Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Extending forgiveness to someone who offends you is one thing, but forgiving your executioners is far different. Can any of us comprehend this kind of compassion?
Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, it is beyond understanding how Jesus could forgive his executioners. And you know, Dave, what is most remarkable is the fact that Jesus Christ uttered that. It was the very first phrase that he uttered on the cross.
So there he is with the blood running down his face, of course the lacerations on his arms and his legs, and there he is. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Now, I don't believe that this was a blanket forgiveness for all those who were in the vicinity of the cross, but it was forgiveness for those who were willing to receive it. For example, I'm thinking of the centurion who said, surely this was the Son of God. And later on, there would be many people, many who perhaps asked that Jesus Christ be crucified.
They ended up believing on him. What a savior. When you contemplate the cross of Jesus Christ, you're reminded of what God is really like, the price that was paid for our redemption.
I've written a book entitled, Cries from the Cross, a Journey into the Heart of Jesus. Now, we're making this resource available. And by the way, Easter is just around the corner. For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do.
Go to rtwoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. And now, let us go to the cross. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Those are the words of a man who chose to become a victim of history's greatest crime. Jesus began his ministry in prayer, and he ends his earthly ministry in prayer. And these words from the cross should be noticed, they should be thought about, and they should be accepted by us for a couple of reasons. First of all, in these words are our own deliverance, for we are invited to be forgiven for our sins.
Second, this is a model for the way in which we also should pray. And thirdly, it's another reminder of the accuracy of scripture, because the scripture predicted in Isaiah 53-11 that he was numbered with the transgressors. He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. So he did. What I want you to do is to take your Bible as we turn today to the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Luke chapter 23, and we shall read the text and its context.
And then we're going to move through this prayer and better understand it and its application and transforming power to our own lives. Luke 23, I pick it up at verse 32. Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, he saved others, let him save himself if he is Christ, the son of God, the chosen one. Three of the sayings from the cross take place before midday. The context in which this prayer is given is one of great suffering. Jesus has been laid on the cross and so far as we can determine, even when he was still horizontal and the nails were being put through his palms or his hands.
And by the way, the Romans did prefer nails to being tied. And as that was happening, Jesus already then apparently began to say, because that's what the text means, he began saying, he was saying, Father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing. When was this prayer prayed at the very time when his nerves were not yet dulled? This was the time when the pain was the freshest, when the jolt of anguish that went through his body was the sharpest. It was at that time that he prayed for his enemies.
He prayed at a time when he was being jeered. We can visualize the cross, a crowd gathered, attention was attracted. And as a result of that, some were there because they were so glad to see him dying.
This was their greatest day. Others were there because they actually were just part of a curious crowd. They wondered who was being crucified. They were looking at the statement that was put above the cross and others were just walking by. But the text says that the rulers, they were sneering at him and they said he saved others, let him save himself if he is Christ, the son of God. They did not realize that by their sarcasm, they were making a tremendous compliment to Christ. By saying he saved others, they were admitting that he actually was so selfless in his ministry that they couldn't help but notice. What they didn't understand was that if he were to save himself, they and we would not be saved in being willing to not save himself when he was on the cross, not calling the legions of angels. A redemption was purchased at high cost.
How selfless he was. So I want us to visualize that we're standing at the cross now and there's so much jeering and so much talking going on. We look at Christ at a distance and we notice that his lips are moving. So what we need to do is to get closer because we can't hear from back where we are standing. And so we come close to Jesus and we look up at him and we notice that indeed he is speaking. But what is he saying?
What's coming out of his mouth? Is it simply anguish because of the pain? Is he cursing those who are crucifying him? Were they words of self pity?
Why me? After all the good I've done, were the words of Jesus words of vengeance. Boy, when I am resurrected from the dead, I'll get even with you and I'll set this issue straight and I'll bring justice to this situation. Is that what we are hearing in the midst of this excruciating experience? No. Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.
Very interesting. Nowhere else in the gospels does Jesus ever ask the father to forgive somebody. He was offering the forgiveness himself. Thy sins be forgiven the he would say to people, but on the cross, no, no, because while he's dying there on the cross, he exercises no prerogatives as God. He so fully identifies with us that he is willing to assume the role of a servant and servants have no rights.
Servants have no abilities. Servants simply do as is being done to them and he's hanging there and so he appeals to the father and says, father, forgive them. Three times here on the cross he prays to God. We will come to it in this series of messages when he cries up and says, my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? And then at the end, the last message in the series when he says, father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit.
Let me ask you something today. Jesus could have very easily thought to himself, first of all, this is so unjust. He could have said to himself, why is it that the minute I need my friends, they're gone. They're not there because all the disciples were so come and fled.
John hung around, but Peter and all the other heroes could not be seen. They departed the scene and so Jesus could have been angry with that. Pastor Wiersbe asks this question, is your faith shaken by the wickedness of sinners or the weakness of saints? When people aren't around who should be around when you're going through your crucifixion, are you angry and bitter?
Or let me ask you this question. When you are being crucified, can you say, father, in fact, let me ask you another question. Can you pray for those who are crucifying you and say, father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing. What is the context of this prayer?
It's one of great suffering. Now let's look at the content of the prayer itself. Father, forgive them because they don't know what they are doing. Does this mean they did not know that they were doing something wrong?
It couldn't possibly mean that. Judas knew right well that he was betraying a good friend and he understood the divine ministry of Jesus. He knew what he was doing. Pilot, when he was there trying to decide what to do with Jesus, when the mobs were crying. Pilot's great problem is he couldn't find anything against him. He said, he's innocent.
I'm going to deliver him to you, but there's, I find no fault in him. Pilot says, and still Jesus ends up going to the cross. You mean to say pilot didn't know that he was doing wrong? Of course he did.
What about the Jewish Sanhedrin? They had to trump up charges. They had to pay off false witnesses to get this guy onto the cross. They knew right well that they were doing wrong.
What then did Jesus mean? They know not what they do. What Jesus meant was they have no understanding of the enormity of their crime. They don't understand this. They think it was a matter of lies. They think it was a matter of trumped up charges. They think that it was just getting rid of somebody who is irritating them. They think that it was just that and they knew that they did that wrong, but they had no idea.
And that's why the Bible says in the book of first Corinthians chapter two, no, we speak the wisdom of God, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood that for had they understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. They didn't know that they were a part of the greatest crime that could ever possibly be committed. So Jesus is saying, Father, forgive them because they don't know what they're doing. There's a part of what they are doing that they are ignorant of. There's part of it that they know right well that they are doing.
Part of it also was ignorance. In the Old Testament there were various kinds of sins and different sacrifices for sins. There was, for example, the sin of the high hand is sometimes referred to as a presumptuous sin. That's the sin that you commit where you're shaking your fist at God and you say, I know exactly what I'm doing, but I'm going to curse you and go my own way. For some of those sins, there was not even any forgiveness.
You committed that and you're to be put to death. But there's also in Leviticus 5 what is known as the sin of ignorance. It is sinning unintentionally where you do something and you may not understand the full import of what you are doing. And so special sacrifices were available also for those sins.
But don't miss the bottom line. Just because you don't know what you're doing or you may be partially ignorant does not mean it does not mean that you don't need forgiveness. Father, forgive them. In the Old Testament you had to bring a sacrifice. I read the passage this morning in Leviticus where it says bring a ram or if not then bring something else, but be reconciled to God. You need forgiveness and so bring it. Here's Jesus on the cross saying, Father, forgive them.
Why? You know right well if you go through a stop sign and you say, well, officer, I have to tell you in all candor that I didn't see the stop sign. I have a friend who has very bad eyesight and an officer stopped him for going through a stop sign and he was going to say to him, how in the world do you expect me to see it? I don't have good eyes. The officers say, well, then you know you're off the hook because it was done in ignorance.
No, you are guilty. But listen to me very carefully. I want you to know that we're not as ignorant as these people. These people did not know that after the crucifixion there was going to be a resurrection. They did not know that the New Testament would be written that would explain all that Jesus Christ came to do in the fulfillment of prophecies. They did not know that a Christian church would be born on the day of Pentecost that would transform the world. We know all that and therefore I plead with you today, those of you listening to this message, you will not be able to plead ignorance at any time and certainly not after you've heard God's word.
We are not as ignorant as they were back then. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Forgiveness is needed for sins done unintentionally. And of course, Jesus here is praying. Wherever you open the Gospels, Jesus is praying, isn't he? And what is he doing today in heaven?
It's hard for me to get my mind around this theologically, but in the book of Hebrews, it says that he is there interceding for us. And that's why Wesley wrote five bleeding wounds he bears received on Calvary. They pour effectual prayers. They strongly plead for me.
Forgive him. Oh, forgive, they cry, nor let that ransomed sinner die. Jesus is pleading for his enemies. The context of the prayer is suffering. The content of the prayer is forgiveness.
But now I have to ask you a question. The answer to the prayer, was it answered? Of course it was answered. You know, it is unthinkable that Jesus would pray a prayer to the father that would not be answered. Even John 17, where he prayed that the church may be one, that they may be a one, father, it's a prayer that's answered.
Now we're to keep the unity of the spirit. But my dear friend, the Bible says that if we ask something according to the will of God, we know that he hears us. Would anyone know the will of God better than Jesus Christ, the son of God? He would understand the will of God with clarity and pray always within the will of God.
You say, well, what about Gethsemane? And notice what he said at Gethsemane, father, take this cup from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. But he was saying his father, this is my desire.
But at the end of the day, I set my desires aside and say thy will be done. Yes, his prayer in Gethsemane was answered as the book of Hebrews also shows. So how was this prayer answered?
Well, let me show you the different ways in which it came about. For example, in Matthew chapter 27, there's a very interesting statement about those who will watch Jesus die. Verse 54, when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and they exclaimed, surely he was the son of God.
Apparently not just one centurion, but a whole group of them are saying, surely he was the son of God. To me, that's saving faith. They finally recognized who it was that they had crucified and they acknowledged that he was the son of God. And if you confess Jesus as Lord, if you confess who he is, it shows a recognition of your own need. I expect to see some of those folks in heaven bless them standing there at the foot of the cross. But there's another way in which it was answered and that is found in the book of Acts. You say, well, you know, those Jews who crucified Jesus, the Sanhedrin and those who wanted to make sure that he was put away, surely we can't say that they were ignorant.
Well, I want you to know that Peter felt differently about that than we might. Listen to what the book of Acts says in chapter three. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the holy and righteous one and asked that a murderer be released to you.
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this by faith in the name of Jesus. This man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus in his name that faith comes to him who has given this complete healing.
He's talking about the healing of the man who was crippled as all of you can see. Verse 17. Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance as did your leaders. Isn't it remarkable that the people who cried and said his blood be upon us and upon our children? They meant let responsibility for his death rest upon our shoulders, that Jesus would take that very blood and have it applied to their hearts so that they would be granted forgiveness. How many of them believed? Day of Pentecost, Peter preaches Acts chapter 2, 3,000 souls are added to the Lord. He preaches in chapter 3, the message that I have just read a part of and what do we read in chapter 4 verse 4, but many who heard the message believed and the number of men grew to about 5,000. Now listen to what it says in Acts chapter 6 verse 7. So the word of God spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Jesus was hanging there on the cross, God the Father heard his prayer and answered it.
Isn't that wonderful? Yes indeed God the Father heard the prayer of Jesus and answered it and you and I, my brother and sister, we have been included in that prayer. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. The graciousness of Jesus even as he hangs there on the cross. And then I often think about the thief and I want you to visualize that you are that thief. You are crucified next to Christ, perhaps you can't see him but you know that there were people walking in front of his cross saying that above it is written the words King of the Jews and you say to yourself if he is a king he must have a kingdom and so you simply cry out as best you can remember me when you come into your kingdom.
And Jesus replies today you'll be with me in paradise and by the way the thief said that looking at Jesus who didn't exactly look like a king on the cross but he believed and was saved. I've written a book entitled cries from the cross a journey into the heart of Jesus. It will prepare your heart for Easter. It's the kind of resource we make available so that your own heart is prepared and you can help others to prepare for that incredible event. We need to spend the rest of our lives understanding the cross of Jesus Christ much better. For a gift of any amount it can be yours go to rtwoffer.com did I say that too quickly rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337 one more time rtwoffer.com or pick up the phone and call us at 1-888-218-9337 ask for cries from the cross. It's time once again for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life forgiving others can get complicated. Here's a question from one of our listeners. What does it mean to forgive someone who says he's a believer but continues to live in unrepentant sin? Well my friend today when someone asks forgiveness they should understand that this means that they are turning from the sin that has necessitated the forgiveness and if somebody says well forgive me but then they continue on in their sin it is very clear that they are not really sincere in asking for forgiveness or what they are really trying to do is to use this kind of forgiveness as a cover so that they can continue to do what they want to do true reconciliation as I've said many times on this broadcast involves forgiveness trust and respect so there really can't be reconciliation until there is an ownership of the sin and that sin needs to be dealt with it needs to be put away bottom line I hope that you seek out a counselor someone who can be a mediator between the two of you someone to whom this sinner can be accountable because I pray that you will be reconciled but it's going to take more than simply words some wise counsel from Dr. Erwin Lutzer thank you Pastor Lutzer you might want to hear one of your questions answered if so go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer or call us at 1-888-218-9337 that's 1-888-218-9337 you can write to us at Running to Win 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard Chicago Illinois 60614 next time we explore this does the forgiveness Jesus asked for apply to the whole human race don't miss our next program for Pastor Erwin Lutzer this is Dave McAllister Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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