The First Words of Jesus on the Cross
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The more I think about what Jesus said, the more I am encouraged.
Just a few hours earlier, in the Gethsemane Garden, soldiers led by the Jewish priests surrounded Jesus and the disciples. Peter drew His sword and came within a hair of cutting the skull of the high priest’s servant. He sliced off His ear, instead.
But Jesus would have none of the fight. “Put back your sword, Peter,” Jesus commanded. “Don’t you know I could call just now to my Father and He would put at my disposal 12 legions of angels to defend me?”
A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. In other words, the Lord could have called for 72,000 angelic warriors, swords unsheathed and glistening in the firelight, and the ground would have been drenched with the blood of those who’d come to drag Jesus away.
But He didn’t call for them. Instead, God-in-the-flesh-of-a-man, God their Creator, the Almighty God permitted His creatures to spit at him, pull His beard, punch him in the face, and haul him off to court.
And now, hanging bloodied and bruised on an old rugged cross, crowds of priests, soldiers and rabble mocking Him, cursing Him . . . .
I wonder sometimes if the thought crossed His mind even for a nanosecond to glance toward His Father and ask for those angels. If it did, He put it from His mind and said instead – Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
It is why we can come anew to Jesus in our continuing journey toward the Kingdom. There is no sin so grievous, so dark, so vile that the grace of God and the mercy of God cannot – and will not – cleanse with Christ’s blood. What is it St. John wrote in His first epistle? If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). And St. Paul’s encouragement to the church at Ephesus: In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).
It is why we can stay with Him today, wherever we are in life and whatever we've done wrong. If we confess our sins, St. John tells us, again in his first epistle, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). When the penitent walks out of the confessional he or she has God’s absolute and inviolable assurance of forgiveness. As the Holy Spirit promises through the psalmist: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.Just as a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:11-14).
It is why we can journey with Him wherever He leads us. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: If God is for us, who is against us?He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . .For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-39)
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
When we sin, when we slash the whip once again across His back, when we drive another nail into His bleeding hands, how much do we really understand what we are doing? How much do we know how it grieves Him? How it breaks His heart? If we had the remotest clue, I don’t think we’d be so cavalier to do some of the things we do.
Father, forgive them.
If the Scriptures teach us anything, it is that there is forgiveness with God, complete, unhesitating, and unqualified forgiveness to the penitent. And that is precisely why you and I can come to Christ, stay with Christ, and journey with Him wherever He leads us.
For which we can gladly say, "Thanks be to God!"