Jack Graham - Father, Forgive Them
We are now on our way to Easter. And on this journey to the empty tomb we come to the cross. We're going to spend the next six weeks at the cross, and hear the heart of God. God speaking, Jesus the Son of God in His statements from the cross, these cries that Christ offers from this altar of sacrifice, that we may know who He is and who God is. There are various times in which Jesus tells us who He is. Or others tell us who Jesus is, whether it was announcements of His birth by angels, whether at the miracles of Jesus when people confessed Him as the Son of God. No one ever spoke like Jesus and so the great words of Christ penetrating people's hearts, declaring Him, demonstrating that He is the Son of God and God the Son. When Peter responded to Jesus' question, "Who do men say that I am?", he said, "You're the Christ, the Son of the living God". And Jesus said, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven, the Spirit of God has revealed this to you".
And so throughout the Gospels, throughout the Word of God we're told who Jesus is, and therefore, what God is like. Because Jesus, the Son is come to tell us who the Father is and what He is like, and how we can know Him. But it comes into the sharpest of all focus in that Jesus at the cross declares who He is and how we can know God. We know who God is and what God is like, and we see the heart of God most powerfully in the life and the words of Jesus at the cross; at the cross where the innocent One is dying, among the transgressors and between two thieves. We've never seem a crucifixion except on film. We've never seen a public execution, much less a cruel crucifixion. But a crucifixion was the most shameful and disgraceful death of all. It was devised and adapted by the Romans as a public display of their power, to crush resistance, to deter crime, and so crucifixion was common in the day of Christ. In particular Jews were crucified over and over again. And Jesus was led to a cruel death on the cross. Not dying for His own crimes, but for the crimes of others.
Isaiah 53:5 "He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities". Death on a cross was torturous; it was brutal, and agonizing. A man would literally suffocate in his own fluids, dying on a cross. Or else, die from exposure or the loss of blood. The cross, crucifixion was intended to prolong death as long as possible so that ultimately a man would beg to die. Death would become a delight for someone dying on a cross. But on this cross, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, we see one who is in charge of His own destiny. Even though He was placed into the hands of sinful men, yet, Jesus the Son of God is in control of all that goes on around Him. At the cross there were mockers and scoffers and the Romans themselves who crucified Him, who viewed Him as a failed king, just another uprising among the Jews, just another Jew to put on the cross. Around the cross, at the cross were the religious leaders, the religious establishment who talked together and conspired together to condemn Jesus to death ultimately at the hands of the Romans.
And then there was curious crowd, the indifferent who just came by to see the latest crucifixion on their way to somewhere, and then they gathered and they watched Him there. Of course, there were a few friends and family members at the cross. But ultimately at the cross, we focused on the one be who is on that cross. Who is this One dying on the cross? We never see who His is and what He is like more clearly than in the first words spoken by Jesus. The first of these seven statements that He makes upon the cross.
Luke 23:33 and 34: "And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do...'" We have a saying, to err is human and to forgive is divine. Jesus declares and demonstrates His deity with these words: a plea, a prayer that He offers to the Father. He demonstrates His identity with the Father as the Son of God. He never lost a sense of His Sonship on the cross. He entered with words of affirmation to the Father: Abba, Daddy, Father, words that He used. He endured suffering when He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me"? And when He expired, He committed His life to the Father. Luke 23:46 "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit". But through and through the long six hours from 9:00 AM in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, throughout those hours He stayed in perfect fellowship with the Father. And He cries out, He prays, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do".
Here we see the heart of God, to give love and mercy, grace, forgiveness. Jesus is telling us from the cross why He came and what He can do for all, and that is to forgive. Jesus came to forgive our sins, to save people from their sins, to save people who are far, far from God, including those who even tortured and put Him on the cross! He announces His forgiveness that He was dying to give. Here is One who died like no other. He did not die in His sin, but He died for sin! Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"! He did not die because of His own sin, but because of the sins of others: yours and mine. And so when He exclaims, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they do," this is Jesus with His arms open wide, saying "I love you and I will forgive you if you come to Me at the cross".
It is written in a way that suggests that He repeated these words again and again. Jesus apparently said, "Father, forgive them," throughout His experience on the cross, His death and dying on the cross. When they nailed Him and impaled Him on the cross, dropped Him in that jagged hole, He was crying out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". When they mocked Him, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". When they spit upon Him, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". He could have said, "Father, condemn them"! He could have called ten thousand angels to deliver Him! But rather than saying, "Father, condemn them". He said, "Father, forgive them". What amazing love!
J. C. Rile said this: "As soon as the blood of the great sacrifice began to flow, the Great High Priest began to intercede". Jesus is the Great High Priest who is praying for us then, and now. Somehow Jesus found strength and courage to pray at the cross. As I told you, death on a cross was so torturous and you would die because of asphyxiation, you would suffocate. So it was almost impossible to breathe, so you could somehow lift yourself up, if there was a little pedestal there.
And remember, I said the Romans wanted you to linger as long as possible and to die as painful and anguishing a death as possible. Some would last for multiple hours, even days on a cross. But you could somehow lift yourself up on this little pedestal and get air in, in order to speak. And somehow Jesus was able along the cross's terrible way to speak, and His first words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." reminds us that prayer is always possible for the believer and follower of Jesus because we have a God and a Father who cares about us. And in severe crosses and extreme losses sometimes we feel, "God, are You there? I don't know how to pray; I don't know what to say".
But remember Jesus who prayed for forgiveness to all who would come to Him. And no matter what you're facing in your life, no matter how difficult the pain and the anguish in your life. If you can barely breathe! Pray, no matter what. Pray as long as you live. Pray on the last day of your life. We ask for whom was Jesus praying? For whom was Jesus praying when it says, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do". What does that mean? Well, He is certainly praying for the soldiers. He was certainly praying for the religious establishment, those who crucified Him, the immediate surrounding persecutors. He prayed for them. He said, "They do not know what they do", those who crucified Jesus in arrogance and those who crucified Jesus in ignorance.
Some said, "We will not have this Man to reign over us"! They crucified Him in arrogance. But they crucified the Lord of glory because they didn't know what they were doing. They could have never understood the enormity of their sin and the consequences of their sin. They could have never imagined what they were doing in crucifying Jesus! Some didn't know who He was. They should have known who He was. He told them who He was as He stood on trial as He stood before men, He clearly announced His deity, His Sonship. They should have known but they refused to believe. They were blinded by their sin. Just like people today who are blinded to the truth and the reality of who Jesus Christ is! They choose their sin over the Savior. Ignorance is no excuse.
The other day I was driving to the church, about a month ago I was driving to the church and I came a back way that I normally don't travel, and I'm going down the thoroughfare and I was driving the speed limit, 45 miles an hour in this particular area. Then I took a turn to get to the church and what I did not realize and did not see that there are a couple of signs on the little side road where I was cutting through that took the speed limit from 45 to 30. I found out that it was a 30 mile speed limit when I got pulled over by a nice officer and he asked me, "Sir", You know you're getting a lot older when the policemen look like their about 16 and call you sir, right. But he said, "Sir, is there any reason you were driving so fast"?
I don't know why they ask that question. I know better than to give an excuse. Alright. So I just said, "No, sir, I just wasn't paying attention to the speed limit". I was still driving 45, but I was over the speed limit. So I got a nice ticket, just to remember what the speed limit is at that particular place. I didn't know! I thought I was innocent! But I was guilty! And ignorance didn't save me from the consequences of my actions! So when it comes to the cross we cannot plead ignorance. "We didn't know"! And yet, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do". We see His amazing grace and desire to forgive all, even those who crucify Him. Jesus is interceding and He is inviting all to receive His forgiveness. He will forgive anyone who repents of sin and receives His grace. He gives hope for every poor undeserving sinner.
So when He prays, "Father, forgive them," who is the "them"? "We" is the them! In that personal pronoun! It is a blessed pronoun! "Them"! means you, we can be forgiven of every sin! Do you not think if Jesus would pray to forgive those who committed this unconscionable act of defiance and rebellion and brutality against Him. Do you not think that if He would choose to forgive them, that He would choose to forgive you? Hear His prayer, receive His pardon! This is the last invitation of the Bible! "Whosoever will may come"! Jesus died for the sins of the whole world! "Father, forgive them... Father, forgive them... Father, forgive them"!
These words echo through the generations! Thunders in our souls today! Did God the Father answer this prayer? Yes! And He's still answering it today. One of the thieves that we'll talk about next week, as Jesus spoke and interacted with these two thieves crucified, one on the right, one on the left, one of the thieves believed, and I can't help but think that what drew this thief to Jesus: the dying, believing thief was hearing these words: "Father, forgive them". A guilty man who knew he deserved to die, he hears Jesus praying to the Father to forgive? And he said, "I want to be forgiven. Remember me when You come into Your kingdom".
When it was all said and done, and Jesus died and committed His Spirit to the Father, a hardened Roman soldier had never seen a man die like this one had died! He said, "Surely this Man was the Son of God"! It must have been the mercy of Jesus and the forgiveness of Jesus that would forgive that man before he even asked that brought him to confession and declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. And, yes, God is still answering that prayer of Jesus today. In fact, did you know that Jesus is still praying? Not on a cross, but at the throne of God! For Hebrews 7:25 says, "He always lives to make intercession for them". So He died interceding for us and He lives interceding for us! He is praying for our forgiveness.
The portrait here is of a defense attorney standing before the bar, standing in our defense at the judgment bar, interceding for us, interacting with us, praying and pleading for us that we would be forgiven. What a prayer! To God the Father who freely forgives all who receive His Son. Jesus is praying on this altar of sacrifice, bearing our sins and He's pleading His own blood. And the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin! His death secures the promise of forgiveness!
Forgiveness is free, but it cost God His only Son! Forgiveness is not cheap; the consequences of sin is death, but Jesus paid the debt that we owed in order that we might be forgiven! "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". And if you have received His forgiveness and mercy then there's only one thing that you can do. Having repented of your own sin and received God's grace and mercy by trusting in His Son and Jesus only to be your Lord and Savior, there's only one thing for us to do, and that is to forgive others, to live a life of forgiveness because those who have been forgiven forgive.
My friend Erwin Lutzer says, "You know forgiveness is a marvelous idea unless you're the one who has to do it". All of us have been hurt and damaged by people, sinned against, and broken by other's sin. Perhaps you're thinking there is no way that I can forgive because of this, or him or her or this. You probably know by now, if you know me, that I had to deal with that question as a young man when my father was brutally murdered. I had to decide if I was going to live in bitterness or live in forgiveness. And we all do.
You say, "I can't". Yes, by God's grace you can. And I stand as a testimony to say it's true, that God will give us the grace and His love to forgive others. This is at the heart of the cross. We talk about picking up the cross and following Jesus. I can think of nothing more centered in the cross than forgiveness. If you're carrying the cross, you're offering forgiveness. These words mark the lives and the testimonies of the Disciples of Christ: to forgive your enemies, to forgive those who hurt you, and to pray that they will be forgiven by God the Father through Jesus our Lord.