Word 1: Father Forgive Them (2/22/15)

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pastor Jim began his 7 part series on the “Seven Last Words of Christ” by looking at the first “word” (or prayer): “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Click on the “play” button and follow along…

 “You can’t experience the full joy of Easter,
without going through Good Friday first.”


Luke 23:33-38

33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.

34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.

35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine,

37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:



Famous Last Words

Generally speaking, a person’s final words reveal what is on his or her mind and they reflect who they really are.  A person’s final words can act like a truth serum where the person has no need for pretense.

On his deathbead, John Wesley is reported to have said these 7 words as he died:

Best of all, God is with us.

St. Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, just before he was martyred in 1179 said:

I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist teacher (and author of the popular “Morning and Evening” devotionals), said as his last words:

“Jesus Died for me.”

Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, said:

“Don’t let it end like this.  Tell  them I said something.”

We might laugh at that last one, but Jesus said something just before He died on the cross of Calvary.  And those words that Jesus spoke are still  having an impact upon millions of lives and will continue to do so until He returns again.


While on the cross, it was difficult to breath, let alone speak… let alone to say something loud enough to be heard (and recorded) by the crowd.  We need to take these words seriously; to listen up.  We can’t gloss over them,  because Jesus wanted us to hear them:

“Father…  forgive them;  for they know not what they do”

Powerful, but haunting words in the face of those mocking Him.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father,   Luke 11:1-2

The Lord’s prayer began with the word “Father.”  Jesus’ carefully chosen words from the cross began with the word Father.  Jesus is teaching us to pray, this time with His last words.


Who is “Them”?

When Jesus prayed, “Father forgive THEM”, who is the “THEM” He is talking about?  Perhaps it’s the:

  • The Soldiers…  The ones who are driving the spikes into His hands.  They are guilty.  Maybe they’re just following orders, but they- and we- can’t plead ignorance (Jesus says “they don’t know what they’re doing.”).
  • The Crowd… The ones who demanded that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified.  The ones who stood by and mocked Jesus.  Even if it’s not us “pulling the trigger,” don’t we all share in the guilt?
  • The Religious Leaders… The ones who conspired to have Jesus crucified.  The ones who were recognized as spiritual  leaders and yet led the people to reject Jesus.
  • You and Me!  We are part of the people who were there.  We are guilty, and Jesus pleads with His Father for our forgiveness.

WE are all  guilty.  When Jesus was on the cross you were on His mind (check out the song with the same title).  If you were the only person in history who needed to be saved,  Jesus still would have died for you.

Try putting your own name into the following blanks:

“Father, forgive ____________ for ____________ doesn’t know what he’s (or she’s) doing.  ______________ doesn’t have a clue.


The Request of the Prayer

“Father forgive them…”  The tense of the original Greek text is continuous.  This opens the door for the possibility that this was something Jesus said several times.  The Greek word is aphiemi, which means to “cancel, remit, pardon.”  In other words, it’s like if you take out a loan to pay off a credit card.  The bank sends the credit card company a big check, and then the credit card company sends you a statement that says “Paid in Full.”  That huge debt you could never pay down is GONE!  It is forgiven.  Then imagine that the bank sends you a statement saying that someone had anonymously paid off your loan!  No debt.  Forgiven.  You don’t owe anything to the credit card company.  You don’t owe anything to the bank who paid it off…   You don’t owe anything to God.  You can’t pay for your sins, but the debt is totally paid off.  Jesus asked His father to forgive them.

And the verb is ongoing.  Just like we keep messing up (sinning), Jesus keeps on asking for our forgiveness.  Just like we keep going on without knowing what we’re doing, Jesus keeps pleading for our forgiveness.  Just like we keep racking up the debt, Jesus keeps paying it off for us.

  • As Jesus was laid on the cross:  He prayed, “Father forgive them.”
  • As the soldiers drove nails through His hands and feet:  He prayed, “Father forgive them.”
  • As the cross was dropped into place: He prayed, “Father forgive them.”
  • As he hung on the cross and was mocked: He prayed, “Father forgive them.”

It’s interesting to note that He could have prayed “Father judge them” or Father avenge me.”  But these final words of Jesus reveal His true character: He prayed, “Father forgive them.”  And He keeps praying this even for us.  The prayer echoes through eternity.  We ARE guilty, but He continues to plead for us.

Phillip Yancey, in his book “What’s So Amazing about Grace?” gives some great insight when he reminds us that the word forgive contains the word “GIVE.”  To forgive is to cancel the debt of someone so that they never have to pay us back for what they’ve done to us.  It’s to give to someone who doesn’t deserve it (or who never even asks for it).

Could you forgive a drunk driver who totals your car, lands you in the hospital- and then gets away with it?


The Focus of the Prayer

The focal  point of the prayer is that all of us need forgiveness “for we know not what we do.”  Paul said in Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Someone once did a study and determined that fish don’t know they’re wet!  In the same way, even though we’re soaked with sin, we don’t know we’re sinful.  The 19th century evangelist J.C. Ryle once said,

“The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive, and are not offensive to one another.  And man,  fallen man, has just no idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of God.”

We don’t realize that we’re sinners.  We’re good at explaining away everything and changing our definition of what’s sinful.  But the Holy Spirit comes upon us and says “Hey, that’s not right.”  Then the Holy Spirit takes over for us.  The Holy Spirit leads us to repentance.

We  don’t even know we stink!

Paul said the same thing in Romans 3:10-18 (quoted from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”)…

10 There’s nobody living right, not even one,
11 nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.

12 They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one.
13 Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mud slides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
14 They open their mouths and pollute the air.
15 They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
16 litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
17 Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
18 They never give God the time of day.

Jesus acknowledges our sinfulness:  “They know not what they do.”  We ARE “doing sin.”  We are worthy of judgement.  And yet Jesus- from the cross- pleads for us.  The Apostle John writes in 1 John 2:1-2  (quote from “The Message”) :

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus.   When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good — not only ours, but the whole world’s.

Who did Jesus die for?  Who’s the focus of His prayer for forgiveness?  For all of those who “know not what they do.”  He prayed for us… and He’s still praying for us.  He’s willing to pay the price.


The Reason for the Prayer

Why did Jesus feel He needed to say this prayer while enduring the pain of the cross?  Getting the breath to speak was nearly impossible.  And  yet- from the cross- He prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Jesus’ words on the cross are meant to serve as an example for us to imitate.  He didn’t pray this in silence… He certainly could have.  But He shouted it out so we could hear.  He wanted us to know that we are forgiven.  He also showed us with His dying breaths what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  We are to imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2):

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.    NIV

God wants us to be in Relationship with Him; not to be Religious.  He wants us to be His reflection in the world.

“People who regularly forgive others…, find it easier to believe and trust in the grace of God because their hears have been enlarged by grace, and they freely offer it to others”

-Adam Hamilton, “Final Words from the Cross“, page 29

On the cross, Jesus models forgiveness and He does it in the most difficult of circumstances.  With railroad spikes through His wrists and feet, a crown of thorns pressed an inch deep into His scalp, His skin on His back ripped open from the flogging, people continuing to insult Him… He continues to say “Father, forgive them.”

Jesus is saying: “This is what true forgiveness looks like.”  Jesus forgave with no reservations.


The Repeat of the Prayer

Freedom in Christ Cross Shirt _IMG_0559

As disciples of this Jesus, we are called to repeat this prayer; in words, in thoughts, and in and deeds.  This prayer is meant to become our prayer.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He didn’t come to condemn (John 3:16-17).  He came to save.  He came to forgive.  And- He came to show us how to forgive others.

God has forgiven you.  How do you feel about that?  You have two options:

  1. “Oh that’s nice, but I’m a good person.  I don’t need forgiveness; save it for those bad people.  Thanks anyway.”
  2. “Forgive ME?  I can’t believe it!  Psalm 32 is  really true when it says (from The Message): ‘Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be —  you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean.’ “

Friends, GOD HAS FORGIVEN YOU!  To the extent and depth that you know and feel forgiven by God, you’re going to be able to forgive others.  To the extent that you know and accept this forgiveness, you’ll be free to experience the beauty and joy of life.

 Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…


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