Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Does Jesus' Prayer "Father, Forgive Them" Mean for Us?

From Luke 23:

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

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

I wonder. Did Jesus, in pain, as He hung upon the cross, weak from the beatings He had received, whisper, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Or did He gather whatever bit of strength that He had left and shout, "FATHER, FORGIVE THEM! THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING!"?

What would it have been like for the Pharisees and the priests and the Roman soldiers to hear Jesus utter this prayer? Would they have been suddenly struck by a sense of guilt – that they had tortured and mocked and killed this man who was now pleading for them? Or would their hearts have become even harder?

What would it have been like for His disciples to hear Jesus utter this prayer? Would they have resented such a sentiment? Would the anger and hurt that they must have felt toward their Master's false accusers have kept them from seeing the beauty of Jesus' words? Or would they have recognized the generous spirit of their Teacher and thought, "That's the Jesus I know! right to the very end"?

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

Jesus was often very polemical and very biting in His speech toward the Pharisees, especially when they came to test Him or to denounce Him. Yet He was always merciful toward His opponents as well. He prevented James and John from calling down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that would not welcome Him. He restored the ear of one of the guards who had come to arrest Him after His disciple cut it off. He drove several demons out of a man whom they had possessed, but then allowed the demons to enter into a herd of pigs, simply because they begged Him to. Now, Jesus is seen praying for those who were murdering Him.

Earlier, Jesus had delivered a sermon in which He taught people to love their enemies and to pray for those who were doing them wrong. Now, on the cross, Jesus is seen as perfectly embodying that command. He is living – and He is dying – what He preached.

Not only is Jesus seen praying for His enemies, obviously in an attitude of forgiveness toward them for His own part, but He is pleading with God for them. He is advocating on their behalf. While they are killing Him, He is speaking up for them, defending them. And I think we can believe that because Jesus was and is the Christ, because Jesus was and is God, His prayer, "Father, forgive them", was granted.

But the Pharisees were not the only enemies that Jesus had. The Pharisees were not the only ones responsible for putting Jesus on the cross. In Romans 5:10, we are called God's enemies before we were reconciled to God. Our sins separated us from God and even put us at enmity with God. And because of our sins – yours and mine - a perfect sacrifice was required to atone for and cover our guilt.

So Jesus, who was completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, came to earth and willingly suffered the death that was reserved for only the worst criminals in the Roman Empire in order to make peace between us and God, in order to reconcile us to God, in order to give us God's forgiveness.  "Father, forgive them…"

Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, saying,

"He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

And 1 John 2:1-2 reads: 

"If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

John is telling us that not only did Jesus become an atoning sacrifice for our sins, the One who takes our guilt and punishment, but He also speaks to the Father in our defense. He is our advocate, pleading with God on our behalf, just as He pled for the Pharisees and the priests and the Roman soldiers so long ago. And because Jesus is the Christ, because He is in fact God, His pleadings for us are effective.

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

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let Jim save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If You are the king of the Jews, save Yourself.”

Jesus could have saved Himself, couldn’t He have? He could have called the whole thing off and climbed down off that cross and healed His own wounds in an instant. But Jesus didn’t save Himself, because He was saving others, because He was saving us. The priests and the soldiers just didn’t get it. Thankfully, we do. Thankfully, we know that Jesus didn’t save Himself because He was doing it, He was dying, so that His prayer would be answered. “Father, forgive them.”

 38 There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The Romans meant that sign as an insult to the Jewish people, saying that once again they had put down a Jewish rebellion, showing that this man, this Jesus, who claimed to be king, had been defeated by the awesome power of Rome.

The thing is that Jesus was the King of the Jews. He was the descendant of King David and King Solomon. By birthright, He would have been king. But Jesus was so much more than that. He was God, and He was God’s Son. He was the King of the Universe, and His power was infinitely more than that of Rome. 

But in that moment on the cross, Jesus chose not to use any kind of political power, or military power. The power that Christ wielded on the cross was the power to stay where He was, despite the pain, the power to save you and me and anyone else who will give their allegiance to Him as their King. “Father, forgive them.”

 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 
  42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.”

The amazing thing here is that Jesus was about to die, and yet this criminal knew that Jesus was still going to have a kingdom. Because this criminal saw that Jesus was more than just a man, didn’t he? He got it - this criminal got it – when the priests and the soldiers didn’t.

 43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

Because this man had faith, Jesus says that he will be in paradise. “Father, forgive them.”

Paradise originally meant garden. It’s the same word used for the Garden of Eden – the Paradise of Eden. And in Revelation 2:7, Jesus says: 

“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

That Garden of Eden, that paradise, has been moved to Heaven, and because this criminal has faith in Jesus, even while Jesus is dying right there beside him, Jesus promises him that he will go to Heaven and walk in the Heavenly Garden of Eden. This man is forgiven because of his faith in Jesus. “Father, forgive them.”

We have also been forgiven, and we will also walk in the Heavenly Garden of Eden – you may know some people who are walking there now – because we also have faith in Christ, just as this criminal did.

Father, forgive us, and thank You for forgiving us. Amen? Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment