Next Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This Friday is “Good Friday”, commemorating the day Jesus gave his life on the cross to pay for sins. As he hung suspended between heaven and earth he uttered seven famous sayings.
“Those who suffered crucifixion were usually criminals or captives in warfare. Their outcries were mainly either curses or complaints.” – EF Harrison
How different were Jesus cries from the cross. Jesus was neither a criminal nor a captive. He sacrificed himself voluntarily. His cries were neither curses nor complaints. Instead he forgave his enemies, assured a repentant criminal of salvation, provided for his mother, showed us that he bore God’s wrath in our place, displayed his human nature, proclaimed his victory, and committed his spirit to his Father.
He spoke these words for us. To show us who he is, what he did for us, and what he will do for us. This week we will listen to them afresh, Lord willing, as if we are standing at the foot of the cross.
THE FIRST WORD FROM THE CROSS: THE WORD OF FORGIVENESS
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:33-34
Jesus was crucified at nine in the morning and hung there for six hours, so he would have spoken these words these words in the morning as he hung there, nailed to the cross under the scorching sun.
First we see that Jesus practiced what he preached.
The One who taught “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” asked God to forgive the sadistic soldiers who scourged him, crowned him with cruel thorns, mocked him and now sat beneath the cross gambling for his robe. He prayed for Pilate who knew Jesus was innocent but caved to save his own skin. Jesus also asked for forgiveness for the Jewish leaders and people who yelled, “Crucify him!”
How was Jesus able to forgive those who sinned against him?
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:22-23
Only God can know the heart of someone who sins against us and judge them justly. Someone may curse us in anger, but may be suffering from cancer. Pain doesn’t excuse sin, but factors into it. We don’t know how someone has been sinned against themselves. Those who never knew God’s laws are judged differently than those who teach the Bible. So we must entrust ourselves to God when someone hurts us.
Jesus asked God to forgive the soldiers, Pilate, and the Jews and leaders who crucified him. They were responsible, yet didn’t realize the enormity of what they were doing. That’s why Jesus said, “They know not what they do.” Later when Peter says to the Jews:
“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” They were responsible. Yet, Peter goes on, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” Acts 3:14-15,17
When sinned against, our job isn’t to judge the sinner. That’s God’s job. Ours is to ask God to forgive them and trust God to deal with them with perfect justice.
We learn from Jesus’ cry how willing he is to forgive. There’s no sin we’ve committed too great for Jesus to forgive. He longs and waits to cleanse you. Come to him and find pardon for every sin you’ve ever done.
Not only did Jesus forgive, but he set an example for us. Later, Stephen imitated Christ and prayed for his murderers: And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60
If Jesus could forgive those who tortured him, spit on and mocked him, then we must do the same …forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13
Suggestion: This week, meditate on Jesus’ words from the cross. They will amaze, inspire and fill you with gratitude.