“Father, Forgive Them”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke 23:32-34 “Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place which is called ‘The Skull,’ there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is forced from the Holy City and driven outside the gate of Jerusalem and into the wilderness of this earth, to a cursed place called “The Cranium” or “The Skull.” The hands of man have crowned His head with thorns. Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us is, as Isaiah says, “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The evil-doers join Jesus on His way to Golgotha where one criminal will be crucified at His right and another at His left. And there is where Jesus Christ, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary,” was crucified.
There is a moving and thought-provoking painting called “St. John’s Christ on the Cross” by Salvadore Dali. It is a fascinating work of art. As you look at the top of the work you are viewing the crucified Jesus from above – from a perch located in the heavens and seeing Christ on the cross below you – from the perspective that we might imagine God the Father as having. As for the Son of God in the painting, His sacred head is tilted forward and down, as if looking at the mountains and sea and world beneath Him.
Jesus looks down from the cross and sees a fallen world; especially the sin-sick souls who are responsible for His crucifixion. God the Father looks down and sees the same world, particularly the same people. But in addition, He beholds His dearly beloved Son. And there, suspended between heaven and earth, is the God-man, Jesus Christ. “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'” Here, pinned between the deep beyond the universe and the land littered by the graves of the dead is the Son of God and Son of Man. “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'”
The Son addresses His Father in prayer. The Son beseeches His Father, not for Himself as He suffers unimaginable pain of body, soul, and spirit, but for others. Jesus petitions His Father who is in heaven, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Who is Jesus praying for here? Of whom is He speaking? It is for those who do not know what they do. The Roman soldiers did not know that they were pounding nails into the very hands and feet of God in the flesh. The Centurion did not know that this was the Son of Man. The Jewish leaders did not know that this was the Messiah. Pilate did not know that this was His Savior whom he himself had condemned to death. In fact, anyone associated with Jesus’ death did not know what they were doing.
But what is it that is causing Christ’s Blood to flow from His sacred veins, and what is responsible for His awful suffering and hellish pain? Is it not the sins of the world? Jesus’ offering is “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Here the Christ “offered for all time a single Sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12). All transgressions of God’s Holy and Righteous Law – whether of deed or word or thought – whether of commission or omission, whether things done or left undone – whether known or unknown – all sins were cast upon Him, “and Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Us! Did you hear that word? “And Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of US all.” You, dear sinner, stand at the foot of the cross and you hear that your sins were laid on Jesus and You behold His Blood for you – His pain for you – His suffering for you – His Sacrifice for you. Then it comes to you, and you say to yourself, “But I didn’t realize; I did not know that I am responsible for this. Oh God, I deserve this cursing, not Him.”
But do not despair, dear soul, for the Son of God has ascended the altar of the cross on your behalf. Listen to Him as He says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” You are not only one who is included in those who did not know what they were doing; you are also and especially one of “them” and what Good News this is for you. “Father, forgive them.” Even 2,000 years ago He had you in mind and was interceding – praying – for you in His prayer. What you could not do for yourself, namely atone for your own sins, Jesus the High Priest has done for you in offering Himself in your place and He petitions, “Father, forgive them.”
“Father, forgive the Jew, forgive the Gentile; forgive the Pharisee forgive the pastor, forgive the infant, forgive the aged, forgive the slave and the free, the rich and the poor, the male and the female, the sick and the well, the fearful and the courageous – “Father, forgive them.”
Forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed, is precisely what you and I need in order to be right with God, and forgiveness for the whole world is exactly what flows from the Word of the cross. Behold how important, how extremely serious forgiveness is to your Lord. It was deadly serious, for it cost Him His life.
Dearly beloved in Christ, the Good News is not a doctrine ABOUT forgiveness. The Gospel IS forgiveness – earned by Jesus then – declared to be yours now. This Gospel has been given and remains entrusted to the Church, and is the blessed task of her pastors and His stewards.
God has called you in Holy Baptism to be His own “by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon” (Titus 3:5-6) you richly through Jesus Christ your Savior. In a few minutes you will have the forgiveness of sins delivered to you in the Holy Supper when your pastor, under orders from God Himself, places the very body and blood of Jesus into your mouth; it will be the answer to Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them.” That Blood-bought remission of sins in the Cup of Blessing and His Body broken for you on the cross is here this night.
From the cross Jesus prays to His Father, “Father, forgive them.” And in that prayer to His heavenly Father Jesus says, “Father, charge each sin to Me, and forgive them. Place each transgression on Me, and forgive them. Though I am forsaken by You, I petition You, forgive them.”
Certainly the Father has heard the prayer of His Son. For though it cost Christ his life, and though Jesus was poured out unto death, yet we know that the Savior’s prayer was answered and is answered because the LORD did raise Him from the dead on the third day and the LORD does forgive us all our sins. Surely the Father has heard and answered this prayer as the Scriptures declare. “‘Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Thy Name.’ Then a Voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28).
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'” Dearly beloved, in the next 30 seconds I will announce out loud in this room every sin for each and every one of you that has not been paid for by Jesus Christ; I will now declare every sin for each and every one of you for which there is no forgiveness…
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.