>Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34

In the next week or so, we are going to focus on the events surrounding Jesus’ death on the cross, especially the last seven things that He said before He died. For those who occasionally doubt what Jesus thinks of us, these words will reassure us of His great love for us as He gave Himself for our reconciliation with God.

After beatings, torture and humiliation, the first thing that Jesus says on the cross is a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His prayer was not, “Okay, Father, let’s get this over with” or “Help me cope with my circumstances.” He prayed to offer grace to His clueless tormentors.

For the soldiers at the foot of the cross, it was all in a day’s work. They were carrying out a court order. They were punishing three criminals: two thieves and a heretic. They didn’t see themselves as offering the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. Roman soldiers would have worshipped mythical gods like Jupiter and Apollo, Venus and Cupid. Their relationship with gods would have been cause and effect. Natural disasters expressed their gods’ displeasure. There was certainly no personal relationship with their gods.

For these soldiers the thought that God had come in the flesh and was dying to save them would have seemed ludicrous. The reality is that grace and forgiveness truly are ludicrous from a human point of view. Maybe it’s even just as ridiculous as crucifying a man who never sinned.

Some might be tempted to point fingers and place blame for Jesus’ death. The religious leaders were so threatened. The mob was so angry. The Romans were so callous. They were all to blame in one way or the other.

Let’s take a step back. If Jesus hadn’t died, we couldn’t be saved. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). If no one had crucified Jesus, He wouldn’t have died as a sacrifice for our sins. Secondly, how can anyone hold Jesus’ death against the people He forgave?

Jesus’ heart toward us is never “Father, retaliate against them” or “Father, punish them” or “Father, just give them what they deserve” or worse yet, “Father, give them what they think will make them happy.” Jesus’ heart toward us is to always lead with forgiveness. Because He can forgive so freely, we are able to forgive as well.

Where do you need God’s forgiveness today?
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Where do you need to offer God’s forgiveness today? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).