February 25, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: ‘Father, forgive them’” Luke 23:34

February 25, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: ‘Father, forgive them’” Luke 23:34

February 25, 2024

“Bible prayers: ‘Father, forgive them’”

Luke 23:34

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It’s been said that there are few more important words that anyone can speak than his last. And knowing what those words are can often shed light on their character or on the circumstances in which they died.

Take, for example, Leonardo da Vinci. Born in April of 1452, he was a master engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor, and architect of the high Renaissance. And while he’s best known for his paintings, he’s also known for his notebooks on a variety of subjects such as anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, geology, and paleontology.

His best known work is the Mona Lisa, what many call the most famous work of art in the world. The most reproduced religious painting of all time is his Last Supper. And the most expensive painting ever sold is his Salvator Mundi, words that mean “Savior of the world.” Back in 2017, it went for a little over $450 million!

So what were his last words? Just before he died in May of 1519 at the age of 67, he said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

William Tyndale was not only an English Bible scholar, he was a linguist, fluent in French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, not to mention, of course, his native language, English. And after Luther translated the Bible into German, the language of his people, in 1522, Tyndale translated the Bible into English, the language of his people, four years later, in 1526.

There was just one problem--it was against the law. So after he was arrested and condemned to death by being burned at the stake, he shouted out loud and clear, “Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes!”

British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, died in his garden at the age of 71. And just before he died, he turned to his wife and said, “You are wonderful.” Thomas Edison said, “It’s very beautiful over there.” And Edgar Allen Poe said, “Lord, help my poor soul.”

And as Jesus lay dying, He too spoke words, seven words, from the cross--seven statements of a dying Man to a dying world. And it’s these words that reveal the heart of the Savior.

The first three were spoken between the hours of 9:00 in the morning and noon--”Father, forgive them”...”Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” and “Woman, behold your son.” And four more were spoken between noon and 3:00--”My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”...”I thirst”...”It is finished” and “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Before we go any farther, it’s important to understand what has already taken place. Just as soon as the Last Supper had ended, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He fell facedown to the ground in prayer and poured out His heart in deep spiritual anguish. Sweat like drops of blood fell to the ground.

Then men came to arrest Him. They bound His hands, covered His eyes, beat Him, and mocked Him. And as He endured the mockery of a trial, He was exhausted from lack of sleep, dehydration, ridicule, and abuse.

In an attempt to appease the crowd, Pilate had Him scourged. Bits of metal and bone were raked His back, tearing muscle and tissue, shredding it to ribbons, causing deep bleeding.

And if that wasn’t enough, soldiers wove a crown of thorns and pressed it down hard onto His head. A purple robe was thrown across His shoulders and a stick was shoved into His hand. And as they beat Him and spit on Him, they mocked Him shouting, “Hail, O King of the Jews.”

Then they crucified Him. Soldiers laid the crossbeam behind Him and held Him flat against the ground. They took square-cut iron nails, raised a hammer, and after a few precise blows, pounded His flesh into wood. Then they took hold of His legs, placed one foot over the other, then nailed them both to the cross. And when they were sure He couldn’t free Himself, they thrust Him high up into the air.

And so it was done. Our Lord was crucified.

As one author wrote: “Man had done his worst. The One by whom the world was made had come into it, but the world knew Him not. The Lord of Glory had tabernacled among men, but He was not wanted. The eyes which sin had blinded saw in Him no beauty that He should be desired.

“At His birth, there was no room in the inn, which foreshadowed the treatment He was to receive at the hands of men. Shortly after His birth, Herod sought to slay Him, and this intimated the hostility His person evoked and forecast the cross as the climax of man’s enmity.

“Again and again His enemies attempted His destruction. And now their vile desires are granted them. The Son of God had yielded Himself up into their hands. And though His judges found no fault in Him, they yielded to the insistent clamoring of those who hated Him as they cried again and again, ‘Crucify.’”

And as life ebbed slowly out of his bruised and beaten body, He did the one thing He could do. He prayed.

And what did He pray for? He could have prayed, “Father, they’ve nailed Me to a cross. I came to save them, and look what they’ve done to Me!” And He could have prayed, “Dear Father, I know all this is meant for the salvation of Your people, so please give Me strength to endure it.”

But He didn’t pray either of those prayers. And instead of thinking of Himself or His own needs, He thought of those whose souls were in much greater peril than His own.

And so above the insults of Annas and Caiaphas, above the noise of the street and the shouting of the crowd, He lifted up His voice to heaven and prayed, “Father, forgive them forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Strange words from a dying Man--”Father…”

But isn’t that the way it always was? When He was just a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus confounded His parents and the teachers of the law. He said, “Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). And to the moneychangers changing money in the temple, He said it again: “How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16).

But “Forgive?” There are a lot of things we can do about sin. We can be sorry for it. We can regret it. We can weep over it. And we can offer to pay for what our sins have done. But it was Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, who called out to heaven and said, “Father, forgive…”

And notice--the verb Luke used when he recorded these words signifies that Jesus prayed repeatedly for their forgiveness. It wasn’t just a one-time request. Instead, as the nails tore through His tendons, sending jolts of pain rushing throughout His body, He closed His eyes and prayed, “Father, forgive them.” When they lifted up the cross, then dropped it into the ground, He cried, “Father, forgive them.” When they divided up His clothes, He exclaimed, “Father, forgive them.” And when the soldiers mocked Him and hammered a sign above His head, He cried, “Father, forgive them.”

“Forgive them,” He said. But who is “them”?

Think of the soldiers. They shoved thorns onto His head and drove nails through His hands and feet. They were taking His life, with no compassion.

Think of Pilate. Against all law, he had given the order for His crucifixion. Though he knew full well that Jesus was innocent of all crimes for which He had been charged, he sentenced Him to the cross.

And think of the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas, and the Sadducees, the scribes, and the Pharisees. They paid Judas for his betrayal. They sent soldiers to arrest Him in the Garden. They had people testify falsely against Him. They brought His case before PIlate. And they stirred up the crowd, demanding His crucifixion.

And think of you and me. We’re the ones who sent Him to the cross--our sins, our corruption, our weakness, our pettiness. As Paul wrote to the Romans: “There’s no one righteous. No, not one; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Yet He cries: “Don’t punish them, Father. Don’t hold this against them. Instead Father, dear Father, forgive them.”

But why? Why should the Father forgive them? Because they have mocked Him and spit on Him? Because they have pierced his head with thorns and driven nails through His hands and feet? Why should the Father forgive them?

“...for they know not what they do.”

Well, yes they did, didn’t they? Annas and Caiaphas knew what they were doing. Pilate knew what he was doing. And the soldiers--they knew what they were doing, didn’t they?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:8).

How many times have we said, “If only I had known what my careless words would have done. If only I could have seen the result of my anger and passion!”

In effect, Jesus was saying, “They think they are wise, intelligent, and shrewd. But Father, dear Father, they are children. They are bad and wicked children. They don’t know where their deeds will lead them. And they have no idea what their sin has done. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The story is told of a man who rushed up to a subway ticket booth and slapped his money down on the counter. When he didn’t immediately receive his token and change, he looked up to see what caused the delay.

And when he looked up, he saw the ugliest face he had ever seen, so he snarled all the louder, “Don’t just stare at me. Give me my change!”

It was then that he realized the booth was empty and the face he saw was his own reflection.

If you would see Jesus dying on the cross, if you would really see Him with the blood and horror of a sinless One condemned, it would be the most horrid, gruesome thing you could ever see.

But as you look at Him, know that it was your sin that nailed Him there. It was your sin that caused Him to bleed and die. Yet even in the pain and horror of crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Nearly four hundred years ago, a lawyer and poet named Ernst Homburg wrote this: “Thou has suffered great affliction and hast borne it patiently, even death by crucifixion, fully to atone for me; Thou didst choose to be tormented, that my doom should be prevented. Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus, unto Thee.”

As Your Son once prayed, dear Father, so we too ask You to forgive us for what we have done. Do not hold our sins against us. And when we fall and fail to live as Your children, forgive us, for we know not what we do. This we ask in our Savior’s name. Amen