Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In these words of Jesus, we find unmeasured grace for those who murdered Him unjustly. Without meaning to do so, I fear we sometimes gloss over the immense unjustness and great evil done against the innocent Jesus because we know He had to die as the penalty for our sins. Just as the cross can too easily lose its symbolic power when reduced to a mere ornament or displayed artwork, so also the crimes against Jesus can too easily be lost when only seeing the purpose of Jesus’ death. The fact that Jesus had to die didn’t make the wretched evils committed against Him any less wrong.
The religious elite put Him to trial illegally at night, under the cover of darkness, to rush the Light of the World through their mock court to assure a guilty verdict. These same Jews insured their false conviction by breaking the Bread of Life under the scourging of the whip. They paraded His horridly mistreated body through the streets of Jerusalem so that the unstained hands which healed so many could receive spikes reserved only for the vilest criminals. The soldiers joined in to mock the King of the Jews with curses and condemnations not realizing that He truly was their King. Beaten. Whipped. Spat upon. Mocked. Cursed. Nailed to a cross. Yet innocent. Every single act committed against Him wreaked of the foul stench of injustice unlike this world has known before or since.
Let these wrongs committed against Him sink in to your mind and heart. Let them call up from your gut the same range of emotions that spew out when you think of an innocent pre-born baby being mutilated in his mother’s womb in worship to the god of convenience. Let them draw out the same cringing tenseness that overcomes you when you consider the assaults against countless African Americans by the hate and vitriol of the KKK in worship to the god of racial prejudice and white supremacy. Let these wrongs pull out of you the sweeping swath of hurt and helplessness that shakes your insides loose when you see the malnourished, bloated, insect covered young orphan in the impoverished third world as she wanders the streets alone in worship of the god of senseless destruction. Now multiply those 1,000 fold and we may just be beginning to scratch the surface of the injustice done against the pure, spotless, sinless, holy, merciful, good, and righteous Jesus.
Such great injustice makes His prayer for their forgiveness all the more astonishing. Not only did Jesus have the authority to call 10,000 angels to sweep in to free Him from the contemptibility of crime upon crime against Him, but for the first and only time in human existence, He had every right. From the perspective of right and wrong, He would’ve been completely justified to do so. Perhaps we have another glimpse here into the prayer in Gethsemane the night before as He laid aside His rights to be treated as He deserved so that He might embrace the unholy evils that would be committed against Him in the next 24 hours.
Instead of asking for vindication from His Father, He asked for their forgiveness. Jesus wanted His Father to forgive each malicious, wicked, ugly, despicable wrongdoing against Him. He interceded on behalf of each one who committed their crimes against Him. Can’t you just picture His face? The beatings have swollen His eyes and the blood has dried around His eyelids but not so much that He can’t see the viscous soldiers who punched Him repeatedly. The whippings and crown of thorns left His head, back, and neck macerated but not so much to hinder Him twisting His head right and left to look down compassionately on His mockers and murderers. The plucked beard left His jaw tender, bleeding, raw to the touch, and difficult to speak, but not enough to hold back the heart-piercing words, “Father, forgive them!”
Innocence could have shouted out, “Injustice!” He didn’t. He shouted out, “Forgive!” Yes. Jesus has every right to teach us the ins and outs of forgiveness. For us, such hope resounds in those words. As He said them, He included the sins He was dying for as well. His death would make forgiveness from the Father complete because as the Mediator, the Substitute, and the Sacrifice, He took the punishment for each and every sin upon Him that day. I didn’t murder Him, but I did. Every act of dishonesty, selfishness, pride, and lust I’ve ever committed joined in the unjust assaults on His innocence. My sins left their marks on His back and face. So did yours. Just like those wicked soldiers, conniving religious leaders, and spineless Roman authorities who received unmerited intercession on their behalf from Jesus that day, so also you and I have received the kindness of God which leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). He’s the forgiving type. Aren’t you grateful?
*This post is from the forthcoming book, Pray Like This, which will go on sale in the next two weeks. You will be able to order a copy here.