My favorite movie of all time has to be Gladiator. That’s one of my favorite eras in history. I am fascinated by the Roman culture, the rise of their empire, and it’s demise. The plot of Gladiator has everything you’d want from a story set in that time. A war hero, promised the throne, betrayed by the Emperor’s son, made a criminal, who lost everything and became a gladiator for the chance to fight in Rome and stand before the man who betrayed him. I don’t do it justice with how I’ve described it.
One of the more memorable scenes in the movie happens after the Commodus learns that the famed gladiator before him is Maximus, the one whom he betrayed in order to become Emperor. In an effort to have Maximus murdered, he arranged a fight between Maximus and the only undefeated gladiator ever, Tigris of Gaul. Tigris is a formidable gladiator. Plus, as his name suggests, tigers are involved. Tigers are loosed into the arena, held back only by long chains. Despite the odds, Maximus defeats Tigris and stands over him, waiting for the sign from the Emperor to let him live, or let him die.
The people want a death. If Romans were anything, they were blood thirsty. The Emperor chose to please the people. Let him die.
As Maximus raises his axe to kill Tigris, he tosses it aside. At first the people are quiet, then some one shouts out, “Maximus, the merciful!” The people cheer and love Maximus even more, and Commodus is noticeably unhappy.
Maximus disobeyed Commodus out of spite, and that is why he spared Tigris. There was nothing about Tigris that caused Maximus to show mercy, the reasons for his mercy came from elsewhere. Tigris didn’t deserve it. Just a few moments before, he was trying to kill Maximus. Any points he had for being a nice guy were totally wasted. Tigris received pardon, despite himself, not because of anything about him.
Sound familiar? God pardons us, gives us mercy, and there is nothing about us that compels him to do so. There’s nothing within me that makes God feel obligated to show me mercy, and the same is true for you.
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19)
“I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” This is God describing how he offers mercy. Receiving God’s mercy has nothing to do with anything in me, and everything to do with the fact that he simply chose to be merciful to me. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have reasons for showing me mercy. It’s only to say that his reasons aren’t found within me. Tigris was unaware of the reason for Maximus’ mercy, he just knew he received it, and was grateful!
Mercy can only be mercy if it is undeserved. Forgiveness is only forgiveness if it is unjust. When God saves people, he shows his mercy and saves them exactly because there is nothing about them to make them deserving of mercy. If there’s something within me that makes me deserving, then it is no longer mercy but instead a due payment. In other words, if God saved you because of you, then he owed it to you to save you! This cannot be!
Mercy can only be mercy if it is undeserved. Forgiveness is only forgiveness if it is unjust.
Now carry this into your relationships with people. Who has offended you? Who has hurt you? Who has betrayed you? Were you merciful to them? Or were you waiting for them to deserve your mercy? Were you waiting for them to be worthy forgiveness?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
As God in Christ forgave you . . . that means they can’t deserve it. That means you must go against every fiber in your body and offer peace. If you wait until you feel like they deserve it, whatever you’re giving them, it certainly isn’t the same mercy and forgiveness that was given to you in Christ.
It isn’t mercy and forgiveness at all.
How can you be merciful? How can you forgive? Grit and determination are what is required sometimes. But in all cases, it requires allowing the Spirit of God to control your actions, and not you. You can’t do this. He can. Maximus may have been controlled by his spite for Commodus, and not God, when he spared Tigris, but there is a lesson there for us. The mercy and forgiveness that we must offer others does not come from us, it comes from some one else. It is from God himself. If his Spirit is within, you have a glorious responsibility to allow forgiveness and mercy to flow from him into everyone in your life.