Summary: An analysis of Jesus’ first word on the cross, as set forth in Luke 23:34, teaches us about forgiveness.
The people murdering Jesus did not deserve his prayer. On the contrary, they deserved his curse. They did not ask him to pray for them. In fact, they probably scoffed and laughed when they heard Jesus praying. Yet, this text teaches us that Jesus prays for those who neither deserved his prayer nor asked for it.
You know, there are none on earth who deserve this petition of Jesus. He prays for no one on the supposition that they deserve his petition. But, in great mercy, he prays for his guilty, undeserving enemies.
Jesus still prays for the undeserving today. Jesus still prays for those who do not ask him to pray. Jesus’ elect, while yet dead in transgression and sin, are the objects of his compassionate prayer, and even while they scoff at the Gospel, his heart of love is entreating the favor of heaven on their behalf.
Some of you think that only deserving people are the objects of God’s love and grace. The truth is that none of us are deserving of God’s love and grace. And the beauty of the Gospel is that it is the undeserving who are the objects of God’s love and grace. Do you see that? Jesus loves the undeserving. Jesus prays for the undeserving.
D. Jesus’ Petition Is for Forgiveness
Fourth, Jesus’ petition is for forgiveness. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.”
One might have expected Jesus to pray, “Father, curse them.” Or, “Father, strike them.” But Jesus doesn’t pray that. No, Jesus asked God to forgive his executioners for their heinous act. The specific request is for forgiveness.
Charles Spurgeon says that if we had no other description of Jesus, this text alone should convince of his deity. Moreover, it should evoke adoration and worship within us for a Savior who asks the Father to forgive sinners.
But on what basis does Jesus ask for the forgiveness of sinners? What is the ground or argument or plea on which his petition is based?
II. The Plea (23:34b)
The second part of Jesus’ prayer is a plea: “for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34b).
As Jesus looked at his executioners, what did he see in them to commend to the Father as the ground for his petition of forgiveness? Jesus saw their ignorance as a ground for his petition. If they had known who he really was, they would not have acted in ignorance.
The rulers did not understand God’s word and so they had not taught the people God’s word accurately. The people walked in darkness. They thought they were doing God a service in their actions by killing Jesus whom they took to be a blasphemer.
The Bible tells us that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Knowing this, Jesus asks God to grant forgiveness to the undeserving “for they do not know what they are doing.”
How, then, should we respond to Jesus’ prayer petitioning our forgiveness?
Some of you here may not be saved. And some of you have been ignorant when you sinned and you did not know who you were sinning against. You knew you were sinners, but you did not know the implications of your sin. Now you are becoming concerned about your eternal destiny. Remember, your ignorance does not excuse your sin. God cannot ignore your sin. That is why Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Your sin must be forgiven. But, your ignorance does give you a glimmer of hope. The God whom you have ignorantly forgotten is willing to pardon and ready to forgive. The Gospel is just this: Trust Jesus Christ who prayed for and died for the guilty, and you shall be saved.