Summary: Despite the sin in our lives, and the consequences it had for Him, Jesus loves us with a love that defies human understanding, and forgives us unconditionally.
“Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing”
“Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing”. Ten pretty simple, unambiguous words which do not leave much scope for misinterpretation, and yet ten words that have implications far beyond there perceived simplicity. I would like to concentrate on only this sentence this morning, and try to establish exactly what Jesus was saying in this prayer to God.
Who was Jesus talking about here? Was he asking for forgiveness for Judas, who had betrayed him with a kiss? Was He perhaps asking for forgiveness for the Rock of the church, Peter, who had denied Him 3 times as Jesus said he would? Was it for Pontius Pilate, who had basically found no reason to condemn Jesus and yet allowed Him to be crucified anyway?
Was he asking for forgiveness for the people who had bayed for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified? Or was it for the Roman soldiers, who had flogged him, mocked Him and nailed Him to the cross?
I am sure that all of you already know the answer to these questions. Obviously it was to all these people that Jesus was referring. The answer is seemingly just as simple as those ten words, “Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing”. Or is it?
Hindsight often provides wonderful clarity and insight into past events, and also highlights mistakes which were made which, when looking back, it seems could have been easily avoided. It is extremely simple for us to be critical of the treatment meted out to Jesus by various people mentioned in the Gospels, but before we go down that road, I think that we all need to be reminded that we are not to judge others. So let’s eliminate all the people above from the question I asked earlier. Who was Jesus talking about?
As Christians, we all know and believe that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, past, present and future. This is a concept I have personally struggled with a great deal. If Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and if it is accepted that I will be a sinner until the day I die,( and just to ensure that you don’t become too comfortable in the pews, so will all of you), then do we really need to worry about the sin in our lives? After all, we are told in Romans 8.1 “There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus”. So really, why should we be concerned about the sin in our lives? Why do I still wonder, involuntarily, in spite of Romans 8.1, whether my continuing sin will affect my judgment and salvation. After all, the Bible tells me unequivocally that it will not. Why do I still feel guilty? Is there anyone else present here this morning who feels the same? Undoubtedly, it is due to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But there is another reason – another reason that should most certainly make each and everyone of us think twice before we sin again.
Did any of you notice that the words used most frequently in the questions I’ve just been asking were the words I, my and me? Sadly, I believe most of us are guilty of this human selfishness and my apologies to you if you are not. We need to remind ourselves constantly that sin affects not only us but Jesus, who died for our sins, and I ask again, who is Jesus referring to when He says “ Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing”.
If Jesus died for my sins and for your sins, then it stands to reason that we cannot set ourselves apart from those terrible hours which lead to the death of our Saviour on the cross, we cannot, simply because of the passing of time, rely on hindsight to be critical and judgmental of those who killed the Son of Man. We cannot do that, for one simple reason – and that is because each and every one of us is one of those people.
How many of you have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ”? It is an extremely violent portrayal of the events surrounding the crucifixion – some even say that Mel Gibson is guilty of gratuitous violence. But I am 100% certain that even the gut wrenching violence depicted in this movie does not come anywhere near to the horror of witnessing the crucifixion in person.
There are a few scenes in the movie where we are introduced to a shadowy, caped figure with evil eyes and a cynical, knowing stare. As I recall, he appears while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and again later while Jesus is being flogged by the Roman Soldiers, he is seen moving furtively through the crowd. Anyone like to hazard a guess as to who this was? The obvious response is the devil. But I would like to make an alternative suggestion. That figure is not the devil, and this is only my interpretation, but a depiction of sinners to come, you and me, and he places us at the scene of Jesus’ last hours as surely as if we were there in person.