Summary: Jesus models forgiving the unforgivable as he prays for forgiveness from the cross. As we recognize that he is praying for us, and that we are no better off than those we need to forgive, we gain the power to draw on the Father's love to forgive others.
Forgiving the Unforgivable
Luke 23:32-37 * Seven Last Words from the Cross - Part 1
Today we begin a new seven-week series entitled, “Seven Last Words from the Cross.” If you read the crucifixion account in each of the four gospels, you find exactly seven statements or questions Jesus made in those hours and minutes leading up to his death. The last words on someone’s deathbed might be significant, right? Jesus’ words always matter, of course. And in these last hours, they reflect the very priorities of God. Note that his first statement is about forgiveness. It’s at the top of your outline. Let’s read it together:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Do you think God values forgiveness? I would think so.
In my nearly thirty years in vocational ministry, I have heard every conceivable way that people can hurt people. I’ve met with a husband who beat his wife. I met with a wife who was repeatedly raped by her husband. One husband told me how his wife systematically stole his life savings. He later discovered she had done this to a previous husband as well. I’ve talked with a grandfather who molested his grandkids. I met one father who lost his son to a drug overdose, and wanted to go out and kill the dealers. A Veteran told me how his wife keeps returning to heroin, and manipulating him for the money to do so. I have met folks who have been cheated out of their retirement by the company CEOs they served for over twenty years. One person lost his military career after he protected someone facing discrimination. People tell me how they did unconscionable evil acts under the guise of war, well beyond the authorized mission. And then we hear of a person shooting up a school, killing 17, and then going to Walmart and McDonald’s afterwards, as if nothing of consequence took place?
Sometimes we may wonder, is there some stuff that is just plain unforgivable? Maybe you’ve had that thought, “What they did to me is just too great to let go of!” How do you forgive the unforgivable? Let’s look at Jesus’ actual words for some clues. First, we’ll start with...
Jesus was only able to request forgiveness because he was in a close intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father. It is by no accident that Jesus used this term. In his day, most people approached God as all powerful, majestic, all-knowing, in charge, and all of those things are true. But Jesus took it a step further. He approached God as his loving, caring, trustworthy ... Father. When he taught his disciples to pray, he started with, “Our Father...”
In Aramaic, the language of the Jews at the time, the word for “Father” meant, “Daddy” or “Papa.” It was an affectionate word, a word of trust. When Jesus was dying, he first expressed prayer to his Father. He asked his Father to forgive.
When you and I are faced with that person we are so angry with, we first need to take the situation to our Father. I’ve asked Father God to remove people from the planet, to bring them home to heaven, or wherever their final destination is to be. But thankfully, God softened those prayers over time! Maybe you had a less than ideal father on earth, but God is not like that. God is the perfect parent, always loving and affirming, even in his discipline. Your Heavenly Father will help you do what you cannot do alone. God your Father will help you to forgive the unforgivable. Come to him first. Ask for his help.
Secondly, notice what Jesus asks of his Father. He says, “Father...
2. “Forgive them”
Imagine what needed to be forgiven. The night before, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, arrested, and then tried illegally six times under cover of darkness. In the morning, the Roman soldiers whipped him to an inch of his life with pieces of pottery and bone that cut into the flesh. They forced a crown of thorns down on his scalp, and made him carry a heavy cross beam out the city gates to a place called Golgotha or Calvary, the “Place of the Skull.” After his human strength gave out, the soldiers drafted an innocent bystander, Simon, to assist.
At Calvary, the soldiers him nailed hand and foot to a cross. A person being crucified died slowly from asphyxiation. It could take hours or even days, unless the Romans broke your leg bones first, so that you could no longer support yourself to take a breath. The Romans had perfected the ultimate torture machine, and they killed thousands of people with it.
You would think that Jesus, facing all this pain and agony, would cry out in despair. You would think he would be angry. But no, his first words were a prayer of forgiveness. When Jesus could have been totally self-centered, he chose to be totally other-centered, and to ask his Father to forgive THEM. Who was “them?”