It was a spring day in Jerusalem with blossoms and blooms and birds. And people. The ancient walled city was crowded with throngs of pilgrims, present for the Passover festivities.
There was something in the air that Friday morning. It was not celebratory electricity or excitement. It was a heavy shroud... a pall.
For just outside the city walls, three men were being executed, Roman-style. Crucifixion. One of the men suffering at the hands of the soldiers was Jesus, an itinerant Rabbi.
The crowds had cheered for Him a week earlier, crying out “Hosanna!” The same crowds had just ridiculed and mocked Him shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
He was nailed to the cross at 9:00 that morning. Joseph and Nicodemus removed His lifeless body six hours later. During those interminable hours, Jesus spoke seven times.
His first statement was not a blood-curdling curse, thrown like a spear at those who mercilessly drove the spikes into His wrists and ankles. We don’t hear Him pleading for Pilate’s pardon. Nor do we hear His anguished screams of agonizing pain. If I’d been writing the story, we might have heard Jesus call the legions of heavenly warriors to drop a few fire balls!
Jesus’ first words from the cross ... a short prayer! Seeing every sneering and jeering face surrounding Him, soldiers, religious leaders, and pedestrian looky-loos, Jesus turned His bloodied face heaven-ward and spoke.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV).
That He “interceded for the rebels” (Isaiah 53:12, CSB) was foretold seven-hundred years earlier. That He was sacrificed for sin was foretold before time began (Revelation 13:8).
Indeed, the entire Old Testament points to the cross! The animal that was sacrificed to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve... that story points to Jesus, dying to atone. The lamb, conveniently caught in the thicket (Genesis 3:21), substituted for Isaac. Jesus was the substitute. Jesus was the lamb butchered as a sin offering, so that the Jew could “be forgiven” (Leviticus 5:16). And Jesus was the Passover Lamb whose blood covered the emancipated slaves (Exodus 12, I Corinthians 5:7). John the Baptist understood. He introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV).
“Father, forgive them!”
When the four men carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus... when they ripped up the roof and lowered him to Jesus... “Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ ” (Mark 2:5, ESV).
“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:37-38, ESV). Though the religious muckety-mucks tried to shame Jesus, “He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ ” (Luke 7:48, ESV).
Fulfilling His mission meant going to that rough and rugged cross! Fulfilling His mission meant paying the full price. It meant praying for those in the crowd that day... and the crowds including me and you. “Father, forgive them!”
“Having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13-15) He proclaims, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).
Incredible! Amazing! ... Life-changing!