When Jesus said, “ ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:34, NIV), he undoubtedly had in mind those most closely involved in his crucifixion. This would have included Pontius Pilate, who with a word could have spared Jesus’ life, but instead gave in to the demands of a raucous crowd. Jesus’ thoughts were on the people who cried out for his crucifixion, the same individuals who had welcomed him with palm branches and open arms just a few days earlier. Jesus considered the cruelty of the Roman soldiers. Their training in torture and efficiency made them experts at delivering suffering and bringing about death. Jesus requested that mercy be granted to all these individuals and to the many others who played a part in his execution.
If we, however, limit Jesus’ call to forgive to include only those found in the shadows of the cross, we falsely identify ourselves as unaccountable for the death of the Savior. Further, we find ourselves drowning in our sin. The notion that we had no responsibility in the death of the Messiah robs us of the forgiveness Jesus accomplished on the cross. We cannot, after all, be recipients of the grace and mercy of Christ without first being guilty of the sin that led him to Calvary.
The Apostle Paul says that, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). There is not and has never been a person in all of creation, with the exception of Jesus, who measures up to God’s righteous demands. Each of us falls miles short of Jesus’ tenet to “ ‘Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect’ ” (Matthew 5:48, NIV). Our love waxes cold in light of Jesus’ great command to “…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ ”(Matthew 22:37, NIV ) and to “ ‘…love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Matthew 22:39, NIV).
Furthermore, our sin carries with it an infinite debt. Again, Paul writes, “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23, NIV). For us, this death is not only physical, but spiritual. If not for the sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross, we would be forever lost in our sins.
I truly believe that we were all on the heart and mind of Jesus when he uttered the words, “ ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:34, NIV). I believe that somehow Jesus’ words transcended all of history and reached the Father’s heart bearing our names along with those who have gone before us and those who will live after us. Just imagine Jesus’ words echoing throughout the chambers of Heaven as he intercedes on his children’s behalf. The Father is again and again reminded of his only son clinging to a cross, making amends for each of us.
“ ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do’ ” (Luke 23:34, NIV). This phrase demonstrates Jesus’ willingness to be gracious even in the most graceless of situations. And it’s these words that begin our look at Jesus’ final words from the cross.