“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is astonishing mercy. Having been beaten, tormented, falsely accused, betrayed, and now nailed to a cruel instrument of execution, with soldiers gambling for his clothing and the watching crowd mocking in derision, Jesus utters these unexpected words: “Father, forgive them.”
I would probably have been consumed with bitterness and anger, overflowing from emotional pain and physical agony. When I stub a toe, I am likely to lash out. How much more so with the pain of crucifixion! But Jesus doesn’t lash out, and here in his first word from the cross, we see the mystery of mercy.
Here at the cross, we see the enormous cost of the forgiveness that falls, unbidden, from Jesus’ lips. Jesus is asking the Father to forgive them, at the cost of His own life. Think back to the other moments of mercy in Jesus’ life: the woman caught in adultery, the words of forgiveness to the paralytic, and more. All of those were only possible because of what is happening here. The only way the holy and just God could say to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more,” is because the condemnation would fall on someone else. The only reason Jesus can say to the paralytic, or to any of us, “Your sins are forgiven,” is because of the costly price paid at Calvary.
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.” ~John Stott