Father Forgive Them
Palm Sunday 2022
Rev. Doug Floyd
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 23:1-49
The days of Holy Week are ordered around the final moments of Jesus Christ as He enters fully into the way of the cross, the long-awaited time of glory. Today we rehearse the transition from glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to His trial and execution. On Maundy Thursday, we will join with the disciples as Jesus washes their feet, they eat a final meal with Jesus, and hear His instruction for the days, weeks, and years ahead. Friday commemorates the cross of Christ that transforms time and space. On Friday evening we will walk in the steps of Jesus through the Stations of the Cross. On Saturday evening, we will rehearse the story of redemptive history from the creation to our redemption in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. During this special service we will renew our baptismal vows. Finally, Easter Sunday is a day of pure celebration in our risen Lord.
Even as we rehearse these sacred moments together, I would encourage each of you to take some time to read and meditate on different aspects of this glorious story. Today I want to help us meditate on one thing Jesus prays from the cross.
As His life is ebbing away, our Savior cries out to His Father, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Is He praying for the soldiers who have crucified Him and now gamble for His clothes at the foot of the cross? Is He praying for the chief priests and scribes who responsible for the trial and sentencing? As we look around the scene, we see many different people He could be praying for.
Our story begins with the Chief Priests and Scribes who bring accusation against Jesus as a threat to Israel and to the empire. These are the religious leaders who serve as guardians of the truth for their people. Here they exchange the truth of God for a lie and seek to destroy the mystery of Jesus whom they do not understand, and they fear as a threat to their power and status. As a result, they cry out in defense of the murderer Barabbas while demanding the crucifixion of the Son of God. Those entrusted to preserve the sacred worship and teaching of God’s people have cursed God’s truth and blasphemed the worship of a Holy God.
Next, we encounter Pilate, the Roman governor and Herod, the King of the Jews. Both men find the charges against Jesus are false. And yet, neither man will stop the religious leaders in their mad drive to destroy Jesus. These rulers abdicate true authority and wash their hands of justice, submitting to the hysteria of the people.
Simon of Cyrene was coming in the from the country. He is an outsider who has happened upon this horrific event. He quite possibly had come to celebrate the Passover. Imagine arriving at the outskirts of the city, ready to rest and enter the sacred celebrations. Suddenly the Roman soldiers demand his service, and he has no choice but to submit. In this moment He bears the burden of the cross for Jesus.
Jesus is actually bearing the burden for him. This moment of being called into service changes his life. Mark mentions Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus who are apparently known in the church. This leads us to believe Simon came to faith and his family becomes servants in the church of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus continues this walk of death, He passes a multitude of people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. This quite possibly indicates that the people who welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem with Palms of Praise did not suddenly turn against Him and cry Crucify.” It appears that the crowd that cries out “Crucify” has been stirred up by the religious leaders. Quite possibly another group altogether. Instead, we see a crowd of people lamenting, crying out because of the horror they behold.
Jesus walks alongside two criminals. They are being led to the cross as well. These men are guilty. One mocks Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!.” The other cries out for mercy, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus promises him a future in paradise.
The soldiers mocked him. Beat him. Crucified him. Even now, the soldiers gamble for his clothes. At best, they are amused by Jesus, giving this “King of the Jews” sour wine to drink. As I read about these soldiers, I think of the distorted faces of people in the painting “Christ carrying the cross.” Their angry, twisted faces look sub-human. These are like the orcs in Lord of the Rings. Monstrous. They are blind and oblivious to the suffering and death of the Savior of the world.
Our reading does not mention the disciples and yet we know John stands alongside Mary. The Gospel of John records Jesus speaking to Mary and John, saying “Woman behold your Son.” John and Mary stand alongside Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, all grieving at the unfolding horror. The other disciples have fled in terror of the soldiers and shame at their own unfaithfulness in the moment of testing.
In your mind’s eye, look out over the crowds of people: the religious leaders, Pilate, Herod, Simon of Cyrene, the mourning multitudes, the criminals, the soldiers, Mary and John, and the unfaithful disciples. All humanity stands before God at the foot of the cross.
Jesus prays, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” How could they not know they are killing a man? How could they not know they have plotted and connived to capture and prosecute an innocent man? How could we not know our own culpability? And yet, we are all blind and deaf outside the grace of God. He opens our eyes to our need for redemption.
We come to see the faithful mourners, John and Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene all need the word of forgiveness. We see and hear the unspeakable gift of God’s forgiveness extended to blasphemous religious leaders, the legal powers of the state and the city, the mockers, the liars, the unfaithful disciples, the criminals. All humanity stands accused. We are all guilty. No one is righteous. No not one.
When Jesus is the Word Made Flesh. When He speaks, he reveals what we are seeing in the cross. He reveals the heart of the Father. As we look upon Jesus, we hear and behold forgiveness. The word of the Triune God is forgiving. In the mystery of His Word, we see the power of God’s grace to gather the sinner and restore him. The eyes of the blind are open. Consider the centurion who praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Jesus is looking directly at you today, “Father forgive!” His word of forgiveness calls you from death to life. Jesus also invites each of us into the mystery of this prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” By His grace, we now look out over the crowds and see those who have abused us, lied to us, hurt us, and we cry out with Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 23:47.