Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Of all the things Jesus said from the point He was arrested until His death, this is perhaps the most earthshaking. There is a very remarkable line in Psalm 130 that came up in the readings not long ago: “But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalm 130:4) Other religions postulate gods of retribution and/or indulgence, but only the God of the Bible, while being perfectly holy and just, is big enough to forgive. That Jesus could ask the Father to forgive those who had literally nailed Him to a cross is absolutely monumental. We have trouble forgiving someone who cuts us off in traffic! The thing is, unforgiveness binds us, and Jesus was the freest person who ever lived, even while nailed to the cross. Jesus had nothing for which He needed to be forgiven, but He took our sins on Himself and died for them, so that we might be forgiven. That changed the entire course of history. It is no accident, and not inappropriate, that we base our calendar on Jesus’ birth. (Even though Pope Gregory had faulty data, so we’re probably a few years off.) The thing is, everything about Jesus’ life, from His conception by the Holy Spirit on throughout His ministry, led up to this moment. You could say that He was sent to earth to utter this prayer. It is when we receive the forgiveness He asked for here, recognizing fully that we need it, that we are set free from the chains of sin and death and are born again as children of God. (John 1:12-13)
This is certainly as true for me as it is for anyone else. People who know me now tend to think I’m some sort of saint, and indeed, the Bible speaks of all believers as saints, but that is entirely by the grace of God. As long as I thought I had earned or deserved any sort of “sainthood,” I was separated from God. My head knowledge of the Bible didn’t save me. It was only when I recognized my sinfulness and repented before God that I was able to receive His forgiveness. It would be nice if that were indeed a “once and done” transaction, and in a sense it is, but at the same time I have got to recognize that my flesh is in constant rebellion against God, and so walk in humble repentance. At the same time, I’ve got to remember that I indeed am forgiven, so that I may walk in the benefits of that forgiveness. (2 Peter 1:9) Knowing God’s forgiveness for myself, I must extend that forgiveness to others, just as Jesus said. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Father, thank You for Your forgiveness. Lord Jesus, thank You for extending that forgiveness even from the cross. Holy Spirit, thank You for working that forgiveness in and through me, for the salvation of all who will receive it, for the glory of God. Hallelujah!