Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34 (NIV)
Jesus answered him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 (NIV)
Menelik was the king of Ethiopia from 1899 to 1913. He heard about a new device that could be used for dealing with hardened criminals, so he ordered one. When his new electric chair arrived he was severely disappointed that it wouldn’t work. It seems that Ethiopia would not have electricity for many more years. But Menelik was determined not to waste such an elaborate purchase -- he turned the thing into a throne. 
Another instrument of death was once a throne. It was located on a hill just outside the city gates of Jerusalem, and it also supported a king. This cross was for the forgiveness of the entire world. The great preacher, George Buttrick is credited with the saying: A cross was raised to silence the blasphemy that forgiveness is easy.
The people who gathered around that cross needed forgiveness. The thieves crucified with Jesus, the soldiers and religious leaders who had him killed all needed forgiveness. Even the disciples, disillusioned and doubting, needed the prayer of forgiveness; even his loving mother, Mary!
Sin is universal! When Jesus said, Father, forgive them... just what was He asking the Father to do...and is there any connection with us in the 21st century?
See the cross of forgiveness:
FORGIVENESS IS MORE THAN
BEING LET OFF THE HOOK…
IT’S THE RESTORING OF RELATIONSHIP
Humanly speaking, we cannot forgive like God. After the close of the War Between the States, Richmond was being occupied by Union troops. An elderly Virginia lady slipped and fell while walking down the street. A Union soldier gallantly rushed to her aid. As he helped her up, she glanced at that hated blue uniform; Thank you very much, sir. That’s kind of you, she said. If there’s a cool spot in Hell, I hope you get it.
God’s forgiveness is such that no matter how bad the sin (war) is that separates you from Him – when He forgives you He does it with a smile on His face, and open arms.
Jesus told the story of a prodigal son – arrogant, willful, wanting the fast lane. He took an early buyout on his inheritance and headed for the big easy. Jesus made sure to show us the waiting Father back at the farm, scanning the horizon for the wayward son. He was ready to forgive, ready to restore the relationship.
The prayer from the cross was the fleshing out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Love your enemies). Jesus practiced what He preached.
FORGIVENESS IS FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT
The thieves reacted differently to Jesus’ prayer. One hardened himself and joined the crowd’s railing. The other softened and put his life in Christ’s hands. Why? Why not? Do you recall Isaiah’s statement? He saw the Lord high and lifted up...and it caused Isaiah to fall prostrate and declare his own sinfulness. When Peter saw the power of Jesus he begged Him to depart. When people see the true Jesus -- king of kings, lord of lords -- it is not long before we must see our own need.
IT IS NECESSARY TO ASK FOR GOD’S FORGIVENESS
One of the realities about God is that He won’t force Himself on you. If you are going to be forgiven, it will be when you ask. On the tombstone of Copernicus (15th Century Mathematician) is the following inscription:
I do not seek a kindness given Paul,
nor do I seek grace given to Peter.
But that forgiveness which thou didst grant to the robber, that earnestly I crave.
WHEN YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR NEED FOR FORGIVENESS,
HOW DO YOU GET IT?
Do you recall the story of the prodigal? He went astray, deep into sin, but recognized his need and came back to his father. I have sinned was his opening statement. Immediately his father prepared a feast and the son was welcomed home.
The brother however, complained to the father, I have never sinned. This refusal to admit being lost slammed the door of the banquet...and it was the so-called "good" brother that did the slamming in his own face. Romans 10 makes it clear that we must admit our fault to God, and be willing to turn to him (...it is with your mouth you confess and are saved v.10).
It is never too late while you are drawing breath to make it right with God. As the man who was thrown from his horse later testified,
Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I asked, Mercy I found!
Do you recognize your need of God’s forgiveness? Ask and accept.
There was a time when I had severely overdone the Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan concept – Charge! Our credit cards suffered a meltdown! We were so far in debt even Jerry Falwell stopped sending requests for money. It was our fault; but we were headed for bankruptcy. We walked around like the living dead. Life was not fun – almost not bearable.
A dear couple (with whom I’ve been acquainted since before I was born) came to our rescue. They wrote a check – the debt was forgiven – no more harassing phone calls or ominous letters threatening to take away our firstborn. We were free!
When it comes to sin, that’s what the cross of forgiveness is all about!
1. Clifton Fadman, Gen Ed., The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes, (Boston; Little, Brown & Co, 1985), 396