Luke 23:33-34 -- "And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him and the malefactors one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, `Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment and cast lots.'"
Some years ago, I stood on a small platform jutting out from a little mountain there in Jerusalem and saw a sight that caused goose humps to run up and down my arm. For suddenly, I saw Calvary, the place of the skull, Golgotha-- I saw the features of a mans face and above that, on a hill, a little barren mountain that overlooked the city of Jerusalem, taller than the city of Jerusalem. I saw what I had read in the Bible so often, such places as Mount Moriah. I saw the place that David purchased as recorded in Second Samuel chapter 24, when he purchased a "threshing floor that he might have a place to worship his God." That was Mount Moriah. That was the place of the skull. That was the place where they crucified Jesus.
On the morning of the scene from which we have read, Jesus had been through six trials, He had been through three religious trials and was condemned to death. Illegal though they were, He then went through three civil trials and was condemned to death. Having been awake all night, He went through these dramatic experiences. They placed a cross upon him and lead him up Golgotha's hill. As they did, He buckled under the load and another man was called to take that cross and carry it up Calvary. There on that lonely hill, they laid Him down on the cross and drove spikes into his hands and into his feet. They lifted that cross up and dropped it into a hole, where even the bones came out of their sockets. There he hung, the central figure of three men, for two others were crucified with Him. They were malefactors, patriots that had been condemned to death for their acts. Murderers, and there He hung between the two. Jesus is always the central figure, is He not? He is always, the preeminent one, He is always the one that stands out above all others. Highest above all is Jesus Christ, our Lord. This scene contrasts the Saviour's heart of grace, and man's heart of rebellion in a most significant way.
This is Calvary. This is where man did his worst and God did his best. This is Calvary, where the rich, red blood of the God-man was shed for man's redemption. This is Calvary, where God showed His love for the creatures that showed their hatred. This is Calvary, where God stretched out his arms, beckoning all mankind to come unto Him. This is Calvary.
As Jesus hung on the cross, the things He said were most significant. In fact, everything that occurred around the cross was significant and very important. Jesus said seven things. The number seven in the Bible is the number of perfection. For in six days, God made the heaven and the earth and on the seventh day, He rested. We have seven days in our week, given to us by Almighty God. Seven is the number of perfection. Seven times then Jesus spoke from the cross. Three times before the darkness, once during the darkness, three times after the darkness. Jesus first said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He said then to the thief on the cross who had cried out to him, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom." Jesus said these simple, yet tremendous words, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Then he looked down from the cross, and saw his mother and John, the beloved disciple, and said, "Son, behold Thy mother" and "woman, behold thy son.". The darkness then rolled in and God pulled down the curtain over all the light in the universe. There was darkness over all the land for a space of three hours. At the close of that three hours, Jesus cried out and said, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The light shone then again, and Jesus cried out, "I thirst." Most significant, is it not, for the very first thing a man would say after he endured the pains of Hell, would be "I thirst?" For people in Hell are thirsty.
The next thing Jesus said was "It is finished." What I have come to do is done. It's over. The Bible says that he then cried with a loud voice, not the voice of one about to die, but he cried with a loud voice, "Father into Thy hands, I commend my Spirit." Seven times our Saviour spoke from the cross.
Jesus spoke three prayers while he was on the cross, The first one was the first thing He said, A Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The second prayer was during the darkness, "My God, My God, why hast Thou. forsaken me?" And the third prayer was the very last thing he said, the seventh saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit." So we notice the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shows the importance of prayer, for here at the very end of life, He prays these three prayers among the last seven things that he says. In the gospel of Luke, chapter 3: 23, we find Jesus praying at the very beginning of His earthly ministry. He being about 30 years of age. The Bible says, "Now, when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened." As He began His earthly ministry, He began it in prayer. When He closed his earthly ministry, He closed it in prayer.
He teaches us in this, that when righteousness seems to be dethroned, the thing to do is pray. When Jesus came up Golgotha's hill, they laid him down on the cross, and He began to pray. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" and He continued that as they drove the spikes into His hands and into His feet. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Over and over, our Lord prayed that. And as they lifted him up and dropped Him into the hole with that cross, he was praying "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Looking out into that crowd, he was saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Looking over into the city of Jerusalem, the city that he loved, the city, that he wept over, the city that he cried over, He was saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." You know, when all else seems to fail, God wants us to pray. Men ought always to pray and not to faint. Luke 18:1. "Pray without ceasing," is the admonition of the Holy Scriptures. First Thessalonians 5:17.
You remember the story of Daniel. Daniel and the three Hebrew children were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, and taken into the foreign land of Babylon. While they were there, the king had a dream, and then he could not remember the dream, and that angered him. So he called all the wise men and the astrologers and the Chaldeans in and he said "Tell me the dream", and they said "you ask a hard thing. Tell us the dream and we will tell you the interpretation." He said, "I do not remember the dream, you tell me the dream or I am going to have your heads." Daniel and the three Hebrew children were included in that group of wise men who were going to lose their heads. So when Daniel heard about this, he went before the king, and said, "Let us have a chance at this, and give us some time." And they went to the Lord in prayer, they prayed, and God gave them the answer. Daniel went back before the king, and told him the prayer, and the answer to the dream.
When righteousness seems dethroned, and nothing seems to be going right, God wants us to pray. As someone once said, "It's time to pray," and the answer was, "has it come to that?" It seems that we try everything else, before we finally get around to praying. But God wants us to be pray-ers as Jesus was, praying without ceasing. We learned from this that the Lord never regarded anyone as being beyond the reach of prayer. Here were some wicked men He was praying for. The Sanhedrin, that had met illegally before dawn, and condemned him to death -- He was praying for that crowd. He was praying for the people that were going by. Scholars tell us that thousands of people walked by the cross that day, and saw Jesus hanging there. He was praying for those folks and the "people beholding Him." He was praying for His disciples, and He was praying for that crowd that would be saved some 50 days later when Peter would stand up on the day of Pentecost and preach. Jesus was praying for that crowd and 3,000 of them were saved and baptized. Jesus was praying for them. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." He never regarded anyone beyond the reach of prayer. He was praying for Pilate, and all those around the cross that day in Jerusalem. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Sometimes, we look at people and we think that there's no point in praying for them. It will never do any good, but God is in the business of changing people. God changed you, if you are a Christian. That was a miracle in itself and God is still in the business of changing people. There is not anyone too hard for God to reach, and break their stony heart. That is what Jesus is teaching here, teaching us also how to pray, continuously.
We always ought to be in a state of mind of prayer, and you know, if we're going to be in a state of mind of prayer, we need to have our life right with God. First John 1:9, states, "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness." But confessing sins means that we're really sorry for sin, that we're really sorry we did it. Sometimes we may be sorry because we got caught, but we should be sorry because we grieved a holy righteous God. So we ought to be in a right relationship with the Lord all the time, so that we can pray continuously, and expect God to answer our prayers and it not be an exercise in futility. We need to stay on praying ground. We need to be living right, walking right, pleasing God, as we walk as Jesus walked and pray continuously. Jesus was putting into practice what He had been preaching in Matthew 5:44, which was part of the sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." When people do you dirty and do you wrong, that is when we ought to pray for them. Jesus was practicing His preaching. There was not any justification whatsoever for what they were putting Jesus through. They scourged Him until His back was a mass of raw meat, put a crown of thorns upon His head and beat it down with cane reeds, mocked Him, laughed at Him, ridiculed Him, reviled Him. Jesus was praying for them. I think of Steven in Acts chapter 7, as they were stoning him to death. The Bible says that Steven, looking up into heaven, saw Jesus standing, and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The next verse states he prayed, "and lay not this sin to their charge." Do not charge this dastardly thing they are doing to their charge. But the first thing he prayed was for himself. Jesus did not do that here, He is not praying for himself, He is praying for others. This is an example for us. We ought to be concerned for others and pray for others. God does not say we cannot pray for ourselves, but certainly our concern ought to be for others. Jesus was practicing his preaching, as He always did.
THE PRAYER'S RECIPIENTS
I would call to your attention, the prayer's recipients in Isaiah 53:3, which was written 700 years before Jesus died. This passage was written prophetically of the Saviour coming. "He would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, stricken, smitten of God, afflicted, wounded, bruised, chastised, and stripes laid upon Him.... Our sin would be laid upon Him, oppressed and afflicted and led as a lamb to the slaughter, taken from prison and from justice, cut off from the land of the living, making his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death... . please the Lord to bruise him, make His soul an offering for sin, God would see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.... pour out his soul unto death, pray for the transgressors." 700 years before He came, this passage so graphically depicted what He would do. "God poured out His soul unto death." Why? Because sin was being punished: your sin, my sin, and the sin of every person that had ever lived or ever would live. Jesus took that sin upon Himself and took the punishment of a holy, righteous God. Justice was perfectly, infinitely meted out upon Him that we might not have to have that sin and its punishment meted out upon us.
It is interesting to note that Jesus made intercession for all of these folks that treated Him in such a horrible fashion. It is interesting to note also, that Jesus never before prayed for sins to be forgiven; never said, "Father, forgive this man's sin." He never prayed, "Father, forgive this woman's sin." Jesus always had the authority to do it. In Matthew Chapter 9:2, when He talked to this man, He said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." He didn't pray for it, just said it is done. When He talked to the woman that had come and bathed His feet with ointment and washed His feet with the tears from her eyes and dried them with her hair. He said, "Thy sins be forgiven Thee. " But now He is praying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Why? Well, now He has become sin for us. Now He has emptied himself of that power and that authority and He is there as the Lamb of God taking the punishment for you and for me, now He's crying out, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." We see in the scriptures how that prayer is answered. In Acts Chapter 2, Peter preached and though it was a marvelous sermon, it was not Peter's sermon that convicted that crowd and brought that crowd to the Saviour. It was the prayer on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." And when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, three thousand got saved and baptized because Jesus prayed for them, just fifty days before.
God answers prayer in the morning, God answers prayer at noon, God answers prayer in the evening. So keep your heart in tune.
The Bible teaches That every man is an enemy to God. I was shocked when I discovered that! Romans chapter 5:8,10, tells us "for when we were enemies, Christ died for us." Enemies to God. All these were branded, part of Satan's camp. We too, until we are saved. Jesus said "he that is not with me is against me." No middle ground, no sitting on the fence, you are either for Him or against Him. You are either saved or you are lost. If you are not saved, you are against Him. Those are plain words. These were the recipients of Jesus's prayer. I am so glad that God saved me one day, even though I was an enemy to him.
THE PRAYER ANALYZED
Let's analyze this prayer a little more. God is saying (when he says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,") Father, "stay your wrath." It certainly would have been most appropriate for the ground to open up and all those around there to be swallowed up alive. God didn't owe them anything. Listen to that crowd. "Come down from the cross, If Thou be the Son of God; "He can save others, but Himself he cannot save." Do you not think a crowd that would yell those taunts at the sinless Son of God, the one who walked this earth, not because He had to but because He wanted to, because of the great love in His heart, going to the cross not because He had to, but because He wanted to save our souls. Any crowd that would yell such as that ought to be swallowed up by this old earth. "God, save your wrath. Give them another chance, another opportunity to repent, and confess me as their Lord." God is so wonderful.. The Bible says that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar." We are sinners, terrible, tragic sinners. We have been all our lives. I know we became a new creation in Christ, and that we are different now, but we still sin. God looking down through the ages of time saw us in our sin before we were saved. Marvel of marvels, He saw us in our sin after we got saved, and was still willing to save us. Is not that marvelous? "Father, forgive them. . hold your wrath.. don't kill them.. Father, forgive them."
Forgiveness is the greatest need we have. Oh, to be forgiven! To have those things that haunt us, that we know were wrong, to have those taken care of in such a way that they are blotted out. Psalm 103:12: God hath taken our transgressions from us." Ephesians 1:7: "Jesus, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace. Acts 13:38-39: "Be it known unto you therefore men and brethren, that through this man, is preached unto you, the forgiveness of sins and by Him, all that believe are justified from all things by which you cannot be justified by the law of Moses." We can not get those sins forgiven by doing right, because we can not do right, well enough. We can not get those sins forgiven by just plain repentance because God demands punishment for sin. The only way sins can be forgiven is for God to take the just punishment of those sins upon Himself. "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Then when we come and repent of those sins with a heart of sorrow and trust Jesus to save our souls, accepting the debt he paid for us on our behalf then those sins can be forgiven. God demands that every sin, every wrong be paid for. And either we are going to pay for it in eternity ourselves, forever, or we are going to accept the death of our Saviour on Calvary, who took those sins upon Himself. In whom we have redemption, through His blood, even the forgiveness of sin, because He shed His precious blood. The life of the flesh is in the blood. He died for you and He died for me. Our sin was paid for, by His death. On that basis, we can come and accept Him as our Savior and repent of our sins and He will save us. He will forgive us, not just past sins, but present and future sins, as well. Are you not glad of that? Jesus paid it all. All to Him 1 owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, but Jesus paid it all. So, man's greatest need is to have his sins forgiven. Jesus prayed for that great need, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
He is praying also, about the ignorance of the enormity of their pride. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." They are ignorant. But sometimes we say that God won't hold ignorance against us. My beloved friend, a Holy, righteous God, has to hold us accountable for our ignorance. If you do not understand that, then you do not understand the character of God. You do not understand what He is like. In the Old Testament, they had to bring a ram at the appointed time as an offering for sins of ignorance. Numbers 15:22-25. And Jesus is adequate for our sacrifice of sins of ignorance. We look at our lives and the things that we did not do and the things that we did do, and we do not realize the enormity of the crime. But God did, and does, and yet when we come to Christ, God forgives us for all that. Past sins, all sins. "Be it known unto you therefore men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sin, and by Him all that believe (in Him) are justified from all things." Acts 13:38-39. Justified means just as if I had never sinned. Made right with God. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."