************ Sermon on ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 9, 2014
"Father, Forgive Them ..."
First Message Lent 2014
More than one person has noted that the word "sin" has disappeared from our language. Even many churches no longer use the word. Why? Doesn't anyone sin anymore? Is 21st century man better than those before them?
None of us would like to return to the extremes practiced during the colonial days. For instance, in almost every colony an adulterer could be publicly disgraced and even branded on the forehead or cheek. Things are certainly different today, aren't they?! Today, we emphasize love, grace, and forgiveness but say little about sin, wrath, and punishment.
In His first word from the cross it appears that even Jesus speaks just of forgiveness: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). Now, we have heard and read these words many, many times. They are precious words. But lots of people misunderstand what Jesus is doing and what Jesus is saying.
So, on this first Sunday of Lent, on this Lord's Supper Sunday, I want to spend some time looking at this first word from the cross.
I What Jesus is Doing
A "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).
What is Jesus doing? Most sermons and commentaries miss the obvious here. Jesus is praying. While He is suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus is praying.
"Father," He says. "Father." The same word Jesus teaches us to use in the Lord's Prayer (cf Mt 6:9). A personal word. An intimate word. A word implying relationship.
Jesus is praying to His Father in heaven while hanging upon the cross. What a strange place to pray. We pray around the kitchen table. We pray during worship. We pray in Sunday School class. We pray in the consistory room. We pray in quiet places. But we don't pray on crosses.
B What do you hear from crosses? You hear curses. You hear screams. You hear swear words. You hear moans and groans. Because those on crosses are hardened criminals. They are getting their just reward. Usually you don't hear prayers from crosses. But what do we hear from the center cross on Golgotha Hill some two thousand years ago? We hear a prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).
C "Father, forgive them ..." Who is Jesus talking about? Surely Jesus is praying for the priests, scribes, and Pharisees whose jealous plotting sent Him to the cross. His prayer includes the crowd who shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Lk 23:21). Doesn't Jesus also include Pilate and Herod? Does His prayer also include you and me because we also put Him on the cross?
When we look at this prayer, we realize that Jesus put into practice what He preached:
(Lk 6:27-28) "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, (28) bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.And, Jesus was also fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy when He "made intercession for the transgressors" (Is 53:12).
Standing before the cross is one more group I should mention – the Roman soldiers. These are hard, calloused men who follow orders without question. I've been reading Bill O'Reilly's book, "Killing Jesus." HOLD IT UP. The book does a good job of showing us the historical setting of the crucifixion. According to O'Reilly, one thing Caesar and his soldiers did not do is forgive enemies.
Consider what Caesar did to the population of Gaul (which covered most of Western Europe). Of the four million people who inhabited the region, one million were killed in battle and another million taken into slavery. After capturing a certain town, the hands of every man who fought against him were cut off. Another town was surrounded with sixty thousand men and nine miles of fortifications. When food began running out, the Gauls allowed their women and children to exit the city so that the Romans might feed them. Caesar would not allow them to cross the Roman lines so they lived on grass and dew until they died from starvation and thirst.
The Romans bowed before the god of revenge. Many of the Jews were exactly the same way as they religiously followed the motto of "eye for eye, and tooth for tooth" (Mt 5:38).
But what does Jesus do? Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them ..." Jesus prays for the hard and calloused soldiers who crucified Him. Jesus prays for those among His own people who bitterly opposed Him. Jesus prays for His enemies. Jesus prays for you and me.
D "Father, forgive them ..." And, now, an unexpected twist. The Greek indicates this was repeated, continuous action. Jesus did not pray this prayer only once. Jesus prayed this prayer many times. Again and again He prayed, "Father, forgive them ..."
I wonder how many times Jesus prayed this. Did He pray it fifteen times, fifty times, one hundred and fifty times? Did He pray it when Judas betrayed Him and Peter denied Him and all the disciples fled? Did He pray it when the Sanhedrin falsely condemned Him? Did He pray it when He was mocked and blindfolded? Did he pray it when the whip turned His back into a bleeding mass of mangled flesh? Did He pray it when the crown of thorns was shoved upon His head? Did He pray it when the purple robe was put around His shoulders and the soldiers mockingly bowed before Him? Did He pray it as He carried the cross up Golgotha hill? Did He pray it as the soldiers were driving nails into His hands and feet? Did He pray it as He was hanging there, His blood dripping to the ground? Did He pray it as the people and rulers sneered at Him?
This we do know: not just once – but again and again – Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them ..."
II What Jesus is Asking
A "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). Jesus was praying. But do we understand exactly what He was praying for?
Some have said Jesus was praying for a blanket pardon for all the people who participated in His crucifixion. He was going to forgive anybody and everybody who had anything to do with His death.
Do we want to say this? We know from Matthew's gospel that one of the soldiers confessed Jesus was the Son of God (Mt 27:54); but what about the soldiers who did not repent and believe? We know that one of the criminals who hung on the cross confessed faith in Christ (Lk 23:42); but what about the other criminal? We know that some of those who shouted for crucifixion repented and believed after Peter preached on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:41); but what about those in the crowd who persisted in unbelief? As far as we know, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were the only two rulers of the people who believed in Jesus; so what about all the other priests, scribes, and teachers of the Law? Herod was curious and Pilate washed his hands but neither repented. Do we want to say that all these people were forgiven? Has Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who have not repented and believed? Is Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who show they are not one of the elect? Obviously, we do not want to say Jesus is praying for a blanket forgiveness.
But this leaves us, then, with another problem. Do we want to say Jesus' prayer was not answered? Do we want to say this was the one time the Father did NOT listen to the Son?
B "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). Some misunderstand Jesus here to say ignorance is an acceptable excuse. If people don't know about Jesus – Who He is and what He has done – then they are not accountable to God. But Jesus is not praying for God to excuse the ignorant.
Peter talks about this ignorance in his Pentecost Day sermon. Do you remember what he said?
(Acts 3:17,19) "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders ... (19) Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,Peter acknowledges their ignorance. But he doesn't say, "Jesus prayed for your forgiveness, so you are forgiven." NO, he doesn't say that. Instead, Peter tells them to repent and turn to God.
C "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). What is Jesus praying for? To answer this question we need to understand the word that is translated as "forgive." In our Bibles the English word "forgive" is used to translates different Greek words. One Greek word means "to forget, wipe out completely, cancel a debt." As the Lord's Supper reminds us, God does wipe out our sins and cancel our debts. But that is not the word used by Jesus in the first word of the cross.
The word that Jesus uses is also found in Luke 18. There it is used when children are brought to Jesus and the disciples try to keep the children away. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them ..." (Lk 18:16). The word that is translated as "let" is the same word translated as "forgive." So what is Jesus saying? He is not saying, "Forgive the little children." He is saying, "Let them come. Don't interfere. Don't stop them. Don't hinder them. Leave them alone."
The same word is used when the crowd before the cross thought Jesus was crying out to Elijah. Scripture says,
(Mt 27:48-49) Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. (49) The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."This time the Greek word is translated as "leave alone."
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). It is a horrible thing being done by those who hate Jesus. They are crucifying the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). God has every right to let loose His thunderbolts of wrath. But Jesus is praying, "Don't interfere. Don't show Your wrath. Don't stop them with Your judgment. Leave them alone."
Jesus is praying for time. Jesus is praying for patience. Jesus is praying that God will hold back His just punishment and righteous wrath. That, for now, He will leave them alone.
Why? So that they can repent and believe.
Jesus prayed God would hold back His wrath on the Roman soldiers, the angry crowds, the scribes and Pharisees, Herod and Pilate. Jesus wants God to hold back so they all have time to realize what they have done and repent.
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).
Today this prayer is still being answered. God continues to hold back His wrath and His judgment. He wants no one to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance and faith (2 Pet 3:9).
Now, congregation, right now, is the time of God's favor and the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). But if you die or Jesus comes again, tomorrow will be too late. So, I implore you, repent and believe now. Repent and believe before you come to the Lord's Table.
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