February 10, 2016
“Father, Forgive Them”
“There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they cruciﬁed Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots.” (Luke 23:32-34)
Their ignorance is not an excuse. It is not a defense. Jesus is not praying that God forgive them because they aren’t accountable for their crime. They are accountable. If they were not, they would have no need of forgiveness. Jesus points to their ignorance in order to identify why they are in such great need for forgiveness. They are spiritually blind. Their spiritual blindness makes them incapable of understanding what they are doing. They are not only murdering an innocent man. They are murdering their God. They don’t know what they are doing.
The crowd cries out, “Crucify!” Jesus cries out, “Forgive!” And in the most powerful proof that God can turn the greatest evil into the greatest good, He brings forgiveness out of the cruciﬁxion. It is precisely by means of the cruciﬁxion of Jesus between two criminals that the crime of all humanity has been purged from the human race. The crucifixion of the Son of God is the crime of deicide. The cruciﬁxion of the Son of God is the washing away of that and every other crime ever committed or to be committed. The crucifixion of the Son of Man was the sin of sins. The crucifixion of the Son of Man is the forgiveness of all sins. Irony of ironies! When the crowd cries out for His cruciﬁxion, they cry out for the washing away of their sins. There, in the blood shed on Calvary, the world is redeemed, set free, delivered, forgiven, and reconciled to God.
So Jesus could pray, “Father, forgive them,” with conﬁdence that the Father would indeed forgive them.
God forgave the Jews. Less than ﬁfty days after Jesus’ prayer, over three thousand Jews came to faith in Jesus, were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and were joined in fellowship with their God and Father. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, and God answered His prayer. By bearing His cruciﬁxion for the sins of the whole world Jesus won the ofﬁce of Mediator. Jesus, and only Jesus, mediates God’s grace to sinners. He is the High Priest. He intercedes before God the Father and He pleads the case of sinners.
Let all Christians remember and never forget: God forgave the Jews The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. It was shed for the Jews. Therefore, that blood washes away their sins.
But it was the Romans — was it not? — who were legally responsible. They cruciﬁed Jesus outside of the city walls, and it was no Jewish authority that did it. The Church confesses that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. The whole world knows Pilate’s name. Few people have ever heard of Caiaphas. Who was to blame for Christ’s death? Was it Caiaphas who cynically reasoned, “it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish,” or was it Pilate who cynically washed his hands? If it is Caiaphas, Jesus prayed that His Father in heaven would forgive Caiaphas. If it was Pilate, Jesus prayed that His Father in heaven would forgive Pilate. If it was the Jewish mob, whipped into a b1ood—1ust frenzy of irrational hatred, Jesus prayed that His Father in heaven would forgive the mob.
And if it was you, Jesus prayed that His Father in heaven would forgive you. And it was you. It was you who cruciﬁed Jesus. This means that it was you for whom Jesus prayed. It was for your forgiveness that He willingly suffered. It was your sins that He willingly bore. It was for your soul that He suffered and His prayer was prayed for you.
Forgiveness was won in Christ’s crucifixion. The Father answered the prayer His Son prayed. He forgave all those responsible for Christ’s death. That is, He forgave all sinners, for it was all sinners of all times and places who nailed Jesus to the cross. The sins for which He suffered are the sins God forgave. Since He suffered the punishment of all sins of all sinners, it was all sins of all sinners that God forgave. Forgiveness of all sins was won, earned, obtained, gotten, there on Calvary as Jesus was cruciﬁed for us.
Forgiveness was not distributed on the cross. The forgiveness that Jesus Won on Calvary is distributed wherever Christ’s gospel is proclaimed because the proclamation of the gospel is nothing else than the declaration of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.
The forgiveness that Jesus won on Calvary is distributed wherever sinners are baptized in Jesus’ name and by His authority in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Mere water cannot wash away sins, but the water that is joined to the cruciﬁxion and resurrection of Jesus can and does wash away sins. The forgiveness that Jesus won on Calvary is distributed whenever the minister speaks Christ’s words of absolution to the penitents. The minister’s words of forgiveness are not from the minister, but from Christ who took away our sin
The forgiveness of sins that Jesus won on Calvary is distributed wherever Christians come to the altar to eat and to drink the body and the blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The bread and the wine of this holy Sacrament are not merely signs of Christ’s body and blood. They are Christ’s body and blood. Where the paschal blood is poured, death’s dread angel sheathes his sword. We eat and we drink and we know with the certainty of faith that we are receiving with our mouths the body and the blood of Jesus even as we are receiving by faith the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The Father answered Jesus’ prayer in two ways. First, He accepted Christ’s cruciﬁxion as payment for the sins of the world and forgave this fallen world of all its sin. Second, He continues to send the Holy Spirit who, through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, creates faith in the hearts of His people so they may receive and have this forgiveness. We receive this forgiveness through faith alone. We believe the words of absolution that we hear. When Jesus gives us to eat and to drink of His body and blood, we believe Him when He says that His body was given for us and His blood was shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sins. Those who do not believe do not receive.
This faith is apparently insigniﬁcant. Who can see it? Sometimes we can’t even feel it. At times, when plagued by doubts, we even begin to question it. In our moments of greatest weakness, our Lord’s prayers for us are our greatest strength. We don’t know how to pray. We stumble through, combining confessions with excuses, and ﬁnally just tossing ourselves on God’s mercy with the inarticulate cry of a guilty sinner laying claim to nothing more than Christ’s sufferings and intercession. These are the best prayers. They are prayed when we have been led to despair of ourselves. Then when we are weak we become strong because the power of Christ’s suffering rests upon us.
And from Christ’s strength in our weakness we learn how to pray Jesus’ prayer. We learn to pray for those who do us wrong. We learn to pray as Stephen prayed — even when he was being stoned to death — that God would not hold their sin against his murderers. We learn to pray that God would graciously forgive those who do us wrong that by God’s grace they may also receive forgiveness of sins through faith alone. We learn to imitate Christ’s humility when we suffer, knowing that His suffering alone is our glory in life and in death.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who became a curse for us on the cross, Make us partakers of your divine blessing. Let the holy blood you shed wash us free from all our sins And may your holy intercession for us gain for us eternal life. Enable us to pray the prayer you prayed So that we may be imitators of you in life and in death. Amen