By Thomas B. Shepherd
Stuart United Methodist Church
In this passage from Luke’s Gospel we see our Lord’s greatest work, his self sacrifice for the sin of the world. It is also on the cross that we hear our Lord’s last and greatest words. Some words live on!
A person’s last words are usually important. For those of us who have lost loved ones you know what I mean. We hang on to the last words of those dearest to us.
As Jesus was dying on the cross, he made seven statements, none of which should be taken lightly. But for today we will only focus on one “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Not much detail is given in the Gospels about the crucifixion. But have no doubt about it, it was a horrific scene and I, like the Gospel writers, will not go into all the gruesome details of how Jesus was treated or how they placed a crown of six-inch long thorns on his head and forced him to carry his cross to the place of execution. I’ll leave that to your imagination.
If you have ever watched “The Passion” by Mel Gibson you get a realistic glimpse of the torture he went through for us. The Gospel writers didn’t have to describe to their audience this scene for they had all seen Roman crucifixions.
What this scene displays is God’s love for us and our need for God’s Grace. The cross is about cost of sin and the payment required for forgiveness. It’s about God’s grace, mercy, and love. So let’s look at this scene in the lens of God’s eye. Jesus lays himself down as the sacrificial lamb for our sin and while on the cross he utters these words “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
According to the law, sin required a blood sacrifice. Yet, the blood sacrifice was imperfect and could not remove the sin, it only covered it. So the sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again.
Sin makes us alienated from God and as such; we are God’s enemies. But God’s love for us was, and still is, so great that even in our sinful state Christ made the perfect and final payment for our sin. And in his grief and agony we see Jesus do something remarkable: he prays for those who were killing him.
Did you hear that? He prays for his enemies. He didn’t pray “Father get me off of this thing.” He didn’t pray “Father destroy them.” He could have but he didn’t. Instead he prayed “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” His request was not for Himself but for “them” and us. He spoke out of the abundance of his heart and his heart is for those who are in desperate need of forgiveness.
The point is we were all against him. He prayed for his enemies for those who abused him—period. That’s the point. And in doing so, he models his own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:43-48. Stephen displays a similar prayer in Acts 7:60 as he was being stoned to death he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” They didn’t know what they were doing.
The Old Testament prophecies had reached their fulfillment in him and were sufficient to identify him as the One sent from God. But they were still ignorant of the purpose for the Cross. In Isaiah 53:1-12, which was written over 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah prophesied at least 10 things about the suffering servant. At the cross Jesus fulfilled each of these prophecies precisely. This was God’s perfect plan which as foretold was played out but they didn’t get it and Satan still blinds people today. (See 2 Corinthians 4:4.)
Jesus knew that sin had blinded the people to the truth. To the blind it was as if it was all over. They were thinking “Our hope has been in vain!” But the truth is Jesus had to die—atonement had to be made and this was God’s perfect plan. It wasn’t ignorance of who he was, but of what he was doing on the cross.
Likewise, the devil blinds people to the guilt of their sin. If you were to ask someone randomly if he was certain that he would go to heaven when he died you might get a response of “I hope so.” And if you were to ask them if they knew that they were a sinner you would probably get, “Well, I’m not a bad person, I’ve never killed anyone.” Or maybe, “I am a good person I’m not that bad.” It is as if they are saying “I’m a good sinner.” Imagine that!
That’s like saying you are a good law breaker. Ignorance is not innocence. Sin is still sin and needs forgiveness and if the truth be told, it was not just those who were present and engaged in the crucifixion of Jesus who was guilty of nailing him to the cross. In a very real sense, we nailed him to the tree for we are all sinners according to Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
But thank God when he was on the cross we were on his mind. Remember, no one is good enough to save himself and no one is so bad that God cannot forgive him.
Forgiveness is what the cross is all about. God’s plan of redemption was costly indeed. That’s not cheap grace!
Have you been forgiven? If so we need to take the Lord’s example to heart and forgive others. Have you ever said, “I can’t forgive them because ….” he word “forgive” means to cancel a debt or to pardon a loan. It’s to give grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to forgive. It isn’t. The key to forgiving others is to understand how much Christ has forgiven you. And to put the icing on the cake so to speak, Jesus demands our forgiveness of others so we can be forgiven. Matthew 6:14-15 “14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
So go ahead and hold on to that anger, resentment, or grudge but it may very well cost you dearly. Learn to forgive! Just let it go. Some things are more important than your pride. Why not just learn from the savior and forgive as he has forgiven you. We need to pray daily “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”