Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

by Mike Ratliff

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36 (ESV) 

Probably the command from our Lord that is the most difficult for us to obey is found in Luke 6:35 (above). That is, it is hard or difficult if we are full of pride and are self-focused. However, as the master vinedresser prunes us as we abide in the True Vine and the refiner burns away the fleshly dross from us in the refiner’s fire, we will be humbled as we surrender to the potter, as the clay should. This humbling is what is required for Christlikeness to become manifest in and through us. Why? If we are being driven by pride then we will be self-focused and operate as if we are the center of our universe. However, humble believers, those who are maturing, are those who have given that up as something that hinders their walk with the Lord. Maturing believers see the things of this world, the very things the world runs after, as nothing but dung in comparison to what they have in Christ. He becomes their all-in-all. Their love for Him spills over into all parts of their lives and for the Saviour’s sake they love their enemies and are merciful to all just as He was and is. Our Lord demonstrates the epitome of this as He was crucified.

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:32-34 (ESV) 

32 Ἤγοντο δὲ καὶ ἕτεροι κακοῦργοι δύο σὺν αὐτῷ ἀναιρεθῆναι.
33 Καὶ ὅτε ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκεῖ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν * καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὃν μὲν ἐκ δεξιῶν ὃν δὲ ἐξ ἀριστερῶν. 34 〚ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν· πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.〛 διαμεριζόμενοι δὲ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἔβαλον κλήρους. Luke 23:32-34 (NA28)

The word translated here as “forgive” is the Greek word ἄφες. This saying by our Lord on the Cross is the turning point in His work of atonement. What do I mean? Before this prayer by our Lord, the whole thing was a horrid spectacle. While the horror continued, the fruit of redemption began to be revealed after our Lord prayed this prayer asking for forgiveness from the Father for those persecuting Him, hating Him, or ridiculing Him. For instance, in Matthews’s account of the crucifixion of our Lord, Matthew 27:32-44, we see everyone deriding the Lord including those who passed by and the two criminals who were crucified with Him. However, in Luke we read of the first one drawn into the light because of our Lord’s prayer for forgiveness for these who “knew not what they were doing.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (NASB) 

This is truly amazing my brethren. Go and read Matthew’s account of the crucifixion and you will see that both of these men ridiculed our Lord, insulting Him, et cetera. However, our Lord prayed that prayer for forgiveness and here we have one of the two exhibiting saving faith right there on his own cross. Notice carefully what he says. Before he was dead in his trespasses and sins and going to his death in bitterness just like the other criminal, but here he suddenly reveals that he now fears God. He knows He is a sinner and confesses it. He admits that his execution is just. He recognizes the purity and holiness of Christ his redeemer. He prays for the Lord to have mercy on Him and save Him. What is our Lord’s response? He tells him that this very day that this is accomplished!

Remember, the ones passing by on the road were ridiculing our Lord as well. The bystanders were shouting insults at Him, but then our Lord prayed that prayer and died like no other man.

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts. Luke 23:44-48 (NASB) 

What we see in these examples of the repentant criminal on the cross,  the centurion, and the crowds is God working in hearts by drawing them to their redeemer. Just 50 days later on the day of Pentecost, we see the fruit of this. In Acts 2:1-43 Peter preached a spirit-filled sermon as crowds rushed to hear as they heard the Apostles praising God and preaching in their own languages. The harvest came quickly.

41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. Acts 2:41-43 (NASB) 

Do you suppose that any of those who departed Calvary beating their breasts were among these three thousand souls? My brethren, people are saved when God draws them to the Son and it is an answer to that prayer to forgive them. No one deserves this salvation. It does not come by works. It does not come by being religious. It does not come by repentance first. No, it comes by the Father drawing them to the Son with the gift of faith through the washing of regeneration. Then they believe the Gospel and are justified by faith as the Father imputes our Lord’s Righteousness to their account just as He did for that criminal on the cross and those who responded to the call of God at Pentecost. It is all about forgiveness made possible by the Lord’s atoning work on the Cross.

My brethren, are you forgiving your enemies and doing good for them as you pray for them to be drawn to the Son? Does the world look at you and see one who is “different” from the crowd? We should stick out at work as the employee who is above reproach who does great work and is never divisive or a gossip or a troublemaker. When your neighbor takes advantage of your good nature do you still forgive or do you become bitter? When you do good works, do you want everyone to see and know about it?

We may indeed be in the last of the last days. I do not know that, but I do know that my time is going by fast. It seems like I was a new Christian just awhile ago, but it was in 1986. Time has flown by. My children are grown and one of them has a family of her own. The other is a Physician. My Dad died a few years ago and mother is 90. I look at this body and realize that I have got to stop living as if this life is all there is. I must live as if eternity is the true reality for me for I am in Christ and I am His δουλος.

Soli Deo Gloria!