Dear believers in Christ, baptized of God. These are the very first words Jesus spoke from the cross. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
But didn’t they know? Didn’t they know what they were doing? Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He said so many times. Pilate knew that he was sending an innocent man to the cross, and Pilate knew that day was Jesus’ last day.
The soldiers knew it too. If they were just taking orders (as some might try to say), then why did they need to mock Jesus, and blindfold him, and then strike Him and ask which one of them hit Him, unless they knew Jesus was a prophet? If they were just taking orders, why did they need to bow down in a mocking way, and say, “Hail, King of the Jews?”
The religious leaders knew it too. Our Passion History says, they “consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill Him.” So they knew all about the false witnesses because it was all their idea.
They all went along. They all contributed to the crucifixion of an innocent man. Every single person who had a hand in it, knew. They knew that what they were doing was wrong.
But the question is: did they really know the depth and seriousness of their sin? That’s the dilema we all face. How easily we are tempted to sin without really considering the depth and seriousness of what we’re doing. And then how easily we dismiss, or justify it. How easily we excuse it (and then hold the same sin against others).
But do we always really know the seriousness of it all? Did Pilate, did the soldiers, did the religious leaders, know the eternal consequences?
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” He was not saying, “Father excuse their sin. Father, sweep their sin under the rug.” He was saying, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what a terrible thing they are doing to themselves. They do not know that they are condemning and destroying themselves. They do not know that hell is a real and definite possibility for them. They were so blinded by their sin that they didn’t really know it. And they didn’t really know the extent of their sins against God’s Son. And so, Paul says, had they known it, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
This is everyone’s problem. We are all born in sin. We are all born spiritually blind. We often do not realize the depth and seriousness of our sin. It’s not that Jesus is excusing it, it’s that the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus took the blame. Jesus bore the punishment for us all. And He intercedes for us all, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
When we sin, not really realizing what we are doing - when we sin without giving it much thought, or from weakness, or because we’re really not thinking of the real-life consequences, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
It is His suffering and cross that intercedes for us, but also His prayer for us, “Father forgive them.” Scripture says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Do we often think of this? Jesus continues to pray for us all, so that our sins are always forgiven. If He did not, we all would be lost.
So it’s not only what Jesus did on the cross, it’s also what He said, what He prayed, and what He continues to pray on our behalf. “Forgive them.” Do not count their sin against them. Take their sin away.
We notice that Jesus is not praying as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be Thy will, remove this cup from Me.” He does not say “if” this time. He adds no conditions. He does not say, “Forgive them if they will repent and believe”. He says only, “Forgive them.”
God does not wait for us to repent and believe before He forgives. First He forgives us all, and then He tells us the good news, and invites us to believe in Him.
Why does He forgive us? “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Scripture says, “He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Intercession refers to Jesus praying for us.
We also notice who Jesus prays for: Those who mocked, beat, and ridiculed Him. Those who put Him on the cross. He told His disciples, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”
On the cross He put that Word into action. He Himself did what He had commanded. When they were even murdering Him, He was not worried about getting revenge. He was only concerned about saving the souls of the very people who were hurting Him.
Jesus set an example for all to follow. We should forgive those who sin against us, as Jesus did. We should not wait for an apology first. From our hearts we should forgive even while others are hurting us. And we should pray for them. We can use the same words as Jesus, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Because of Jesus’ cross, and because of His prayer for us, our sins are forgiven. The sins of all people are forgiven. But now we are to believe this and make it our own. As Peter said to the Jews on Pentecost, “I know that through ignorance you did it,” but then he added, “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
We cannot change the fact that we have sinned. But through faith in Christ we have received the complete forgiveness of all our sins, and we are saved. This causes us to want to do God’s will, and to readily forgive, and to pray for those who sin against us, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.