Father, Forgive Them
Paul once summarized the content of his message by saying, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The cross of Jesus is the center of the good news, and it ought to be at the center of the Christian life. Unlike the self-centered spiritualities of other religions (and much of pop Christian culture), true Christian spirituality is a cross-centered spirituality. As we seek to cultivate that kind of cross-centered Christian life together, for the next few weeks we’re going to reflect slowly on some of the words Jesus spoke from the cross as recorded in the gospels.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These are the first recorded words of Jesus from the cross in the gospel of Luke (23:34), and they show us that the compassion Jesus showed to sinners during his life did not wane or transform into rage as sinners put him to death. As He prayed so tenderly from the cross for the very people who were crucifying Him, Jesus was living what He had taught: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), as “sons of the Most High,” who “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
Ignorance does not excuse our sin. Like the people who crucified Jesus, we all know enough about God and His law to make us “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In fact, our ignorance is actually a symptom of our sinfulness. It’s our sin that blinds us. It’s our rebellion against God that makes us unable to see the truth or desire the goodness of God. Jesus was not making excuses for this, as though the people who killed him were not culpable. He was, however, showing compassion—tenderness towards the helplessness of their slavery to ignorance and evil.
As the Gospel went out through the apostles after Jesus’ resurrection, Christ’s patient forbearance was an important theme. In Acts 3:17-20, Peter tells the people of Jerusalem, “Brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance,” when they crucified Jesus. But he doesn’t go on to say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s okay, God understands, go about your lives.” He says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Grace-Based Action Point
One of my favorite hymn stanzas of all time says,
Five bleeding wounds he bears,
received on Calvary;
they pour effectual prayers,
they strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
(Charles Wesley, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” Trinity Psalter Hymnal #275)
As Christ interceded for the people who crucified Him, He is interceding for sinners still today—sinners who repent and trust in Him for forgiveness and deliverance. Apart from Christ, you are lost in your ignorance and sin. But Christ is a compassionate Savior. Not cruel or vindictive in his attitude toward sinners—He is tenderhearted, “kind,” like God the Father is, “to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Is that your attitude towards people who sin against you? So often our hearts rise up in self-righteous indignation against people who do us wrong, forgetting that Christ’s prayer when He suffered the ultimate injustice was, “Father, forgive them.”
Yours in Christ,
P.S. This song by Andrew Peterson reflects profoundly on Jesus’ words from the cross by intricately layering them together, which has helped me to hear and think about them in a fresh way. I’d encourage you to give it a listen!