“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.”
Luke gives us here a very precious word from the cross. This word opens up to our understanding the whole purpose of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. He gives up His life as a sacrifice of atonement through which we receive the forgiveness of our sin. Luke presents it in such a wonderful way here that we find ourselves being overwhelmed by the sheer grace that is extended to us. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” On the cross, in agony and humiliation, the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for those who are killing Him. Of all people who have ever lived on this earth the Lord Jesus Christ was the least worthy of death. He had no sin. He was compassionate and holy in every way. Yet they turned against Him and nailed Him to a cross. His response was to forgive them.
This verse raises several important questions for us.
- Who was Jesus praying for? Was it the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross, dividing up His clothes by lot, and doing everything they could to humiliate Him?
- Was it the people of Israel who were His own people, to whom He came as their God, and who responded to Him with rejection because they did not recognise Him as the fulfillment of all that the Prophets had promised?
- Was it the Gentiles, the Romans who drove the nails into His hands and feet?
- Or was it all of them? The truth is that each and every one of us was in one way or another responsible for the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His compassionate love the Lord Jesus Christ intercedes for the soldiers that they would be forgiven the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. He prayed for the Jews that they would recognise Him and receive forgiveness. He prayed for the Gentiles that they would be grafted into the vine that would give them real abundant life. He interceded for you and me that we too would receive the forgiveness which was purchased for us on the cross.
In praying in this compassionate way the Lord Jesus Christ was not offering a blanket amnesty for all sin. He was praying that these soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, and all of us would come to repentance and faith in Him. Right away as Jesus dies on the cross we see the first answer to this prayer as the Centurion praises God and confesses Christ. Over the next forty years as judgment on Jerusalem was delayed countess Jews came to faith in Christ. Over the centuries since then millions of Gentiles have come to faith in Christ, all in answer to this compassionate prayer. If you are a believer you owe your forgiveness to this one prayer. The Son of the Living God while in agony on the cross prayed that you would be forgiven. That prayer was answered as the grace of God was poured out upon you bringing you to faith.
This prayer is an invitation to faith and repentance as well as a call to compassionate prayerfulness as well. Steven in Acts seven prayed this way and Saul of Tarsus was brought to faith. Can you or I be any less prayerful seeing we are surrounded by countless lost people who do not know what they are doing? Each one of them desperately needs the forgiveness which you and I enjoy today.