Three Dollars Worth of God (Newsletter 4-7)

by Robert Martin

Suspended upon a cruel cross between heaven and earth, seemingly rejected by both, Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). These powerful words resonate, revealing the essence of why Christ came, as well as providing a blueprint for how we should live.

Christ’s two-part declaration is quite remarkable. He freely forgives those who have not requested mercy, and then amazingly He provides an excuse for those involved in His death. Forgiveness with an excuse. Mercy in the midst of crucifixion. The epitome of grace hanging cursed upon a tree.

During His worst of times, Christ’s best flowed freely. He forgave those who didn’t ask. They knew not what they did? The hate-filled eyes and murderous hearts of His accusers testified that they knew exactly what they were doing, eradicating a perceived blasphemer and rebel. Jesus said they didn’t know. In the grand scheme of His passion, Jesus knew the impulsive humans below were ignorant of their actions. Their warped minds were simply obeying their sin compulsion. He forgave. He released.

Often we piously proclaim our desire to be more like Jesus. But sometimes we only want to be like the Jesus who makes us feel good. Sadly, we often respond to His call only when imbibed with His power. When moved by His Spirit, it is easy for us to spiritually grandstand, flaunting our perceived spirituality to those around us. We rejoice to know Him in “the power of His resurrection,” yet we resist “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Resurrection without suffering. Shouting without consecration. Appearance void of sincerity.

Wilbur Rees powerfully illustrates our too common approach to God: “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”

The warmth of the womb, not a new birth. A desire to be filled with His Spirit, yet divorced from His character. Make me feel warm and fuzzy, just don’t step on my toes and interrupt my spiritual reverie.

Surely there is more to Christianity than this. Indeed, Jesus said we must lose our life to find it, that we must pick up our cross and follow Him. If we ask, as James and John’s mother selfishly did, to sit by His side in His kingdom, we often do so imagining a crown of gold on our heads, not one fashioned from thorns.

When we pick up the cross, we must be sure to put on the Christ. Otherwise the cross is ineffective. The essence of the cross is summarized in the words He spoke while on it. Humbling Himself. Laying down His reputation. Forgiving His executioners. Removing the blame.

To be more like Jesus, we must be willing to forgive those who offend us, even while they tiptoe through the daisies, oblivious to the pain they have inflicted upon us. Whether they meant it for evil or were simply blinded by ignorance, our response should be the same. Lord, forgive them. Let them off the hook. Give them a clean slate.

We must be careful to not imprison those who offend us. In so doing we only shackle ourselves and thwart our potential growth. Joined to their offense, we are poisoned by association. As sponges we soak up the hurt and offense. If not careful, we then squeeze the sponge in the spirit of un-forgiveness, soaking others living in the sphere of our influence. Sin spreads. Better that we take the offense-laden sponge to Calvary, wringing out the bitterness there, allowing Jesus to bury it beneath His blood. Never are we more like Christ, for we have assisted in eradicating sin, not breeding it. The world has less sin in it. Forgive. Release.

Someone says, “But they didn’t ask for forgiveness. If they ask, I’ll give it to them.” The truth is we are not spiritual, holy, or righteous enough to withhold what God freely gives. Forgive them. Free them. And in so doing, free yourself. Everyone is worth being saved, but no one is worth going to hell over. When you lose them and set them free, you also unchain yourself from potential grudges and roots of bitterness.

“But you don’t understand what they’ve done to me.” Be like Jesus and make up an excuse. They had a terrible childhood. They just lost their job. Their car broke down. They just had an argument with their spouse. They woke up on the wrong side of the bed. They had a bad hair day. Their dog bit them. Or, maybe, they are just plain mean! But whatever they are, they are but flesh – sin bent, self-willed, carnal, weak and frail, incomplete and imperfect. Evil or weak, whatever the case, excuse them.

“But you don’t understand the grief they have caused me. What they did was an insult, a slap in the face. It’s like they are spitting on me and walking away.” Ironically, their cruelty presents an opportunity to become more like the slandered, rejected, slapped, spit upon, ridiculed Savior. What they meant for evil God meant for good. They have provided a platform to practice Jesus. Practice makes perfect.

Yes, it’s hard to be nice to those performing your execution. But that is exactly what Jesus did. He forgave and offered an excuse for them. We must go and do likewise.

Three dollars worth of God is not enough. *