“…for they know not what they do.”

 

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34a (NIV)

These are commonly acknowledged as the first words Jesus spoke from the cross, and they have always astounded me.

 

It’s dumb-founding that Jesus would plead for mercy for the very people who nailed him to the cross when those people stood all around him mocking him. That level of love, mercy, and grace is something I do not think I would have found anywhere within myself had I been in that position. 

 

As I studied this verse before beginning to write, I found that Elicott’s Commentary for English Readers expressed an opinion that Jesus’ prayer was for the unwitting soldiers who were just doing their jobs but, “Not Pilate, for he knew that he had condemned the innocent; not the chief priests and scribes, for their sin, too, was against light and knowledge.” 

 

Pilate knew he was condemning an innocent man to death. And the scribes and chief priests knew, somewhere in their hard hearts, that this was a political execution designed to preserve their power and authority. 

 

And the crowd knew what they were doing when they chose to have Barabas released as they cried out, “Let His blood be upon us and our children!”

 

But none of them really knew what they were  doing. 

 

None of them knew that they were involved in the execution of the actual Son of God. None of them knew that this death on the cross was the one of which prophesy had foretold for thousands of years. None of them knew that this death was a sacrificial atonement for all the sins of the world from the beginning of time to the end.

 

None of them knew that the death of this perfect, sinless, God-Man had been part of our omniscient God’s plan from the moment He spoke the universe into being. 

 

None of them knew that he would rise from the dead that coming Sunday morning and that the world would be forever changed.

 

But Jesus did.

 

The condemned criminal, his hands and feet pierced with nails, suffering from massive blood loss, beaten, punched, flogged, whipped, spit upon, hanging as the weight of his own body slowly asphyxiated him, knew that he was on that cross to purchase with his life the forgiveness of every man, woman, and child who would ever live on this planet.

 

He had seen first hand, with his own eyes, what man does when God takes on human form and walks among man. He had seen what man does when given the opportunity to stand in judgement of God. He had seen what man does when he puffs out his chest and decides that he knows exactly what God wants him to do. He had seen what man does when he convinces himself that he is God.

 

And that is that he kills God. 

 

And he kills God mercilessly, mockingly, maliciously. 

 

And that is why I believe that this prayer Jesus cried out was for all of humanity, not just those guilty in the moment, but all of us who share in the guilt of the necessity of his death.

 

And that makes it even more astounding. 

 

It’s astounding that humanity is capable of such an incredible level of depravity and its even more astounding that this depravity is exceeded only by his amazing love for us. 

 

And I have come to the conclusion that none of us know what we are really doing. I believe that none of us fully understand the real battles taking place against rulers and authorities and powers against the spiritual forces of evil in realms we can neither see nor understand while we are in this world. 

 

I know I don’t.

 

But I do know that this very Jesus, just before he willingly submitted himself to die at the hands of evil men for my sins and for your sins, gave us very clear instructions on how we should live among the evil that exists in this world:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” John 15: 9-17 (NIV)

 

Today’s Praise

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV)

 

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