Father, Forgive Them Luke 23:34
This Lenten season we are going to look at the 7 statements Jesus made from the Cross on the day He died. We will follow an outline found in a book by Herbert Lockyer entitled “Seven Words of Love. Read John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. Because God loves us, He desires to have fellowship with us. Fellowship with God was built into our creation in His image, but fellowship lost when man entered into sin. So, God sent His Son Jesus to be our Redeemer. Every word from the Cross speaks of His love and of the degree that He was willing to go to pay the penalty of our sin and thus restore the fellowship He created us to have.
Read from Luke 23:34 the first words from Jesus on the Cross that day.
The Greek word Luke used to record “Jesus said” is in the imperfect tense, which is a tense used to describe something that happened in past and continues into the future. That has led many to believe that Luke was telling us that Jesus kept on saying that over and over.
Notice that His first word was addressed to God as “Father.” That was the way Jesus addressed God often in prayer and was the way He instructed us to address Him. The next time Jesus addressed Him, He did so as “My God, My God.” His final address from the Cross will once again be to His Father.
Jesus clearly practiced what He preached. He taught His disciples that they were to forgive those who despitefully persecute them or abuse them in any way. One day Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness and how many times one was to forgive. Jesus told him there was to be no limit to it either in terms of what was forgiven or how often. On the Cross, Jesus practiced what He told us we too should be willing to do.
I wonder how God felt about forgiving them. He forgave because that is who God is but consider the love displayed in granting that request. God had observed men totally mistreating His Son to the point that, as Isaiah described it, Jesus was unrecognizable. The Father saw the soldiers drive spikes into His Son’s hands and felt the pain Jesus felt. Think about how God the Father had to have felt when Jesus asked Him to forgive them.
Jesus asked His Father to forgive them. On other occasions Jesus Himself had forgiven sins. In Mark 2 a paralyzed man was lowered to Jesus through the roof of a house. In verse 5 Jesus told the man that because of his faith his sins were forgiven. That seriously upset the religious leaders who said only God could forgive sin. Jesus then announced in Mark 2:10 that He had the authority to do just that. But on the Cross, He completely identified with us, setting aside His prerogatives as deity so He deferred forgiveness to the Father.
Those words themselves were a fulfillment of prophecy. Read Isaiah 53:12. In fulfilling prophecy Jesus reminds us that the events of that day were not history spinning out of control but part of a plan that originated before the foundation of the world. It was God’s plan whereby salvation would be provided if man chose to sin. The very moment Adam and Eve sinned that plan was put into effect and was fully played out on the Cross.
In expressing His willingness for the Father to forgive, He was also telling us that He was accepting the events of that day. Read John 10:17-18. Jesus knew why He had come and knew the agony that He would face on the Cross.
Jesus said, “Father forgive them.” It is always good to consider who the “them” really were. Of course, it was the Roman soldiers who so cruelly drove the spikes into His hands. It included the Scribes and Pharisees who had plotted for nearly 3 years for that moment and instigated His arrest and insisted on His death. In some way it included the crowd who had, hours earlier, cried “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Pilate belongs on that list for, even though he found no fault in Him, he none-the-less ordered His crucifixion. The list should include the disciples who had fled that night in fear and were a part of His loving plea for forgiveness. We must include our names on that list. Was He not there for the sins of the whole world, and does that not include us? While not physically present that day we certainly were responsible, because of our sins, so that plea to the Father was for us also.
It’s too easy to read that Jesus asked God to forgive those who put Him there and think of the major sinners of our day. The men who planned the 9/11 attack or the group of ISIS soldiers who beheaded Christians and then sent out a video bragging about it need forgiveness for sure. But all of us need forgiveness for our sins. even if our sins seem small compared to others.
In the opening chapter of Leviticus Moses, the author, detailed the sacrifices God required of the nation in general. As the book goes on, the list of sacrifices moves from the overall need of the nation to the need of individuals. Read Leviticus 4:1-2 and verse 13. Note that even unintentional sins need forgiveness. After each sin is covered by a sacrifice we read that they were forgiven. “The word “forgiven” occurs 10 times in that chapter.” We know big sinners need forgiveness but sometimes we forget the smallest of sins need forgiveness also.
Note that no one asked Jesus for forgiveness. He offered it while we were yet sinners, while we were even unaware that we had sinned against Him. Never lose sight of the reality that God sought us out. We did not seek Him and in coming to Him we were not being somehow more spiritual or more deserving but simply responding to His offer to forgive.
Notice also that nothing is asked of those who are forgiven. Forgiveness has never come with a price tag on it to the one being forgiven, only to the one forgiving. Jesus simply asks God to forgive us and all we need to do is accept that forgiveness.
And He asked for forgiveness. Contemplate some of the things Jesus might have asked for. He might have asked that they would understand the folly of their decision and the ignorance by which they were acting. He might have asked that they would have wisdom, or that they might be changed so they would not act that way again. But no, He asked for forgiveness because that is man’s most urgent need. It was so He could provide forgiveness that He went to the Cross in the first place. Our greatest need is forgiveness and on the Cross, that was the first thing that Jesus had on His mind.
Finally note that while Jesus acknowledged that they did not know what they are doing, He did not excuse them on that basis. Ignorance of the law has never been a legitimate defense. Paul shared his personal testimony and wrote that before his experience on the road to Damascus he acted in ignorance as indeed all sinful men do. But ignorance is no excuse. Had ignorance been a legitimate excuse then the Cross would not have been necessary. Ignorant, yes, guiltless, never! The Cross was God’s way of making it legitimate for Him to forgive, for Him to show His love for us even though we had rebelled against Him and did not deserve it.
“Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” The Cross is all about forgiveness or as it is pictured in the Old Testament, atonement. Read Romans 6:23. Forgiveness is a gift but a gift that had to be purchased by God. All sin requires atonement. Major sins, minor sins, unintentional sins, they all require forgiveness. On the Cross Jesus lovingly paid for all sins. As we move through Lent, let’s take the time to contemplate the love of God that took Jesus to the Cross and the forgiveness He provided for us when He paid the penalty of our sins. We have been loved by God beyond measure and offered free forgiveness to all who ask. Our response to that love and what it offers is to love Him in return and seek to live as those who have been forgiven.