Father Forgive Them

Bible Book: Luke  23 : 33-34
Subject: Cross; Christ, Last Words Of; Forgiveness; Pardon
Series: Sayings of Jesus from the Cross

Calvary is the place where man did his worst,  but God did His best.

Calvary is the place where faith is justified, hope assured and love conquers all.

Calvary is the place where the Savior's heart of love is contrasted to man's heart of rebellion.

Calvary is the place where hell unleashed all her fury but God released all of heaven's forgiveness.

Calvary is the place where Satan rejoiced in death and the Savior rejoiced in offering His life so that mankind might have the means to escape death.

Everything about Calvary is significant, and the words Jesus spoke on the cross are momentous. Jesus spoke three times before darkness appeared over the earth, three times after darkness appeared over the earth and once while the darkness appeared over the earth.

We now enter the season which leads us to the saving death of Christ upon the cross of Calvary and the justifying resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Garden Tomb. For the next few weeks I am going to speak on Sunday mornings on the subject: Statements of Jesus from the Cross.

It is important to remember that our Lord went to the cross to die in our place, as our substitute. He did not die to merely serve as an example. He did not die as a sacrifice for religion, he died as a  sacrifice for sin. He was betrayed by Judas, one of his own. He was arrested falsely, tried illegally, and crucified ignominiously. As our Lord hung on the cross, He spoke several times. The last words of a dying person are always fascinating, indeed the last words of Jesus are very compelling.

The first words Jesus spoke from the cross were, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Jesus once said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." As we watch Jesus die, we hear His words, and we see His heart. The words Jesus spoke that day serve as windows into His heart and soul.

Let us observe today the words of our Lord at Calvary, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

I. The Prayer

Not all that Jesus said from the cross were words of prayer. For example, He spoke to His mother, to John, to one of the thieves beside Him on the cross and once expressed His thirst. But the first words from His mouth, once He was raised up on the cross, was a prayer to his Father.

Actually, Jesus began His ministry in prayer. When He was baptized He prayed and the heavens were opened. His baptism is viewed as the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. So, just as Jesus began His ministry praying, He draws near the end of His earthly ministry praying.

It is important for us to see Jesus praying on the cross. Here is an example for every believer. When His hands and feet were bound, what did Jesus do? He prayed.

He could not minister to the people by the touch of His hands, but He could pray.

He could not walk from village to village, for His feet were nailed to the cross, but He could and did pray!

You and I can pray in every situation because Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. Look at Hebrews 7:24-26, "But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."

Jesus never lived under the circumstances - through prayer He rose above the circumstances and so can we. Prayer is available to us at those times and places when no other effort can possibly bring about any positive result.

And just think about it, if Jesus needed prayer, how much more do we need it? We will never face a moment as dark as the hour Jesus faced on that old rugged cross. If prayer could sustain Him there, it can aide us anywhere.

II. The Place of this Prayer

This is amazing due to its place. Calvary was a site of cursing, hatred, misery, complaint and death. So many people had died there - it was a location that surely felt like Hades! It is not the kind of place one would think of as a place of prayer.

Think of the pain Jesus endured on that hill. Beaten, crowned with thorns, nails driven through his hands and feet, he suffered incredibly. Yet, in all His pain, His first thought was to pray. You hear no self-pity, no spitefulness from His lips, but you do hear a prayer for the Father to forgive those who stood around the cross.

Here we see the greatness of Jesus. Hebrews 13:20 states: "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep."

This passage does not say He is great because he formed the worlds, though He did do that. The Bible does not say He is great because He healed the sick and raised the dead, though He also did that. The Word of God does not declare that He is great in this passagfe because He fed 5,000 people from the small lunch of a little boy, though he did do that. We are told that His greatness lies in the blood covenant. His sacrifice is His greatness. There is no greatness outside of sacrifice. Without the shedding of HIS blood there is no remission of sin!

Jesus never lost the sense of His divine mission. He never forsook His mission. He never despised His mission. Even here at this horrible moment, Jesus prays a prayer consistent with His mission. The place and circumstances never effected our Lord. He was focused on His Father and on His purpose, regardless of how difficult the suffering or how appalling the place.

You and I need to change the atmosphere of wherever we stand. Our language not be like that of the world. Our attitude ought to reflect that of our Lord, no matter how we are being treated. In this awful moment at Calvary, Jesus spoke of forgiveness.

III. The Pardon in this Prayer

Most importantly, we need to see the call for pardon from the lips of our Lord. Now let us remember something very important. Jesus could forgive sins. Look with me at a passage that reveals this clearly. In Luke 5:21-26 we read, "The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?' Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, 'Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?

Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....' He said to the paralyzed man, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, 'We have seen remarkable things today.'"

You see in this passage that Jesus could forgive sins on earth. I have a question for you, why did Jesus call upon the Father to forgive the sins of those around the cross rather than simply forgiving them himself? There are two reasons.

A. He Identified with Us

First, because on the Cross Jesus was identified with us - with sinners. On the Cross He was dying for us, with our sins on Him. On the Cross, He he has become one with us, even taking upon Himself all the contamination of our trespasses and iniquities.

B. He Included Us

Secondly, Jesus is revealing to us that no one is beyond the love of God. What an example of faith and love Jesus shows us here. We should take heart from this prayer of Jesus. Think of the most rebellious person you can imagine and remember that none is beyond the reach of our Lord. Jesus can save the least, the last and the lost.

C. He Implored Us

Thirdly, Jesus is praying a specific prayer regarding the mercy of God the Father. Don't misunderstand the prayer of Jesus as a prayer for universal forgiveness of all those around the cross. That certainly is not what was happening at the Cross when Jesus prayed this prayer.

A study of this prayer in Greek reveals that the word "forgive" is written in the imperfect tense. Now, what does that mean? It means that Jesus was praying, "Father, keep on forgiving these people for they do not realize what they are doing." When they arrested Him, He prayed that prayer. When they beat Him, plucked out His beard, spat on Him, put the crown of thorns on His head, nailed His hands and feet to the cross, He continued to pray that prayer. Now this is very significant.

The way this prayer is written it implies that Jesus was asking the Father to hold back wrath till the people had time to believe. He was asking the Father not to judge them till they had time to repent. Did the Father answer that prayer? Yes, indeed, He did.

In Acts we see that Peter preached a brief and simple sermon, one lasting about ten minutes. As he preached, irresistible conviction fell on hundreds and hundreds of hearers. As his message ended, 3,000 people got saved. Do you know why? Because of a good sermon? No! Because of the prayer of our Lord. Jesus had prayed for the people who crucified Him, asking the Father to give them time because they did not know what they were doing. This is, no doubt, what the songwriter had in mind when he penned the words,

"Years I spent in vanity and pride,

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died

At Calvary.

Mercy there was great and grace was free,

Pardon there was multiplied to me,

There my burdened heart found liberty,

At Calvary."

You see, at the cross Jesus was imploring us to listen to His mercy, to listen to His love and to listen to His call to salvation.

His prayer implies an unwritten statement. "Father forgive them, condemn me." They could only know forgiveness if someone paid for it, and Jesus was the only One who could forgive them. The word "forgive" means to "let it be." Jesus was saying, "Hold back the judgment from them Lord for now, because they do not know what they are doing." God held back the wrath till they did know. At Pentecost they heard and they responded! God has held back wrath from someone here today in order to give you time to come and be saved! He holds back wrath to give us time to get the message to the lost world. God's desire is that all might be saved. Postponement of judgment cannot be equated with elimination of judgment. The matter is simply postponed for a time. Don't wait too long!

Bible teacher William McCarrell often used this illustration to point out what a person has to do to be saved. "While Andrew Jackson was President of the United States, a man was given a court trial and condemned to die. President Jackson offered to pardon him but the condemned man refused the pardon. Prison authorities, the Attorney General of the United States, and others earnestly endeavored to convince the man to accept the pardon. They tried to impress upon him that it would not only spare his life, but that if he did not accept the pardon, it would be an insult to the President. Still the man refused. The Attorney General consulted the Supreme Court, asking whether legal authorities could not force the man to receive the pardon. The court ruled that the pardon was merely a printed statement until the man accepted it. If he rejected the pardon, it remained printed matter." Have you accepted – personally accepted – the forgiveness of sin offered through Jesus Christ? To find forgiveness you must accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You can’t play games with God when it comes to forgiveness.

Our Lord implores us to accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life available through His sacrifice at the cross. His nail-scarred hands are reaching out to us.

A professing Christian who tried to explain away his responsibility for breaking the law received double punishment. He said to the judge, "Your Honor, as a believer in Christ I am a 'new man,' but I still have an old nature, and it was the 'old man' that committed the crime." The judge's reply to his plea was, "Since it was the 'old man' that broke the law, we'll sentence him to 30 days in jail. And since the 'new man' was an accomplice in the wrong, we'll give him 30 days also. I therefore sentence you to jail for 60 days!"

We cannot cover our sins with excuses, even a human judge can see through that. However, when we admit our sins and cry out to God in repentance and faith, we are forgiven through the blood sacrifice of Christ.


A young nun once claimed to have had a vision of Jesus. Her bishop decided to test her truthfulness and ordered that the next time she had a vision she should ask Christ what the bishop's primary sin had been before he became a bishop.

Some months later, the nun returned and the bishop asked if she had asked Christ the question, to which she affirmed that she had. "And what did He say?" the bishop asked apprehensively. "Christ said," and the nun paused a moment. "He said, 'I don't remember.'" [Lutheran Witness, Jan 1992. Page 2.]

If we try to cover our sins, God will uncover them; but if we confess our sins, God will cover them with His grace! Once He forgives our sins, He never remembers them (Hebrews 8:12) (2 Corinthians 5:19) (Isaiah 43:25).

Let us come to the foot of the cross today! Come to Jesus!