Summary: A sermon from the series "Words from the Cross."
"Words from the Cross: 'Father, forgive them.'"
Luke 23:26-27, 32-34
Nearly all of us have been hurt by the actions or words of someone else.
And these wounds can leave us with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even revenge.
And if we hold grudges, if we aren't able to forgive--we are usually the ones who pay the most.
According to health professionals, forgiveness can lead to:
* Healthier relationships
* Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
* Less anxiety and stress
* Lower blood pressure
* Fewer symptoms of depression
* A stronger immune system
* Improved heart health
* And higher self-esteem
Let's all ask ourselves this question this morning:
"Am I currently holding a grudge against another person?
Is there someone who has hurt me that I have not been able to forgive?
Does the thought of that person raise my blood pressure, cause me to feel depressed or angry?"
This is the first Sunday in Lent.
Lent is the forty days before Easter.
It's a time to reflect, repent, to "get real", and get right with God, with ourselves and others.
During the next several Sundays I am going to preach sermons based on Jesus' Words from the Cross.
Crucifixion was and is a terrifying way to die.
It may well be the cruelest and most disgusting way to kill someone.
Those who were crucified were often left hanging, or their bodies were taken down and left on the ground near the cross until the animals were finished with them.
The goal of crucifixion was to inflict the most agony on the victim for the longest possible time.
Most of us have been taught to think that Jesus was quite a ways off the ground when He was killed.
But most scholars believe that crosses were only about 9 feet tall.
That's shorter than a basketball goal.
Most likely the feet of the person being crucified were, at most, just three feet off the ground.
So as Jesus hung from the Cross, He was just two or three feet above His mother, the disciple John, the soldiers, and those who were insulting Him and making fun of Him.
If you or I were to stand on a chair beside someone standing at ground level--that is how close Jesus was to the people at the foot of the Cross.
And those who were standing near the Cross would have been able to easily hear Jesus as He prayed and spoke.
And the first words that Jesus spoke
as He hung naked, beaten, with six-inch spikes having been nailed through His hands and feet...
...when everyone who passed by mocked Him; when the chief priests and scribes, even those thieves who were crucified with Him taunted Him and teased Him in His agony...
...the first words Jesus said as His body was in shock and He struggled for breath was a prayer.
And it wasn't just any prayer.
It was a shockingly radical prayer.
It was a prayer of perfect love and compassion.
Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing."
We might ask: "Who was Jesus praying for?"
"Who was the 'them' Jesus was asking the Father to forgive?"
He was, of course, praying for the soldiers who cruelly tortured and crucified Him and now were "throwing dice or lots" to see who would get His clothes.
But were they the only ones?
He was also praying for the crowd who were sneering, shaking their heads, and verbally assaulting Him.
Then there were the religious leaders who conspired with the Romans to kill Him.
As He hung in the most agonizing pain possible He prayed for those who put Him there: "Father, forgive them."
This is astounding!!!
Can you imagine this amount of mercy?
This is, no doubt, one of the most powerful images in all the world.
This is Love at its best.
And there is someone else included in Jesus' prayer as well.
There's someone else for whom Jesus was pleading from the Cross for God's mercy.
And that someone else is us--the entire human race!!!
We are among the "them" Jesus was praying for as He said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
There is a hymn that many of us know.
It asks the question: "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
And the answer to that question, in a most profound and sickening sense is "Yes!"
The entire human race was there.
The death of Jesus is an event that transcends all time.
I was there.
You were there.
The rich person in the suburbs was there.
The homeless person under the bridge was there.
The terrorists of ISIS were there.
The person or persons who have hurt us with their words or actions were there.