Summary: Last week we got into the exchanges that took place between the two criminals and Jesus. Today I want to focus on the seven phrases that Jesus spoke when he was on the cross. What did he say, why did he say it, and what does it mean to us?
WORDS FROM THE CROSS
INTRODUCTION: Last week we got into the exchanges that took place between the two criminals and Jesus. Today I want to focus on the seven phrases that Jesus spoke when he was on the cross. What did he say, why did he say it, and what does it mean to us?
1) Jesus' words regarding the suffering of others.
• "Father, forgive them." Luke 23:34, "'Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'. And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
Jesus prayed for the soldiers because they didn't know what they were doing. In their eyes they were doing their job; in their eyes they were just nailing a criminal to a cross. In their blindness there was nothing wrong with the cruel and inhumane treatment they were dishing out. Jesus asked the Father to forgive their ignorance.
Jesus didn't want the wrath of God to come down on them for nailing his Son to the cross and for casting lots for his clothes and perhaps enjoying what they were doing. These soldiers whipped, beat, tortured, mocked and humiliated Jesus; they drove nails through his wrists and feet. Despite all that, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them. Not that Jesus was asking the Father to forgive all their sins, but Jesus didn't want them to suffer the consequences that would come from treating the Son of God this way.
They were ignorant of who they were doing this to. I'm sure they knew about Jesus and maybe had been aware that he was called the Messiah, but what would that have really meant to them-they weren't of the Jewish faith. Plus, they no doubt would've believed what the Jewish religious leaders declared him to be-a charlatan; someone who merely claimed to be king of the Jews.
So Jesus, out of his great love and mercy, asked that they not be held accountable for what they were doing. Jesus was practicing what he preached. In Matt. 5 he taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecuted us. This is what Jesus was doing as he hung on the cross. What a picture of forgiveness. What an example for us to follow.
Richard Wurmbrand followed that example. Because of his faith, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs suffered for 14 years in a Romanian prison. In regards to his communist prison guards he said, "It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them". If not for the example of what Jesus did this statement sounds absurd. Wurmbrand's knowledge of Jesus' example and his deep connection to him enabled him to follow that example and treat his tortures the way Jesus treated his.
What about us? Can we forgive those who have "tortured" us? But the difference is they knew what they were doing? The soldiers who crucified Jesus knew what they were doing to a certain extent; but were blind to the severity of what they were doing. People in the world know what they are doing but are blinded to the severity of what they're doing.
Even if it's with malicious intent, they are still oblivious as to the seriousness of what they're doing. Not that they should be excused for their actions-just forgiven for them. Jesus didn't justify what the soldiers were doing, he asked for their forgiveness. If we have the heart of Christ we will be able to forgive others for the offenses they commit against us.
"But why should I forgive them when they haven't apologized?" The soldiers didn't ask Jesus for forgiveness, yet that didn't keep Jesus from asking that they be forgiven. We need to be willing to forgive even if our enemy hasn't acknowledged his guilt. Forgiving certain people may not be easy, but we can do it.
Consider Stephen's example. As the church was increasing, the Apostles chose seven men of faith to help with the growing needs. Stephen was one of them. He was described as a man who was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He was also the first Christian to die for his faith. As he was being martyred, he followed Jesus' example of forgiveness.
Acts 7:59-60, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep."
If Stephen could find it in himself to forgive the ones who were pelting him with rocks until he died, if Richard Wurmbrand could forgive the ones who tortured him mercilessly for fourteen years, if Jesus could forgive the ones who had tortured and crucified him, then we can forgive those who have mistreated us.