Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Forgiveness is the baseline of the message of the gospel and as Jesus says, “father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”, let’s not forget the journey that Jesus has just taken and where He was as He said these words, on the cross.
The final stage of Jesus’ Journey begins in Gethsemane, where Jesus is betrayed. Once captured He is taken to the Jewish authorities where He is put on trial. This goes on through the night before He is eventually handed over to the Romans. They simulate a coronation, as one of their emperors, but this is not an honourable event. He is mocked and ridiculed, a crown of thorns is placed on his Head and His beard is plucked, both more painful than we could imagine. It says that Jesus was flogged. The Romans used a whip called a flagrum. This whip had pieces of bone and metal attached to and was designed to rip the flesh, exposing the bone and tissue beneath. We don’t know how many times Jesus was whipped but Jewish law stated that if someone was to be whipped then they should receive 39 lashes, one less than 40 to prevent any errors in counting. This would have caused extreme blood loss, for many this alone would be enough to take their lives.
After being whipped, Jesus is forced to carry the crossbar of the cross, called a patibulum, to the execution site. It is thought that the patibulum could have weighted up to 100lbs. Jesus was unable to carry the cross because of His weakness and tormented state and so the Romans intervened, they grabbed a bystander (Simon of Cyrene) who carried it to where Jesus would be crucified. Once at the execution site the patibulum was put on the ground and the victim was forced to lie upon it. Spikes about 7 inches long and 3/8 of an inch in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck. Already standing at the crucifixion site would be the 7-foot-tall post, called a stipes. In the center of the stipes was a crude seat to “support” for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes, and the victim’s body was awkwardly turned on the seat so that the feet could be nailed to the stipes. At this point, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The position of the nailed body held the victim’s rib cage in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. Having suffered from the scourging, the beatings and the walk with the patibulum, Jesus was described as extremely weak and dehydrated. He was probably losing significant amounts of blood. As time passed, the loss of blood and lack of oxygen would cause severe cramps, spasmodic contractions and probably unconsciousness.
(adapted from www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/crucifixion.htm)
It is here, Jesus cries out, “forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.“
As I think of this the only natural response is to pause. Words muddy the moment. Yet as I pause and think about this a story from Rebecca Pippart’s- Peasants Reasons came to mind
Before I quote her, think of what you believe to be the most serious sin you have ever committed. Regardless of what you are thinking I know something about you that you have done that is far more serious.
Rebecca Pippart- Peasants Reasons
Several years ago after I had finished speaking at a conference a lady came to me who obviously wanted to speak to me. The moment I turned to her tears welled up in her eyes. We made our way to a room where we could talk privately and it was clear that she was tortured yet sensitive, she sobbed as she told the following story. Years before she and her fiancè had been youth workers at a large conservative church where they were a well known couple and had an extraordinary impact on the young people, everyone looked up to them and admired them tremendously. A few months before they were about to get married they began having sexual relations. That left them burdened enough with the burden of guilt and hypocrisy then she discovered that she was pregnant. You cannot imagine the implications of confessing this to our church she said. To have confessed that we were preaching one thing and living another would have been intolerable. The congregation were so conservative and had never been touched by any scandal. They felt they would not have been able to handle the situation and so we made the most excruciating decision that we have ever made. We had an abortion. My wedding day was the worst day of my entire life, she said. Everyone in the church was smiling at me thinking me a bride, beaming with innocence and do you know what was going through my head as I was walking down the aisle? All I could think to myself was, you’re a murderer, you’re a murderer. You were so proud that you could not bear the shame of the humiliation of being exposed for what you are. But I know what you are and so does God. You have murdered an innocent baby. Pippart writes, she was sobbing so deeply that she could not speak. As I put my arms around her a thought came to me very strongly, but I was afraid to say it initially. I knew that if it was not from God then it could be very destructive, so I prayed silently for the wisdom to help her. She continued, I just cannot believe that I could do something so horrible. How could I have murdered an innocent life. How is it possible that I could have done such a thing. I love my husband, we have four beautiful children and I know that the bible says that the bible forgives all our sins but I cannot forgive myself. I have confessed my sin a thousand times and I still feel shame and sorrow, the thought that haunts me the most is how could I murder an innocent life. I took a deep breath and I said what I had been thinking. I don’t know why you are so surprised, this is not the first time your sin has led to death, it is the second. She looked at me in utter amazement my dear friend I continued, when you look at the cross all of us show up as crucifiers. Religious or non-religious, good or bad, aborters or non-aborters all of us are responsible for the death of the only innocent who ever lived. And Jesus died for all our sins, past present and future. DO you think that there are any sins of yours that Jesus did not have to die for? The very sin of pride that caused you to destroy your child is what killed Christ as well. It does not matter that you were not there 2000 years ago, we all sent him there. Luther said that we carry his very nails in our pockets. So if you have done it before, why couldn’t you have done it again? She stopped crying and looked me straight in the eye and said, you are absolutely right. I have done something even worse than killing my baby. My sin is what drove Jesus to the cross it does not matter that I was not there pounding in the nails I am still responsible for his death. Do you realize the significance of what you are telling me Becky? I came to you saying that I had done the worst thing imaginable and you tell me that I have done something even worse than that. I grimaced because I knew that this was true. But then she said, Becky, if the cross shows me that I am far worse than I ever imagined it also shows me that my evil has been absorbed and forgiven, if the worse thing any human can do is kill Gods son, and that can be forgiven, then how can anything else, including my abortion Not be forgiven. I will never forget that look in her eyes as she sat back in awe and quietly said talk about amazing grace. This time she wept out of relief and gratitude. I saw a woman literally transformed by a proper understanding of the cross.
If you are a believer, Jesus has forgiven you. I think we sometimes forget that. We focus on the forgiveness we ask for but don’t always receive what He wants to give. But today I tell you, if you have confessed your sin, if you have turned to Christ then you are forgiven. No more condemnation. The price has been paid. He suffered on the cross that we might know Him. His suffering represents the gravity of our sin
Come to him and receive his Grace, his forgiveness…and as he has forgiven you, forgive others too.
For some of you who are struggling with forgiveness, I have written out a vision the Lord gave me a few years ago. I hope you find it helpful.
You stand on the beach, and look out at the open sea. You have stood on this beach many times in pain. This time you stand and you dont want to go through the pain anymore. And you hear the gentle words of the Father – let go, let go of your pain, let go of the unforgiveness. You look around and there are bags of rocks next to you, years of pain, and unforgiveness. Again you hear the whisper that you recognise as God – let go of your pain and I will make all things new. you are weary from holding the bags of rocks for so long, you are not even sure what it will be like if you let go – and the pain of the past is real, but the whisper is more real than ever before – let go. You reach down and your hand is trembling in fear – if I let go of this pain, who will punish them for the wrongs they have done – even as you say it you know that is not your business and in the eternal justice of God he makes all things right and in him there is a way – you pick up a stone and on it is written the name of the one who hurt you, the disappointment you felt and the reality of the pain comes flooding back to you. Your hand grips tightly around the stone and you feel the icy grip of unforgiveness in your heart – I won’t let go, and you feel the anger rise up within you but immediately you feel an arm around your shoulders and the whisper again of the Lord strengthening you and though you don’t know what is in front there is no other way but to let go – You take the first stone and you throw it in, you call out the name of the one who hurt you, the one you need to forgive and you see it fall into the water where you could never get it back. You think what now and waves of grace fall on you, you are strengthened and it is as if the light has come on inside. You take another and you throw it as far as you can, and another and another until the bags are empty. The sun begins to rise on the ocean and you know that it is a new day, there is a light with in you and you realise that you have been walking in such great darkness. You ask yourself why had you not done this earlier. For the first time in years you walk away from the beach without the bags of rocks – it feels good. You feel like you can actually travel without being burdened any more, without being weighed down. You feel a sense of purpose that you remember only as a distant memory and you know the smile of God, the favour and the kindness of heaven, the Father who looks on you and says I love you more than you know, I love you, I love you, I love you