“Father, Forgive Them”


Sermon Text: Luke 23:34
Sermon Sereies: “Jesus’ Words on the Cross” (#1)

Main Points:
I. Jesus’ way to the cross
II. “Father”
III. “Forgive
IV. “Them”

Another Easter season is here. We give deeper thanks to God the Father in this season for His love in sending His Son Jesus to die for us. In the meantime, I prayerfully wish that the Holy Spirit may lead your heart and everyone’s mind to the cross of Christ, first, then, to the empty tomb of the risen Lord. Having led your attention to the cross and the empty tomb, I sincerely seek that God enrich your soul with the saving grace of Jesus’ death and the glory of His rising from the dead. This is my prayer with the new sermon series on ‘Jesus’ words on the cross’ over this Easter season.

Why focus on the Lord’s words on the cross? Because the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross encapsulate Jesus’ nature and what He has done. Moreover, Jesus’ words on the cross sum up the heart of the Father God toward us, His dear children.

So, today, let us go to Calvary in the 1st century AD, especially on the day Jesus nailed to the cross and died to pay the penalty for our sins. Let us hear His words and contemplate on His first saying, that is, “Father, forgive them.”

I’d like us to start from the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Earlier that night, He had the Last Supper with His disciples. Then, He went to a place called Gethsemane located in the Mount Olives which was less than 2 kms away from Jerusalem. There, Jesus prayed to the Father with a great agony. Luke records that, as the Lord prayed, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. That was because Jesus knew what was coming. He was going to suffer, trialled and crucified as the OT prophets had foretold, like, for example, in Isa. 53 which we read earlier this morning. Jesus was going to take the weight of sin of the sinners, and He was going to do it by giving His life up in place of theirs so that everyone who would repent of his sins and believe in the Son might not die but live.

Having completed His prayer that night, Jesus was arrested by those sent by the high priest of the Jews. He was taken to the house of the high priest where He was interrogated and mocked until morning. Then, He was taken to the council of the Jews and received more mockery. They concluded, then, that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and took Him to Pilate, the Roman governor, then to Herod, a client king of Judea. Both of them concluded, however, that Jesus was innocent. But the Jews altogether demanded Pilate the Roman governor that Jesus should be crucified. So he gave the Lord over to the Roman soldiers to be executed by crucifixion.

All these happened overnight and Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 am the next morning. As nails pierced Jesus’ hands and the cross to which the Lord was fixed was erected, Jesus opened His mouth and said, “Father, forgive them.”

Hearing this, some of you might say, ‘Yes, that’s who Jesus is; He forgives sinners – how gracious He is!’, and move on, giving not much special attention to what the Lord said. If you do, that’s because you’re too familiar with this saying of Jesus. But if you pause and carefully examine His words and the situation He was in, you would not be able to stay calm but exclaim, ‘How? How could He say this in such pain and agony?’ Yes, Jesus’ first words surely shock and astound us all.

Consider it for a moment – when Jesus said this, it was the very beginning of the awful pain of crucifixion. Every bone and muscle of His body must’ve been convulsing in unimaginable pain. In such a situation, could anyone take note of anything other than pain? Could anyone even say anything sane or reasonable other than screaming? But Jesus opened His mouth and said, “Father, forgive them”! He said this, not because He was capable of enduring pain, not because He needed to show people that He was different from all others. None of such things was why He said it on the cross. Instead, He said it as a prayer to His Father since those people as well as all of us desperately needed the Father’s forgiveness! Forgiveness of sins was desperate and urgent for them and for us all – and that’s why the Lord prayed at that moment of indescribable pain. And I want you to think deeply about each word Jesus said on that cross.

The very first word is ‘Father.’ Calling ‘Father,’ Jesus wanted His Father in heaven to hear Him and answer His petition. But saying ‘Father’ audible to human ears, He tells us an important truth on our relationship with God. Jesus calls God, ‘Father,’ and He asks us to call Him likewise.

As you remember well, one day His disciples asked Him to teach how to pray, and He taught them and us to begin our prayer by calling God, ‘our Father in heaven.’ He means that this is the foundation of our being. Apart from this relationship, no one lives. No one exists by oneself, but he/she lives or dies based on this relationship with God.

It is the most simple truth but at the same time the most important truth which is often neglected by many people. No, let me rephrase myself – it is the most simple and important truth which is always denied by all people in the world. People seek to connect themselves to a god or gods other than the God of the Bible, their Creator. To anything and everything they relate themselves, but not to their true Father who is the origin of their being. To them, Jesus makes His point clearly and firmly here, calling God, ‘Father.’

By calling God ‘Father,’ Jesus also makes His appeal to us to never forget this our relationship, and to always call on Him as our Heavenly Father. This is Jesus’ intention when He began His seven sayings on the cross with ‘Father.’

In addition, Jesus appeals to us to know God who is our gracious and kind Father who loves and cares for us eternally. He is not at all a severe, stringent judge who harshly deals condemned criminals. Otherwise, the Apostle Peter would’ve not emphasised the Father’s patience and perseverance with us, sinners. But he says in 1 Pet. 3:9, “the Lord is … patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Heb. 12:7 and following points to us that our Heavenly Father loves us, thus, sometimes disciplines us as His beloved children. So, even in that severe, indescribable pain, Jesus called His Father, knowing that His Father would never leave Him nor forsake Him, but love Him forever! So should you and me, and come to our loving Father always.

The next word He says is ‘forgive.’ As I mentioned earlier, this is the core of Jesus’ petition. And this shocks us! How could forgiveness be His petition to the Father? Are they not the people who have demanded Him to be crucified and driven nails through His hands to the cross? Haven’t they mocked Him, jeered Him, spat on Him all night and finally put Him on the tree of curse to kill Him? How could this idea of ‘forgiveness’ exist in His mind and is uttered through His lips as a petition to God the Father?

So, this ‘forgiveness’ Jesus prayed on the cross is THE evidence of who He is, that is, our Saviour and Lord worthy to be adored and worshiped, worthy to be glorified and blessed by all the living in all generations! In addition, this is – I believe – why the Roman centurion and those who were with him there on the day who were responsible for carrying out the executions said in awe, “Truly this was the Son of God!

Having said, let me ask this again – why does He ask the Father ‘forgiveness’? The answer is, human beings cannot come to God unless our sins are cancelled, let alone calling Him Father. ‘Sin’ means that all in human race have rejected God and refused to call Him our Creator and King. Moreover, all have considered Him ‘dead’ by being indifferent to Him or by being angry at His righteous law. This our offence to God is sin, and sin must be cancelled, erased, washed away, removed first in order to come to God and have our relationship with Him restored, thus, call Him Father.

While Jesus was teaching and healing many people freely earlier, a Jewish ruler and scholar came to Jesus and asked one thing, but knowing what was the core of his query, the Son of God answered him and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In that answer, Jesus said that being born again is the only condition for seeing or entering God’s kingdom. Hearing this, that Jewish ruler was confused because he could not understand what that thing ‘being born again’ meant. But much earlier than that meeting – in fact, from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He preached openly, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are not two different kingdoms but one. And the essential and only condition for the admission to this kingdom is ‘being born again’ which is, in another word, ‘repentance’ or ‘turning away from one’s sin, recognising one’s serious, evil offence made to the righteous God, then, turning to God for His grace.’

This turning away from sin and asking God’s mercy is the beginning of forgiveness. I say, the beginning, because man’s giving up of sinning cannot cancel his offence made to God. He must pay the penalty of his sins. A simple example might be like this – a person has mocked the king not in his private room but in public and the whole world knows about it and the king has been seriously offended and his name grievously marred. Then, that offender’s guilt cannot be cancelled unless he pays a due penalty that matches to the offence made to king. Also, the king must be satisfied with the due penalty. Likewise, a sinner who has offended the sovereign and all powerful God must meet justice by paying a due penalty for his/her offence. But because God’s office and dignity is too high and exalted, nothing of the sinner can repay or satisfy his offence; not even the sinner’s life can pay what is due.

Yet, the gracious God demands not the life of sinner but has provided a substitute. I mean, the life of someone else in place of the penitent sinner. And this Substitute is Jesus, the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord! So, what is required of the penitent sinner is to plead with Jesus to pay his/her due penalty. And this ‘pleading’ is, in another word, ‘faith.’ By pleading, the sinner knows and believes that Jesus is the Son of God who came to die for and give His life to all who would plead with Him for mercy. By pleading, the sinner knows that Jesus alone can pay his/her due penalty for sin!

On the cross, in that unimaginable pain of crucifixion, Jesus asks His Father to cancel the sins of the penitent sinners, and save them, thus, bring them into His eternal and glorious kingdom!

And lastly, Jesus asks His Father to forgive ‘THEM.’ What does He mean by ‘them’?

First of all, it is sure that He prayed for those around Him on Calvary that morning. He meant those Jews who had been mocking, spitting on, sneering at, driving nails through and even cursing Him. In their midst, of course, there were saved children of God like Mary, Jesus’ mother, and some women as well as one or two disciples, including the Apostle John. But mostly, those people Jesus pointed, saying, ‘them,’ were rejectors of God’s Son, the only Saviour of the world. By their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, they mocked God. And they would surely be excluded from Jesus’ amazingly kind petition. But Jesus meant them also when He prayed and said, ‘forgive them.’

That’s because they needed God’s ‘forgiveness’ in the sense of being patient to them. Otherwise, I mean, unless God was patient, God would’ve stretched His righteous arms out toward them and destroyed them all instantly. Those God-haters and mockers on Calvary in the 1st century AD desperately needed God’s patience. So, Jesus made His petition to God for bearing them for just a little longer. The same appeal is in effect for the people of the present generation, but it’s just a temporary withholding of God’s justice and His final judgment will surely meet each one. This is why all people, all sinners must hear the good news of Jesus’ salvation and urgently come to Him in repentance and faith. About this, Acts 17:30 says that Christ calls and commands now all people everywhere to repent!

While Jesus prayed for God’s temporary patience for the sinners, the main focus of His petition was for all whom God had chosen to save. He prayed then and prays even now for the forgiveness of the sins of all God’s elect. By our own sins, we nailed the Lord Jesus to the cross, didn’t we? So, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of our sins. Then, having been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus, we continually sin against God. So, Jesus prays for the forgiveness of our daily sins. This forgiveness of our sins was and is the main focus of our Saviour’s heart. No wonder why we love to sing ‘amazing grace’ and thank Jesus for His saving grace!

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, let me tell you this that the very first words of Jesus spoken on that painful cross are still ringing the heavens and the earth, reaching every ear. So, hearing Him, come to Him in repentance and bow to Him in faith. Then, receive the full benefits of forgiveness of sins, calling God ‘Father,’ and Jesus your Saviour and Lord.

If you have been enjoying this blessing of forgiveness, trust God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love Him back by being obedient to His every command and loving one another in Jesus because that is what delights your Heavenly Father! May the blessing of Jesus’ prayer fill your heart and soul today and all your days! ***

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