Father, forgive them

This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:9-15

Starter Question
Are there limits to forgiveness?

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Luke 6:27-28 and 23:32-34.

Bishop J C Ryle comments: ‘It is worthy of remark that as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow, the Great High Priest began to intercede.’

We are indeed on holy ground and can only approach meditation on the cross of Jesus in silence, humility, and profound gratitude. For here is the heart of our salvation, the source of our forgiveness and our new life. So, before looking at the words of Jesus, it is only right to pause again and worship.

The blood of Christ
The blood flowing from Jesus’s body was his life which he freely gave up for all humanity; and of course, more personally, for you and for me. We come as we are to the cross, in all our frailty, with all our imperfections and our pathetic attempts at living the new life in Christ. And we confess, we repent, we receive from our dying Saviour. Every sin I have ever committed, the sin that always separates me from the living God, every sin is forgiven because Jesus hung on the cross. I am forgiven; I am free; I am clean. Let us receive again that amazing grace.

Now, let us see Jesus who has just reached the place called the Skull, exhausted, already in agony from the flogging (scourging). Luke is understated in his account: ‘they crucified him there, along with the criminals.’ His readers knew exactly what crucifixion entailed: the unspeakable agony of nails roughly hammered through his wrists and ankles and the elevation of the cross which tore at his body. This was excruciating pain and his blood was flowing freely. This was the time he thought about others.

The Father’s forgiveness
This is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus speaks about forgiveness with regard to some people committing an offence against him directly. All through his ministry he shocked the onlookers by pronouncing someone’s sins as being forgiven: Luke 5:20, to the paralytic let down by his friends from the roof, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’; Luke 7:48, to the woman washing his feet with her tears, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ And he taught his disciples to forgive: Luke 17:3,4 ‘If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying “I repent”, you must forgive them.’

But let us return to Jesus on the cross. He is praying to his father. He is thinking about others and not only consumed by his own agony. He is praying for the soldiers certainly, but probably also, verse 13, ‘the chief priests, the rulers and the people.’ Jesus prays that God will forgive them. He was certainly obeying his own instruction in Luke 6:28, to ‘pray for those who mistreat (abuse) you’, and leaving us an example that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

Jesus’s first word from the cross takes us straight to a central theme of our faith, forgiveness and reconciliation. We can all rejoice that we are the beneficiaries of his sacrificial death; we can all pray for those who do us wrong, however wounded we have been by them; and we can ask God for the grace to forgive and set free those who sin against us. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.

Questions for Reflection
1. Have I reached the point where I truly know that all my sins have been forgiven by Jesus on the cross?
2. Am I able to pray for those who have most wounded me in my life and believe that the Father can forgive them?
3. Can I forgive up to seventy seven times?

Prayer
Almighty Father,
whose son Jesus in the middle of his horrendous suffering on the cross
was able to pray for his abusers:
strengthen and work in everyone who today struggles with issues of pain and resentment,
and allow them through the power flowing from the cross
to cry out to you and trust in you for your healing,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord
who is now alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever,
Amen.

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