Summary: This sermon explores the first amazing words from the cross... words of forgiveness.
Here we are at an horrific and dreadful scene.
We are standing on the hill they called the Skull, just outside of Jerusalem.
An innocent man has been falsely accused, unjustly sentenced, brutally beaten, and nailed by hand and feet to a rough wooden cross.
His blood is draining out of him.
He can hardly breathe – because that’s what a cross does to you.
Yet the first thing he says is “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. His first words from the cross are not accusations or damnations. His first words are a prayer to His Father.
I find myself with some burning questions as I read this account. Not least, How can He be so gracious to others when others have been so brutal to him? There is something amazing about this Man. Something so different from anyone we have ever met. There are other questions too.
1) What does Jesus mean they do not know what they are doing?
It looks pretty obvious to me what they are doing. They are executing a good man, a well-known Jewish man in the traditional Roman style of crucifixion. What does Jesus mean, they don’t know what they are doing? They’ve crucified people many times before. There must be something else going on here. What were they doing?
And if we look, the clues are there in the passage.
They cast lots for his clothing, v34. That was prophesied in Psalm 22.
He was crucified with criminals, v33. That was prophesied in Isa 53.
Isaiah 53 – the chapter that says, “he was pierced for our transgressions... the punishment that brought us peace was upon him... the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”.
In Acts chapter 2:23 Peter tells the Jews, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him on a cross.”
God set purpose and foreknowledge.
God had revealed it through the prophets.
God’s plan was unfolding.
God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
God’s plan of substitutionary sacrifice.
God’s plan to deal with human rebellion and sin.
They didn’t know their evil actions were fulfilling the eternal plan of God.
They didn’t know that they were killing...
the glorious Lord of heaven and earth,
the One before whom one day every knee will bow.
He was right, they could have known, but their eyes were closed.
They absolutely did not know what they were doing.
They didn’t get it.
Do we get it?
That this is real and not a fairytale?
That God is actually working out his plan in human history?
Are our eyes open?
2) But another burning question is this: Who is Jesus asking the Father to forgive when he says Father forgive them?
Is it Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross and thought they were just doing their job?
Is it Judas who betrayed him?
Is it the Jews, who screamed crucify him?
Is it Pilate who acquiesced to his death?
Is it the disciples who all ran away?
Is it the fellow criminals who mocked him?
Or is it us, for whom the Bible says he was dying?
Us who have sinned this week with:
that proud thought;
that lustful look;
that greedy choice;
that harsh word;
that decision not to help...
Us who have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? For whom the Bible says, ‘he was pierced for OUR transgressions’?
Who is Jesus asking the Father to forgive?
In the light of the whole message of the Bible, the good news is that the words ‘Father forgive them’ cover us all.
Father forgive Bill. Father forgive Sarah. Father forgive Sean. Father forgive Gemma. Father forgive Ricky. Father forgive Paula. Father forgive all of them. I have taken their punishment for sin. You punished me, so forgive them.
The Bible says that Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him. Those who come to him to be forgiven. Those who trust in his power to forgive.
Have YOU come to him for forgiveness?
But I have one more question... Is Jesus in some way an example for me in what he says? What about when people treat me bad, break my heart and hurt me? Am I supposed to be like Jesus somehow?
I think I know the answer already... Please turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:32... “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Story of Corrie Ten Boom who meets an ex-Nazi guard in Germany (from Ravensbruck prison camp), 1947... She is in Germany preaching the gospel... He is at a meeting, and tells her he has become a Christian... He puts his hand out to shake hers... she hesitates, feels cold, prays Lord help me... then says ’I forgive you brother, with all my heart’...