“Father Forgive Them”

Pt. 1 of the Series: “Words from the Cross—for You!”

March 22, 2020


Luke 23: 26-34

As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
    and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.


We are in the season of Lent which is a time of penitence, a time when we look at ourselves and admit our sinfulness.  This is all in preparation for Good Friday when Jesus took our sins upon Himself and died to forgive us.  And, of course, that will lead to Easter Sunday and the glorious message that “He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!”  So, to have us come to grips with our sinfulness, starting on Ash Wednesday, February 26, we preached a series entitled, “Things Jesus Would Undo.”  Jesus would undo indifference and hollow worship, and hypocrisy, and spiritual pride in us.  Now, today, as we get closer to Good Friday, we are beginning a new series which is going to focus on the cross.  We are going to focus on what Jesus did on the cross for you and for me.  While Jesus was on the cross, He spoke 7 words, 7 phrases.  They are referred to as the 7 last words of Christ.  They are the 7 last words of a dying man.  In this series, we will look at 5 of them.  But, we will try as best as we can, to personalize these words, to direct these words to ourselves, to see what these words mean to you and to me. So, this series is called, “Words from the Cross—for You!”  “Words from the Cross—for You!”  Jesus’ words are for you!  The word from the cross we will look at today is, “Father Forgive Them.”“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Let me begin by reviewing with you   


  1. The Context


  1.  Events leading up to the cross


You know this.  On what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The people cried, “Hosanna to the highest,” God save us.  It was a joyous parade for the people, yet Jesus knew He was headed for the cross.  On Thursday of that week, He gathered in the Upper Room and celebrated the Passover with His disciples, instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion.  He went to the Garden to pray, was arrested and was tried—twice--by the religious leaders.  Without the judicial power to put Jesus to death, they hauled Him off to Pilate for another trial and to Herod for still another.  Finally, coming back to Pilate, the religious leaders, along with a crowd they incited, demanded Jesus’ crucifixion.  Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ guilt, or, he attempted to, and had Jesus scourged, a heinous beating with whips embedded with shards of pottery or stones.  Now, a bloodied mess, Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to the execution site, called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.  Unable to carry His own cross any further, a man, Simon from Cyrene, was forced to carry it up that hill far away.  Jesus was stretched out on that cross.  A soldier pressed a knee against Jesus forearm and struck the hammer, plunging a spike into the supple flesh of Jesus’ hand, then, the other hand and His then feet. 


  1.  Jesus’ prayer


It was either during the horrific act of the nails or shortly thereafter, that Jesus prayed His first word from the cross.  Let me speak it again;  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Close your eyes.  Imagine the scene and hear Jesus’ words; “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 


That was Jesus’ first word from the cross, His prayer.  That would not have been my prayer.  It is impossible to imagine the pain of what He endured, but if it were me, I’d be crying out.  I’d be screaming in agony.  I’d be calling on God to help me, to relieve me, to take the pain away.  I may have hurled invectives at these soldiers and at any and all of those who instigated this awful thing.  I may have warned, “You will get yours in the end.”  My prayer would not have been, “Father forgive them.”  It would have been more like, “Father kill them!  Destroy them!  Send your angels to obliterate them, to take them out!”  I would have been filled with pain, with rage and called on the Father to condemn them, to cast them into a fiery hell in no uncertain terms. 


But, that is not what Jesus said.  That was not His prayer.  Perhaps with a knee still lodged against His forearm, instead Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them.  Forgive them!”  Whereas my prayer would have been all about me, my pain, my retribution, Jesus’ prayer was about others.  His was an unselfish prayer.  He was not thinking about His own needs but other’s needs, for the very souls that were crucifying Him and maybe more than those, too.  Jesus was thinking of all those souls who were in much greater peril. You see, 


  1.  Jesus’ first word from the cross was motivated by love                


I want you to get that.  I want you to let that sink in.  With nails being pounded into His hands, with the dirision of the religious leaders, wirth the taunts of the crowd, with all eyes on Him, Jesus first word from the cross was not one of hate—it would have been understandable if it was.  No, Jesus’ first word from the cross was one of love, incredible, amazing love.  And, what did His love move Him to pray? 


  1. He Prayed for Forgiveness


The word in the original language literally means to send away.  Send away these sins.  Dismiss them.  Remit them. From a commercial perspective, it means “to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence.”  In legal documents it was used to cancel a debt that was owed or to release a person from an office.  In relationship terms, this word in the original was used to sever a marriage relationship. 


In spiritual terms, forgiveness means a release from an eternal debt, a releasing from spiritual and moral obligation, to dismiss, remit, release, cancel, send away all penalty for sin.  As far as the east is from the west.  Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.  He is speaking of a sin debt that is owed to God.  Which brings us to the next question;     


  1. Who is the “Them”?


“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 


To whom do those pronouns refer?  Who is the object of His prayer? 


  1.  Who is the “them”? 


Jesus could certainly be referring to 


  1. The soldiers


These men may have been part of a detachment that routinely put men to death. They may have been quite familiar with the process.  Oh, maybe the first few times they crucified someone, they were shaken.  But, these were hardened soldiers who may have come to the point where they destroyed a human life and did it without compassion. They may have even made sport of it. We know that they gambled for Jesus’ clothes.  He was not just praying that the Father would forgive these soldiers for nailing His hands and feet to the cross.  He was praying for forgiveness for all of their sins.  Jesus could have prayed for forgiveness for them.  Or, He may have been praying for those who orchestrated His death.  The “them” may have been someone like


  1. Pontius Pilate


He was the governor of Judea, assigned there by Rome.  Although the record shows some hesitancy on his part to put Jesus to death, he was still a ruthless ruler, intent on keeping the peace at all costs, lest Rome relieve him of his job.  In the end, it was political expediency that moved him.  He was pressured by the Jewish leaders, he heard the cries of the crowd.  Fearing a riot, he signed the death warrant of One who even he considered innocent. This self-serving politician could have been who Jesus was praying for.  The “them” may also have been


  1.  The religious leaders


They were the prime force behind the crucifixion.  Behind the scenes they had paid off Judas with 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus.  They sent the temple soldiers to the Garden to arrest Him.  They tried Him, beat Him, spat on Him, falsely accused Him before Pilate and stirred up the crowd to cry, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  Jesus could have been praying for them.  Speaking of Judas, the “them” may have been referring to


  1. Judas


A member of Jesus’ inner circle of 12, something went wrong, something turned Judas from follower to betrayer.  That something was Satan.  So, for money, Judas would dare to give Jesus over to the Jews.  Judas could have been the “them” in Jesus’ prayer.  What about 


  1. The passersby


They hurled insults at Jesus.  They didn’t just yell or speak or scream.  Max Lucado put it this way, “they hurled verbal stones.  They had every intention of hurting or bruising. ‘We’ve broken the body, now let’s break the spirit!’  So they strung their bows of self-righteousness and launched stinging arrows of pure poison.” [1]  When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” He may have been thinking of them.  But, there is one more possibility.


  1.  You and I


We are the real ones who sent Jesus to the cross.  You and I made the cross necessary.  Listen to the words from the prophet Isaiah.  Listen to his pronouns; 


“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5


It was for our sins that Jesus had to go the way of the cross 


“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  1 Peter 3:18


“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14


Forgiveness is why Jesus came on earth


“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45


Ultimately, we are the ones for whom Jesus was praying.  We are the “them” in Jesus prayer.  “Father, forgive them, forgive us, for we don’t know what we are doing.”  With our sin, with our falling into temptation, we are crucifying Jesus anew.  Jesus prays for forgiveness for you and for me. 


There’s one more part we need to deal with.  In Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” was He praying for them to be excused because of ignorance? 


  1. Is Ignorance an Excuse?


Well, we need to recognize that


  1.  These sins are terrible sins


The sins of the soldiers or Pilate or the Jewish leaders they are terrible sins. Our sins are terrible sins. Ignorance does not reduce the fact that they are still sins. 


A couple of years ago, I was driving to play golf with Mike Barkau and 2 other friends when I saw the lights of a police officer in my rear view mirror. He pulled me over and asked if I knew what the speed limit was.  I said that I didn’t.  Now, in my defense, I went back and looked for the signs and they were really hard to see. I mean this was a classic definition of a speed trap.  I pled my case with the police officer, inviting him to join us in our golf match and thinking I’d buy the pizza after the round.  Look, I was on my knees on the ground begging, “Mr. Police Officer, I didn’t know.  They hid the signs.”  The police officer was very nice about it.  He smiled.  He kidded with us.  He said he was on duty and couldn’t play golf with us.  Not that I was going to try to bribe him, but my pizza idea just went down the drain.  I figured ignorance of the law was my excuse and that would work.  He gave me the ticket.  And, when I appeared before the judge, he fined me.  I guess they didn’t take ignorance as an excuse.


Before God, ignorance is also not an excuse.  You can’t plead, “I didn’t know.”  I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to cheat on my income taxes.  I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to flirt with my co-worker.  (Now, you don’t have to worry about that because nobody is working face to face at an office.)  You can’t plead, I didn’t know I was supposed to make church a priority on Sundays.  There is no excuse for sin. 


Jesus was not praying for forgiveness because of ignorance.  No, God is a just God.  Every sin committed is an affront to Him.  This is not a prayer to forgive without repentance.  No, Jesus’ prayer was for forgiveness through repentance. 


  1.  Jesus’ prayer was an evangelistic prayer


In their ignorance, the people Jesus prayed for did not know the enormity of their sin.  We lose sight of the enormity of our sin.  Jesus’ prayer was for the people He prayed for to help them see that their sins were an affront to God and that they needed to repent of those sins.  His prayer was for them to seek forgiveness, and—here is the most important part of His prayer—His prayer was them to find forgiveness in the cross, in His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  His prayer is for all people to know, to believe that, as John tells us;


“…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7-9


In short, Jesus prays that the Father would bring these murderers, that He would bring Pilate and the religious leaders and Judas and the crowds, that He would bring every last person on earth to come to faith in Jesus so that every person on earth will receive grace. 


And, for you, dear Christian, for you who have witnessed the crucifixion in your soul, for you who put your trust in the redemption found only in the cross, for you dear friends in Christ, His first word from the cross becomes a statement of absolute assurance.  Jesus’ blood has forgiven all of your sins.  He has forgiven those hurtful words yelled in the heat of an argument. He has forgiven all your fears and doubts, especially now when you are tempted to let the fear of the Coronavirus overtake you.  He has forgiven your failure to pray or read your Bible.  He has forgiven your lack of compassion for your neighbors as they deal with this virus.  He has forgiven your fear about not having enough food or such mundane items as toilet paper.  He has forgiven every sin of thought, word or deed, sins of the past, sins of the present, sins in the future.  Just take it to the cross, dear friends.  Repent of your sin and take it to the cross and there, Jesus’ word becomes your word. There you are forgiven.   


That is what this first word from the cross is all about.  That is what Jesus prayed.  That is what forgiveness is all about.  Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them,” forgive us, not forgive us out of ignorance, but forgive us by pointing us directly to that one place, the only place where forgiveness is offered.  Point us to the cross, for Jesus speaks that first word from the cross, for you.


In Jesus’ name.




[1] “No Wonder They Call Him The Savior” by Max Lucado, pg. 23.