Father… Forgive Them
The last words spoken by those who departed from this world are mostly remembered. A person's closing comments often reveal their values, priorities and innermost thoughts. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, by many still reckoned the greatest preacher of the 19th century uttered on his deathbed, “Jesus died for me.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church said, “The best of all is...God is for us.” American actress Joan Crawford was filled with anger on her deathbed when her housekeeper started to pray for her. She said, “Don't you dare ask God to help me.” John Mayer, a film producer, gave his philosophy of life and death when he said, “Nothing matters.”
As we enter today the Lenten season and follow Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, the road of suffering, we will again be reminded that everything mattered to Him while He walked the earth...and as He is seated at the right hand side of the Father pleading for us, things still matter to Him. The brokenness of the world, the lost souls of the world, those suffering matter to Him. And then our place in heaven in His presence matters to Him. That's why before He ascended to heaven, He told His disciples about a place that He was going to prepare for them. What we think of in Lent is that Jesus Christ left His heavenly glory and became the Man of Sorrows for us. And as He suffered for our sins, He spoke 7 last words. It wasn't that He missed to express Himself on some things when He was a Companion of people, a Healer of the sick, a Provider for those who had nothing or a Miracle worker to bring back the dead. No, He spoke words of compassion from the cross, words of affirmation and as we will meditate on later...words of victory.
Today we hear the first word – “Father...Forgive Them.” The tense in the original text is continuous – indicating that Jesus said this several times. As He was laid on the cross, He prayed, “Father, Forgive Them.” As He had nails driven through His hands and feet, He prayed, “Father, Forgive Them.” As He was lifted up and the cross was set in place, He prayed, “Father, Forgive Them.” As He hung there between heaven and earth, He prayed, “Father, Forgive Them.” What do you think would have been the prayer when someone other than Jesus was nailed to the cross? Perhaps something like, “Father, punish them” or “Father, expel them.” It might have been words of resentment – “Father, after all I did for Your kingdom, why do You allow this injustice?” But no, those were not the thoughts in Jesus' mind. He was completely submissive to the will of His Father. Philippians 2: 8 is the affirmation of that – “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” And when the day, that we refer to as the Good Friday came, Jesus was filled with forgiveness for a world that didn't deserve it; He wanted to see that those who sinned against Father, Son and Holy Spirit wouldn't perish, but have eternal life. But perhaps the greatest thought about this prayer of Jesus to be continuous, is in the fact that it was prayed for each one of us by name. Al Greco, the Greek, as he was known, made a painting of the scene at Golgotha. He painted vague faces in this painting, but there was one image that was very clear – his own image. It was Al Greco's affirmation – “I was there when they crucified Jesus.” That is the Gospel coming to us here at the beginning of Lent . For each one of us and all those who surrendered their hearts to Jesus, the message is, “For you I prayed, 'Father...Forgive Them.'” You know my friends, the thought of Jesus coming to stand in our place is something we can't ever fathom. Listen how the apostle Paul expressed this unfathomable reality to the Colossians in chapter 2: 13-15, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” And that all came into reality when Jesus willingly laid Himself on the altar of Golgotha and uttered, “Father...forgive them.” Friends, we will never know the reason why Jesus did it other to acknowledge – “In His unfathomable grace Jesus Christ loved me so much to have gone to the cross to forgive me.” Let's consider the word “forgive” spoken by Jesus. It was borrowed from the world of commerce and banking. To forgive is to cancel any kind of debt that any person might owe an institution or a person. Phillip Yancey, in his book “What's so amazing about grace”, made the comment, “The word forgive contains the word give.” It's profound, my friends, to think that Jesus in fact said, “Father, because I give myself to the world, pardon them; let them go free.”
Jesus also said, “...for they do not know what they are doing.” Did He mean to say that His generation was innocent or that our present generation is innocent, because of a lack of understanding? Did He mean to say that no guilt could be brought against us? No my friends, we all were guilty as we read in Romans 3: 23, “...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We were guilty not just because of all our sins and that we needed to be forgiven in the blood of Jesus. No, we were also guilty of the death of Jesus. You see, we were among those who shouted in the court yard of Pilate, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Let His blood be on us and our children!” Jesus pleaded with His Father – “Forgive them for their rebellion against Your ways. Forgive them for their ignorance.” No it wasn't – “Father, this is all a big mistake. They are innocent.” Our guilt couldn't be clearer. But Jesus in His love pleaded for our forgiveness. He pleaded then and He presently pleads for us as we read in Romans 8: 34, “Who then is the One Who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus Who died – more than that, Who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” We will never be able to comprehend exactly what those words mean. How was it possible that Jesus asked for our forgiveness after all that we have done? All we can do is to commit ourselves to The Man of Sorrows...to make our stand for our Lord Who laid down His life as an atonement for our sins. Let's go with Him on the Lenten journey. Let's all confess, “I will follow You Lord Jesus...wherever the journey will take me.”
Friends, can we ever comprehend how the first word of Jesus transformed thousands of lives over centuries? That sense for a person to know, “I'm free from bondage.” There was a Christian doctor, Doheen, who worked in India. He had an East Indian servant who cleaned his house and one day the servant knocked a very expensive vase over. It broke in pieces and the servant went on his knees begging the doctor to forgive him. Doheen smiled and said, “Of course I forgive you. It was an accident.” The man responded, “I want to become a part of your faith. In my faith, Hinduism, there is no forgiveness. There is only fear.”
Can we all pause for a moment and think? – Jesus came that in Him we can be unconditionally forgiven. We can affirm the words of Paul, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”