‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ – Luke 23:34
The belief that Jesus suffered on the cross and died for the forgiveness of our sins lies at the very heart of Christianity. For many of us this discovery brought about a great change in our lives. Over the next few studies I would like us to think deeply about what the cross meant for Jesus. There were seven brief occasions on the cross when Jesus spoke and on each occasion we glimpse his thoughts and feelings. I hope we find these seven sayings inspiring, and even profound, as we engage with them one by one. By the end we should understand a little more of the heart of Christianity, and more clearly, the heart of Christ for us.
We shall look at them in order, starting with Luke 23:34.
Note first Jesus calls to his Father. By using the simple address ‘Father’, we are reminded that Jesus broke new ground in how a person could relate to the God of everything. The Bible tells us Moses walked with God and Abraham was a friend of God but nowhere in the Bible did anyone dare to call God their Father. But Jesus has a much closer relationship with God, he was more than a friend – he was family.
Note also Jesus calls for the forgiveness of his tormentors. We are not sure whom Jesus has in mind. Was it the brutal Roman guards, the jealous Jewish authorities, or was it even a prophetic prayer for the whole world? It’s always best to read the Bible in its context as far as possible and for my part the prayer is for unbelieving Jewish leaders, who had manipulated the Roman government to do their bidding. Offering forgiveness is an easy principle to understand until we have to do it. When we have been unfairly treated we want justice, if not revenge. If we do offer forgiveness then it is much easier to do long after the event, when tensions have calmed and memories have faded. What is remarkable here is that Jesus seeks the forgiveness of his abusers at the moment of their greatest violence against him.
Christ’s claim that the Roman and Jewish authorities were acting in ignorance is strange, when they seemed to know exactly what they were doing: ridding Jerusalem of a notorious troublemaker in a familiar way. But the Bible tells us they were crucifying the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8) and they were in great danger of God’s judgement. To reject Jesus’ claims is a serious matter, whether then or now. Yet remember Jesus prays to God for others, whether they are ‘saints or sinners’. Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail in a crisis (Luke 22:32). He gave his Holy Spirit to pray for Christians when words fail us (Romans 8:26). And Acts 6:7 records that many of the Jewish leaders later came to believe his claims and follow him.