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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

'Father, Forgive Them'

By Randal Ross
March 21, 2010

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’ And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Luke 23:33-38, NKJV).

As we look ahead to Easter, this passage from Luke focuses our attention on God’s great Easter gift offered to us all — forgiveness. Only Luke records these words for us, and they are thought to be the first words of Jesus from the cross. He begins with forgiveness.

To see these words in context helps us to understand how genuine forgiveness works. This was shortly after 9 o’clock in the morning on the great day, Passover. The city is packed with worshippers, merchants and tourists.

Just about everyone had turned against Jesus: He is betrayed by His friends, rejected by the priests who were chosen to serve Him and His Father in the temple, and sold out by the crowd who chose a murderer, Barabbas, rather than Jesus when Pilate offered to free one criminal as a Passover gift.

Jesus has been mocked as a clown king by the Roman soldiers and then driven through the crowd until He falls. The crowd is a hateful mob, and they add insult to His pain. Now the King of kings hangs between two criminals, men who will play a vital role in the story of salvation.

After all of this, the first words of Jesus are a prayer to His Father: He doesn’t want God the Father, the Righteous Judge, to punish His tormentors for His pain. Jesus prays to His Father, His first prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them.” It is a shocking prayer to hear from One so abused. But it is very appropriate to everything Jesus will accomplish at Calvary. This is our Lord’s first prayer, because the Cross is ultimately about forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is nothing else.

Forgiven, and forgiving
We talk a lot about forgiveness because it is one of the core values of Jesus and His kingdom. Forgiveness is not just a good idea, it is also vital to overcoming the attacks of the enemy. You have to receive and give forgiveness to be an effective part of God’s family. Jesus came to forgive us of our sins. He came to wipe out on the cross the penalty of sin by bringing us forgiveness.

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:13-15).

Being a Christian is being forgiven, to be without condemnation for what we have done wrong. Because of the Cross, we are forgiven completely. That is the good news of the Cross; that is what Jesus was doing there.

The Bible also teaches us we are not only to ask for forgiveness, but to freely offer forgiveness as well. This is Christ’s mark upon us. We see this central obligation of the believer expressed as early as Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13).

When the Cross is effective in your life, you not only receive forgiveness but you also give it. And by forgiving in Jesus name, an impact is made on the world. The question is, how can we forgive what seems to be unforgivable?

Forgiveness and the ‘unforgivable’
There are some acts and sins that seem impossible to forgive. How can you forgive what seems to be unforgivable? How can you forgive in the midst of being hurt? We gain insight as we look at the Savior.

How could Jesus forgive the ones who crucified and mocked Him? The people have done the unthinkable; they have purposefully rejected and tortured Jesus. They have asked that the blood of His death be upon them and their children. How do you forgive what is unforgivable?

In Jesus’ case, you see a mob in desperate need of forgiveness, but still completely focused on continuing in their sin. The amazing thing is that Jesus’ words didn’t even land in the crowd. The soldiers still gambled for His last shred of clothes, and the crowd mocked Him the more. Yet Jesus prayed for them.

I’m convinced everything Jesus did from the cross was for our example, so that we, in picking up our crosses and following Him, can be triumphant. And forgiveness is a vital component of this process. We cannot get through these dark days without receiving Christ’s words for us and allowing them to flow through us. The wounds and the hurts and the offenses of life are just piling up and weighing us down, and if we don’t find out how to get rid of our pain, hurts and rejections we will not make it through.

Forgiveness and the invaluable soul
Contrary to all the surface evidence, Jesus gives us one of the great principles of forgiveness here: Remember, they don’t know what they are doing! “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Or said in our lingo, “Remember, they are not always going to get it.”

On first hearing that, it seems wrong. “You don’t understand. They knew exactly what they were doing. They knew before they did it; it was premeditated. It was planned. They knew they would hurt me, and they did it anyway.”

You think of the person who stole your business. You think of the spouse who had the affair. You think of the classmate who lied about you in school, or the co-worker who stabbed you in the back at work. In each case, the damage was carried out according to plan. Your tormenters knew exactly what they were doing.

We must get a picture of the kind of knowledge Jesus is referencing. The people can’t see or discern spiritual truth; the light isn’t on in their heart or spirit. This is not head knowledge; it’s the seeing of revelation or truth.

The Cross enables you to see people differently, to recognize they are in the same position as you and I. The lost are not the enemy; they are the prize, and they are worth fighting for.

In essence, Jesus says, “I can forgive them because I know that they aren’t the enemy; they are being manipulated by evil and I will see them as worth saving.” Jesus did not win the battle with evil by giving us what we deserve, but by seeing the possibility of change within our hearts.

How does this principle play out in our lives when it comes to our responsibility to forgive? Jesus knew that what people need more than anything in the world is not just the forgiveness of words, but to hear us acknowledge to others, “I forgive you because I am like you and I need forgiveness.”

Jesus knew that what people needed more than anything was not just the forgiveness of saying, “I’ll let you go because it is good for me,” but rather, “I forgive you because I believe you are worth it. Your value to me is more than what you have done wrong. I see the good in you, and I’m willing to fight for your redemption.”

The world expects us to be like them, but when we fight for them by offering forgiveness, it can change their eternity. Our forgiveness can become the key to hardened hearts that breaks through satanic strongholds and reaches that person’s core with the power of the gospel. And, suddenly, another priceless soul is ushered into the Kingdom. True victory and joy come from looking beyond people and the hurts of life. And in following Christ’s example, we find the victory that He has for us as we live in genuine forgiveness.

Adapted from From the Cross to Eternity by Randal Ross (to be released by Access Group in Spring 2010). Used with permission.

RANDAL ROSS is senior pastor of Calvary Church in Naperville, Ill.

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