The call came at about 8:00pm on a Sunday night. It was hard to hear over the laughing and shouting of 30 excited teenagers, at a youth retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I didn’t know we’d been betrayed by a friend. But I could tell right away that something was wrong.
“Your parents’ house has been broken into,” said our neighbor. “Someone shattered the back window and stole the flatscreen TV.” My heart sank. Oh no, I hope it’s not who I think it is, I thought.
My parents were out of town – my dad at a conference in Miami, my mom visiting friends in Arkansas. As I called my dad, then my mom, then my brother to tell them the bad news, all of us had the same initial reaction. We all were pretty sure we knew who it was. And we all hoped and prayed that it hadn’t been him.
Betrayed by a Friend
“Ben” is a friend of my brother. They grew up together, played soccer together. But as he got older, Ben started getting into trouble – alcohol, drugs, a couple arrests. A few years ago my brother discovered that Ben was staying in a run-down hotel room, living off take-out pizza. He said, “you’re coming home with me.” And so Ben lived with my family for a year. He started cleaning up his act, working a couple of jobs, helping out around the house. Then one night he was caught with drugs in his vehicle, and he landed in jail again.
But my brother kept reaching out to him over the years, and we all kept praying for him. Then just a few months ago, Ben reappeared, asking for odd jobs to do around the house and yard, looking for ways to earn money. He was polite and respectful, and seemed like he was finally straightening out his life.
And then this. When the police dusted for fingerprints on the broken glass, they found a clear hand print. It matched the prints they had on file. It was Ben.
What hurt the most was that it was someone we knew. Someone we had prayed for, someone we had trusted, who we had invested so much in. We’d been betrayed by a friend.
Jesus Forgave Betrayal
I was reminded of Psalm 52:12-14 – “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend.”
Jesus knew what it felt like to be betrayed by a friend. From the moment He chose His twelve disciples, He knew what would happen that night of His arrest. These were his closest friends. His inner circle. The ones He talked with as they traveled from village to village. The ones He fished with, cooked with, ate with. But He knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him. He knew that Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus. He knew that all the disciples would run away in fear.
Yet even at the very end, when He was on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.” I believe he was not only talking about the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. He was not only talking about the Jewish religious leaders involved in his trial. He was talking about Peter. About James. And John. About Judas. And also about you and me.
And after the resurrection, when He saw His disciples again, He didn’t bawl them out. He didn’t say “What happened, guys? That was real smooth, all running away and abandoning me like that.” He didn’t say any of that. Instead He said “Peace be with you.” He came in love and forgiveness.
The Power of the Resurrection
So what about Ben? Well, my mom had to appear in court a couple of weeks ago to confirm that it was indeed him who had broken into her house and stolen from her. And though she was upset about what happened, though she felt betrayed and hurt, more than anything she felt compassion for Ben. Her heart broke for him, for the path he was choosing which would only bring more heartache.
The court found him guilty. And when she saw him sitting there in the courtroom, head bent, shoulders slumped, she walked over to him, put her hand on his shoulder, and said “I’m praying for you.” She didn’t have any bitterness. She didn’t have any anger. Only love and forgiveness.
That’s not natural. It’s not easy. It’s not anything we can do on our own. But Jesus said, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12).
Because He has forgiven me, I can forgive. And that’s the power of the resurrection.