Father, Forgive Them

by LA UBF   04/09/2009     0 reads




Luke 23

Key Verse 23:34

34Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."[e] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

This passage before us reveals the greatest crime ever committed – the mocking, beating, rejection, and crucifixion of the Son of God – innocent Jesus.  But at the same time, it is the greatest love story ever.  We find in Jesus’ trial and death on the cross his heart.  His prayer for the forgiveness of people’s sins.

Part 1 – Jesus on Trial

The whole assembly of Jewish leaders had already made their decision to rid the earth of Jesus. With this determination, they’d use truth, lies, half-truths, whatever it took to get a death sentence for him.  And they would not stop short of anything but a death sentence for him. But with Rome ruling the government of the time, the Jews didn’t have legal authority to punish as they pleased.  To sentence Jesus to death, they would have to go through Roman bureaucracy, taking Jesus to Roman politicians, in this case Pontius Pilate. Their real charge on Jesus was blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God.  But they knew that Pilate wouldn’t care much about this.  So, what did they do?  They made up a bunch of other bogus accusations, conspired together, and threw them out one after another in the trial.  “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”

But these were really not true.  To subvert means to challenge in a threatening way.  But Jesus had laid down his life as a shepherd, loving each and every person he met.  And teaching God’s words with all his heart.  And had done so particularly for their nation.  He didn’t oppose the payment of taxes to Caesar either.  In fact, when specifically asked about his stance on the payment of taxes one time he said, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Now the third charge was true.  Jesus did claim to be Christ, a king.  This claim would have been considered something punishable by death, for it was looked at as a threat to Caesar and the Roman Empire.  But when Pilate looked at Jesus, with such meek and innocent eyes, and with the raggedy clothes he was wearing, and bruises and cuts on his face, he felt no threat at all.  In fact, I think he saw through the motive of these religious leaders.  So he laughed and said sarcastically, “Are you the king of the Jews?”   But what did Jesus say.  He said, “Yes, it is as you say.”  Let’s think about Jesus’ behavior here.  With one lie after another being thrown in your face, how would you feel?  It would make your blood boil, right?  Surely Jesus hated hearing these lies as well.  They were very wrong, very unjust, and were being used for his harm.  But how does Jesus behave during the whole trial?  The only words he utters here are, “Yes, it is as you say.”  He didn’t speak up to defend himself of any of the other accusations.

But he admits that he is king so that nobody would be confused about his identity.  Jesus is king.  People needed to know then and they need to know today as well that Jesus is king.  Jesus is king but the world was rejecting its king.  But as for the other accusations, Jesus didn’t put up a fight.  He remained cool and calm.  Why?  Because he knew it was more than mere injustice.  He knew it was the will of God for him to go through this, to accomplish a glorious purpose, for us, as we’ll talk about in a few moments.

After looking at the evidence a little, Pilate decided that these charges were nonsense.  He just couldn’t see how Jesus was a bad guy.  So he sized up the chief priests and announced – “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

But the religious leaders didn’t give up.  They were determined to bring Jesus down.  So they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here."  This was ludicrous too.  What had Jesus been teaching all these people?  Essentially, the Bible.  Yeah, he was stirring up people…


Pilate wasn’t buying this argument either, but in it he saw an escape route, a way to get out of this messy trial. They claimed that Jesus started in Galilee. So he reasoned, “If Jesus started in Galilee, then that means that he is probably what?  A Galilean, which means that He was also under Herod’s jurisdiction. And his assumptions were confirmed to be correct.  Yes!  He was excited to escape the responsibility, and gladly sent Jesus off to Herod.

But look at verse 8. “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.”

When you think about it, this was an opportunity of a lifetime for Herod to investigate and discover the identity of Jesus. Through this visit he could come to know Jesus personally.

But verse 8 tells us that Herod was “greatly pleased” not because of the chance to find out the truth about Jesus but rather because “he hoped to see him perform some miracle.” He didn’t care about the truth but just looked to be entertained all day long. Finally, when Herod saw he wasn’t going to get the entertainment he wanted from Jesus, he had Him dressed in an elegant robe out of mockery and sent him back to Pilate.

Sadly there are many people like Herod.  They are given one opportunity after another to discover who Jesus is.  Yet so many are only looking to be entertained.  When Jesus doesn’t provide some instant benefit to them, they cast him aside, and keep living their own life as they want.  These people, like Herod, reject Jesus the king.

Now, for political reasons I think Pilate had to deal with the case.  I mean, how would Pilate look if he sent Jesus off again?  He’d look totally irresponsible and cowardly.

So he reluctantly took up the case again.

Look at verse 13.  Can we all read these verses together.

13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."[c]

Wait a second. Punish him and then release him? Why punish him? Pilate said that he found no basis for the charges against him. He was guilty of no charges. Then why is he having him punished before releasing him? 

It was a political decision.  The majority of people wanted Jesus punished so Pilate was going to punish him.  But it was more than merely politics going on.  It was the beginning of our justice.  Jesus’ injustice was beginning to bring our justice.


But the problem for Pilate is that his compromise to appease the crowd didn’t work. The crowd wasn’t satisfied.

Look at verse 18.  Let’s read verses 18-21 together.

 18With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

 20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Finally their shouts prevailed and Pilate granted their demand. He released Barrabas, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will to be crucified.

Part 2. Do not weep for me.  Weep for yourselves.

Jesus’ march to death on a cross had begun. Look at verse 26.

“26As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30Then " 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '[d] 31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Jesus had already been through a lot. He stood on trial before the Sanhedrin, then before Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again. At Herod’s place he was ridiculed and mocked by the cruelest of soldiers. A crown of thorns was forced onto his head, tearing through his skin with blood oozing out and dripping down his face. Several times, under the custody of Pilate, he was punished as well by flogging and strikes to His face. Now, upon this frail body, they laid on his shoulders a wooden beam of the cross and led him to the place of crucifixion.  But it was too much.  After a few steps, he fell.  The soldiers lost their patience so they ordered a passerby named Simon to carry the cross the rest of the way.

“27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”

But Jesus didn’t join in wallowing in their pity for him. Instead, he said something very surprising and very thought-provoking.  Let’s read these verses together.  Verses 28-31.

“28Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30Then " 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '[d] 31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Jesus’ words foreshadow the judgment of each and every person. In summary it means that there is something more worthy of our weeping and crying than seeing a gory and cruel sight, like the mistreatment of Jesus.

It is our sins, and the judgment that will surely come because of these sins.  The sins of ourselves, the sins of our neighbors, and the sins of our children and future generations. Basically, we all weep if we see a tragic enough movie. And to see a great injustice and suffering like what was happening to Jesus here can make us weep too. 

But Jesus said, “Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”  The reason is because Jesus is going to be OK in the end.  After three days Jesus would rise again from the dead.  But what about us?  What about our children?  Will we be OK in the end? Will our children be OK in the end?  When Jesus saw them weeping he knew that for most of them it was only humanistic weeping.  They were only weeping because it was hard to see a man like Jesus who had done so much good now go through such cruel treatment like this.  But Jesus said they should weep for themselves, and for their children. Why?  Jesus says why. 29For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30Then " 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"

There is a time of judgment coming.  And at this time of judgment all things that we thought were such great human tragedies will be insignificant.  Barren women, wombs that never bore children, and breasts that never nursed.  Mountains falling on us.  Hills covering us like in a great earthquake.  At the time of God’s judgment, these kind of tragedies will even be welcomed so as to escape God’s judgment.  But it won’t work.  It will be too late.  So we must weep now if we are still in our sin.  We should get serious about the consequences of our sin now.  And for the consequences of others who are in their sin too.  “Weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Part 3. Jesus on the cross.

Finally they reached the crucifixion site called the Skull.

The cross was thrown down first. Then the battered body of Jesus was thrown down on top of it. His hands and feet were tied down with rope. Taking a large nail, a soldier placed the tip right above the palm of Jesus’ hand and drove it through.  It took several hits of course.  They did the same to the other arm. Then the feet. When the nails were securely fastened, finally the cross was raised and fixed in the ground, with Jesus dangling there, a spectacle to all. To his right was one criminal, to the left another. And there, the center of the three, the center of attention, was innocent Jesus. The holiest of men but treated as the most despicable.  If there was ever a more proper time to curse the world and curse his enemies, it was now. Everything was completely unfair. But Jesus did not curse them. Instead he blessed them by praying for them. Let’s read verse 34 altogether.  It’s our key verse.

34Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."[e] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed for his father to forgive them.  How could Jesus pray such a prayer? His strength was limited, his breath was limited, and the moments left until he passed away were limited too. How could he use his energy at this time to pray for those who were responsible for such an injustice? When my energy is limited I usually think about taking a nap. And when my time is limited, naturally, I make sure my own needs are met first.  But this is Jesus’ love.  This prayer is his heart that sinners, even those who crucified him, would be forgiven of their sins.  The whole purpose that he had gone through all this suffering was for the sake of our forgiveness.  Jesus really wants for us to be forgiven.  He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”  It means he wants even the most violent, immoral, and despicable of men to be forgiven.  He wants the soldiers who nailed him on the cross to be forgiven, the crowds who shouted “Crucify him!” to be forgiven, and the religious leaders who told many lies and plotted his very death to be forgiven. Think about the heart of our Savior Jesus here.  Even while still on the cross, suffering for these people’s actions, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them.”  That’s how big his heart is for the forgiveness of our sins!! Many of us are just as despicable, some maybe more so than others.  But all of us are guilty to some extent, and need this forgiveness.  Jesus’ prayer, his heart’s desire is for me too, and you too.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Indeed those responsible for his death didn’t know what they were doing.  They didn’t know they were crucifying the Son of God.  It’s true that when we commit many sins as well we are ignorant that we crucify the Son of God. So we commit sins so casually. If we knew fully what we were doing, we would never commit sin.  Jesus doesn’t condemn us in our ignorance.  He prays for our forgiveness.

Part 4. An example of forgiveness

Let’s see the variety of responses to Jesus and his words while on the cross.

Look at the second part of our key verse.

“And they divided up his clothe by casting lots.”

As Jesus hung there on the cross, (verse 35) “the people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him. "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" They didn't know why Jesus wasn’t saving himself, or at least trying to do so. In actuality Jesus did not save himself because Jesus was saving men from their sins.

But there was one man who understood this.  While the criminal on one side of Jesus only hurled insults, the criminal on the other side rebuked the first criminal. “"Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong" (40,41) This man had the fear of God.  He understood the wretchedness of his sin, that he was getting what his deeds deserved – that is – punishment and death. He also understood that Jesus was the Messiah who was about to go back to his kingdom. God had worked in his heart, he repented, and he believed that Jesus could save him. So he asked Jesus with faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus granted his request. "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What a wonderful day it would be for him!  This man had messed up terribly in his life, leading him to suffer the consequences of crucifixion on a cross.  But he did one big thing right, something that would save him from the continuous consequences to come after he died.  When God blessed him the opportunity to meet Jesus, he accepted Jesus’ love, and put his faith in Jesus.  He got to go to paradise with Jesus that very day.

One Word: Father, Forgive them.