Summary: I cannot give away what I do not have, and so we must first be forgiven in order to forgive. We must believe in God's free grace of forgiveness before we can be free to forgive those who sin against us.
If God did not pardon the guilty there would be no Gospel, for all have sinned and come short of
the glory of God. Even so, we feel there is a danger in being too merciful. Abraham Lincoln was
accused of this during the Civil War when he seemed willing to pardon just about anyone. He
would defend those who broke army regulations, and he would find alibis for those condemned to
die. One young soldier, for example, had gone to sleep at his post and was court marshaled and
sentenced to be shot. He was pardoned by Lincoln, who gave this defense: "I could not think of
going into eternity with the blood of that poor man on my skirts. It is not wondered at that a boy
raised on a farm, probably in the habit of going to bed at dark, should, when required to watch, fall
asleep, and I cannot consent to shoot him for such an act."
There was no question about his guilt, but though guilty he was pardoned. At another time 24
deserters were to be shot and warrants for their execution was sent to Lincoln to be signed. He
refused to do. The general went to Washington to see Lincoln. At the interview he said, "Mercy
to the few is cruelty to the many. These men must be made an example or the army itself would
be in danger." In spite of the forceful argument Lincoln replied, "There are to many weeping
widows in the United States. For God's sake don't ask me to add to the number, for I won't do it."
With complete knowledge of their guilt he pardoned them, and it was not because Lincoln was
ignorant of the law, for he was a lawyer. He was also not ignorant of the importance of justice, but
out of mercy he pardoned the guilty.
This is a parallel of what we see at the cross, though the mercy there was infinitely more
amazing. We see a king, who was also a lawyer, defending those whom he knows to be guilty.
But here it is himself who is also the victim of their sin and crime. Certainly no murder mystery
ever ended with a more surprising scene than this. Here the guilty are standing before the judge,
who is also the murder victim, and who is acting as their defending attorney pleading for their
pardon before he dies. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." He has
acknowledged their guilt, for if they were not guilty there would be no need for forgiveness. His
case then will not consist in proving them not guilty, but instead that even though guilty there is a
basis on which they should be pardoned. There are two questions we want to ask about this
defense Christ makes for the guilty sinners who crucified Him.
I. WHO IS HE DEFENDING?
It would be a confusing trial indeed in which one did not know who the defendant was. There
is some disagreement as to who is included in Christ's plea for mercy, but this is only because a
few authors cannot bring themselves to believe that even the cunning Jewish leaders were
included. All agree that the Roman soldiers are included, and that they are the least guilty of all.
They are victims of a power machine beyond their control. It is not theirs to reason why, but only
to do or die. They have orders to crucify this man, and whether they like the task or not they do it.
They could have refused and died, but what reason would they have for refusing to execute a man
that has been legally condemned by the state? How could they know that the only sinless hands
that ever were are now being nailed to a cross. It was certainly true of them that they knew not
what they were doing.
But did Jesus go further than this? Did He intercede also for the Scribes and Pharisees? Did
He include Ciaphus and Annas, and the cruel crowd that mocked Him? The vast majority of
commentators say yes, but a few say no. Are we to follow the majority and make this plea all
inclusive just because it is a majority opinion? The magnitude of this plea for mercy cannot be
determined by counting votes, but by searching the Scripture, and as we do we discover that the
majority view is not an opinion only but a conviction based on clear revelation.
In Acts 3 we read of Peter preaching to the Jews where he gives credit to Christ for the
healing of the lame man. He says of Jesus, "..whom you delivered up and denied in the presence
of Pilot, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and