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Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do

St. Luke 23.33-34

Rev. Keith R. Weise

Good Friday
Lutheran Senior Services at Meramec Bluffs  
Ballwin, Missouri

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Our journey through Lent has finally led us here today, to the crucifixion of our Lord.  Jesus is betrayed by those he came to serve.  He's led away to cries of "Crucify him!  Crucify him!" He's so weak and bloodied and beaten he cannot even carry the cross so Simon does that for him.  Women weep for him, and he responds essentially by saying, "You think this is bad, wait till you see what's coming."  Finally, as they climb up Calvary and there nail Jesus to the cross, something unexpected happens.  Jesus prays.  He prays for those who put him on the cross. 

[St. Luke 23.34a]

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

2 Perhaps it doesn't sound strange to our ears, having heard Christ's prayer time and time again every Good Friday of our lives.  But to anyone there that day as Christ was nailed to the cross, this is perhaps the strangest thing that could have happened.  Here is a man, wrongfully accused, unscrupulously tried, unceasingly belittled, and unceremoniously hammered onto a cross—praying for the people who put him there.

3 The people there, though, don't seem to take much notice.  Some divided his clothes among themselves and threw dice to see who got what.  And in the meantime, Jesus bled and suffered, (likely naked) just a few feet above the ground, suspended on some crudely cut wood by iron nails driven through his hands and feet.  And still his prayer rises up to the heavens: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

4 Certainly Jesus was praying for those whose wile and cunning had brought him to this place.  No doubt, he was praying for those who beat him and mocked him, and nailed him to the cross.  He prayed for the disciples who deserted him, and even for those women who wailed and mourned at his execution.  But those aren't the only ones for whom he prayed.  When Jesus lifted up his voice and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he was also praying for you and me.

5 No, we were not there to betray Jesus or mock him at his trial.  We were not there to cheer and yell and wail as he walked his way to his death.  We were not there when they drove the nails through his hands and feet, but Jesus was praying for us as if we were.  Why?  Because it was not just exhaustion and beating and nails and wood that killed our Lord.  It was sin.  Our sin.  Yours and mine.  All the sin the world has ever known since Adam and Eve first rebelled against God in the Garden was laid upon Christ our Lord.  St. John the Baptist does not call him the Lamb of God for nothing: As the Lamb of God, Christ was destined to die with the sins of the world upon his shoulders.  And now, on the cross, he reaches the culmination of his mission.  And even in the midst of his own death, he prays for us, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

6 In this prayer upon the cross we get a glimpse of what Jesus does as our Great High Priest before our Heavenly Father.  In Hebrews, chapter 7, we hear that Jesus prays for our forgiveness.  As our Heavenly High Priest:

[Hebrews 7.25b]

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.

7 "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'" is Jesus' unceasing prayer on our behalf before God the Father.  By this prayer he brings us to see his crucifixion for what it truly is: our death—on our cross—on our behalf.  By our sins, we nailed our Lord upon the cross.  Our sins were the force behind the hammer blows that drove the nails through his precious hands and feet.  And in suffering the sentence our sins deserve, our Lord does what seems strange and unexpected to the world, but what is truly holy and precious before God our Father: He prays.  He prays for our forgiveness, that we might be forgiven even the sin of murdering our Lord.

8 As we meditate this dark day on Christ's crucifixion, we fix our eyes on him as he bleeds, suffers, and dies.  Let us never forget, that in life, and even in death, our Lord prays for us.  And his prayer is heard even unto this day, and will always be heard by God our Father.  For the prayer of Christ is the eternal prayer that delivers us from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And in answer to our Lord's prayer of forgiveness from the cross, God the Father sends the Spirit to us to turn our eyes and see in Christ the answer to the prayer that goes up from his lips.  For in Christ's crucifixion we see our forgiveness.  In Christ's crucifixion we see our redemption.  In Christ's crucifixion we see our salvation and our promised eternal life.  And all the while Christ's prayer goes up to like incense unto God: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



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