Summary: Discover mark #2 that the cross leaves upon us in this exposition of Luke 23.
“The Mark of Compassion”
(From video intro) That’s a poignant picture of grace, isn’t it? Calvary. It’s where forgiveness was finalized. It’s the epitome of compassion in action. Love on display. Grace poured out.
As that image remains in your mind’s eye, may I remind you of at least ten of the words Christ said while dying for us? It’s the first part of Luke 23:34 – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Go ahead and turn there, for we’ll be looking at several verses that surround that phrase. And while you’re turning, will you say it together with me? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Have you ever wondered what that phrase really means? What was Christ accomplishing when he stated, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” Today let’s take that phrase and first break it down, then tie it all together, and then drive it home with some practical application. For in this phrase we see what is the second mark of the cross, the second imprint Calvary leaves upon us.
Break it down!
1. First, the words “Father, forgive.” The word ‘forgive’ here means to send away or depart, to let go or give up a debt. It is a willingness to let mercy rule in the short term so that repentance may win in the long term. It is compassion for the purpose of change. Simply put, Jesus was asking the Father to hold back, or send away/let go of, his judgment and extend mercy; to give them one more opportunity for forgiveness.
Personally, I believe this had both an initial fulfillment and an eventual fulfillment. Initially, God did delay his judgment upon the nation of Israel for another 40 years, for it wasn’t until 70 AD that Jerusalem was trampled. But make no mistake – God could have rained down judgment on that Good Friday, but he choose to wait even longer. That’s “sending away” or “giving up” the right to judge. That’s compassion!
Better still is the eventual fulfillment of this prayer – He has postponed his judgment upon the rest of the world as well, and allows us time to repent and believe. Because of Jesus’ death and the fulfillment it brings (which the law could not do), God gives all men everywhere the opportunity to believe. Truly, God is longsuffering and patient, not willing that any man or woman should perish in their sins (2 Peter 3:9).
But on whom did he extend this compassion, this request for a delay in judgment?
2. Specifically, the verse says “them” and “they.”
More than likely, this is referring to the Jews who were responsible for his death and the Romans who carried out the crucifixion. In his message at Pentecost, Peter affirms this when he says “This man 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 to the cross.”
But a wider scope may also be in view, for this entire passage is a snapshot of Christ’s forgiving spirit even as he walked the via Delarosa. From the women to the criminals to the people, Jesus was a walking model of compassion and forgiveness. Let me show you what I’m referring to.
23:26-31 - Compassion towards the mourners
23:32-34, 40-43 - Compassion towards the criminals
23:35-39 - Compassion towards the crowd
Yes, even throughout his worst hour – his crucifixion – he is compassionate towards those around him, requesting forgiveness and pleading for mercy for those who would kill him, and even saving those who look to him. During a time when he was in need of compassion, he still found the strength to model it. Odd, isn’t it? If you were watching this from a distance, you would think the one in need of compassion would be Jesus. But the real needy ones were all the others involved in this injustice. As Darrell Bock says, “The real tragedy is not his but theirs.”
Only the cross can instill that type of love within us; only Calvary – the place of the skull – can mark us with that kind of compassion for others.
So our Lord is asking for a delay in judgment – a compassionate request for forgiveness – towards those involved in his demise. But on what basis? Why?
3. Because they “know not what they do.”
It’s hard to imagine that the people involved didn’t know what they were doing. How could they not? It was so deliberate, manipulative, and malicious. And based on what we have seen in our study of Luke, they had wanted his death for some time. So how could they not know what they were doing?