I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the following passage: “He (Christ) was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28, cf. Isaiah 53:12). I believe that in our own way we too are called to be “numbered with the transgressors,” and that it’s a key to moving past our old life and into the life Christ intends for us.
Because . . . well, let’s start with a simple truth: We are among the transgressors.
This isn’t to dismiss or excuse some of the truly horrific sins that others perpetrate upon us or others; however, for the majority of us, most of our lives aren’t about those kinds of transgressions. They’re about responding to everyday hurts—insults, gossip, other inconsiderate acts—or even “bigger” but not necessarily deeper sins committed against us—deliberate acts where we’re deemed inferior or just not good enough, or slanderous words against our reputation. It’s also about responding to every person we meet and resisting the urge to judge and deem them not good enough, whether it’s for “good” reasons or for nonexistent ones we just came up with on the spot.
Even in more extreme cases, though, I think this idea of being numbered with the transgressors applies. Every so often, we’re surprised by a news story about an act of extreme forgiveness. Many of us think it can’t possibly be legitimate—that they’re just saying it but that they really still harbor anger or resentment. Or maybe we just resign ourselves to the idea that we’re incapable of that degree of forgiveness in the face of that kind of abuse or injustice. Fortunately, God knows both the good and the bad we’re capable of far better than we do. He will equip us to face those moments.
Jesus lived a perfect life and died for every one of those sins—even the ones committed against us. And he calls us to follow him and “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48), by learning how to die to those sins—and the hurt we’ve suffered from them as well.
When we allow ourselves to “be numbered with the transgressors”—that’s when God can work. I don’t mean sheepishly shrugging, “Yeah, I’m a sinner just like everyone else,” but looking straight at the people around you who carry sins that offend and maybe even repulse you, and admitting “These are my people, too; I really am like them except for Christ, and he chose to be numbered with them.” It means checking our pride and self-righteousness at the door. When we do, we are opened to the opportunity to overlook the sins of others—again, not excusing or denying them, but understanding they’re part of the same mess we’re in—truly forgiving them, and replacing our revulsion with compassion.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. (John 5:2–15)
You might be wondering, “What’s the connection between this passage and what you were just saying?” But did you notice something in this story? No-one’s terribly motivated for this guy to get well—including the man himself. But Jesus is.
This scenario seems to run counter to the conventional wisdom around us. However, this is how we really are, both in terms of ourselves and those around us. We’d rather read a self-help book and feel healed, than actually be healed. We’d rather stick with the status quo, no matter how much it actually hurts, than encounter the fear of the unknown that comes with truly being healed—or in seeing other “invalids” in our lives healed. We’re a lot more like these nitpicky Pharisees than we’d like to admit.
Jesus asks the invalid at the pool, “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to heal you?” Think about this in terms of your own “internal injuries.” Would you rather identify yourself by your hurt, your blindness—say it: your willfulness in withholding forgiveness—or would you rather get on with your undiscovered future, by growing into your new life and identity in Christ?
The beginning of healing is admitting you’re hurt. That’s true of your internal state, and it’s just as true about all the broken relationships around you. So lay down your hurt. Take Jesus’ yoke. Be numbered with the transgressors. You’ll start to see them differently. And more importantly, you’ll let Jesus bring healing and grace to you—and them.
Lay It Down Today
I’ll keep this simple: Where do you need to be “numbered with the transgressors” today? Is it an act of forgiveness? Is it treating some “weird” or annoying person you avoid with the same dignity you’d want? Does it involve reaching out somehow to the more marginalized of society—not just by being charitable but by being present and available?
You know what you felt as you read today’s entry, so I won’t get in the way of what God wants to do with it. But start making it happen today. Respond to what God’s trying to tell you.