Father, forgive them (Luke 23.34)
The Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten, eternal, and beloved Son of God, came into the world to save sinners (Lk 19.10; 1 Tim 1.15). All through His life He did the will of God His Father (Jn 6.38; Lk 22.42), and it was His Fathers will that He should be crucified, suffer, die, and be raised again the third day (Acts 2.23,24; 1 Cor 15.3,4). On the cross He, the sinless One (Heb 4.15), bore the sin of the whole world (Jn 1.29; 1 Jn 2.2), and now all believers "have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1.14).
Father, forgive them
Before being crucified, the Lord was tortured. He was beaten, spat upon and mocked (Mt 27.27-31), but He did not threaten, resist, ask for mercy, or attempt to retaliate (1 Pet 2.23). The Lord, the holy, sinless One, did not hate His persecutors and murderers; He loved them and had come to bear the penalty and guilt of their sins.
At the beginning of His public ministry the Lord prayed (Lk 3.21). During His time on earth the Lord spent much time in prayer to His Father, and at the end of His earthly ministry, as He was being crucified, He prayed again saying, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23.34). This was the first of His seven utterances on the cross and, as the eternal Son of God, He prayed to His Father on behalf of others. When Stephen was dying as a martyr, he prayed first for himself and then for his persecutors (Acts 7.59,60). On the cross, the Lord prayed for Himself last of all when He cried, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23.46).
The way the Lord was treated, both before and whilst He was on the cross, revealed mans enmity towards Him. He suffered the violence and the mock trial, but no one could find any fault in Him (Lk 23.4,14,15). He was hated without a cause (Jn 15.25), and He revealed His mercy, grace, and compassion, and His love for His enemies by praying for them this great intercessory prayer.
Before we were saved we were all enemies of God (Rom 5.10; Col 1.21), but peace was made "through the blood of his cross" (Col 1.20). When His precious blood was flowing, the blood that cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1.7), it was then that the Lord said, "Father, forgive them".
He had come into the world that He might glorify His Father, be crucified, and suffer and die as a substitute for sinners. His hour was now come (Jn 12.27), and He was being crucified, but still He prayed for others. There is great encouragement here for believers who are no longer able, because of infirmity or age, to move around in the Lords service. The days that are left may be used to the glory of God and the blessing of believers and those who are lost by engaging in a ministry of prayer and intercession.
It had been prophesied that the Lord would make "intercession for the transgressors" (Is 53.12), and in fulfilment of this prophecy He made intercession, praying to His Father on behalf of transgressors. Only God can forgive sins (Mk 2.7). The Lord Jesus Christ is God and He forgave sins (Mt 9.2; Lk 7.48). Why then, on this occasion, did He pray to His Father instead of Himself forgiving sins? We read in Matthew 9.6 that "the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins". But now He had been "lifted up from the earth" (Jn 12.32). He was on the cross as our substitute. He was suffering "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet 3.18). The Lord, on the cross, took the punishment due to those for whom He interceded. He was hanging on a cross to be made a curse so that He might redeem believers from the curse of the law (Gal 3.13). He made intercession for the transgressors when He was numbered with them (Is 53.12). In praying to His Father for His enemies He was carrying out His own teaching for He had said, "Love your enemies...and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Mt 5.44). The holy, sinless One did what He taught (Acts 1.1).
The Lord prayed "Father, forgive them". We must ask ourselves the question, "For whom was He praying to His Father?" He was certainly praying for those who had tortured Him and nailed Him to the cross, but the prayer would also cover all the people who had cried, "Crucify him" (Mk 15.13). The Lords suffering, death and resurrection made available Gods forgiveness and salvation to all who would repent and accept Him as Lord and Saviour. Soon after the Lord uttered this prayer the repentant thief was saved (Lk 23.43), the centurion and those with him (Mt 27.54), and, possibly, at least some of those who "smote their breasts" (Lk 23.48). Then there were "about three thousand souls" (Acts 2.41) saved when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. This contrasts starkly with the "about three thousand men" (Ex 32.28) who were slain soon after the Law was given and broken.
For they know not what they do
To the words, "Father, forgive them", the Lord added "for they know not what they do". He was praying especially for those who did not realise they were crucifying the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord of Glory (1 Cor 2.8). We can sin presumptuously, that is, we can deliberately and knowingly sin against the revealed will of God. On the other hand, we can, as a result of our sinful nature, commit sins without being aware of sinning. Whether we sin deliberately or because of our ignorance, we sin against a Holy God (Ps 51.4), and we need forgiveness. We learn in the Old Testament that atonement had to be made for sins due to ignorance (Lev 5.15,16; Num 15.22-26). David asked to be cleansed from "secret faults", and that he might be kept from "presumptuous sins" (Ps 19.12,13). The wonderful truth the believer can enjoy is that the sacrifice of the Lord procures forgiveness for all our sins, past, present and future. This is true whether we are aware of our sins or not, and even if they are presumptuous (1 Jn 1.7-9).
The fact that those who crucified the Lord did not realise what they were doing did not excuse their sin. The Lord prayed for them, and the ground of their forgiveness was the sacrifice the Lord made on the cross.
When Peter spoke to the people after the healing of the lame man, he said concerning the crucifixion of the Lord, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers...Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3.17,19). Speaking of peoples ignorance of what they were doing when they crucified the Lord, Paul said, " had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2.8), and he wrote concerning his behaviour before he was saved, "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim 1.13).
"God is love" (1 Jn 4.8), and He is the "God of all grace" (1 Pet 5.10), "rich in mercy" (Eph 2.4) and "full of compassion" (Ps 86.15). What infinite depths of love, grace, mercy, and compassion caused the Lord to pray, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do".
To be continued.