Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus’ forgiveness is not a reaction to my new and improved attitude, a change in me. It is his general stance, a heart full of goodwill and pardon and love. It already exists though I am still stuck in my rebellion and sin. This is why Paul can say in Romans 5 that “Christ died for the ungodly,” that “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
Do you see what this means for you and me? When we do repent and seek God’s forgiveness, we don’t have to convince him to be forgiving. Forgiveness was there first. It was waiting for us to come. He has always been the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, looking down that road, hoping and yearning for us to come home. This was not so that he could scold us or give us a good beating. He wants only to open his heart and profess the love for us that has always been there, then embrace us and claim us again as his very own.
There may be those who will not come home. They will not receive the forgiveness God has in store, because they will not turn from their sins and believe. But that does not change the fact that God’s forgiveness is there, waiting, seeking.
If Jesus could forgive the injustice and pain the Roman soldiers were causing him, is there any sin of ours he won’t forgive? These were the men who were carrying out his murder. They mercilessly mocked him as life slowly drained from his body. Mass murderers may have massacred millions more. But whose violence and evil has ever been aimed at God so directly? Still, “Father, forgive them.”
This erases all fear that somehow we might exhaust or exceed his forgiveness. We can’t sin so many times that we come to the end of his forgiveness. We can’t sin so big, so cruel, so selfish that we come to the limits of his forgiveness.
Don’t misunderstand what forgiveness means. He doesn’t defend our sin, telling us it’s okay. We know it’s not. It is always hurting someone, always costing someone, when we sin. As often as not, the pain and expense are our own.
Nor does he excuse our sin, as though our unique set of circumstances made our sin acceptable. Many times we would like to make a case for sin because of the way others have treated us. “He started it.” “It was their idea.” “What I did wasn’t as bad as what she did.” These didn’t excuse us when we are children. They are no more useful when we are adults. Jesus has given us something better.
“Father, forgive them…” Jesus forgives our sins. Literally, the Greek word means “send it away.” Our Savior acknowledges the hurt and the damage we have done. He does not deny the condemnation we deserve. Then he sends the sin away. He removes it from us. Remember the psalmist’s words? “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).
He takes them from us upon his own shoulders. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Here he paid the price for them. Here he suffered the consequences they deserved. Forgiveness isn’t based on warm, fuzzy feelings. It is based on Christ’s loving sacrifice that satisfies God’s justice and leaves us innocent. It is forgiveness so certain, on which we can always depend.