First of the Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Father, forgive them, they know
Luke 23:34

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According to the Christian calendar, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The season of Lent is comprised of the forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays. I find it interesting that Sundays are not counted because they are considered “mini-Easters.” Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”  The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring temptation by Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Lent is often defined as time of repentance, fasting and preparation for Easter. Today, Christians may focus upon their relationship with God and may choose to volunteer and give of themselves for others rather than giving up something for Lent. I seem to identify more with adding rather than subtracting from my life to prepare for Easter. This year I have decided to meditate each week of Lent upon one of the seven last statements made by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. I think these words are important because often the last words a person speaks are what a person most wants those around him or her to hear and remember.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34

This statement recorded by Luke is often referred to as “The Word of Forgiveness.” As Jesus was being nailed to the cross, these are the words that were uttered from His lips. I have to ask myself the following questions. Who is “them” that he asks his Father to forgive? Are they the Pharisees and Sadducees who demanded his death? Are they the Roman soldiers who have beat him and pulled out his bread and placed the crown of thorns upon his head? Are they the jeering crowd he walked through on his way to Golgotha? Are they the soldiers nailing him to the cross? Most likely, “them” included all of them! However, I am probably too shortsighted when I think that “them” refers only to the people surrounding Jesus at the time of His death. I must remember that the purpose of Jesus coming to earth in human form was to die so I could live. My sins are included in the reason Jesus was on the cross. I now hear Jesus speaking personally on behalf of me when he speaks, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Wow, this gives me a deeper appreciation of what Jesus said that day! I cannot conclude this paragraph without quoting John 3:16-18. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  Jesus died to forgive my sins which includes my sinful nature and the sins I still commit because I do not know what I am doing. Jesus forgave me that day on the cross but I still need to go to the cross to ask forgiveness for my mistakes and shortcomings. I am definitely one of “them” and I am grateful that I am forgiven and continue to be forgiven!

As I continue to ponder upon these words of Jesus, I realize that I need to follow his example and ask the Father to help me forgive specific people who have sinned against me. I need to grasp the fact that those who have hurt me most likely did not know what they were doing. When I can comprehend that someone did not intentionally offend me, it is much easier for me to forgive them. I am reminded of the words spoken by Jesus when he taught his disciples how to pray.  Matthew 6: 12, 14-15 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…. 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.” Debts can be translated trespasses or sins in different translations of these verses. Forgiveness is a big deal!

My Reader, do you see yourself as one of “them”? Do you need to follow the example of Jesus and ask someone to forgive you? The answers to these questions may not be easy to verbalize, but your truthfulness will lead you to a closer relationship with Jesus. This is the reason for the season of Lent – a time to repent and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection six weeks from this Sunday.

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