“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”--Lk 23:34
There hangs the humble King of heaven and earth: hands and feet nailed to a cross, face swollen and bloodied from the thorny crown and soldiers’ fists, his back bare and torn pressing to and sliding on the rugged beam, his body shamefully exposed, and his ears receiving the vicious slanders of his scoffers. In his trials before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate Jesus barely spoke a word, so these first words of our Saviour from the cross ought to resound in our souls the glad tidings of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
No rage-eyed stares. No threatenings or exchanged insults. Not even a word of self-justification. Rather, Jesus’ first words in the agony of crucifixion are words of forgiveness. He himself had said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). Oh, how abundant are Christ’s heart-springs of mercy that gushed out in this prayer for his enemies! How pure and deep his soul’s well of self-forgetting love that drew up, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear such gracious words? Scripture doesn’t detail for us the full impact that this gospel prayer had on all of these Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers, and spectators, but can there be any doubt that at least some of them were part of the 5000 new believers mentioned in Acts 3:11-4:4? Surely they were. Note: remember that God answers prayer in the wisdom of his time, so let us not be deterred when we don’t see answers quickly. Time can not erase the prayer of faith.
But wait, let’s not forget that our sins also spewed out blasphemy; our rebellion shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And yet, amazingly, if we have repented and are resting solely in this crucified, now risen Lord of grace then we too were the objects of Jesus’ gracious intercession. We are the happy beneficiaries of “such love, such wondrous love” that flowed from the heart of the forgiving Saviour. Do you know him?
“Father, forgive,” the Saviour said,
“They know not what they do.”
His heart was moved when thus he prayed,
For me, my friends, and you.
He saw that as the Jews, abused
And crucified his flesh;
So he, by us, would be refused,
And crucified afresh.
But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,
And shed his precious blood,
To satisfy the holy law,
And make our peace with God.
My sin, dear Saviour, made thee bleed,
Yet didst thou pray for me!
I knew not what I did, indeed,
When ignorant of thee.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.