For more than 2,000 years, people from across the world, Christians and non Christians, have attempted to understand what took place on a Jerusalem hillside known as “The Skull” where Jesus Christ was crucified.
Ever since that fateful Friday, the world has been intrigued by the events surrounding Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. On the Friday of the Passover celebration, Jesus died a death that was typically reserved for the worst of the worst. His death altered the course of human history. It is still impacting human history today.
Because of the importance of the events surrounding Good Friday, we have used many tools, resources, and acts of worship, to understand what took place and what it means for us. We pour over the Scripture accounts to try to understand each element of the day. We read books from theologians and pastors, who have thought long and hard about what Jesus’ death means for us, searching for some new insight. We’ll watch television specials and movies that attempt to describe the crucifixion in vivid detail to picture what that day might have been like. We’ll come, in an act of worship, to reflect on that day so long ago together.
All of this helps us to wrestle with why Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, wrongly accused by the Roman government and religious leaders, and nailed to a cross to die. They help us gain a head (mind) and heart (soul) appreciation of the event and a reminder of what took place.
I think that is why many of us are here tonight. We need to be reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice and desire to appreciate again the love of the One who came to show us the way to the Father and died a death he did not deserve.
Prior to arriving this evening, we each have had some interaction with this day and Jesus’ death. Some of us are all in. We have claimed Jesus as our faith is centered on the cross. Some of us are on the fence. We like Jesus, but we are just not sure what something that happened 2,000 years ago has to say to us today. Then, there are some of us who are here for some other reason. Perhaps we have struggled with our faith or are even doubting who Christ truly is.
No matter where you are in your walk with Christ, this evening, I want to speak a word of reflection that focuses on what the cross has to say to us today. Thankfully, I am not without help in this task. I have the words of Christ spoken from the cross, which are powerful words that helps us to understand what took place at Calvary.
Of the seven words that Jesus spoke from the cross, there is one that I think is appropriate for us as we reflect on the cross. that we have spoken by Jesus on the cross, I think one is most appropriate for us this evening. In Luke 23:34, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for the do not know what they are doing” (NIV).
These were difficult words for Christ to say. That is because of the torturous nature of the process of crucifixion. It was a horrible form of capital punishment used by the Roman government to exercise their authority and promote fear in the people. The worst offenders, and mostly slave and foreigners at that, would be punished in an humiliating way.
Scripture and historical accounts give us an idea of exactly what Jesus experienced. A prisoner would be flogged and tortured prior to being placed on the cross. They would be forced to carry either the crossbeam or the cross pole, itself, to their place of execution. It was a public spectacle aimed at increasing the fear of the Roman government among the people. Luke reports that Jesus was unable to carry the cross the entire way. Simon of Cyrene was recruited to finish the journey.
The torture continued in how the prisoner was placed on the cross. They would be nailed or tied to it. Scripture tells us Jesus was nailed, likely three times, to the cross. It would take hours for the execution to lead to death. Asphyxiation or heart failure were the likely causes of death.
Even though it was difficult for Jesus to speak on the cross, he chose to speak. In doing so, he continued his ministry of sharing love and hope with others. With the words “Father, forgive them, Jesus shared his love by offering a prayer of grace that sought the Father’s mercy.
The prayer is truly Jesus’ response to what had transpired. As people tortured him, mocked him, accused him unjustly, Jesus reached out and said “forgive them.” By forgiveness, we mean to pardon someone of their wrongs. We look past it. In this prayer, Jesus asks the Father to look past the wrongs that had been committed that led to his placement on the cross. He is asking for grace to be extended to the sinner.
But, who is the subject of the prayer? Who is on Jesus’ heart when he prays “forgive them?”
Jesus extended forgiveness to those who placed him on the cross. He extended love and mercy to the Roman authorities and religious leaders who worked together to bring an end to Jesus’ ministry. Tortured, mocked, and unjustly accused, Jesus was willing and able to look past their actions. In the midst of deep pain, Jesus showed a love that is truly amazing and divine by extending grace to his accusers. That is the power and depths of Christ’s love.
A love he shared with the larger community in Jerusalem and everyone who shared in the mockery that day. Part of Jesus’ experience that Friday morning were the chants of “crucify him!” Chants that drew in stark contrast to the shouts of “hosanna” that filled the Jerusalem streets earlier in the week. Even though Jesus still had a vast number of followers, it was clear Jerusalem community had expected and wanted someone else. Their desires for a king, in their own image, blinded them from seeing the Savior in front of them. That blindness continued to the cross where people mocked Jesus to “save himself” in order to prove he was the Messiah. He never relented. Jesus did something better. He looked past their words, attitudes, and wants, and showed compassion.
A compassion Jesus showed to each of us. When Jesus spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing,” Jesus was praying for us. He was praying for all of humanity that existed before, lives today, and ever will live. We were on Jesus’ heart and mind on the cross, because it was there that Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin and disobedience.
Our sin placed Jesus on the cross. When we think of sin we think of violations to a known will of God. It is those things that we do that disappoint God. Sin wasn’t supposed to be a part of God’s creation, yet it came about when Adam and Even disobeyed God’s desires. We live into our tradition of sin, today, when we go about things our own way, ignore God’s wishes, or seek to do things that are harmful to ourselves and others.
Even though we placed Jesus on the cross, our Lord offered compassion, love, and forgiveness to us all. That forgiveness seeks to close the distance that our sin created between us and God. Jesus offered his entire self so we could be free of the guilt of sin and reunited with the Father. The One who entered the world without sin, became sin so we may have a deep relationship with our Creator. By dying the death we deserved Jesus wiped the late clean between us and God. We call this justifying grace. The cross pardons us all and invites us to hear Jesus praying for us when he prays “forgive them.”
It’s humbling to think that Jesus, our Lord, would go to such great lengths for us so that we might be reunited in our relationship with the Father. What the cross represents is the greatest act of love and self-sacrifice that the world has ever known.
A love that is, perhaps, best represented in the lyrics of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn, “And Can it Be.” Wesley reflects with deep love and admiration on what Jesus did on the cross and the grace available.
One of the lyrics goes like this:
And can it be that I should gain/ An interest in the Savior’s blood?/ Died he for me, who caused his pain/ For me, who Him to death purused./ Amazing love! How can it be,/ That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?/ Amazing love! How can it be,/ That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Indeed, it is an amazing love that placed Jesus on the cross. A love so amazing that it looks beyond our sin, looks beyond our hurts, looks beyond our brokenness, and invites us to receive forgiveness and grace through the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Love nailed Christ on the cross and it is a love that we can receive tonight through accepting the free gift of God’s grace, whether it is for the first time or the 100th time.
The tendency after this service and time of reflection is to rush to Easter. We cannot rush to Easter this evening. We must find ourselves here and take in this moment. We cannot enjoy the riches of the hope of the resurrection until we find ourselves at the foot of the cross and hear those words of Jesus spoken directly to us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
Truly, Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?