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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Father Forgive Them

Updated: Mar 25

Kneeing at the foot of the cross

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.[1] Luke 24:34

Near the end of Irving Stone’s powerful novel, Love Is Eternal, about Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, there is a moving conversation between Mrs. Lincoln and the President’s bodyguard, Parker, who had been summoned to Mrs. Lincoln’s room.

“Why were you not at the door to keep the assassin out?” she demanded.

With head bowed Parker replied, “I have bitterly repented it. But I did not believe that anyone would try to kill so good a man in such a public place. The belief made me careless. I was attracted by the play and did not see the assassin enter the box.”

“You should have seen him. You had no business to be careless.” With this, Mrs. Lincoln fell back on her pillow and covered her face with her hands, and from deep emotion, said: “Go now. It’s not you I can’t forgive; it’s the assassin.”

Tad, who had spent that miserable night beneath his father’s desk in the executive office, drawled, “If Pa had lived, he would have forgiven the man who shot him. Pa forgave everybody.”

The comment is reminiscent of another who, having given His all to reveal love, was rejected by His own and killed by those who should have protected Him. Yet in the agonies of death, He prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).[1]

The Background

It was the custom that they sentenced the convicted man to add insult and shame to the event he had to carry his own cross to the place of execution. For this is an agonizing experience since they had scourged him the Roman way. In that process, he would have lost large volumes of blood. In that weakened state now he is forced to drag his cross. Only Luke leaves out the crown of thorns placed on his head. They led away Jesus to a place where he would suffer as no man had ever suffered before.

Because of his scourged body, Jesus found it too much to carry his cross so Simon, a ‘Cyrenian’ from North Africa, was compelled to carry his cross. What imagery we are too weakened with sin to carry our own crosses, but Jesus does it for us. The heart of Jesus is on full display even during excruciating pain. Through all of that He was concerned for others, the people had to be warned of the coming judgment: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children’ (v. 28).

Jerusalem soon would be reduced to ruins, and one day the earth itself would pass away. These times also seem dire for us. We see the foundations of our country; our freedoms are being reduced to ruins. Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, we are reminded that we are not alone. Jesus suffered this death on the cross not to save Jerusalem, but to save the souls in Jerusalem.

Jesus, a man without sin, was about to suffer one of the cruelest deaths known to man. There, the Lord would suffer with two others. There he prayed for his enemies; ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (v. 34). It is wonderful to see our Savior’s concern for his enemies, even amid such great pain.

Explanation of This Prayer of Forgiveness?

A image a Jesus on the cross

This prayer can be easily misunderstood. Is Jesus giving out a blanket of forgiveness to the crowd below? We must not infer from His prayer that ignorance is a basis for forgiveness or that those who sinned against Jesus were automatically forgiven because He prayed. Both groups present: the Jews and the Romans were ignorant of the magnitude of their sin, but that could not absolve them. So, let's dig deeper into what Jesus was praying for in this opening phrase.

In Numbers 15, we see that the Law provides for the sacrifice of sins committed ignorantly.

“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” [2] (Numbers 15:27-31)

There was no sacrifice for deliberate presumptuous sin. Our Lord’s intercession simply postponed God’s judgment on the nation for almost forty years, giving them additional opportunities to be saved.

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,[3] (Acts 3:17–19).


A man walking toward the cross

This first word from the cross points our attention to what Jesus endured. Not did Jesus suffer the physical agony and ridicule of the cross, but he was cursed by the Father. This innocent man took upon himself the sins of all people. It is this inner suffering that was the hardest to bear. But His love for humanity meant that people would be blessed with every spiritual blessing. The curse for our sins has been removed forever. Atonement for sin is now complete!

[1] Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (pp. 47–48). Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Nu 15:27–31). (2016). Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Ac 3:17–19). (2016). Crossway Bibles.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Lk 23:34). (2016). Crossway Bibles.

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