrived from all over the world to celebrate the Passover.
- The feast. It is named the Passover because it remembers when the Death Angel passed over the homes of the Hebrews who were captive in the land of Egypt. That final plague of death upon the firstborn members of the families of Egypt caused Pharaoh to send the Hebrews away as free people. So the Passover is a celebration of liberation from slavery as well as a celebration of divine protection and blood sacrifice.
- Social and religious activities are going on all around Jesus—meals and meetings and family reunions. These are rituals and ceremonies that he himself participated in year with his friends and family members after year.
These executioners are Roman soldiers. They have beaten him, causing wounds from head to toe. They have crushed a crown of thorns upon his head. They are mocking him, reviling him, and gambling at the foot of the cross for the right to keep his clothes.
- In particular, they have made fun of his royalty.
- They did this with the crown of thorns, a purple robe, a scepter that they handed him, and their mocking homage as they bowed down to him.
- They also nailed a sign on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” This, too, is a joke.
- Jesus prays for his enemies, “Father, forgive them …”
- Father—he is talking to his Father in Heaven, praying as he taught us to pray.
- He asks the Father to forgive them. This would be the greatest spiritual blessing his enemies could receive.
- He means by “them” those who are gathered around and can hear him pray. He also means, I believe, the entire succession of people from the arrest in the garden to the trial to the present hour. He is praying for all of his enemies who contributed to his present pain and sorrow.
- He tells the Father that these enemies do not and cannot fully appreciate what they are doing. They really don’t know. Their actions are both ignorant and insane.
- They do not believe his claim to be Messiah. But he is both the King of the Jews and the King of the Universe as he hangs upon the cross.
This is cruciform love, love from the cross. This is the kind of love Jesus was talking about all along. And it is the kind of love that he wants in his followers.
Understand the Teaching of Jesus:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 6:44).
It is explicit and unique.
- Jesus said, “Youhave heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
- Indeed, nowhere else in the Bible do we find the command to love our enemies. These words come only from Jesus.
- The highest moral code of the Old Testament does not instruct us to love our enemies although it does instruct us to love the alien and the stranger who is among us.
- The commentary of the Apostles in the rest of the New Testament does not instruct us explicitly to love our enemies. The closest they come is the quote by Paul of Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12, “Bless those who persecute you” and in the reiteration of “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
It follows from “love your neighbor.”
- Jesus explained “love your neighbor” by telling a story about an enemy—a despised Samaritan—who cared for a wounded man. Jesus found in the Old Testament teaching of neighbor love the command for loving your enemy.
Jesus not only said, “love your enemies.” He explained what it meant in quite some detail.
- He talked about how God loves his enemies. Jesus taught that loving your enemy would make you like your Father in Heaven.
- Jesus commented on the striking nature of loving enemies, how unusual and unique it would be in the human experience for you to love your enemies. Loving the person who loves you is good but not unusual. Everybody does it. Loving your enemies would demonstrate the kind of love that God has for us and for all.
Jesus insisted that we pray for our enemies. We are to pray for those who treat us ill, who persecute us and slander us. We are to bless them, not curse them. If we do this, we will be like our Father in Heaven who sends his rain and sunshine on the just and on the unjust.
Identify Your Enemies:
Think about your enemies. Who are they? Please identify them as part of your worship today.
You can search names and faces if you wish, going mentally through the list of your work and school associates, your family members and neighbors. As you do so you are thinking, “Is this person my enemy?”
You might identify your enemy more easily by searching your emotions and feelings. The enemy may be that person whose face you do not want to see. You do not want to run into them at the store. You do not want to shake their hand. You do not want to be trapped in a situation where you must speak to them. You have avoided social intercourse with them for a long time. You are hoping and even praying that you will never see them again.
Someone out there is blaming you for their problems. You have done them wrong, they would say. Maybe you destroyed their world. When they think of an enemy, they think of you. If Jesus had enemies, then you have enemies, too.
We have some common enemies that we are going to pray for in a minute. I want you to understand what I am doing and what we are doing when we voice our prayers.
- These common enemies are the criminals that terrorize parts of our city every day. We read about them when they are arrested. They may be using and selling drugs. They may be members of gangs—organized criminal activity. They take what is not theirs, including the property and even the lives of others. They break into our homes and cars. They make our community both unsafe and, for some, undesirable as a place to live. They are enemies of the public good.
Mayor Landrieu says that there are about 600 people who reside in our community and commit 90 percent of the violent acts, including murders. The police know some of them by name.
We are going to pray for their souls, for their repentance, for the forgiveness of God to reach even them. We are going to go to the Father on their behalf.
- We are going to pray for members of ISIS. They are enemies of our way of life. Indeed, they are the sworn enemies of all people who do not see life as they see it. They want to kill us all, even members of their own families and tribes and mosques.
We are going to pray for their souls. We are going to pray for their forgiveness. We are going to God on their behalf.
- We are going to pray for people we see as political enemies. They frighten us. They make us angry. We are fearful that they will be elected. I am talking about current presidential candidates that stir your emotions. You want to throttle them.
You have names and faces in your mind. I want you to think about them for a moment.
- Now I want you to bow your head and pray for yourself. I want you to ask the Father in heaven to help you be kind to them, respect them, and treat them with dignity. Pray for their daily necessities—food and clothes and shelter. Pray for their spouses, their children, their parents. Pray that you might be able to show them the love of the Father somehow.
- Now it is time to pray for your enemies: those who hate you, treat you unfairly, steal from you, slander you, hit you, curse you, and revile and persecute you.
Breathe in the freedom, liberation, and well-being that prayer for enemies brings to your soul.