The Word of Forgiveness
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34
Imagine yourself nailed to a cross, after having been savagely beaten, mocked, shamed. Imagine further that you were innocent of all charges; indeed, the ones who deserved this death were all those who put you there.
What would your first words be? Complaining about the injustice of it all? Crying out for compassion? Cursing those who put you there?
Jesus’ first words were a prayer to his heavenly Father—that He would forgive them!
Let’s think this through from seven angles:
1) Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, not just by being on the cross, but in his High Priestly role of interceding for us (and yes, his prayer of forgiveness was for us who believe in him today, not just for those present at the crucifixion itself—John 17:20.) Hundreds of years before he was born, Isaiah prophesied concerning the coming Christ that he would “make intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). He is still doing so, my friends (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25.)
2) Jesus can forgive anything! Have you ever actually, really, committed a sin worse than nailing the Son of God to the cross? Remember, when Jesus took our sins to the cross, he didn’t miss any individual or any category of sin! See 1 John 1:9 and John 1:29.
3) Jesus lived and exemplified what he taught. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
4) Their sin was one of ignorance—Jesus said “they know not what they do”—and this was echoed by Peter in Acts 3:17: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” However, let’s be honest—oftentimes the sin that we desperately seek forgiveness for is willful; we know exactly what we are doing. Grace covers even these; for a perfect example, read David’s prayer of penitence after he committed adultery and arranged for a murder to cover it up (Psalm 51; see also Psalm 32.)
5) Remember that, though Jesus was fully God, he was also a full human. Consider what it would be like to be abandoned by your friends, accused by the religious leaders, condemned by the fickle crowd, and handed over to those who hate you by the governing authorities. As a man, Jesus must have sought comfort or understanding from someone; from anyone! In fact, Psalm 69 (a Psalm predicting the life and death of the future King) has Jesus saying in verse 20 “I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.”
6) We have noted—and it is true—that Jesus did not deserve to die as he did—indeed, he did not deserve to die at all, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23—and Jesus never sinned.) There is one often forgotten truth, however—Jesus did deserve to die; to suffer the wrath of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus actually became sin—he actually somehow, mysteriously, became all of the sins of all of the world and of all time! In this sense, as the embodiment of every sin ever committed, Jesus at that time did deserve to die; he was, for that time on the cross, actually not just identifying with sinners, but was sin itself!
7) You Are Forgiven! We need to end on this note; your sin has been paid for; it will never need to be paid for again. Remember, once you accept the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for you on the cross, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1.)