WORDS FROM THE CROSS (1) “FATHER, FORGIVE…” LUKE 23:26-38
Jesus came with a new message, or, rather, a new emphasis on an old message. Israel had already been commanded to “not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18) When Jesus came He brought a new emphasis, a new motivation, to love – Matthew 5:44, 6:35 – adding (John 15:12) “as I have loved you.”
Such love is sacrificial, completely unselfish, as evidenced by Jesus’ willing obedience to the will of His Father, culminating in His death on the Roman cross.
This sacrificial love is demonstrated by the first recorded words of Jesus on the cross (34).
One has said “don’t get revenge, get even.” That is the world’s attitude; humiliation is an experience we abhor, even, often, when it happens to others. On the other hand, Jesus demonstrated the very opposite of that worldly attitude, putting into practice what He Himself had taught His disciples – that is to love even ones’ enemies.
Jesus told His disciples that there should be no limit to their forgiveness when wronged – Matthew 18:22. Refusal to forgive may result in not being forgiven ourselves when we wrong somebody – Matthew 18:35, Matthew 6:15 (following the introduction of Jesus’ pattern for prayer, the Lord’s Prayer.) So, what is forgiveness?
The Cambridge Dictionary (on-line) definition of “forgive” is “to stop being angry with someone who has done something wrong:” The Bible takes it further; it is the only religious Book that states that God completely takes away the sin of the penitent sinner. The Apostle Paul calls it “justification”, that is, making right in the sight of God. (For example, Romans 3:24, 5:1)
In human life, forgiveness surely includes the mending of relationships. The wrong has been owned up to, forgiveness (pardon) asked for and granted. The past friendly relationship can be restored; there is no more anger or resentment, the past is done away with. So it is in the Biblical sense. 1John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God’s anger at our sin is turned away, we are now at peace with Him.
Can one be forgiven without asking? In our human situation we may well decide to take to further action against another who wrongs us. But is that really forgiveness? It is debateable but it seems that the answer is “not really”. The person at fault must take three steps to put the situation right –
- Realise that they have done something wrong
- Own up to that fault and express regret (apologise)
- Ask for forgiveness
Hopefully the person wronged will respond and the relationship will be restored. Sadly, that does not always happen, of course.
However, the person coming to God in sincerity will never experience rejection; God is faithful, absolutely just and fair and will accept the penitent sinner who seeks His forgiveness; that person will be truly forgiven and “be cleansed from all unrighteousness.”
Let us look further at the prayer of Jesus, verse 34
- It was made on behalf of ignorant people – who did not realise what they were doing. (Acts 3:17) Although they had the Old Testament Scriptures they did not recognise Jesus as the promised Messiah.
- It was made to Jesus’ Father – it was He that had been wronged, Whose law had been broken; it was against this Law that the people were killing an innocent Person.
- As such, it was God, and only God, as the Person wronged, Who could forgive, and it was to Him that Jesus prayed.
- This prayer demonstrated Jesus great love and grace, to pray for His executioners as they were carrying out this gruesome task. “Greater love has no man than this…” (John 15:13) Jesus truly practiced what He preached.
- Jesus’ prayer was a fulfilment of prophecy, as was His crucifixion – Isaiah 53:12: “And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.”
Was Jesus’ prayer answered? We are not told; it has been suggested that His prayer staved off the judgement of God upon those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. It is possible that the siege and destruction of Jerusalem was deferred (until 71AD) to allow time for repentance, but these are speculations. (In passing, the Jews cried out and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25). They have paid the price many times over since.)
We should not take ignorance as a guarantee of forgiveness; the people were individually responsible for their actions. God will deal with all justly and righteously; all will be without excuse when He calls us to account.
Those and only those who have sought for and asked for forgiveness will be saved eternally.