1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Studying the seven cries of the cross is a fascinating study. The first, repeated as the first line here, was evidently uttered just after Jesus was lifted up on the cross. But how long did God intend for things to happen this way?
A study of the scriptures reveals that God has always intended to extend forgiveness to those who will believe. My pastor reminded me of a great place in Genesis where Christ is prefigured in none other than the person of Joseph. His brothers, who have made a lifelong practice of deceiving both their brother and their father, claim to have a “last word” from their father, telling Joseph to forgive them. Joseph, probably not fooled for an instant, has already forgiven his brothers, and weeps before them all, thus prefiguring the Christ who was to cry on the cross, asking for forgiveness to the very ones responsible for putting him on the cross.
What must it have been like for the Creator of the universe to take the form of flesh and become a man? Our world still marvels over the incarnation, even many who do not really believe find themselves “believing”, if only for a moment in the Christmas season. But I am thinking more of what it might have been like—to be perfect and holy and blameless—and yet become a man. He came, fully realizing from eternity past, that he would be rejected of his nation, Israel. He came, knowing his message would be mocked, his birth ridiculed, and his very personage threatened again and again. The evidence in the gospel is fairly strong that he was initially rejected even of his mother and his brothers. They could not understand something so magnificent and grand coming from the Jesus they had grown up with. Jesus, after his resurrection, made a special appearance to his brother James, last of all, probably so that his own brother might believe. James the Just indeed came to believe, leading the church of Jerusalem and leaving us with the famous epistle of James.
He came and saw so much that was wrong. We are only given a brief glimpse of one childhood adventure, that when he was 12 years old, he went into the temple and taught, amazing all those who listened. But the rest of the years are silent years, and we wonder how he coped with the world during that time. What must he have thought about all the crazy things going on the world? The Romans were little more than barbarians, his own people had nearly all wandered away from the faith, and the times were filled with evil. How it must have disquieted his soul to see all that was going on, and not to do anything about it. For the Bible says that he came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, that we might be saved.
I think of the prostitute who the religious leaders brought to him to be condemned. Jesus famously wrote in the sand after he said let him who has no sin cast the first stone. What if these leaders were men who Jesus knew personally? I do not doubt that Jesus, being God, could have known everything about these leaders, and it is suggested that Jesus, writing in the sand, was writing the names of the leaders and their secret sins next to their names. We of course, do not know what he was writing, but I want to suggest that perhaps Jesus was just using his earthly knowledge, his personal acquaintance with these men as the basis for his knowledge. He did grow up with them, and scandals, being what they are, have a way of coming out. What if he were just writing not-so-secret sins? In any case, the men were somehow convicted, and went out one by one.
I used to have a friend who despised this story, rejecting it utterly as something that Jesus would never do. (It is in a famously disputed passage, and may not have been part of the original.) But when I read the story, I always think it is exactly what Jesus would do. Until we begin to see ourselves as God sees us, we cannot have much hope of grace. It is only when we see ourselves as worse than a common prostitute that we begin to really appreciate the grace of God for its immeasurable worth. After all, we know that the first person into heaven was nothing but a common thief on the cross. Jesus has come to save the lost, but we do not even begin to realize how lost we were when we were found by him. Indeed, it is true, and could be accurately said of us, that even still, our folly is great, and we do not know what we do. Yet, Jesus prayed that the Father might forgive us, though we still do not know what that means.
The greatest among Christians tends always to have a great picture of his own ineptitude, coupled with an even greater understanding of the forgiveness of God. He understands well the meaning of grace, and is quick to point to the author of his salvation. If we are to comprehend at all the grace of God, we must see ourselves every bit as needy as that common prostitute in the eyes of God. We are not saved because of any goodness in us, and the Bible tells us that we owe salvation completely to the grace of God. It is not until we see that God’s forgiveness is offered to everyone, no matter what the offense, that we can begin to appreciate just how grand the grace of the Father is.
But it occurs to me that there is yet another plane of which we have so little understanding. I am a literalist when it comes to the Bible, and try to believe the things I find written there. We, meaning mankind, have been through many stages in the unfolding plan of God. In each stage, at every point we have been colossal failures. Even today, in the mystery age of the church, there is so much unbelief. You may think I exaggerate, but if we really believed that God is judging this world how drastically different our lives would be. We live with our amusements, our Wii games, our movies, and our favorite pastimes. We certainly do not act like judgment is coming upon the world. We most certainly do not act like Jesus is the one hope. Surely Jesus must be praying in our behalf, yet again, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Being a literalist, I must go back to the context, for heretofore I have mostly been writing about speculative applications of the prayer of Jesus when the primary context states something so plainly. The world was killing their Savior. They meted out their justice, and put to death the Savior of the world, not knowing what they were doing. The Jewish leaders were the primary force behind causing his death, but the worldly system of Rome was also used, and two of the worldly Gentile leaders were also greatly responsible for his death. Imagine being a believer prior to the cross, for Jesus does tell us of such in the gospel of John. They believed Jesus to be the son of God, and they believed that God the Father had sent him. What a deep sense of loss and bewilderment must have come over them to see the Son of God hanging on the cross, and dying. They had expected that Jesus was to be their ruler, over a kingdom set up on earth, and that the Jews would be used as a blessing to all of mankind. Instead they got a bloody and beaten corpse. What a devastation that must have been!
Who was the first to figure it out? As best I can tell, it was the disciple whom Jesus loved, John1, for John in running to the tomb early on Sunday morning, saw the empty tomb, with the grave clothes all neatly stacked, and he understood first what millions in the world have discovered since. He has risen! Read what the prophet Isaiah had to say, so long ago.
His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.
And again in Isaiah 53, (verses 3-6)
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Willingly he went to the cross, bearing our sins, that we might be forgiven forever, if we will but believe. While we were yet stupid and foolish, sinning against God in nailing Jesus to the cross, yet still then, he prayed to the Father, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. What wonderful grace was given to us by the Creator of the universe, who told us that he gave his life willingly, and that no man—not the Jewish leaders, not even the Roman leaders—took it from him. He said he would lay his life down, and that he would take it up again. Isaiah finishes with the picture of Jesus on the cross telling us, “for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.” Indeed, the Father has forgiven us, for we knew not what we were doing!
1. In John 20:8 it says, “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.”