Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
The King of Glory spoke these words from the cross. These were among some of the last brief statements that He made. Who exactly was He speaking to?
- Of course He spoke to the Roman Soldiers. They were standing there jeering and cursing having just nailed Him to the cross. Of course it was their job. They had been commanded to do so. It was probably not the first crucifixion detail they had been assigned. But this One was different. This One claimed to be the Son of God. He had stated that He would build the temple back in three days if it were destroyed. The man was mad. It had taken forty years to build. They gambled for His clothes at the foot of the cross as they watched Him die. Was it really the Roman soldiers He spoke of in His prayer to the Father?
- Maybe, it was the Jewish crowd that He spoke to that was gathered there that day. They had swarmed around Him as He had healed their sick, their blind and lame, cast out demonic spirits, fed them on occasion, and told them all types of parables and stories of God and His kingdom. Now they had turned on Him because He did not fulfill their desires of who the Messiah should really be. They had just recently shouted, “Hosanna, Hail King of the Jews.” Then they shouted, “Crucify Him.” Was it really the Jewish crowd He asked His Father to forgive?
- Or, maybe it was His disciples, especially the ones who had fled and were afraid and in hiding. Only John was present there with His mother and some other women who had been part of those who had followed Him from town to town and around the countryside. Peter, especially, was always boasting and speaking all kind of big statements. He obviously did not really know what he was saying. Was it His cowardly disciples He asked His Father to forgive?
- Or, maybe He saw ahead in time and saw that crowd as they were stoning Stephen to death, and especially that Saul of Tarsus character who was standing by as the stones killed this first martyr to His cause. That crowd that was so full of hatred against Stephen. Surely that is who He meant that forgiveness for.
- Perhaps it was further on down in time when the early Christians were martyred in the coliseum of Rome by wild animals and killed by hanging, and torture of all kinds. Surely their persecutors were included in His statement from the cross. And on down thru the Inquisition and throughout all the persecution of the Middle Ages. What about John Hus who was burned alive and all the others who where killed in nearly every country of the world. Surely His statement was meant for them.
- What about all the wars fought in the name of religion, the Crusades, the Protestants against the Catholics and the Catholics against the Protestants? Surely He had these in mind when He prayed His Father to forgive them.
- What about the barbarians throughout the world who committed wholesale slaughter of whole groups and nationalities of peoples simply because they were different. Men like Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, and the butchers in Rwanda. Certainly He was speaking of them.
- Or maybe He was speaking of all those native tribes and people in other lands, who because of their ignorance, killed missionaries and many other innocent people who were there just to preach to them the good news of salvation. Surely that is who He meant.
- Or maybe He looked out to our time and saw you and I when He was there on the Cross. “Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree. Amazing pity, grace unknown and love beyond degree.” I ask myself, “Was it me He was speaking of as He hung there with His life’s blood ebbing out drop by drop”. When He was there hanging on that Cross, could I have been on His mind? Was my sin that I commit day by day, year by year without regard to my own eternity what He had in mind as He spoke that day. Am I so calloused by my constant denial of wrong that I fail to grasp the total sacrifice that was made for me that day? Surely He was speaking of me from the cross that day.
Each of us alone can respond to that statement and cry out to Him in forgiveness.
“Yes Lord, I need your forgiveness. Yes Lord, I am guilty. Yes Lord, I repeatedly do the same thing over and over again and I do it because I want to do what I do. I know better. I know right from wrong. I am guilty. I should have hung on the cross…not you Lord. Father forgive me for I do know what I do.”