The first words Jesus said from the Cross were these: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The sentence startles us because we understand so little about what’s really happening in our midst. To this point, Jesus had suffered through the miscarriages of Jewish and Roman justice and a brutal flogging. He stumbled along the Jerusalem lane that led to Calvary. The mob at Golgotha mocked and jeered Him, and even the thieves who hung beside Him entered into the “spirit” of the throng. Vicious words and tantalizing taunts were cast into His bloodied, battered face.
Still, Jesus looked beyond them and prayed for them. He knew precisely who was responsible for this agonizing and bitter scene. The prince of the power of the air was at work among this group.
“Father, forgive them.” Jesus always fought the right fight. He did so because He so loved the world and came to give Himself for it.
There was a time when Satan was ready to give, but only in order to take something for himself. In Matthew 4, the devil paraded the kingdoms in his possession before Jesus who had spent 40 days fasting and praying. All of the bright places of the earth flashed before the Lord’s eyes. “These are yours,” Satan said, “if you will but bow your knee to me.”
Words That Softened a Hard Heart
On the Tree, Jesus hung between Heaven and Earth. By the will of God, He made Himself a naked, bloody spectacle. He drank the cup of wrath down to the dregs – for our sake.
He always saw the real enemy behind the madness. The confidence He revealed staggers me. The nails may have torn His human flesh, but they did not hold Him there. Love did that. Love for all and love for the Father and eternal justice.
“Father, forgive them.” It’s a prayer, a request.
Could it be that this statement – so contrary to the atmosphere around the Cross – is the one that softened the heart of a hardened criminal? One thief came to see Jesus in a different way. This malefactor would realize just how out of place Jesus was. This thief would call to the Lord: “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom” (see Luke 23:42).
It was a plea for mercy, and Christ answered at once: “Truly, this day you shall be with Me in Paradise.”In all of the ignominy, Jesus maintained His confidence in the Father, the Spirit, and the Word of God. Click To Tweet
Jesus had prayed; then, He promised. In all of the ignominy, He maintained His confidence in the Father, the Spirit, and the Word of God.
Think of it, near the point of absolute weakness, Jesus won. Another lost one discovered Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This thief joined the Samaritan woman at the well, Zacheus the tax collector, and the naked man inhabited by a legion of demons as one delivered and made a new creation through faith in Christ. Sprung free was another pawn imprisoned in the devil’s game of thrones.
How did Jesus do it? Did He demonstrate His Lordship with a blast of power? Did He flex His eternal muscles and put Satan in his place?
Not at all. It was through quietness and confidence and rest in the reality of who He is that Jesus triumphed.
Prayers and promises, these are the wonderful weapons of the gentle Healer. These slice through the cosmic operation Satan uses to hold people captive. Christ takes aim at the accuser and cuts him down to size; He thwarts evil’s power with presence and peace.
“They know not what they do,” Jesus said.
Christ bids us to recognize the real war at work then and now. Satan slithered into Eden and hissed just enough lies to confound the first man and woman. The pattern of trickery continues, even in God’s Church.
We take up arms against each other, against our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. Arguments and divisions and disturbances separate us and occupy us, while the devil continues to deceive.
“Father, forgive us – we know not what we do.” May this be our prayer.
Let us purpose to honor God for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In Him, we shall find Light. In Him, we shall develop discerning minds and hearts. In Him, we shall recognize our enemy and allow the Lord to exercise His rebuke and His revenge.
The message from Jesus is one of rescue and reconciliation. May we deliver it with His confidence and authority. This is His way of victory.
For more about Jesus and His ministry of reconciliation, watch “Our Priest Gives Us Light,” a message from Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.