During the American Revolution, a pastor named Peter Miller endured the incessant insults of a man named Michael Wittman. Wittman could not stand the Christian faith of the parson Miller.
As it turns out, Wittman was a spy for the British and had done great harm to the revolutionary cause. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Miller learned of this and thus traveled by foot to meet with Gen. George Washington, the commander of the revolutionary forces. He requested that the venerable Washington pardon Wittman’s life. Washington patiently listened, but was unmoved by the plea and told Miller it would be impossible to pardon his friend.
“My friend? He is not my friend,” Miller retorted incredulously. “Why he is my bitterest enemy! He has persecuted me for years. He has beaten me and spit in my face knowing full well that I would not strike back. Michael Wittman is no friend of mine.”
Washington could not believe what he was hearing. “Tell me, why is it that you ask the pardon of your worst enemy?”
Miller replied, “I ask it because Jesus did as much for me.”
Washington was stunned. He quietly had the pardon written up and given to Miller, amazed at the man’s display of Christian love.
It is said that Miller quickly traveled back just in time to see the condemned man walk to the platform to be hanged. The traitor bitterly yelled out, “Old Peter Miller has come to seek his revenge by watching me hang!” Of course, Wittman himself was utterly astonished when Miller came forward and produced the pardon to the executioners that spared his life.
Miller was simply imitating the love of God the Apostle Paul enjoins Christians to have for others. That sort of love was exemplified by God’s Son Jesus Christ. Paul says in Ephesians 5:2 that Christ “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”
Although Peter Miller helped to secure Wittman’s pardon, some would say justice was not done because Wittman went free without paying for his crime. That is not true in what Jesus did for those who come to Him for pardon of their own crimes, the crimes we commit every day when we mistreat one another and fail to live up to the moral standards God has set for His creatures.
Jesus came before the executioners with more than the pardon papers. He came to take the place of the Wittmans of the world at the hangman’s noose. His death on the cross secured God’s satisfaction that the demands of justice against the penitent’s transgressions have been fully met. Christ willingly sacrificed His life that our sinful lives might be saved and fit for eternal glory.
We as humans do not deserve such grace, such astonishing forgiveness for undeserving criminals. Yet this is the way God’s love looks to those who will humbly acknowledge their traitorous way of life by repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ for their pardon.
Scott Christensen is pastor at Summit Lake Community Church.