Jump Start # 1998
Luke 23:34 “But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.”
The words of Jesus, while dying on the Cross, in a time of extreme pain, pulls the curtain back to allow us to truly see what Jesus is made of. It’s one thing to talk a good game, but when the moment comes, so often, the true character comes out. With Jesus, here at the cross, it’s love, grace and forgiveness. Even to the end, this is who Jesus is. Under the worst conditions, He kept true to these principles.
Our verse today is a prayer of Jesus that is pointed both upwards and downwards. Upwards, Jesus is saying these words to His Father. It is a prayer. These words reach Heaven. Downward, Jesus is saying these words concerning the Roman soldiers who are crucifying Him. He looks down and speaks up.
Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. This statement has to be understood in the context. For, in many ways, they did know what they were doing.
- They certainly knew how to crucify a condemned man. One, two, three—three condemned and three crosses that day. They knew how to construct a cross. They knew how to drive the nails in so the cross would hold the body. Amateurs would have blotched this. Bodies would have ripped off the cross, torn through the flesh, if it was not done right. They knew how to do it.
- They knew by breaking the large bones in the leg, that a person on the cross could not push up and get his breath. Breaking the legs sped up the death. They knew that. They had done such a professional job, that when they came to break the legs of Jesus, He was already dead. They knew what they were doing.
- They knew how to keep the crowd around the cross at bay. The angry crowd insulted Jesus, but no one rushed to rip Him off the cross, throw things at Him or beat Him. Nor, did any of the disciples try to rescue Jesus from the cross. The soldiers knew what they were doing.
These soldiers had a job to do and they did it well. I expect this wasn’t their first crucifixion. So, in many ways, they knew what they were doing. But what about Jesus’ words? He claimed that they did not know what they were doing?
- They did not know that they were fulfilling Biblical prophecy. There are so many prophecies, especially from Isaiah, concerning the death of Jesus. The placement of Jesus in the middle. No bones being broken. This side pieced. That all was done by Romans who didn’t know Scriptures. They didn’t know that they were part of this eternal story.
- They did not know who Jesus was. He was one of three condemned that day by the state of Rome. Criminals is all that they knew. A sign was placed above Jesus, “King of the Jews.” They probably didn’t get what that meant. They did not know that Jesus had the power to forgive them. They did not know of the miracles of Jesus. They did not know the sermons of Jesus. For all they knew, Jesus was a radical teacher who was stirring people up against Rome.
- They did not know what the earthquake and darkness meant. Earthquakes are common in that area. The one at Jesus’ death was severe. The curtain in the temple ripped. Graves opened. The darkness is something that they had not seen. Darkness for three hours. Too long for an eclipse. Strange. Odd. They had no idea what it all meant.
- They did not know what to make of Jesus. He wasn’t cursing them as others had. He wasn’t offering them deals to stop the crucifixion. He wasn’t pleading with them. He wasn’t screaming at Caesar, Pilate or Rome. He was praying. He was as different in death as He was in life.
- They didn’t know that the death of Jesus would be the central point of the Bible story. Every Sunday, disciples gather around the world to remember that death. How many other deaths had taken place before this, and they are all forgotten. The names of the executed are lost to history. How and why those died are lost to history. But this one death, Jesus Christ, is not only remembered world wide, it was that death that changed the world. Because of that death, we can live. Because of that death, the penalty for sin was paid. Because of that death, Satan was crushed. They had no idea that they were part of something that would never be forgotten again. That death has been the basis of millions of sermons throughout time. That death has motivated disciples to keep going. That death has given hope when it seems all hope was gone. These soldiers were part of that, but they had no idea. They did not know what they were doing.
- They had no idea that the blood of Jesus that was spilled and shed that day would usher in a new covenant with God. It wasn’t a Jewish law any longer. It was for all people. That blood would cleanse souls until this world is no more. Crucifixions weren’t pretty. They were not for the faint of heart. They were very bloody. It was messy. The sight of blood makes some queasy. I expect many of us would have turned our heads and been unable to look. Blood on the cross. Blood on the ground. Blood on the clothes of the soldiers from the nailing and lifting the cross in place. For the soldiers, it was just red blood. The blood of one condemned looked no different than the others. But it was different. It was Heaven’s sacrifice for our sins.
- They had no idea that it should have been them upon the cross and not Jesus. Jesus was innocent. Jesus was pure. Jesus was sinless. Those Roman soldiers, as you and I, had sins. We were the ones who were guilty in Heaven’s view of things. We were the ones who deserved to die. We were without excuse. They did not know that. They did not understand that.
Forgive them, they know not what they do. What a powerful prayer.