Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots (Luke 23:32-34).
Three groups of people made fun of Jesus when he was on the cross. There were two criminals who were crucified with Jesus and both initially hurled insults. The religious rulers who witnessed the event were sneering and jeering at him. And, in verse 34, the Roman soldiers cast lots for his clothes and it’s true that they also belittled him and challenged him to save himself.
John Stott comments: “…the evangelists give no details of the crucifixion; they make no reference at all to hammer or nails or pain, or even blood. All we are told is ‘they crucified him’. That is, the soldiers carried out their gruesome task. There is no evidence that they enjoyed it, no suggestion that they were cruel or sadistical. They were just obeying orders. It was their job. They did what they had to do. All the while, Luke tells us, Jesus kept praying out loud, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34, Stott, page 49).
It’s extremely doubtful that the Roman centurions had ever executed someone who prayed for their forgiveness. They had probably seen hundreds of crucifixions with victims cussing, and crying, and claiming their innocence. They had undoubtedly seen some people begging for mercy for their crimes. Instead, we see Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who were mistreating him, which was an incredible thing to see.
Imagine how hard it would be to pray this prayer. First of all, as Jesus spoke those words, he was in a lot of physical pain. Second, he never received a fair trial. Third, some of his closest friends had abandoned him, and those wounds would still be hurting. Further, there were all kinds of insults being hurled at him.
It’s truly amazing, with all that going on, that Jesus would pray for these people and that he would grant forgiveness, even while he was being crucified. It’s also amazing that Jesus expects his followers to act in that same way!
In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Jesus practiced what he preached. Even after they hoisted him up on the cross, he kept loving his enemies and prayed for those who were persecuting him. Knowing that most of his closest friends would betray, deny, and abandon him, through it all he never stopped loving them (John 13:1).
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul the apostle gives us some instructions: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We all have a tendency to rank the offenses that occur and if something is little, we might be able to overlook it. Maybe we can chalk it up to human error. Nobody is perfect – right? But when a big offense happens, and we get hurt in a deep way, then we feel justified to hold onto grudges.
The Bible says, that if you and I are followers of Christ, then we are to forgive others just as he forgave us, which means totally and completely. The moment we received Jesus as Lord and Savior, we were forgiven a debt we could not pay, and now he asks us to have that same spirit toward others.
What’s a good definition of forgiveness? Forgiveness is the decision to let go of our resentment, because we realize that we’re not the ultimate judge, God is. Therefore, if any punishment is to be given, it must come from him and not from us. For when I forgive someone, I tear up my I-owe-you. I choose not to express my disappointment and anger through retaliation, choosing instead to trust myself and the entire situation into the hands of God. Through forgiveness, I’m refusing to let someone else’s attitudes and actions dictate my response.
Although forgiveness is the first step toward restoring a broken relationship, there’s no guarantee that the connection will ever be restored, because all relationships are based on trust. And once trust is broken — it’s hard to ever get it back.
Some people will tell us to “forgive and forget,” but that’s not a realistic expectation. You’ll still remember what happened, but through forgiveness, you no longer feel a need to use that memory against someone else. The memory remains, but the desire to retaliate leaves!
Please remember that Jesus could have retaliated since he had all the power of the universe at his disposal. All he had to do was call down legions of angels to fight against his foes, but he didn’t do it. Instead, he just prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.”
The cross not only reminds of God’s holiness, it also reminds us of our unholiness. The Bible indicates that it wasn’t just the sins of people in the first century that sent Jesus to the cross. It was part of God’s eternal plan to pay the penalty for our sins as well. But in order for us to receive that forgiveness, we have to let Jesus be the director of our lives.
The truth is, once we see the magnitude of the debt that Jesus paid for us, and how much we’ve been forgiven, it serves to tenderize our hearts and makes us a lot more gracious in how we deal with others. As the followers of Jesus, we’re called to forgive, just like he did.
In A.D. 70, the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple and much of the city of Jerusalem.
Warren Wiersbe adds this thought: “Our Lord’s intercession postponed God’s judgment on the nation for almost forty years, giving them additional opportunities to be saved” (Acts 3:17-19). God is slow to anger and abounding in love, but judgment eventually came upon the people who rejected his Son.
What an incredible debt was paid at the cross and you did it for us! Thank you that your sacrifice on the cross removed the barrier of sin on behalf of all who believe. Lord, out of a grateful heart, we choose to let go of any and all resentment toward others because we recognize that you’re the only one qualified to be the ultimate judge and you will always do what is right.
Is there someone you need to forgive today?