How different is God’s government? How can we live that government now? Only God’s government is for humanity’s good and that its two qualities of giving and forgiving are guideposts for us to live by.
Read Luke 23:33-43. We could say that Jesus was born to die. That is true, but he was also born to forgive when for most of us it would have been incomprehensible. Forgiveness for murder is perhaps one of the hardest things imaginable. One of the most remarkable sayings of Jesus is recorded in Luke 23:34. “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It takes a strong person to apologize and ask forgiveness. Weak people don’t apologize. Many of us will forgive others — after they apologize. Weak people may never forgive even with an apology. Some Christians believe that forgiveness can only be granted by God after repentance. However, here Jesus teaches us a new level of forgiveness, before repentance, before a change of heart, forgiveness because of a deed done in ignorance. What a strange idea!
We may have heard stories about Nazi victims who found it difficult to forgive former persecutors after they asked for it. Some have. Now that’s world class forgiveness. It is the best kind of forgiveness available in this world. There is a kind of forgiveness that is even beyond world class. We could call it heavenly forgiveness. It is recorded in Luke 23:34. Jesus said, “Father forgive them. For, they don’t know what they are doing.” It is difficult for most of us to forgive atrocities on the order of that which the Nazis committed. Crucifixion was no less an atrocity than those extermination camps. Yet, Jesus forgave, even before he was asked to. World class forgiveness is difficult. Jesus prayed for heavenly forgiveness for terrible deeds done in ignorance. Thank God for forgiveness! All humanity surely needs it!
Human leadership easily disappoints. Many Christians constantly criticize and condemn political and church leaders. But that overlooks grace. Matthew 26:14-27:66 highlights two common leadership faults: weakness and hypocrisy. It’s our human condition. The Judean leadership was a group of Jews who deeply feared Roman occupation forces 2,000 years ago. They were so frightened of their own people rioting and angering the Romans that some of them used false charges, coercion and violence to avert it, crucifying Jesus. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples also abandoned him. At the cross, all human leadership in or out of the faith failed. When we are tempted to criticize political or church leaders today, maybe we ought to remember Jesus’ words about both while he hung on the cross: Father forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).
It’s not that democracy is really that much better than other forms of human government. It’s just that it sucks less. All forms of human government ultimately fail, some just more miserably than others. An early despot was Nimrod who gathered people into cities so as to have more power over them. Egypt was run like a company town. The country was a plantation and the company bosses were just like many company bosses today, building huge monuments to themselves and much like communism, the government owned almost everything. Like Israel’s kings most European Monarchs, though claiming religion were nothing but selfish leaders. Democracy emerged in Greece as government by the people, but all our checks and balances eventually fail as the rich and powerful take over. Only one government offers hope for humanity, that of Christ (Luke 23:34).
Jesus conquered the gates of hell at his crucifixion and resurrection. He ushered in a new government. Although the fullness of that kingdom will not be ushered in until his return we can live under that government now. How? Luke 23:33-43 indicates some very important ways in which we can be ambassadors for the government of Christ now. He forgave those who planned his death. He willingly offered himself as a sacrifice for all. He allowed a criminal to enter paradise on his attitude alone. We represent that eternal government whenever we forgive and sacrifice for others. Jesus’ forgiveness of his persecutors was before any change of heart or repentance. Jesus’ example was a total self-sacrifice. Jesus’ inclusion was of a sinner who had a change of heart but before he could prove his repentance with a changed life.
All human governments are represented by those that crucified Christ, not just the Roman and Jewish states. In Luke 23:33-43 are telling contrasts between Christ’s and human reign. Human governments are usually filled with very intelligent and highly educated people, but as Jesus and a man I once knew said who had lived among world leaders said, “they do not know what they are doing.” Another telling difference is that rather than being there as real servants like Christ, our so-called public servants, from political and military leaders even to criminals in reality deride the suffering saying in so many words, “let him save himself,” and “save yourself.” Is it no wonder that human governments are symbolically pictured in apocalyptic literature of the Bible as devouring beasts. In reality are we not all just the same, selfish and ignorant.
Government is a bad word to many people, but Jesus came as the head of a government that would genuinely be for everyone’s good not just the rich and powerful. Some key differences are outlined in Luke 23:33-43. They are some of the first acts of government and set the precedent as to how that government will operate. One of Jesus’ first acts as head of God’s government was to forgive the wrongs of everyone involved in plotting and preparing for his murder. Another act was his unwillingness to save himself from self-sacrifice for everyone else. Where are today’s world leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves? The head of God’s government’s third act in this section was also one of forgiveness of one certain criminal based entirely upon his attitude. Forgiveness and sacrifice — hallmarks of Christ’s government.
The Gospel message in Luke 23:33-43 is as relevant to North Koreans murdered by their government for having a Bible as it is for retail workers mistreated and underpaid by society’s most privileged families. The greedy and powerful can crush the life out of you but they cannot crush the hope for a better world. As Jesus followers attended his crucifixion, all over the world today people have gone to a church service somewhere in hope of a better world. They may be oppressed Christians in countries where their faith is banned. They may have had their homes burned, been kidnapped, imprisoned or be about to lose their lives, but they have a hope. They may be western Christians failed by false political promises of liberty and equality for all. Nothing is the hope of the world but Christ.
As a class of human beings, kings generally suck. At least that has been their history. As a rule most were selfish, murderous, tyrannical and didn't care about the people of their nation. That is a major reason why modern democracies have either ditched their kings or severely limited their power. Why in the world then is Jesus referred to as a king? Not all kings suck. Some few have made great personal and financial sacrifice and even given their lives on the battlefield for their people. It is that order of king, the rare kind that Jesus represents. Kings who willingly place themselves in harm’s way are highly honored and deeply loved. As such a king, Jesus sacrificed himself for us. As our king (Luke 23:35) Jesus ignored the suggestion to save himself. He came to save us.
When ancient Israel rejected God as their king they wanted a human king just like the nations around them. 1 Samuel 8:10-17 describes the manner of a human king. That relates to any human national leaders no matter their title. The first three words are very descriptive, “He will take.” Taking, rather than giving is a hallmark of human governments. “He will take your sons and MAKE them serve… they will plow HIS ground and reap HIS harvest… He will TAKE your daughters… the best of YOUR fields… take for HIS own use… and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.) Taxation without forgiveness and taking, rather than giving are hallmarks of human government. In Luke 23:33-43 we read of hallmarks of Christs government, giving and forgiving, as he gave his life for the whole world and forgave sins.
Saviors are everywhere. At least many claim to save us. Politicians will save us from the government. Advertisers will save us from illnesses and bad breath. Drink manufactures will save us from pure but boring water. Fashion merchants will save us from comfortable clothes. Credit card companies will save us from being debt free. Central banks will save our economies. Hollywood will save us from innocence. Who will save us from our saviors? When all the results are in and we look back on the claims, we will probably find that more often than not, those saviors hurt more than they helped. Even Jesus’ enemies testified that he “saved others” (Luke 23:35). He healed many and saved them from not only from their illnesses but also promised something no one else can do, save us from sin and death.
Democracy has long replaced monarchy as a form of human government. Abuse of power among kings was intolerable. We no longer believe that kings have a “divine right.” Vestiges of monarchical excesses remain. Prince Charles still owns 131,000 acres in Wales. However, even our democracies have not stopped the abuse of power, merely brought it under a measure of control. What if there was a king who did not need to be elected because his kingdom rule was one without the corruption of human governments? What if there was a leader we knew would never cause us any harm? Would we choose to voluntarily submit to such a kingdom? Would we ask that king to remember us when he came into his kingdom? Would we take a criminal’s request (Luke 23:42) before his execution as a worthwhile recommendation?
We have all experienced the overconfidence of youth. We think that we can do so much better than our forebears or we think that we could do so much better than those currently in government. The only problem is that every generation starts out life exactly the same way, thinking that they can create a better world and live life better than others. By the time we reach middle age, that overconfidence is somewhat mellowed as we are forced to admit our many failures. By the time we are old, we are compelled to face the realities of life and death. Our generation has also not solved the world’s problems. We don’t have to worry about our imperfect lives in an imperfect world. We just need to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Let us live lives now as ambassadors of a different government, one that is giving and forgiving. Jesus and his kingdom are the only hope of the world.