Well, today we start our new series called “Red Letter Day” as we move through these last weeks prior to Resurrection Weekend. I pray that the Holy Spirit, through his word, would change our lives as we look at the last words of our dying Savior. I want us to look at these events, not to be gruesome, but because the trial and death of Jesus Christ reveals the wickedness of man and the graciousness of our God. Because when men were doing their worst, God was giving his best. As the Bible tells us, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).
In this three-part mini-series, we are going to look at three of the phrases that Jesus in his suffering, uttered on the cross. And today, in a message entitled, “Innocent,” we’re going to start at Luke 23:32 where Jesus is on the cross and the Bible says that “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Jesus to be executed.” Now, as you’re finding your place in your Bible, I want to review what led Jesus to this place called the Skull. We know from John’s gospel, that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. His Son, Jesus Christ, was born of a young virgin named Mary, was born without a sin nature, and lived the perfect sinless life. So we find that Jesus lived out the will of God, he loved everyone with an unconditional kind of love that we can only dream of attaining, he loved the ones that society rejected, the underdog, and he tells us, “I didn’t come just to preach the law, but instead, to fulfill the law” (Matthew 5:17).
Now Jesus teaching was revolutionary; lives were changed as He performed miracle after miracle, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak, and the dead to rise again. And even though he loved everybody, even though he did everything right, even though he fulfilled the will of God, he was betrayed by one of his closest friends. He was framed on trumped up charges and even though he had done nothing wrong, even though the governor Pilate acknowledged, “I find no fault in him,” the people shouted, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:23).
So in spite of the fact that he was falsely accused, tried, and condemned, even though he was “Innocent.” The Bible tells us, “Pilate had Jesus flogged…” (Matthew 27:26). Meaning, they stripped him of his clothes and beat him over and over again with a whip with pieces sharp rocks and glass on the end so that it would rip his back open and worse. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah prophesied, that the people would be appalled at him, because his appearance would be so disfigured and his form marred beyond human likeness (Isaiah 52:14). You see, before he was brought before the Governor, the High priest and Pharisees had already judged him, and they’d blindfolded him, spitting on him, slapping him, and striking him with their fists; mocking him and saying, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?" (Matthew 26:65-68). Now the Roman soldiers gathered around him, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again" (Matt 27:27-30).
So, “Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). They forced Jesus who was now fighting to remain conscious, to carry his cross to the hill where he would be executed. It was there, at the place called the Skull that they drove spikes through his wrists and feet nailing him to the cross, and then lifted him up… to look down upon the perpetrators of his own gruesome execution. Now hanging there on the cross, suffering for our sins, Jesus’ lips started to move. And if you have one of those Red Letter Bibles, you’ll find that verse 34 is highlighted in red. It’s a Red Letter Day, and so this is where you would draw near to the cross, this is where you lean closer, because this is the first of Jesus’ last words from the cross. And in verse 34, there is so much to learn as Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
To me that is truly amazing? Jesus intercedes for us. He doesn’t curse those who were abusing him. He doesn’t pray to God the father for relief from his pain. Jesus doesn’t do any of the things that we would expect him to do. In the intense agony of the moment, in the excruciating pain, he looks up to heaven and says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
This prayer of Jesus, these first words uttered on the cross, are important for us as we examine how Jesus responded to the events that were taking place. Here is the way that the apostle Paul reacted in the book of Philippians, Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection...” And we can most certainly relate to those words, but then he went on to say, “...and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
The apostle Peter in his first letter to the church in Rome said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (1 Peter 4:1).
Even a casual reading of the Bible account makes it clear that Jesus endured unspeakably cruel treatment at the hands of his enemies. And it was all so unfair, because he didn't deserve what was done to him; he had committed no crime. Yet, he was beaten and abused by Roman soldiers, he was mocked and spat upon by a jeering crowd, he was sentenced to death by a lame, spineless, governor. And he’d done nothing wrong. He’d never even committed a sin. He was “Innocent.”
Here in Luke chapter 23, verse 34, we learn from Jesus example how to respond to unjust treatment. And I’d encourage you in the coming week to read Matthew chapter 27, to attempt to grasp the level of mistreatment that Jesus endured at the hands of the religious leaders and Roman authorities. But let me just tell you, that his example goes against every natural tendency we have. It’s not easy to endure what he suffered, but we also must remember that in becoming like him in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, we also experience the power of his resurrection in our lives. So we must learn what we can from his example.
Jesus prayed… he made intercession… you see, Jesus was a person of prayer. That’s what he taught us in Matthew 6:9 saying, “This is how you should pray: ‘Our Father…’” and that’s what He did. Jesus began his public ministry with prayer and now here he’s ending his public ministry with prayer. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
It’s amazing to think of Jesus here on the cross. No longer could he lovingly lay his hands on the sick and heal them; because his hands were nailed to the cross. No longer could he travel the countryside preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, because his feet were bound to the cross. No longer could he preach to the crowds, because he was alone on the cross, the crowds weren’t there, but he could do one thing. The one thing, the same thing that every single one of us can do today and that is to pray.
You see, 700 years before this event, the prophet Isaiah, spoke from God concerning his Son Jesus, saying, “My righteous servant will justify many… Because he poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:11-12). Intercession for the transgressors, which are just big words that mean, he prayed for the lawbreakers, for the sinners, for his enemies... So here he is, hanging on the cross, “numbered with the transgressors,” crucified with a criminal on the left and a criminal on the right (Matthew 27:38) and he says, “Father, forgive them” fulfilling this seven hundred year old prophecy of Isaiah.
He prayed for the transgressors, for those who’ve done wrong, for those who would’ve been considered the furthest away from God. Jesus prayed for his enemies, he modeled that for us, and he teaches us to pray for those who hurt us. In Luke 6:28, Jesus taught, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” And right here the Roman soldiers were mistreating Jesus and He prayed for them immediately.
Now, most of the time my gut reaction is to retaliate. If some was mistreating me, my natural reaction is to strike out, not to pray for them. And that was the kind of culture in which Jesus was raised. He was born in an environment where it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They were ruled by the Roman government and the Romans worship a false God known as revenge. Jesus grew up in a society of revenge, yet through this whole event he never once spoke a word of retaliation. Never did he act or react in violence, but instead he did what God wants us to do… to pray… And he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Now I am sure that there are those of you who have had an important relationship that was broken, hurt, or strained at best, and it has been years. Undoubtedly what they did was wrong and they deserve punishment, but God has called us to a higher standard. He calls us to pray for the transgressors, because when we pray for others, though our prayer may not change them, it always changes us. You see, we can’t pray God’s blessing on someone else without God doing something in our own hearts.
That’s why Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). As Christians we’re called to a higher standard. We’re to pray for those who persecute us... pray for those who hurt us… pray for those who’ve wronged us... pray for that broken relationship... pray. Pray like Jesus prayed for those who hurt him most. What did he say? “Father, forgive them.” In other words, “Father, most importantly, don’t let me get in your way. Don’t let me keep them from you. I want them to be right with you. Heal that broken relationship with you, their Creator.
The apostle Paul wrote these powerful words to the church in Rome, he said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18). To those who lived in a culture of revenge, the apostle said, “As far as it depends on you.” Meaning that it may not be possible, because we can’t control what someone else does, but we can control what’s in our heart, and God calls us to do our part to “live at peace with everyone.”
So if its possible seek reconciliation, but of course this isn’t always easy. You know, some of you might say, “Well, asking the father to forgive them is one thing, but how do I forgive when I still hurt so much?” Listen to what the Bible says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
This is how I forgive when I don’t feel like it. I forgive as the Lord forgave me. You see, if I were to take all the wrongs that someone has done against me, add them all up, and multiply that by 1000 it still doesn’t even come close to the ways that I’ve sinned against God; and yet he forgives me freely. So I must forgive as the Lord forgave me.
Now why is forgiving others so important? Well Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is what Jesus models for us. It’s a heart that loves, that longs to see God’s best for others, and forgives. You see, when man was at his worst, God’s Son said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t even know what they are doing.”
Jesus prayed for our greatest need… for our most important need… the forgiveness of our sin. That’s why He came. He came so that we could have life. That’s why at the Last Supper when Jesus was sitting around a table with His closest friends, He held up a glass of grape juice and He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He prayed for forgiveness. And he died for reconciliation.
What’s sad to me is how many broken and damaged relationships that we see in the Christian community. You know, the relationships that should be the best are oftentimes the ones that are the worst. The pain in many families today is absolutely incredible. And maybe you’ve experienced that? You know, someone made a vow to you, a promise, and they broke it, and you feel like your life has been shattered. The pain of that betrayal is tougher than you ever could’ve imagined. And today there are so many people who call themselves followers of Christ, walking around with these huge wounds, broken relationships, and grudges.
So what do we do when we’ve been hurt like that? What do you do when you’ve been wronged? What do you do when the most important relationship in your life is not where it’s supposed to be? You do what Jesus did. When you’ve been hurt, you pray, and you do what Jesus wants you to do.
You see, God wants us to experience the power of the resurrection of Christ in our lives, but there can’t be a resurrection if there hasn’t been a death. We must be willing to die… we must be willing to share in his sufferings… and that means there will be times when we’re on the receiving end of injustice. There will be times when instead of getting sidetracked by the opposition we just need to stand silently. There will be times when the road we travel is paved with suffering. There will be times when we’ll be called upon to sacrifice our time, our money, and even our lives. But let me assure you, even if we’re called upon to give it all, it doesn’t in any way compare with the sacrifices that our Lord Jesus Christ made for us. And so therefore, we must remember that it’s through sacrificial living that we experience the power of his resurrection in our lives.
And so as we close, I’ll share one final thought with you. What we discover from this prayer on the cross is that Jesus revealed our greatest need. It’s a need that mankind has longed for since creation, or more literally since Paradise, back in the Garden with Adam and Eve. When temptation first raised its ugly head and sin corrupted the human race. When our first parents experienced alienation from God because of their sin. When the first man and the first woman experienced separation from all that is good. And that greatest need is forgiveness; so that we would be reconciled with our Creator.
The amazing thing is that forgiveness has always been offered to us. So we need to understand that God is so very loving, but he’s also just. In Genesis chapter 3, we see that it was God initiating the first step to restore that broken relationship with Adam and Eve. You see it was God who sacrificed an animal, making garments of skin and covering their nakedness that was now exposed by their sin (Genesis 3:21). And as the Bible says, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). So we find that from the very beginning, God has been initiating the restoration and reconciliation of our relationship with him. You see the Bible says he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. And even in the Old Testament, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, found that forgiveness was available. It was temporary, it was pointing to something greater, and it came through a sacrificial system where they would take an innocent animal, sacrifice it, and with the shedding of its blood there would be a temporary forgiveness of sins.
In the New Testament, there was a better sacrifice, the final sacrifice; when Jesus Christ who the Bible calls the Lamb of God, shed His innocent sinless blood, so that we could be forgiven. Jesus died for us. If we didn’t need forgiveness, if we didn’t need a Savior, there would’ve been no need for Jesus to come. But God so loved the world that he sent his only son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you. And the Bible promises, that when you believe that his dying was for you… when you trust him as your Savior and your Lord, that all of your sins are removed. Your guilt is taken away. And you’re completely forgiven.
Some of you today, God is reaching out to you, and you’ve got a choice. You either say yes or no. You receive the gift… you embrace it… you believe it… or you reject it. And you need to know that God loves you, wants to forgive you, and offers you forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ. And today if you’ll accept his gift, his salvation, and ask him to forgive you, he will make you a whole brand-new person. But not only that, the Bible promises, that “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). And so when you come to Christ as Lord and receive his forgiveness the Bible says he’s always praying for you. Isn’t that awesome to know that you’re forgiven and that your Savior who was raised to life — is now at the right hand of God interceding for you (Romans 8:34)? That’s awesome news, that’s Good News, Amen?
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
March 15, 2015