Halim Suh speaks on Luke 23:34.
Series: The 7 Sayings of Jesus
As the crowds were mocking Him, as His loved ones abandoned Him, as Roman soldiers were nailing Him to the cross, as people were gambling for His clothes and as He was put out completely in shame…
34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (ESV)
Jesus accomplished forgiveness on the cross. As a Christian, God has forgiven you.
How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s nice, but you’re not sure there’s really anything you need to be forgiven of? Or do you think overall you’re a good person, but you mess up occasionally, so you’re thankful for His forgiveness in those times? Or do you think, “Amen! I can’t believe it,” crying with the psalmist, “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” (Psalm 32:1-2 ESV).
If I were honest, I’d say theologically the third one to be true. But often times, my heart feels the second. I know God is infinitely holy, I’m infinitely a sinner and there’s a gap that needs to be bridged by His forgiveness. But often times, I feel like I’m a pretty good person. I sin like everybody else, but I’m not walking around doing terrible things.
If we feel like we’ve been forgiven little, we’re going to love and forgive little. If we know we’ve been forgiven much, we’re going to love and forgive much.
Christians, God has forgiven you. To the extent and the depth you know and feel forgiven by God you’re going to be able to forgive others.
We live in a broken world. You’re going to be wronged, hurt and sinned against. Some of you have been wounded and your wounds run deep. What are we to do with that?
Jesus offers us the answer. He calls us to forgive. Not vengeances, not retribution, not getting even, but forgive. It sounds so simple, yet it’s so hard to do. C.S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
It all seems to hinge on how do we deal with wrongdoing, hurt and being sinned against. If we’re going to be able to forgive, we have to know and feel the extent and depth we’ve been forgiven by God.
It Was A Prayer
Jesus’ first saying on the cross was a prayer. He was going through the hardest and most painful thing He’s ever had to endure. Yet He was praying. What’s even more impressive is what He was praying for, our forgiveness.
When times are good and you’re healthy, maybe you’ll look at others’ needs and try to help them. But when times are bad, when we feel wronged, persecuted or feel pain, we have a “woe is me” mentality and tend to focus on ourselves. We want to be at the epicenter, with the whole world revolving around us. That is the natural human tendency.
It might not be a surprise to you to see Jesus praying in the midst of this trial, but to see what He’s praying for should. We could understand if He was praying, “Father, they nailed me to a piece of wood. I came to save them and now they’re trying to kill me! Father, strike them dead and let’s start all over.” That would be understandable, but very unlike Jesus. Or maybe, “Father, I know I have to endure the cross for the salvation of your people, but it’s so difficult and painful, so please help me to endure it.” That would be a really understandable prayer. But He doesn’t pray that either.
During the time when it would be understandable and expected for even Jesus to be self-focused, He was being utterly others-focused. His focus was on God and those who were killing Him. He said, “Father, forgive them.”
Through this we see Jesus’ humility and divine condescension. The first and foremost wrong He had in mind wasn’t the wrong being committed against Him, but the wrong committed against God. Jesus was showing us how we ought to deal with being wronged and sinned against.
Pray For Him To Forgive
First of all, we have to pray. Our view of God’s holiness and righteousness must be such that we realize the wrong committed is not against us, but against God.
When someone comes to you and confesses they’ve lied to you, they’ve hurt and betrayed you. Wives, lets say your husband has confessed that he’s been looking at pornography. What do you do? How do you respond?
Do you first and foremost have such a view of your own righteousness that you say, “How dare you do that to me! How could you hurt me like this?” or do you have such a view of God’s holiness and righteousness that you become broken over the fact that your husband has wronged God?
If anybody could have been rightly offended by a wrong done against Him, it was Jesus. Yet, He first and foremost cared about the restoration between the sinner and the Father. After all, that’s why He came.
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)
We don’t need to pray how the person has wronged us and ask for the strength to forgive them. First and foremost, we need to pray how the person has hurt and sinned against God and ask Him to forgive them.
If God, in His infinite holiness can forgive, how much more should we? If God would freely offer forgiveness with arms stretched out, with an embrace, not reluctance, how much more should we? This isn’t just the way God forgives other people, but also how He forgives us.
Suddenly we realize the most difficult thing in the world to do is the most natural thing to do. Something you once refused to do now becomes something you’re compelled to do. You forgive, because you’ve been forgiven.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (ESV)
Only when you realize Jesus wasn’t praying just for people out there, but you specifically, you’ll be able to forgive. Let’s go deeper and begin to see and feel the extent to which we’ve been offered forgiveness. Remember, to the depth and extent we see and feel our being forgiven, we’ll be able to forgive. So lets look deeper into this prayer of Jesus and ask two questions: 1) to whom did Jesus offer this prayer for forgiveness, 2) when did Jesus offer this prayer for forgiveness?
Who Did Jesus Pray For?
Jesus offered His prayer to those who did not know what they were doing.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It wasn’t offered to those who were repenting, confessing and sorry for their sins. The Bible says that while we were still God’s enemies, He offered us forgiveness. Not after we’ve realized our wrongdoing and sinfulness, but while we were still dead in our transgressions and sins, He offered us mercy and forgave us.
It’s not our confession and repentance that births God’s mercy, but it’s God mercy that births our confession and repentance. God acts first. We act second. It’s not that we first loved God. He first loved us.
In light of this how should we forgive?
Many times, our willingness to forgive is directly tied to the other person’s ability to know what they’ve done. We’re willing to forgive just as long as we see this person truly knows how badly they’ve messed up. We’re willing to forgive as long as we see the sorrow and remorse they’re feeling. But not before then.
If that were the way God viewed forgiveness would there be any salvation for us? If the only way God would forgive us is if we truly realized the enormity of our sin, showing a remorse and sorrow, confessing and repenting just the right way, would there be any forgiveness and salvation for us? No.
So Jesus prays, interceding for us, not just when we’re repenting, but especially when we’re not. Especially when we don’t know the enormity of how we’ve wronged Him and are not confessing.
Are you called to forgive those who have wronged you and either doesn’t know it, or doesn’t care? Yes, because that’s when God forgave you. You didn’t know the enormity of your sinfulness or how to confess nor did you want to. You didn’t know how to repent nor would you ever try to. You were His enemy and wanted nothing to do with Him. In the midst of you wronging Him every chance you got, God offered you mercy and forgave you.
Jesus prayed for forgiveness for us, not when we were sorry for our sins, but when we were happy in our sins.
When Did Jesus Offer This Prayer?
It wasn’t a few years after the resurrection, once the wounds in His hands and feet had healed, or after the pain of being forsaken by the Father had dimmed and things had gotten better that Jesus prayed for us. It was in the very midst of the pain and wrongdoing. While the hammer was still warm with the stain of His blood, He was praying, “Father, forgive them.”
Charles Spurgeon said:
“It was not a prayer for enemies who had done him an ill deed years before, but for those who were there and then murdering him. Not in cold blood did the Saviour pray, after he had forgotten the injury, and could the more easily forgive it, but while the first red drops of blood were spurting on the hands which drove the nails; while yet the hammer was bestained with crimson gore, his blessed mouth poured out the fresh warm prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."...
If our Saviour might have paused from intercessory prayer, it was surely when they fastened him to the tree; when they were guilty of direct acts of deadly violence to his divine person, he might then have ceased to present petitions on their behalf. But sin cannot tie the tongue of our interceding Friend! Oh, what comfort is here! You have sinned, believer, you have grieved his Spirit, but you have not stopped that potent tongue which pleads for you.”
Some of you are thinking I don’t understand the wrong you’ve committed and you don’t think God can forgive you. Your sin, no matter what it is, has not stopped, will not stop and cannot stop the potent tongue of Jesus, which pleads for you. You can’t stop Jesus from praying for you.
Because God was willing to forgive us at the very height of our rebellion in sinning against Him, because He didn’t delay His forgiveness until we got our act together, we can’t delay our forgiveness either.
Angela and I have had our share of arguments in the eleven years of our marriage. One of the most epic fights we’ve been in was in the car in the parking lot of a mall. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about. She had wronged me in some way and I was furious at her. During the fight I heard this whisper in my heart saying, “You know what will really show her and put her in her place? Get out of the car and start walking home.” I lived seven miles away. I thought it was a good idea. So I got out of the car, slammed the door and started walking home. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. Not even twenty steps into the walk, deep dark clouds rolled in. It started pouring down rain. I knew exactly what was happening. I could almost audibly hear God say, “What are you doing dummy?” I felt Him confronting my angry unforgiving heart. But I just couldn’t care. I just wanted to be angry and wanted Angela to feel bad. I would rather walk home seven miles in the rain than forgive.
My amazing, persistent wife kept driving up next to me, rolling down the window and begging me to get back in the car. I wouldn’t respond. The cars behind her keep honking. So she would drive off, do a U-turn and pull back up and beg for me to get back in the car. She did this about ten times. Each time, I stayed the course. After about three or four miles into the walk, I couldn’t ignore God or the cold anymore. I decide the next time Angela pulled around I’d get in the car. But she never came back. I walked the rest of the seven miles home where I finally saw Angela. She hadn’t stopped looking for me, but had lost track of where I was in the storm. We both apologized and it was over. No permanent damage done.
Here’s the deeper point to this story. As unforgiving as I was, it never crossed my mind that I would never forgive Angela. My attitude wasn’t I was never going to forgive her; I just wasn’t going to forgive her right now.
But Jesus didn’t wait to forgive you. He didn’t wait until after things got better and you straightened up your act. He didn’t wait until you sufficiently felt bad for what you’ve done. He prayed for our forgiveness when we weren’t sorry or repentant, when we were at the height of our sin and rebellion.
If you’ve been forgiven like this, you have to forgive other people like this.
There are some of you here are thinking I don’t understand the injustice done to you. Someone has abandoned, abused or ruined your life. They’ve cheated on you, divorced you. You have a legitimate complaint. Right now, as you sit, you still bear the scars and consequences of that injustice. I’ll never know or understand.
But somebody does. Somebody knows the level of injustice you’ve felt. Somebody else still bears the scars of the consequence of that injustice. Jesus.
You’ll never look more like Jesus when you experience a radical injustice and you breath out radical forgiveness. That’s when you know the gospel of Jesus has truly taken root in your life and heart.
After our friend Ronnie was killed in Libya, all the news outlets wanted to tell the story. They were reaching out to anybody that had any connection with him. The person they wanted to interview most was his wife, Anita. As a church, we wanted to care for her, by shielding her from all the media and giving her some time to heal and process. But Anita wanted to have the interviews right away. She said she desperately wanted the murderers to know she forgives them and loves them. She wanted them to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
Radical injustice met by radical forgiveness.
As Christians, we should be the most forgiving people in all the earth. We should forgive no matter what the sin, because no matter what our sin, God forgave us.
It was a Costly Prayer
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (ESV)
This was a costly prayer. Every other time Jesus went to forgive during His ministry He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” But as He was hanging on the cross, He didn’t simply say that. Instead He asked and prayed to God, “Father, will you forgive them?” Why?
On the cross, Jesus was becoming sin, a divine condescension. He was laying down His divine authority and prerogative to forgive. He was considering His equality with God something not to be grasped. He who knew no sin was becoming sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It was a costly prayer that required a great price.
It was a prayer Jesus offered up to His Father in His most humiliated state.
Even though it was coming from such a lowly state, God answered His prayer. Every person that has ever been saved or will ever be saved owes his or her salvation to this prayer of Jesus, because the Father was faithful to answer.
Our final assurance of forgiveness is God’s answer to this prayer.
If God was willing to answer the prayer of Jesus, even though He was becoming the filth of sin on the cross, how much more, now that He’s exalted, perfectly pure, holy and righteous, seated at His right hand? If God was willing to answer the prayer, the interceding on our behalf for us on the cross, while we were His enemies, how much more now that we’re His kids?
The hard work of the cross is done. The hardest prayer in the entire world God could answer has been answered. And now, it’s easy.
Jesus is still interceding for you. He’s at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Every time we sin, He asks the Father to forgive us. If He answered Jesus’ prayer while He was the filth of sin, how much now that He is exalted, holy and righteous, seated at His right hand? If He was willing to forgive us while we were His enemies, killing His son, how much more now that we’re His children?
If we’ve been forgiven, to this depth and extent, by our heavenly Father, pray and ask God whom He is calling you to forgive. Whoever that person is, no matter what they’ve done, pray and ask God to give you the grace to forgive them today.