On Christmas Eve, we talked about a child who was born to save us. We talked about his purpose. Tonight, we see that baby, now grown, fulfill it. And I have to warn you — it’s not pretty. No longer a cuddly little baby in swaddling clothes, this grown man had been beaten, stripped, mocked, whipped, and could barely physically drag his pulp of a body out to this hill for the climax of this cruelty. It is not pretty. Yet this Friday is Good, precisely because it is Him doing what He came for. In order to save us, He had to pay the price, the cost of our redemption.
So tonight, we watch a man die. Because we love him, our watching is hard. So let’s hang upon his last words and carry them in remembering hearts. At our service at 7:30 tonight at Abiding Grace, we’ll hear all seven words, but here we’ll just look at the first. What does He say who is now dying for the sin of the world? He opens his mouth and sends a cry out over the crowd that declares to all who hear the reason for this dying man’s death: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Now, first of all, of course they knew. They knew they were killing a man. They knew they were aborting justice. They knew something just wasn’t right, but they followed their orders and put to death God’s only begotten Son. That part, they didn’t know. But that they were doing something wrong, of course they knew.
But realize — His words touch more than just those soldiers. Tonight, Jesus prays for us, for us who know when we’ve done wrong as well — even when no one else does. We know. We might not always know all the trouble our sins will cause, but we know. You knew what you were doing when you gossiped or griped, when you lacked love or looked out for number one. We know the greed and lust in our hearts. Now, you might not know how much trouble it would get you in, but the sin you know.
So see its price paid. See this death to redeem us, to buy us back from the power, the curse of sin. Even though they didn’t know what they were doing – he did. He knew that this first word he spoke from the cross echoed back through the long corridors of time, reaching into a garden in the cool of the day, recalling the memory of that fall into sin and the powerful promise, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” God was now working out that plan conceived in that garden, worked out in a manger, another Garden, and now on this cross. Here was God calling out for that very forgiveness he was winning. “Father, forgiven them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Do you understand the depth of love that took? For the ones crucifying him, he prays. For the ones hating him, he begs their salvation. Realize the truth buried there.
There is no one our Savior cannot love, no one he does not love. So no matter what guilt you are wrestling with, no matter the depth of your grief and shame, no matter what you’ve done — hear your Savior pray for you. And his prayer is powerful. The whole scene proclaims it. Here he is punished for our failures, pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (as Isaiah so beautifully prophesied). He didn’t do that in vain. He didn’t do that so you would still have to suffer for your failures with fear and guilt. He did that so that the prayer we hear him pray from that cross is answered.
Permit me now to let Luke tell the story that leads up to that first last word of Jesus. Luke 23:26-34
“As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
This is God’s Word. This is our Savior’s love. Join us at Abiding Grace tonight to ponder all 7 words and mark our Savior’s death with word and song. Then join us again on Sunday for Outdoor Sunrise Service at 7am and Celebration service (indoor) at 10:30am, followed by an Easter Egg Hunt (and brunch) for all.
May God bless your recognition of his sacrifice tonight and your celebration of his victory on Sunday!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.