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Luke 23:26-23:56
Key Verse: 23:34a

Happy Easter! We have come here to this conference, to celebrate Easter together. The word ‘celebrate’ denotes that Easter is a most happy event! We only celebrate events that bring us joy. For instance, no one really celebrates at a funeral, right? But did you know that the event that precedes Easter does in fact involve a funeral? The happiest event is preceded by the death of someone in the most brutal fashion--death on a cross. The name of this someone who died is Jesus. We don’t like talking about sad things, and we certainly don’t like talking about death. But Jesus is no ordinary person and his’ death was no ordinary death. May we look at this passage narrating the events of Jesus’ death together, sincerely and earnestly, and see how His death is wonderfully meaningful-- even joyful, both to you and me.

I. Jesus Offers Himself For the Forgiveness of Our Sins

Our passage in Luke opens with Jesus on His way to being crucified. As the soldiers led Him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene who was on his way in from the country. They put the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. This scene shows that on His way to being crucified, Jesus was already too exhausted to carry the cross all by himself. This was because He had just endured a series of trials, and an entire night being tortured. People mocked Him, and He was flogged and beaten by Roman soldiers. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus, because Jesus had reached the end of His physical limitation.

A large number of people followed Jesus, including women who mourned and wailed for Him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me”. Why would Jesus not want the women to weep for Him? The sight of Jesus on His way to the cross was gruesome; the air thick with hatred, punishment and violence. There would have been blood on Him. Jesus was despised. And the treatment He received from those present was harsh and cruel. The sight was too much and it caused the women to shed tears. But Jesus did not feel sorry for Himself. Though He was clearly suffering on His way to His crucifixion, He was not defeated by it. “Do not weep for me!” Jesus said. “Weep for yourselves, and for your children. For the time will come when you will say to the mountains ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ “. Though Jesus was not sorrowful about his condition, He is sorry about the spiritual condition of those who followed Him. Earlier in Luke 19:41-44 Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem as he approached it, because of God’s judgment upon its people. Later, as prophesied in Hosea 10:8, the Roman soldiers did come and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This was because of the sin of Israel. Jesus wept because He foresaw this. So He tells the women to shed tears not for Himself, but for their sins. The importance of Jesus’ words is also echoed in what will take place on the day of man’s final judgment as prophesied in Rev. 6:16, when men would hide themselves from God’s judgment than repent from their sins. When we can be sorrowful for our sins, we can be sorry before a holy God, seek His offer of salvation, repent and be ready to receive His forgiveness. Jesus is not sorry about His suffering on the cross. He goes to the cross because He has a broken heart for our suffering under our sins.

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. About these two criminals, their crimes must’ve been so heinous that they have been proclaimed to be deserving of the death penalty. These two lived awful lives. They were the scum of society, and society has no place for them, so much so that their lives were deemed not worth living by their peers. But what about Jesus? What were His crimes? How did He live His life? Jesus lived His life preaching and teaching the word of God to others. He taught the word of God in public places and in temple courts and told parables to help illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. In His lifetime, He healed many people. He healed those with diseases, made the sick well, opened the eyes of the blind to see, caused deaf ears to hear and made the lame walk, drove out demons and even raised the dead. He touched lepers and made them clean. He performed many miracles in His short life. He fed the hungry, turned water into wine. He showed that the power of God is with Him in His command over storms and waters, and over the numerous fish of the sea. Yet even with the greatness of God in Him, He was humble. He ate with sinners and showed them God’s grace. He welcomed the weak and did not turn them away. He was a friend to everybody, and mothers brought their children to Him. He even got down to wash each of His disciples’ feet. When Jesus was tried before Pilate, no one could demonstrate what His crimes were and even Pilate himself declared Him to be innocent. Yet Jesus was to be crucified as a criminal, between two criminals. He Himself did not live a criminal life, but He was to die a criminal.

How could this happen? Was this a horrible mistake? Was it a miscarriage of justice? Only criminals are crucified. Herein lies a most confounding truth: Jesus would either have to be a criminal or He was innocent. He was proclaimed innocent, yet He was crucified as a criminal?? How does any of this make any sense? The only reason that can unite this confounding chasm is that Jesus did not die for Himself. Only the guilty need to die. He is innocent. But He dies in place of the guilty. Isaiah 53:6 describes who the Christ to us: “We, all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Here we see the truth of how Jesus really offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He was innocent, but truly became criminal in our place so that our crimes against God could be forgiven. We may ask, why did Jesus have to die? Why does an innocent man have to die? The answer is simply because sinners are guilty, and saving them demands an innocent life. Hebrews 9:22 illustrates the gravity of this truth: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. The law requires innocent blood to cleanse the guilty. But, who in this world can truly stand before God and say ‘I am innocent’? Moreover, who would want to die in place of a criminal sentenced to death, only so that the criminal live? Why would anyone want to do that? When we stand honestly before God, we find that His holiness exposes us as guilty. We are all guilty before a holy God. We are sinners before him, deserving only of His justice. The justice of our sins actually demands our death. Jesus dying on the cross was no mistake, nor was it a miscarriage of justice. It is really His offering of love to us. When a guilty person dies for his crimes, there is only justice. But when an innocent man offers himself to die in place of that condemned criminal, there is more than justice…there is forgiveness and there is love.

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Jesus, along with the criminals---one on His right, the other on His left. What thoughts do you think could have entered Jesus’ head at this moment? What were His thoughts to those that crucified Him? Toward those that drove the nails on His hands and feet? Could Jesus have felt holy anger? Jesus is Creator God. The gospel of John describes that through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. Do you ever wonder whether He might have felt a Creator’s regret in creating man who did this to Him ? Could He perhaps have felt, even if just a tinge-- that He might just want to destroy us? What thoughts would you have towards those that hurt and kill you?

But you know, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He was crucified was: “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus felt love for us. This is a most beautiful truth. He didn’t think to yell out “Ouch—that really hurts!” or prayed “This is enough, Father! Make it stop!” Through the sharpness of all that pain and suffering and all the things that He could’ve felt or thought, Jesus thoughts were not on Himself, instead they were about how much we need God’s forgiveness; His first and foremost concern was for our forgiveness. It is no easy thing to pray for the forgiveness of those who are hurting you. But Jesus felt love even for those who are killing him on the cross. This moment at the cross illustrates clearly and wonderfully the difference between what we deserve and what we need. In all our thoughts, deeds and actions, we are truly deserving of nothing but God’s hatred, but what we really needed is God’s love. We are truly deserving of God’s wrath against us, but we need God’s forgiveness so much more. Jesus’ prayer at the cross gave us what we really needed, not what we deserved.

Why do we need forgiveness, you may ask? Only the guilty need forgiveness. Does it not seem that it’s the only the Roman soldiers who are in need God’s forgiveness? Or perhaps those who lobbied to crucify Him, an innocent man? Or perhaps only to the criminals beside Him? But look closer at Jesus’ words. According to Jesus, those in need of God’s forgiveness are those who do not know what they’re doing. What does it mean to not know what you’re doing? Let us take a closer look at the other characters present at Jesus’ crucifixion.

After crucifying Jesus, the soldiers divided up his clothes by casting lots. They just crucified an innocent man, but the soldiers couldn’t care less. They were thoughtless at the suffering of another man and they were indifferent. It was just another job they got paid to do. There was no sense of question that stirred in them, and they only sought after their next source of amusement and fortune. This is a sharp portrait of humanity that we recognize both in others and in ourselves. There was a prophecy declared years before their time about Christ and how ‘they would divide (His) garments among them and cast lots for (His) clothing’. (Psalm 22:18). Did the soldiers know that they were fulfilling the prophecy by playing in this game? Did they really know who they just crucified? They were admittedly ignorant. But in their ignorance, they do not know what they do.

The people stood watching. Verse 48 describes them to be people who had gathered there to witness the sight. After witnessing Jesus’ death, they beat their breasts and walked away. To them the crucifixion of Jesus is just like a spectacle; or to put more crudely in modern times, a television special. Perhaps some felt sorry for Jesus. But they were unmoved and quiet. They didn’t really know or understand the wonderful thing that just happened at the cross. The good news shouts joyfully to them: All your sin debt has just been paid for! Someone just died in your place! Such news brings with such great and beautiful noise--its wonderful volumes raising itself up above the din! Did they know just died for them? Did they know who loved them? No. Their actions are those who do not know that God loves them. They were like the dead, the blind and the deaf. They could not see, hear or feel. They could not recognize God who loves them. They just walked away.

Looking at the cross, the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One”. Here is a group of people who are supposed to know who the Christ is. If anyone is qualified and should recognize the Christ in this world, it would be the rulers, right? But even they didn’t know. They didn’t know that the Christ of God cannot save himself. They were in error---mistaken in thinking that the Christ of God is a mere human ruler who would save them from the Romans and solve all their petty problems. They saw Jesus and taunted Him for not saving Himself. But Jesus purposely didn’t save Himself from the cross so that He may save us. He did not come to set us free from the taxes of governments; He came to set us free from the suffering of our sins. And so the rulers sent Jesus to die on the cross. They didn’t even know of the result of Jesus’ crucifixion, much less grasped its wonderful meaning.

The presence of sin causes us to do things we do not know we are doing. But Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing”. Still Jesus had deep grace for them all. Truly, we see much love in the depth of Jesus’ offering for our forgiveness at the cross. All those people at that time thought they knew what they were doing. The astounding depth in the truth of Jesus’ words show just how much it applies to us and our circumstances. How many of us really truly know what we are doing? When will told that lie, or that joke; or saw what we saw, or went where we went; or did what we did when in our hearts we really wanted to do something else. When we knew in our hearts what is right, but didn’t pursue it, or how about the times when we were lost and don’t know what to choose? What of those times when we rejected the things of God, because it made us felt ashamed, and poor or weak? Maybe deep in your heart you were truly sorry because you didn’t know, but who could know all that? Jesus knows. His prayer on the cross proves that. He knows you. He does know you. He understands. And despite all that, He loves you. Did you know? He prayed “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

How great truly is our need for someone who really understands us and forgives us—because we did not know. Jesus’ prayer at the cross addresses and solves our most fundamental problem; our need for God’s forgiveness. So vast and deep is His forgiveness of our sins, that Jesus wants us to also live a forgiving life to others. Human forgiveness has its limits because we are guilty ourselves and we reach a point when we discover we cannot cover its cost, but when we offer others the forgiveness we received from Jesus, we realize His forgiveness covers the full cost; it is grace in its fullest measure! The forgiveness Jesus gives is of the BEST kind; the kind everyone truly needs. Thank you, Jesus, for really understanding us, and loving us, despite who we are and everything we’ve done. Thank you for praying for us and dying in our place, giving us not what we deserved, but what we truly needed.

II. The Result of Forgiveness

Truly, not everyone knew or understood what Jesus was offering as He hung on the cross. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him saying: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal finally rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserved. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Here was a man who lived his life committing awful crimes and in his final moments, could see truly how wrong he was. He saw the justice of what his deeds deserved and it caused him to be humble before God. He did not minimize his crimes but turned to Jesus only asking for His mercy. He said to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. What does Jesus do? How does Jesus respond? Jesus answered him: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What beautiful peace this repentant criminal must’ve felt upon hearing Jesus words (!) He was a criminal, a sinner at war with God. But when Jesus offered him God’s forgiveness, he now has peace with God though he was a criminal before. Jesus’ offer of forgiveness truly made him new. Here is a man who lived an utterly shameful life. But in coming to Jesus humbly just as he is and in seeing just how Jesus received him shows that there is no shame in repentance before Jesus. Jesus prayed for his forgiveness…so He welcomes this repentant criminal with the truth that ‘you are already forgiven’ (!) Notice how this criminal’s life of shame was immediately turned into a life of glory--Today; at this instant; without delay (!) Notice too just how personal Jesus’ grace is to this criminal who was truly sorry for his sins. In response to the criminal’s request, Jesus could have merely offered a general statement, but He didn’t. Jesus made sure to answer him. He was tired. His breath was caught and he was slowly being asphyxiated from hanging on the cross. He could have simply said, “yeah, okay.” But He didn’t. He made sure that this criminal received a personal response to his greatest personal need. Jesus is like that; He is personal. It is who He is. The criminal addressed his request in humble reference to some indeterminate future--- ‘when you come into your kingdom’. But Jesus’ response to him was “I tell you the truth, today” (!) Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is full of assurance, security. He truly forgives without hesitation to those who are sorry for their sins.

At Jesus’ crucifixion, the result of God’s forgiveness was visually available for all to see. It was about the sixth hour (noon) and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour (three in the afternoon), because the sun stopped shining. Even nature mourned at this light of life that was extinguished by the sins of men. But at the temple, a most important curtain was torn in two. This curtain was no ordinary curtain. It serves as a physical barrier to separate the most holy place of the temple away from everything else. This room contains the ark of God where God is said to come down and sit to meet with His people. It is a frightening place to be. In that room, you are speaking face to face with the Spirit of God. So exclusive and special is this meeting that no one is allowed in but for one priest and only once a year. The people are instructed to treat this physical barrier seriously, because God is holy, and any breach of it has in fact resulted in deaths. But at Jesus death, this curtain was torn in two! There exists no more barrier between man and God. Because of Jesus’ offering to die in the place of the sinner, a sinner could run straight into the throne of God and not be killed, but find God’s mercy. Because God’s forgiveness came through Jesus’ shed blood, a sinner once at war with God, can be called a child of God. How beautiful the work of Christ truly is (!)

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. When He had said this, He breathed His last. Remarkably, a centurion seeing what had happened praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man”. Why is this remarkable? Because it takes a hardy sort of man to be a Roman centurion. This is a man who is accustomed to dealing with criminals. He was no stranger to the ‘scum’ of society. He knows it, and likely encounters some residue of it everyday. In his profession, he is in excellent position to think about the meaning of life. How one dies tells a lot about how one lived. And from the vantage point of his position, he is accustomed to seeing people die in all sorts of ways. Countless times, he’s witnessed the fear that overcomes a person’s eyes moments before their end. But in Jesus, there was no fear of death. The centurion could see that Jesus is right with God! In the final moments, he hears Jesus address God as ‘Father’, and commits His spirit to Him. “Surely, this was a righteous man”, the centurion confessed. At the understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his hardened heart experienced no bitterness to God, but softened and yielded praise. He could never be the same again. because Jesus’ death was no ordinary death. Through the death of this righteous man, he could experience God’s forgiveness even for his own life. How wonderful it is that even he, a hardened Roman centurion, could experience what it meant to be right with God!

There was another man whose life also changed after Jesus’ death. His name was Joseph. He was from the Judean town of Arimathea and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. He is also a member of the council and in all respects described to be a good and upright man. But even for all his accomplishments, and hopes, he did not have any spiritual influence. He was a member of the council, but though he did not consent to their decision and actions regarding Jesus’ crucifixion, he had no power to stop it and no power to sway the opinions of his peers to do what is right. He could not stand up for Jesus. But Jesus’ death did not weaken his hope in the kingdom of God; it did exactly the opposite. His faith did not weaken, but became emboldened to even identify himself. Going to Pilate he asked for Jesus’ body. This he did, despite great risk to his career, reputation and everything else he had achieved and worked for. How could he do such a thing and why? To others’ eyes Jesus was crucified a criminal. He was a member of the council. Members of the Council do no associate themselves with criminals. But when Joseph saw how Jesus died for his sins, how he experienced forgiveness for all the things that he did not know what he was doing, he experienced rightness with God. He now has strength to do what is right. He can find strength to stand up for truth. He is no longer a slave to his sins, no longer a slave to fear of others, and no longer a slave to the fear of death. All this is because when God is with him, who can be against him?

Jesus truly did a wonderful thing when He died on the cross for us. He solves our most fundamental problem-- our problem with sin, and sets us free from it. Because of Jesus, we can find God’s strength to do what is right before Him. Because Jesus conquered our sin, we are no longer slaves to it, but can become conquerors in our lives. He prayed for our forgiveness, because it is what we truly needed. His death made us right with God. We could experience peace with God who loves us so much that He offered Himself as a ransom sacrifice in our place, and run boldly straight to His throne, no longer unforgiven, but as forgiven sinners and children of God who know of their Father’s love.

Everything I shared in this message I know to be true, because I qualified to be one of those who did not know what they were doing. I too, didn’t know. For the most part I lived a life that was relatively decent and ‘clean’ before people’s eyes. I was a serious student and growing up at church taught me to confess to Jesus my sins and so I thought I was fine. But Jesus saw more than what I had confessed. He saw my pride, my secret sins and even the things that I wasn’t ready to come forward yet with. Jesus saw me deeply for who I really am---and saw my need to be forgiven deeply, fundamentally. In my ignorance, I had prayed shallow prayers to Him. But Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive Jemmie, for she does not know what she is doing”, and died on the cross for who I am so that I may have love that is not cheap. Since experiencing Jesus’ deep forgiveness for my sins, I could learn to be humble and forgive others even when it was really hard because I could now see their fundamental need for Jesus’ rich love. Jesus’ forgiveness is different from ours—He gives us what we truly need, not what we deserve.

The message of the cross is about forgiveness. But it is also about meeting a Saviour personally who knows us and sees us for who we are. His name is Jesus and He really truly loves us.

One Word: Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

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