Victims and Vengeance
I would like to share a short story with you about something that happened to me the other day, my failure, and the lesson I am learning from it. It is altogether amazing to me how God works through our failures to teach us lessons on the Person and character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s what happened:
I was travelling with my two brothers returning from a weekend of ministry at a Christian camp. About 1.5 hours into our journey, I was driving in the left lane of a two-lane highway passing a number of slower vehicles. However, as I looked in my left side mirror, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a gray vehicle—the driver obviously irritated with my very existence. She tailgated me for only a minute or so until I had the opportunity to change lanes so she could pass. As the vehicle accelerated by on our left, I happened to notice the passenger of the vehicle, who could not have been more than 15 years old, gesturing with his finger. I cannot describe to you the emotions that swelled inside of me in that moment. It was as though the deepest, darkest parts of my soul—places I didn’t even know still existed—had just erupted like a Pandora’s box filled with putrid and toxic emotions. Thoughts of anger, vengeance, and retribution permeated my mind and heart as I laid on my horn in a pointless attempt to express my frustration and anger. I thought maybe I would try to catch up to them, but they were quickly out of sight leaving me to seethe in my displeasure. To my knowledge, I had done nothing to merit such a volatile response. Was I not justified in my response? I had been wronged! And yet, I could not help at that moment (maybe not quite at that moment) but think of the Lord Jesus as Peter describes Him:
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:23 NIV)
This is quite the contrast between Christ’s reaction and my own. My mind is drawn to two other men in the Bible: Abel and Zachariah. The son of Adam and Eve, Abel was a righteous man who offered a “more acceptable” sacrifice to God than his brother, Cain (Hebrews 11:3). Cain murdered Abel after Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted. God later came to Cain and said. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:9). Abel was rightly accepted by God and wrongly slain by his brother. But righteous as Abel was, his blood symbolically cried “Injustice! Vengeance! Retribution!” The blood of this righteous man would not seep quietly into the bowels of the earth. His blood called—nay, cried out for retribution.
Many years later, a man by the name of Zachariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, led by the Spirit of God, rose up and spoke against the evils of the nation of Judah under the reign of King Joash. At the command of the king, Zachariah was stoned in the court of the house of the Lord, but not before uttering the words “May the LORD see and avenge!” (2 Chronicles 24:22). Unjustly slain, Zachariah calls upon the Lord to see and avenge him of this wrong.
I can relate with these men and their experiences. While my brother has not attempted to kill me (yet), and the audiences before whom I speak have not tried to stone me (yet), I can relate to the human response desiring vengeance when I have been wronged or unjustly treated. And then I think of the Lord Jesus. We already saw in I Peter that he did not retaliate for the wrongs committed against him; He did not threaten. He was falsely accused, insulted, beaten, whipped, mocked, and shamed, and in all of this, He did not retaliate. Isaiah tells us “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). We are told in Hebrews that Christ “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” (Hebrews 12:3). He endured them all. Often we think of the work of Christ as what “He DID do” but we must also consider what “He DID NOT do.” He did not retaliate. He did not threaten. He did not call down fire from heaven to consume His adversaries (Luke 9:54), and He did not call down twelve legions of angels to rescue Him, though it was well within His power (Matthew 26:53). He did not passively endure all of this suffering, but he actively yielded Himself to the Father’s will every single step of the way. He yielded, through every crack of the whip, every blow of the fist, and every hurtful word. “He saved others, He cannot save Himself.” These words like daggers were hurled at him by the crowd (Matthew 27:42). And there was a measure of truth to their insults: if He chose to save to Himself, He could not save the world; in order to save the world, He must sacrifice Himself.
Both Abel and Zechariah, in some way, cried for vengeance on their killers in their death. If they were righteous, how much more righteous is the Lord Jesus? If these men were innocent, how much more He Who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth”? (I Peter 2:22). If they could cry out for vengeance against injustice in their death, how much more could the Judge of all the earth? But what is it that we read of our Lord Jesus at the cross? What does He speak concerning His abusers? “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus could very easily have whispered these words in a silent prayer to His heavenly Father saving Himself pain and exhaustion, but He chose to use His precious breath so that Scripture might forever record His great love for those who caused Him so much pain. He would not cry out for retribution but for remission of sin; His blood called out, not for revenge, but for redemption. You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He did so to settle a legal debt that humanity owed to God because of sin. Upon His death, Jesus uttered the singular Greek word teleō, (or tetelestai, according to some texts) which literally means, “accomplished, paid, or fulfilled.” The Lord Jesus had accomplished the Father’s will, He paid our debt, and He fulfilled the Scriptures concerning Himself.
I am thankful for the work that God is doing in me and in every follower of the Lord Jesus. We are daily being transformed into the image of Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God with the Word of God. (Romans 8:29) There are times we are reminded just how much work there is left to do, and our failures should help keep us humble and in prayer before God. We can be thankful, however, that God, Who has begun a good work in us, will perfect it until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). As He continues His work in each of us, may it be our hope and prayer that we would better reflect the character of the Lord Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives.