The Seven Last Words of Christ, the First Word
St. Luke 23:33-37
Ash Thursday, February 19, 2015 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The first word of Our Lord from the cross is recorded in Luke 23.
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. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:33–37, ESV) .
The ESV translates the word “said” as a simple past. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But it is actually an imperfect. It should be translated either as “Jesus began to say” or “Jesus was saying.” The point is that this wasn’t a one-time prayer but was the constant plea of the Messiah to His Father.
The words of the petition are very straight forward: “Forgive them.” On the face of it, He is asking that the Father not hold His unjust trial and crucifixion against those who were directly responsible, but it is more than that. The only way they can be forgiven that trespass is if He is sacrificed for their sins. In other words, He is praying that He be crucified rather than them.
The antecedent of “them” is deliberately vague. It certainly refers to the soldiers, but it includes the crowd that yelled “crucify,” Pilate, and Herod. It also includes the Sanhedrin, his failure disciples, and the two malefactors who were crucified with Him. It refers, in the end, to all the world, to every sinner. When He prays “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” He is praying for you, and that, from the very place that the prayer is answered.
No one except Jesus and His Father really know what is happening at the crucifixion. The soldiers don’t realize they are offering up the atonement of the world on the altar of the cross. The devil doesn’t know that he is crushing his own head. The disciples don’t know that Jesus was anointed for this purpose or that He will rise from the dead even though they’ve been told so. The whole world should fall down before the cross in reverent joy as the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth, but instead they are wailing, mocking, and gambling.
Despite that the Lord prays for them. Even in the moments of His worst torment, as He is forsaken by the Father, becomes sin and guilt for us, He has pity. “Those poor sinners,” says the Lord, looking upon openly evil men and cowards, “don’t know what they are doing. They mean it for evil but I mean it good. I have come to give them more than a seamless garment. Crucify Me, Father. Take this payment for these sinners. Open My side to let out the Blood and Water. Let them feast upon Me and make their hearts glad. Send Me to Hell in their place. Forgive them and open paradise and give them to Me as My inheritance.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.