“But I say to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…If you love those who love you what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:44-47)
“I couldn’t do it.” That’s what one person told me after I’d asked the folks at church that night to pray for their enemies. Thank God for that person’s honesty. Frankly, the first time I tried to pray for people who’ve hurt me the worst…..well, I couldn’t do it either.
This brief blog is not intended to be about the topic of forgiveness as much as it about praying for our enemies. But it’s difficult to separate the two topics. John Bevere (Buh-VEER) explains why. In his book, “The Bait of Satan,” Bevere, using the story of Joseph, highlights a biblical truth so arresting that, when I first read it, it stopped me in my tracks. But, before we get to what he wrote, we need a little background.
In Genesis 37, Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers (and still a teenager), was sold to Midianite gypsys by his own brothers. Why? Because they hated him. They originally wanted to kill Joseph, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talked them out of it. Joseph’s nightmare took him to Egypt where he would spend the next 13 years in slavery & prison. But, as the Scriptures repeatedly state, “The Lord was with Joseph.” By God’s orchestration, following those 13 years, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to 2nd in command over all Egypt, subordinate only to Pharaoh. As a famine ravaged the land, outlying tribes of people came to Egypt to seek grain for food. Every person wanting food had to go through Joseph. And guess who showed up?
Twenty years had passed since Joseph had seen his brothers that horrible day when they sold him. No doubt, he remembers his cries for help as his brothers stood there with hate in their heart. But today, his brothers bow before him pleading for mercy. They don’t recognize Joseph. But he immediately recognizes them. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He had all authority to, once and for all, have them painfully executed for the twenty years they had stolen from him. This would be the sweetest of revenge. Right? Back to the lesson I learned from Bevere.
Bevere wrote, “Had Joseph had in mind not to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery as an adolescent boy, and decided to execute them, God would have let Joseph rot in prison.” Why? Because one of Joseph’s brothers was a man named Judah. Why is that important? John, a disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, answers that question: “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Rev. 5:5) See where this is headed? Jesus Christ would be a descendent of Judah. And there was no way God was allowing the blood-line of the Messiah to be severed. So, clearly, making the choice to love and forgive his enemies saved Joseph’s life.
Spent and exhausted from being up all night, suffering from extreme blood loss & shock, the crucified Jesus was able to make only short utterances from the cross. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, together, record seven of those brief, labored statements. The first is found in Luke’s account, 23:33-34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Here we find Jesus praying for His enemies – while they were crucifying Him. Think about it – when you pray for your enemies you experience the power of perfectly identifying with Christ while He was on the cross. And we all know what followed the crucifixion – the resurrection. I believe that “resurrection power” follows this kind of praying.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick