“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
What is it that they did not know? They thought they were executing a criminal because Jesus was crucified with criminals. What was his crime? Blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God, the Christ and equal with God. The Jews once gathered around him and said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you but you do not believe … I and the Father are one …” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him but Jesus said to them, ” … For which of these miracles do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy because you a mere man claim to be God.” ( John 10:24-39) Did Jesus ever claim to be God ? “Who are you?”, they asked. ” Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied … “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be …” (John 8:25-28) The Jews knew him as Joseph’s son. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary and aren’t his brothers … all his sisters with us? …” And they took offense at him.’ (Matthew 13:54-57) What they knew about him was so little compared to what they didn’t know about him! They didn’t know that he is the ‘Christ, our Passover Lamb‘ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and that ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (1 John 2:2) It is outrageous that inspite of all that Jesus said and did to prove his claim, they didn’t believe him. ‘He came to that which was his very own but his own did not receive him.’ ( John 1:11) The Jews who had the law and prophets should have known but the ‘god of this age had blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God ‘ (2 Corinthians 4:4) However, the Gentiles were not expected to know. Jesus failed in his attempts to convince them his true identity. What seems to be a tragedy was in the perfect plan of God to get them to crucify him, for in doing so, they would unwittingly sacrifice the Passover Lamb of God. By all means the devil knew but ‘none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) So what was Satan’s gamble? Probably, he didn’t expect Jesus to be resurrected from Hades, because no man had been raised from Hades before. Lazarus was raised from Paradise, so were the rest who were raised from the dead. Jesus was the first person to be raised from Hades. (Jesus did not go to Hell, as some presume because he went where men had gone. No man has gone to hell yet because the dead in Hades are waiting for judgement! The false prophet and the Antichrist will be the first to be thrown into hell. ) Guess the devil underestimated the power of the resurrection!
Who are ‘they’ that did not know? Both the Jews and the Gentiles came together to conspire against Jesus. ‘Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed.’ (Acts 4:27) The Jews with the help of Gentiles had crucified him. ‘This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’ (Acts 2:23) The very fact that Jesus was crucified and not stoned to death, proves that the Gentiles too were guilty because it was their form of execution. Not realising that the Gentiles too are guilty has resulted in the Church persecuting the Jews and calling them “Christ killers”. The atrocities committed by the crusaders and the Nazis were as a result of this misunderstanding. Both are guilty but the Jews are guilty of a greater sin because they knew from the law and the prophets that the Messiah was coming whereas the Gentiles were ignorant about these prophecies. Jews are therefore guilty of premeditated murder while the Gentiles are guilty of manslaughter because it was unintentional ! That is why Jesus told Pilate, “The one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin” ( John 19:11) and they are the ones who have suffered the most ( Luke 19:43-44) for they owned up the crime by saying, “Let his blood be upon us and our children.” ( Matthew 27:25) The bloody and gruesome murder turned out to be the ultimate sacrifice! But just because God allowed it to happen, doesn’t mean the perpetrators of the crime are absolved from all guilt ! Therefore Peter said: “You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate though he had decided to let him go … You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.’( Acts 3:13-15)
Who are ‘them’ that he forgave? If ‘they’ meant both the Jews and the Gentiles, then ‘them’ would mean the same. Both Jews and Gentiles have been equally forgiven, whether their part in the crime was big or small. Both have been unconditionally forgiven since he forgave them even before they acknowledged or confessed their guilt. It was heartfelt forgiveness because Jesus knew that men were just pawns in Satan’s hand and that they were being used by him to vent his fury because he knows that his days are numbered! What else can explain the brutality that was displayed against Jesus? The rage of hell was being revealed through men. Yet he would not hold it against men though he suffered at their hands but forgave them from his heart. Jesus exemplified through his life that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ ( Ephesians 6:12) Since he has forgiven all men, we ought to forgive as well, from our hearts or else it will be held against us. ( Matthew 18:35) But the Jews did not accept this forgiveness. As for those who accepted his forgiveness, they were spared from the consequences of their crime. When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Romans in 70 AD, the believers remembered the words of Jesus (Luke 21:20) and fled but those who didn’t heed to his words, died fighting the Romans and the rest were exiled. The Jews have suffered through the centuries because they didn’t believe and receive his forgiveness. Unless we believe and confess our sins, we will not experience the release. Believe and receive God’s heartfelt forgiveness today. Amen.