The three most amazing words that Jesus spoke from the cross are "Father, forgive them." Did you know his words fulfilled Old Testament prophecy? Isaiah 53:12 makes the following Messianic prediction. "For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Centuries before cruel malefactors drove nails into the hands and feet of Jesus and hoisted him upon a cross between earth and heaven, their forgiveness was foretold. Amazingly, the scribes and Pharisees were too busy scheming and plotting against Jesus to read the Isaiah scroll and make the connection between him and the Messianic prophecies.
Jesus also practiced what he preached about forgiveness. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." A couple of verses later he says, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).
This does not mean that God's forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive others. No, we cannot earn God's forgiveness. But it does suggest that we are in no position to ask for God's forgiveness if we harbor an unforgiving spirit in our own hearts.
Peter once asked Jesus, "'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times'" (Matt. 18:21-22). Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus put no limits on forgiveness.
How can we forgive others who have wronged us? Bitter feelings are real and hard to cleanse from our hearts. It's easier to live by the old motto, "Don't get mad. Get even!" While it might be easier to live that way, it's also more toxic. Someone once compared holding a grudge to drinking battery acid and hoping that it hurts the other person.
The only way I know to forgive the way Jesus did, to live the way he taught us to live, is to leave room for God's wrath. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21).
Nemesis, the goddess of revenge and retribution, was among the many deities the Romans worshipped during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Acts 28:1-6). Jesus's gracious words of forgiveness from the cross were in direct contrast to the pagan ideologies of the day.