Tonight we begin our midweek Lenten services. I will be preaching on the seven last words of Christ from the Cross. The first word is from Luke 23. …
What fantastic love the Lord Christ possesses! Even when they pounded nails through His flesh and crowned Him with thorns, still He looked in mercy upon sinful men. He did not pray for vengeance, but forgiveness.
For whom was He praying? The most obvious objects of His prayer were the soldiers who crucified Him. Yet the soldiers were acting as the hands of the governor who commanded them, and behind him was the authority of Caesar and the Roman Empire. Yet the Jews also had pushed hard for this crucifixion. The blame also was theirs, and therefore for them was Christ’s prayer.
None of these understood that they were killing the holy Son of God. In ignorance, they committed horrifying blasphemy.
Yet the disciples were also ignorant at times. Although Saint Peter once confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, yet the night before the crucifixion he denied Him. The disciples constantly stumbled in ignorance and doubt, and all deserted Him.
And do we not all sin, often without knowing it, often without thinking of the consequences? So we also are those who, in ignorance, caused the death of the Lord by our sins.
Yet the Lord Jesus does not call out to God in bitterness or hate. He shows love by the word He uses to address His prayer, “Father”. He calls upon Him in love and trust, not in resentment for the burden that He now carried on the cross, the burden the Father sent Him to bear. Instead, His thoughts are love towards His Father, and also love towards us. He asks the Father to forgive us. What greater love could there be than that?
By these words He declares the purpose of His sacrifice. He is not dying because evil forces overcame Him. No one overcomes the Son of God. He is not dying because there was a tragic mistake or miscarriage of justice. There are no mistakes with the Son of Man. He deliberately laid down His life for the sins of the world. That is His purpose.
So Christ declares His wondrous love and purpose with His words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Our love falls far short. When we are hurt, we are tempted to become angry and vengeful and unforgiving. When the pain of our injury is small, we are proud that we put aside the hurt to forgive. But when there is a grievous injury, rational and patient thoughts easily flee from our heads.
May we follow His example better in our lives, by His Spirit.
More importantly, may we look upon His gracious words and know that they are for us. This is the key to understanding the Cross of Christ. We should not chiefly pay attention to the ugliness. We should not allow ourselves to be repulsed by the bloody sacrifice. Instead, the thing that should occupy our minds is that this spectacle of the Son of Man dying on the Tree is the forgiveness of God. If not for His suffering and death, there would be no salvation.
So we hear His words, and we know that the Father has answered. Not all men receive the forgiveness, since not all put their trust in Him by Spirit-given faith. But for us, God has brought the benefits of the Cross near to us. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the prayer of Jesus was fulfilled for us. In the Holy Absolution, His prayer is fulfilled. In this preaching of the Gospel, His prayer is fulfilled. In the Holy Supper that we will soon receive, His prayer is fulfilled. In these ways, God pours out the forgiveness won upon the Cross by Christ. That is how the Father has answered the prayer of Jesus to forgive us.
Therefore, let us not shy away from the Cross, because it is the power and meaning of God’s Word and Sacrament. Let us not flee from the Cross, lest we flee from the forgiveness for which He prayed. Let us keep our eyes upon Him, the dying yet forgiving Savior, whose love is greater than we can imagine.
In His Name and to His glory. Amen.
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