Summary: This sermon expounds the first three of the last sayings of Jesus on the cross. The method is exegetical and expository, drawing out the authorial intent and context of the words of Luke, Matthew, and John.
Every year, most Christian churches in the Philippines hold the “Siete Palabras,” or “Seven Sayings” services, stressing the last seven words of Jesus on the cross. I remember every Good Friday back in the 70s, Fellowship Baptist Church of Bacolod would hold a special Seven Sayings service at 2-4 PM, with a battery of seven speakers. It was the longest preaching service I can remember. With no aircon, the sanctuary was usually hot and humid. But 300 people would pack the pews every year.
The last words of a dying man are supposed to be the most moving. But we study Jesus’ last words, because they are uttered on the cross. The death of Christ is the heart of the gospel. It is the climax of the gospel story. The last words of Jesus on the cross are thus highly significant.
Most sermons on the seven sayings are detached from authorial intent. However, we will study the authorial intent of Luke, Matthew, and John, and the context of their words, to grasp what they are telling their readers.
A Word of Forgiveness
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34)1
In the last minutes of Jesus’ life, Jesus prayed to the Father. In fact, in His last seven sayings, Jesus prayed three times. It is interesting that Jesus did not pray, “Forgive me,” for He knew no sin. Instead, He prayed, “Forgive them,” for they all needed the forgiveness of God.
We note three things about Jesus’ act of forgiveness on the cross. First, we see the position of forgiveness. It is a position of weakness, not strength. Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness reflects His teaching. He said, “Love your enemies; pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:27-28). But to pray for those who abuse you is to pray from a position of weakness. They abuse you. You are the victim of their abuse. But you are to pray for those who abuse you.
Just as Jesus loved His enemies and prayed for them, He also forgave them. His forgiveness then was forgiveness out of a position of weakness. He forgave on the cross—a position of powerlessness, a place for victims. Thus, Jesus’ prayer is a call for us to forgive likewise—to forgive from a position of powerlessness. We are to forgive as victims of the sins of other people. That is the context of Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. It is a context of weakness and powerlessness. It is in a position of weakness that we should ask God to forgive those who sinned against us.
Second, we see the recipients of forgiveness. Jesus prayed for those who harmed and hurt Him. Luke draws a contrast between the people who mourned for Jesus and the leaders who mocked Him. Luke wrote,
27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him.
35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Lk. 23:27, 35-37)
There were the mourners and the mockers. The mockers were the Jewish religious rulers and priests. They were His guards (Lk. 22:63-65). They were Gentile soldiers who gambled over His clothes. They mocked Him and offered Him sour wine (wine vinegar) (Gingrich), the cheap wine drank by soldiers (v. 36).2 The word, “mocked” (Gk. empaizo) in v. 36, means, to “ridicule, make fun of” (Gingrich). The rulers sneered at Him, but the soldiers made fun of Him.
Even one of the criminals on the cross “railed” at Him (v. 39). The word, “railed” (Gk. blasphemeo) means, “slander, revile, defame someone's reputation.” (Friberg) This criminal, who has a bad reputation himself, maligned the reputation of Jesus.
But Jesus prayed for these mockers who plotted against Him, insulted Him, and violated His human rights. Some blame the Jews today for killing Jesus. But if Jesus forgave His Jewish tormentors, then nobody should say anything bad against the Jews today. If Jesus loved the worst of enemies, then it is no more difficult for us to love our enemies today. If Jesus prayed for His enemies, we should also pray for people who hurt us.
Nobody, no matter how sinful, is beyond the reach of the grace of God! I’ve seen criminals in prison who came in as unbelievers, but came out as believers of Christ. Do you have rebellious children or hardhearted family members? Pray for him or her.
Third, we see the nature of forgiveness. These plotters and mockers did not deserve forgiveness. They did not know what they were doing. But Jesus asked for forgiveness for them. Forgiveness, therefore, is a form of grace. The Lukan emphasis is that forgiveness is the act of forgiving those who don’t deserve it—those who have sinned against you.