Father Forgive Them for they do not know what they do.Luke 23:34
For the six Sunday’s in Lent, our 10:45am congregation will be looking at the seven statements of Jesus from the cross. This week we look at Jesus’ first words on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”
Series: Seven Saying of Jesus from the Cross
Bible Reading: Luke 23:26-34
Preacher: Phil Swain
During the week we entered into the season of Lent – a 6 week period where we are supposed to prepare ourselves for the message of Easter. Over the past two years here at Turramurra Uniting, we have used this season of Lent to reflect on the teaching and ministry of Jesus as we find in the gospels – especially in the parts of the gospel passages that lead up to the Easter narrative.
But this year, I am going to invite us to focus in on one small part of the Easter story. To think a bit more deeply on just six hours the story of Easter. How I am going to do this is to focus on seven short sentences which Jesus said while on the cross.
In the story of Easter, Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, condemned, beaten and nailed to the cross. The women who were close to him knew that death would be near. So they drew close. They wanted to hear what Jesus would say. His words gave them such hope and healing over the past three years. What would his final words be? In this, his last hours before he died, what would Jesus focus on? Would he give them an answer to why all this was happening? What words would he leave to help them through the difficult time ahead?
I believe that there is amazing good news in these seven sayings from the cross, and in our traditional service in this season of Lent, we are going to spend a week on each of these seven statements – in my best attempt of them being in chronological order – one statement of Jesus from the cross for each of the six Sunday’s of Lent and then the last statement we will look at with the whole TUC community at our Good Friday service.
So today, we hear the first words that Jesus said from the cross as recorded by Luke in Luke 23. Jesus did say some words to the women as he carried his cross (or Simon the Cyrene carried his cross) but I am just focusing on the words that Jesus said from the cross. So we pick up the story in verse 33.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Last year in our series on “Life Lessons from the Toy Box” I did a sermon on forgiveness and I remember have a couple of really interesting conversations from people who were watching online about how hard it is to forgive people who have wrong you – especially when you have been really hurt by someone. Sometimes it is hard to forgive.
In this light, I am absolutely stunned by Jesus’ words in this reading. In our text today we find these words:
When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him…
There is no great detail, just a simple statement – there they crucified him. We cannot begin to imagine the agony that Jesus endured while upon the cross. But we all know the story – don’t we? The physical suffering would have been horrifying.
By the time he got to the cross he had been betrayed, denied by his best friend, false accused and convicted, condemned, humiliated, beaten, spat on and mocked. On his head a crown of thorns stuck under the skin. The soldiers had lead him out of the town and …. there they crucified Him…….
What happened that day to Jesus was cruel, vicious, horrible, unjust, and intentional as painful as they could be. Yet Jesus said as his first words from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
We might wonder how we can forgive people when they have hurt us, but here – Jesus after the hurtful experience imaginable praying a short prayer that is straight to the point: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Let’s just break this down to see if Jesus’ example might help us to forgive others. Firstly, Jesus prayed, “Father… Father…”
What a powerful word this is coming from the lips of Jesus. It is the first word that was spoken by him as he hung on the cross. “Father.” It is a word of relationship – reflecting the intimate relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The starting point of being able to forgive is to first acknowledge our own relationship with God. God our father is ready to hear our prayer and ready to help.
Jesus words from the cross continue, “Father, forgive them … “
Jesus could’ve prayed for anything at that moment. He could have prayed, “Father, destroy them.” He could have prayed, “Father, condemn them.” But He didn’t. He could’ve prayed, “Father, take away the pain. Father, lessen my suffering. Father, give me strength.” But He didn’t.
Instead, Jesus prayed for what was needed the most, what the greatest need was. Jesus prayed for forgiveness.
Jesus words from the cross continue, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do …”
So often when people let us down, when people fail us or hurt us, we want to blame them. We want to make it about them. They are mean, they are heartless, they are horrible people. Jesus doesn’t make it personal but rather simply say that those who have let him down did not know what they were doing. Jesus makes it not about blame but rather about forgiveness.
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do …”
I think Jesus gives us an example of how we can forgive others, to forgive others in the same way that Jesus has forgiven us.
Our starting point needs to be our relationship with God … Father … asking God to help us be forgiving. And if we try to move from blaming the person we need to forgive but rather show grace … they do not know what they were doing … then I think it might be easier to say the words, “I Forgive them”.
As we journey through this time of Lent and prepare to receive anew the Good News of Easter – may we hear the Good News as declared in Jesus first words from the cross … in Jesus there is forgiveness. Let us with thanksgiving humbly lean into that grace and mercy and receive that forgiveness in our lives. And may we, to the best of our ability, forgive others as we have been forgiven.