Sermon #175 Luke Sermons
Title: “Father, Forgive Them”
Text: Luke 23:34
Subject: Our Savior’s First Word on the Cross
Date: Sunday Evening — August 6, 2006
Tape # Z-05b
Readings: Ron Wood and Merle Hart
Man has now done his worst. — He who created the world had come into the world, but the world knew him not. — He came unto his own, and his own received him not! — The Lord of glory among us, but he was not wanted. — The eyes of man, blinded by sin, saw no beauty in him that he should be desired. — At his birth, there was no room in the inn, and now there is no room for him in the world. — When he was a baby a man sought to slay him, and now he is nailed to the cursed tree by the hands of wicked men, who anxiously watch him as dies. — Again and again, men tried to kill him. Now their vile desires are granted. — The Son of God has yielded himself up into their hands. — At his mock trial, though his judges found no fault in him, the Lord of Glory was delivered to the will of wicked men, who cried again and again “Crucify him! Crucify him!”.
No ordinary death would satisfy this blood thirsty mob. They wanted the Son of God to die a death of intense suffering and shame. Rather than stoning him, as their law required, the Jews plotted to have him crucified upon a Roman cross. The Savior was nailed to it. There he hangs in holy silence! Then, his pallid lips are seen moving. — Is he crying for pity? No. — Does he call for ten legions of angels to deliver him? No. — Is he cursing his tormentors? No. — What then? He is praying, praying for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness! — “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
What great tenderness, what infinite mercy, what amazing grace, what immeasurable love those words reveal!
(Luke 23:34) “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
This is the first of our Savior’s seven words from the cross. His first word from the cross is a word of prayer, prayer for forgiveness, the forgiveness of wicked sinners who fully deserve his everlasting wrath! How significant! How instructive! What an example our Savior is to us, even in his agony!
Š If the Lord Jesus prays for his tormenters, surely we ought to pray for our enemies.
Š None who are out of hell are beyond the reach of God’s saving grace. — Pray on. God may yet be merciful!
Š The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Our Savior’s intercession for his enemies resulted in the salvation of many of his enemies. — The Thief — Three Thousand at Pentecost. — You and Me (John 17:20).
Š When we can do nothing else, we can pray. — I do not doubt that the best, most useful thing men and women can do is pray.
(Luke 23:34) “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
Here we see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. Long before this day came to pass, God revealed all that would transpire on this day in the Old Testament. Among other things it was prophesied by Isaiah that the Savior would “make intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
(Isaiah 53:12) “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Our Savior’s intercession for the transgressors is directly linked with his substitutionary sacrifice. — “He was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” This 53rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy tells us at least ten things about the humiliation and suffering and death of our blessed Redeemer. It declared…
1. that he would be despised and rejected of men;
2. that he would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
3. that he would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and chastised for our peace;
4. that he would be led, without resistance, as a lamb to the slaughter;
5. that he would be dumb before his shearers;
6. that he would not only suffer at the hands of man but also be bruised by the Lord;
7. that he would pour out his soul unto death;
8. that he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb;
9. and then it was added, that he would be numbered with transgressors;
10. and finally, that he would make intercession for the transgressors.
This was the prophecy. — “and made intercession for the transgressors.” Here is the fulfillment of it. — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He thought of his murderers. He pleaded for his crucifiers. The Lord Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his tormenters.
Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ identifying himself with us, as the sinner’s Advocate. — “Father, forgive them.” Never before had he made such a request of the Father. Never before had he invoked the Father’s forgiveness of others. All the days of his earthly ministry our Savior forgave sinners personally.
Š To the man sick of the palsy he had said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2).
Š To the woman who washed his feet with her tears in the house of Simon, he said, “Thy sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).
Why does he now ask the Father to forgive, instead of directly pronouncing forgiveness himself?
The forgiveness of sin is a prerogative that belongs to God alone. The scribes were right when they reasoned “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7). But they failed to see that Christ is God. — Truly man, but also God, — the God-man. The Son of God became the Son of Man for the express purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice for sin. And when the Lord Jesus cried “Father, forgive them” he was on the cross, dying as our Substitute. Therefore, he prayed as the sinner’s Substitute and Advocate, seeking the forgiveness of sin for guilty men upon the basis of justice satisfied by his blood (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).
(Hebrews 7:25) “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
(1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 2:1-2) “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (2) And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
On the cross he was acting as our Substitute; the just was about to die for the unjust. Hence it was that hanging there as our Representative, he takes the position of a suppliant before the Father, a mighty, effectual Advocate.
How blessed it is to hear the Son of God, our Substitute, say, “I have prayed for thee!” How blessed it is to remember those words of grace in the face of our countless sins!
If any sins could be excused, it would be sins of ignorance. But the law of God demands atonement for sin, even for sins of ignorance. And specific reference is made to the ignorance of those for whom our Savior here makes intercession, as if to show us that no sin can be forgiven without atonement (Lev. 5:15, 16; Num. 15:22-25; Ps. 19:12).
(Leviticus 5:15-16) “If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering: (16) And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.”
(Numbers 15:22-25) “And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the LORD hath spoken unto Moses, (23) Even all that the LORD hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the LORD commanded Moses, and henceforward among your generations; (24) Then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour unto the LORD, with his meat offering, and his drink offering, according to the manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering. (25) And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance:”
David prayed, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12)
Sin is always sin in the sight of God whether we are conscious of it or not. Sins of ignorance need atonement just as those of which we are conscious. God is holy, just and true. He will not lower his standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance. Ignorance is not innocence. The fact is, we have no excuse for our ignorance. God has clearly and fully revealed his will. The Bible is in our hands; and we cannot plead ignorance of its contents, except to condemn our contempt for God’s Revelation. God has spoken; and by his Word we shall be judged.
Up Calv’ry’s mountain, one dreadful morn,
Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn;
Facing for sinners death on the cross,
That he might save them from endless loss.
“Father, forgive them!” thus did he pray,
E’en while his life-blood flowed fast away;
Praying for sinners while in such woe—
No one but Jesus ever loved so.
Trusting my Savior, the sinner’s Friend,
How can my praises ever find end!
Through years unnumbered on heaven’s shore,
My tongue shall praise him forevermore.
Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading—
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!
Here we see the blindness and ignorance of our hearts by nature. — “They know not what they do.” They knew full well that they had cried out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They knew full well that their vile desires had been granted by Pilate, when he “delivered Jesus to their will.” They knew full well that they had crucified him. What then did our Lord mean when he said, “They know not what they do”? He meant they were ignorant of the enormity of their crime. They “knew not” that it was the Lord of glory they were crucifying. The emphasis is not on “They know not” but on “they know not what they do.”
Yet, they should have known. Their blindness was inexcusable. The Old Testament prophets, which they read every Saturday, had received their fulfillment in him. Those prophecies clearly identified him as the Holy One of God. Even his critics said, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). The Father’s voice testified audibly, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Their ignorance only demonstrated the blindness of their hearts. Their rejection of the Son of God bore full witness, once for all, that the carnal mind is “enmity against God.” Their ignorance was the ignorance of blind hatred.
How sad it is to think that some of you are blinded and ignorant of the Son of God by your hatred for him! Sinner, what hatred and ignorance you show in neglecting God’s great salvation. You think nothing of despising the Son of God and his sweet invitations of mercy. You think nothing of refusing to receive him. You think it is a small thing to cry, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” You know not what you do!
You look upon vital matters with callous indifference. For years you have despised him and rejected him. For years you have hardened your heart against him, closed your ears to his calls, and shut your eyes to his beauty and glory. I say, You are ignorant. You know not what you do. You are blinded by your madness. You are blinded by your sin. You are blinded by your enmity against God. But you are without excuse. It is written, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But you will not believe! Why? Because you are ignorant. O blind, ignorant sinner, come to the Savior and cry, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.” But you will not come to him that you might have life! Why? Because you are ignorant!
But it is the glory of God’s grace to make Christ known to such ignorant sinners as we are, and wilfully ignorant, by the wisdom and prudence of his free grace. Oh, may he now cause the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to shine in your heart and take away your ignorance!
Here we see the Lord Jesus teaching by example what he taught in his Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5:43-44).
(Matthew 5:43-44) “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
Our Lord Jesus practiced what he preached. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He not only taught the truth but is himself the Truth incarnate. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In all things he has left us an example. May God give me grace to follow his example. If he will give me grace to love my enemies, bless those who curse me, and pray for those who despise me, I will find it difficult…
Of this I am certain. If I do not find my example for life in the cross of Christ, I have not found expiation for my sin in it (Eph. 4:29-5:1; 1 Pet. 2:20-25).
(Ephesians 4:29-32) “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (30) And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: (32) And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
(Ephesians 5:1-2) “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (2) And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
(1 Peter 2:20-25) “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (21) For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (22) Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (23) Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: (24) Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (25) For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
Our Great Need
Here we see man’s great need before God. We are sinners, unfit for the presence of he Holy Lord God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and will by no means clear the guilty. We are sinners in need of forgiveness.
Š I know that no man can earn forgiveness. We cannot make atonement for our sins.
Š I know that forgiveness is God’s sovereign prerogative.
Š I know that the only way God can forgive sin is by putting it away.
Š And I know that the only way the Holy Lord God can put sin away is by the sin-atoning sacrifice of his own dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23-26).
(Romans 3:23-26) “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (25) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Yet, it is my joy to declare to you this night, and to declare to my own needy soul, that there is forgiveness with my God (Ps. 130:1-4).
(Psalms 130:1-4) “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. (2) Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. (3) If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? (4) But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”
What a blessed word of grace! — “There is forgiveness with thee!” Jehovah, the great, almighty, holy Lord God will forgive sin. — “He delighteth in mercy!” (Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; 55:7; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17)
(Isaiah 43:25) “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.”
(Isaiah 44:22) “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.”
(Isaiah 55:7) “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
(Jeremiah 31:34) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Hebrews 8:12) “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
(Hebrews 10:17) “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
I have read these passages and lay great stress upon the fact of God’s forgiveness, because there is nothing in the world more difficult for an awakened sinner to do than to believe that God can, or will, forgive his sin. Those who are not really convinced of their own sin say, flippantly, “I believe in the forgiveness of sin.” But when your heart is under the painful, bitter conviction of sin, things are different.
I fully agree with Mr. Spurgeon, who said, “No revealed truth is more generally doubted and disbelieved than this, the plainest of all revelations, that the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, and ready to pass by the iniquities of his people.” When your sin is set before you in the light of God’s holiness, your first instinct is to fear that it cannot be forgiven.
Bunyan describes Satan, as he attacks the city of Mansoul, sending Captain Past Hope and Mr. Despair with hurling accusations, with the roaring of the tyrant’s drum beating loudly, especially in the dark hours of night, so that he men of Mansoul can hear nothing but “Hell-fire! Hell-fire!” Thus the prince of darkness holds men in darkness, bondage and fear.
No prison ever held a man so strongly, no whip ever tortured a man so cruelly, as the guilty fears of a conscience under the conviction of sin. I want especially to address you who are so aware of your guilt and sin that you think, “I have no hope. I am lost, undone, and must be forever damned. I cannot be forgiven!”
God’s forgiveness of sin is a fact so plainly, repeatedly and fully revealed in Holy Scripture that it simply cannot be denied, even by you whose sins seem to rise like a mountainous boil of corruption to the very heavens. Spirit of God, sound these words of yours in the heart of every sinner here — “There is forgiveness with thee!” — I know that there is forgiveness with God because…
Š His dealings with the first sinners in this world gave them hope of forgiveness (Genesis 3:9, 15, 21). — He sought the fallen pair. — He preached the gospel to them. — He made a sacrifice for them. — He clothed them with the skins of innocent animals. — “I have gotten a man from the Lord!”
Š His very name is forgiveness (Exodus 34:5).
(Exodus 34:5-9) “And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. (6) And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, (7) Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (8) And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. (9) And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.”
Š The whole purpose of the ceremonial law was to proclaim the forgiveness of sin (Leviticus 16).
Š This was the message of all the Old Testament prophets (Acts 10:43).
(Acts 10:43) “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
Š This is the reason why Christ came (Matthew 1:21).
(Matthew 1:21) “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Š The Holy Spirit was given to communicate to guilty sinners the forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1; John 16:7-11).
(Zechariah 12:10) “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”
(Zechariah 13:1) “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”
(John 16:7-11) “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (8) And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (9) Of sin, because they believe not on me; (10) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; (11) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”
Š The Son of God taught us to pray for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 6:12).
Š Every ordinance of Divine Worship proclaims the forgiveness of sin. — Prayer — Praise — Baptism — The Lord’s Supper
Š The Lord Jesus Christ sent his Apostles out to tell the whole world that God will indeed forgive sin (Luke 24:44).
(Luke 24:44-47) “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. (45) Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, (46) And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: (47) And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
The preaching of the cross is the proclamation of forgiveness. “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38‑39).
Š There is a great multitude of sinners who have been forgiven of all sin by the grace of God through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Revelation 5:9-10).
Š I have experienced it (Ps. 116:1-8, 12-13; 32:1-5).
(Psalms 116:1-8) “I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. (2) Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. (3) The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (4) Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. (5) Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. (6) The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. (7) Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. (8) For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.”
(Psalms 116:12-13) “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? (13) I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.”
(Psalms 32:1-5) “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (2) Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. (3) When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. (4) For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. (5) I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”
I am one of those spoken of in Christ in Colossians 1:14 — “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”
Here we see the triumph of our Savior’s redeeming love. Notice the word with which our text opens: — “Then.” The verse that immediately precedes our text reads, — “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.ę— “Then” — when man had done his worst. “Then” — when the vileness of the human heart was most fully displayed. “Then” — when man with his wicked hands by his wicked will had dared to crucify the Lord of Glory. — “Then, said Jesus, Father, forgive them.” That was the triumph of redeeming love. It is written, “Love suffereth long, and is kind... beareth all things... endureth all things.”
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade, —
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky!
When Samson came to his dying hour he used his great strength of body to destroy his foes; but a greater than Samson is here! Our mighty Samson exhibited the strength of his love by praying for the forgiveness of his enemies. Matchless, wondrous, amazing grace! Oh, may God graciously grant to you the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and go home forgiven of al sin forever.
(Isaiah 55:6-7) “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: (7) Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
(1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(Colossians 2:13) “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”
(Romans 4:8) “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
(Romans 8:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
(Romans 8:33) “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
Illustration: The Wordless Book