This week we will be meditating on the cross and we will be focusing specifically on Jesus’ seven statements on the Cross. The statements of Jesus are significant because they tell us what Jesus was thinking and helping us to understand what was going on as Jesus was on the cross.
Today’s passage brings us from the trials and the condemnation of Jesus to his crucifixion. The first set of Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, staggers the mind. How could Jesus say something like that in the midst of such torture and pain? Why did he say it? What did he mean? Before we answer those questions, it’s important that the context in which these words were said and who it is that was saying it.
First the context. Jesus’ request to the Father was not made in a moment of ease or comfort. The passage tells us that the night before, Jesus had been abandoned by his closest friends, sentenced by people who already presumed his guilt, and was beaten and harassed by soldiers who treated torture like a sport. But even after Jesus’ beating the suffering didn’t end. Jesus was forced to carry a heavy wooden beam, the very instrument that would be the cause of his death. He was so weak from the suffering that he collapsed and needed help to carry the cross up the hill. Even after he made it up the hill it was not over. While he was hanging on the cross, the religious leaders continued to humiliate him. The soldiers around him joined in mocked him, while others were casting lots for his clothes. Above him was a sign posted by Pilate to mock his claim that he was the King of the Jews. It is at this time when Jesus prayed for the Father to, “forgive them”.
How could Jesus do such a thing? From a human perspective, Jesus was just a man. For the leaders who sought his death he was just another Messianic pretender. To the soldiers, he was just another Jewish criminal sentenced to death by the Roman government. But the Gospels tell us that he was something more. Jesus wasn’t just a normal human being. Jesus was God in the flesh, the second person of the Trinity. He is the one angels’ worship and God the Father takes delight. The Gospel writers tell us that God come down and make himself known. Jesus’ role is to be the mediator between humanity and God the Father. Jesus took on human flesh in order to be able to identify with us and show us what God is like. But he also took on flesh to represent us to God. But Jesus was not just God’s representative, he was God himself. When Jesus was put on the cross, humanity didn’t just put God’s ambassador on the cross, we put God himself on the cross. But amazingly, while Jesus was on the cross, he continued to play the role of mediator. He asked the Father to “forgive them for they know not what they do.”
What people didn’t know was that something was happening at this moment they could not see. Jesus was accomplishing what no human in their sin could do. Jesus was reconciling people back to a right relationship with God. Even while he was suffering and being abused, Jesus was asking for forgiveness for those he represented. He was asking for the Father not to hold this act of sin and rebellion against not only his torturers, but against humanity itself. Why? In representing humanity before the Father, Jesus was saying in effect, “These humans don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t hold it against them.” Jesus is not making an excuse for the people causing his suffering. Nor was he saying that the people who crucified Jesus are in a state of forgiveness apart from repentance. But whoever would turn from sin and turn to Christ, there is Good News. Your sin is not so great that Jesus would stop interceding for you. While you still draw breath, you have time to repent.
Jesus of course would not stay dead. He would rise from the dead. And even now Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, mediating between us and the Father. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven interceding for us. So when we wrestle with sin and guilt, let us turn to the one who loved us even to the point of dying for us on the cross.
Questions for Meditation:
- How does Jesus’ pleading on behalf of humanity make you feel?
- How does Jesus’ request help you when you doubt God’s love and forgiveness?
- How does Jesus’ request help you when dealing with people who have wronged you?