Luke 23:34 (King James Version)
Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
“Father,” said Jesus. And in so saying, He reminded us how we all ought to pray, how we all ought to view our Lord God, our Creator. For God IS our Father. He is Someone who, even in our darkest hour, even when we ought to be respecting His sovereignty, when we are most aware of His holiness and our own depravity, when we are so conscious of our own weakness and sin–even then we can yet address Him as “Abba,” “Father.” It is how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven…” That is the Father to whom Jesus prayed in that darkest hour.
“Forgive them,” said Jesus. And in so saying, He expressed His own forgiveness toward us. He might have called flights of angels to free Him. He might have called down fire and brimstone on the people who nailed Him to the Cross. He might have summoned an angel above the threshing floor of Ornan to raise God’s sword of wrath. He might have died in silence. Instead, hoisted aloft with nails in His hands and feet and precious little breath, the FIRST WORDS from His mouth were “Father, forgive them.”
Forgive who? Forgive Judas? Forgive the Jewish leaders who had plotted His arrest? Forgive the Romans who gave in to the fears of the Sanhedrin? Forgive Pilate for leaving Jesus’ fate in the hands of a mob? Forgive His disciples for running away while soldiers bound Him? Forgive the mob who had cried “Crucify Him!”? Forgive the soldiers who were about to cast lots for His bloody clothing? Forgive who? “Them”–as in “all of the above” and more, as in everyone other than Him who was blameless, as in a world full of sinners, as in a chosen people who had lost their way, as in generations to come who had yet to hear the gospel, as in you and me and all who sin. “Forgive THEM.”
And even as He spoke to His Father, He also spoke for others to hear. He needed them to know that the only forgiveness that matters comes from God, not from men. Only He, the holy Son of God–only He, Emmanuel–could so speak and ask for that forgiveness, and only He could be sure and truly KNOW that God the Father would listen. He called for God’s mercy on us all–and we received it.
“For they know not what they do,” said Jesus. And in so saying, He revealed to us our own ignorance and doubt, our own sin, our overwhelming need for the very mercy He had just asked for us. You see, we DID know. Five days ago we sang “Hosanna,” and then we went through the week as if the Son of God were not among us, as if He had never told us, “Repent and believe.” “But, Lord, I didn’t know!” is often the first thing we say when we realize how much we have sinned against the Lord our God. But we DID know, we did feel the guilt, the conviction, the sense of wrongness. Our consciences spoke to us, warned us away from what we were doing–but we did it anyway. We let doubt and temptation take hold of us. We stopped loving God and our fellow man just long enough for sin to creep in, and we KNOW that it did.
And so even as Jesus told the Father that we did not know Him, now we DO, now we have no doubt about His divinity and glory, His sovereignty and power. Having heard the gospel, now we know better, and now we know what we do–and we know we still need that mercy…every day.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Father, Papa, Abba, Almighty God–forgive them, show them mercy, do not give as they deserve, but spare them for My sake–for they know not what they do, they are yet ignorant of the hope that is to come, they have yet to have the Scriptures fully opened to them, they are still learning, still being perfected. Father, Father, shower them with Your grace, bring them Your Spirit so that they know, truly KNOW that You alone are God.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Hanging on the Cross, dying from blood loss and suffocation, the FIRST THING that Jesus the Son asked from God the Father was for Him to forgive US, to save US, to let US live. Spoken by the very Lamb of God, the Mediator of our justification, the Anointed One, the Christ, we can rest assured of that forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They were first words spoken by Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, as He hung upon the Cross for our salvation, and sweeter words have never been heard before or since.