“Father, Forgive Them…”

We might be tempted to wonder, Why a sacrifice? Couldn’t God simply forgive sins without requiring the death of Christ? After all, God is love and it is his nature to forgive. Why was the cross a necessity?

An answer may be found in the first statement of the dying savior from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  We cannot understand, any more than Jesus’ tormentors could, the depth of our sin or the height of God’s holiness. If we did, we would more fully understand the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice as an atonement for sin.

A reading of the crucifixion narratives in the four gospels arouses our amazement. Jesus offered no resistance during his arrest, unjust trials, savage flogging, public mocking, and torturous crucifixion. We hear no cry for revenge. There is only empathy: “They do not know what they are doing.”

This fact did not relieve them of responsibility, however. Their ignorance was willful ignorance. They rejected him in the face of the overwhelming evidence that he was the divine Son of God. It was lazy ignorance, the apathy of indifference to the truth that he preached. It was blind ignorance because “they loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

It is the same for us. We are responsible for our sins, even those of which we are not aware. We must recognize that we, too, are guilty of sin (Romans 3:9-20). If not the same sins as of those who crucified our Lord, they are sins that are equally offensive to God’s righteous nature and holy law. His perfection requires the satisfaction of a perfect sacrifice in order for forgiveness to be possible. He must be true to himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

“He was numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 53:12). It is noticeable, then, that Jesus prayed for their forgiveness as he was dying on the cross. It was his death on the cross that accomplished satisfaction. It was on the basis of his sacrifice that Jesus was asking the Father in heaven to withhold his wrath. Yes, God is love, and he is willing to forgive sins. But his love is a holy love. His holy nature requires satisfaction (1 John 2:2).

Their forgiveness depended upon their response to Jesus’ sacrifice. One of the hardened Roman officers at the scene confessed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish high council, had “become a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57). The faithful women disciples who had followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry mourned his death amid the mockers at the foot of the cross.

This precious word, “forgive,” means to remove, to send away, to release from a debt. It refers to restoration of a relationship that is broken by sin. It involves two parties, the one offended, and the offender. There must be a granting and an acceptance of forgiveness. This acceptance involves confession and confession involves a change of outlook toward sin. This is called repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

What about those who deny their moral responsibility and who refuse to acknowledge their sin? Are they covered by Jesus’ prayer from the cross? Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus was not forgiven. Jesus said of him it would have been better if he had not been born (Mark 14:21). Caiaphas and his co-conspirators thought it would have been better for Jesus to die than for them to lose their political influence (John 11:49-53). They remained embittered toward Jesus and his followers (Acts 4:5-7). The criminal dying at Jesus’ left side joined the chorus of willful defiance against Jesus (Mark 15:27-32; Luke 23:39). These who rejected Jesus then represent all who now exempt themselves from the benefits of his prayer for God’s forgiveness.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” shows us the compassion of the Lord Jesus, even toward those who reject him. It shows us God’s willingness to forgive those who confess their sin and trust in his Son. It shows us that forgiveness before a holy God is available for all who believe the message of the cross: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner




Seven Words of Love

In 1986 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article detailing the likely physiological and psychological effects of the crucifixion of Jesus. In 2004 Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of the Christ,” a movie that graphically portrayed the extremity of the Lord’s agony. Yet the descriptions we have in the gospels seem relatively unemotional when compared to the violence and terror of the actual event.

We are approaching the time of year when Christians are called again to contemplate the cross and its significance. The writers of the New Testament must have felt a deep reverence and devotion as they described the crucifixion. But they were remarkably restrained.

To be sure, they reveal much in their telling of the scenes of mockery, flogging, hardened soldiers, condemned criminals, thorns, nails, and spear. But there is no lurid sensationalism or cheap emotionalism. Instead, their purpose is instructive, not merely descriptive. The writers want us to see beyond the physical horrors of the crucifixion to something deeper, its spiritual meaning and purpose.

This is evident in the recorded words of Christ from the cross. Students of scripture have always found in these statements a revelation of the divine-human nature of the Lord Jesus, and of the value of his finished work of redemption. For this reason, I invite you to join me in meditating on the “Seven Last Words of Christ” during the coming weeks.

I hope a re-reading of these seven words of love will attract us to the dying Savior. This was his intention. He said, “And I if I am lifted up from the earth, “will draw all people to  myself.” “He said this,” the apostle John reports, “to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33). 

This is the universal attraction of the gospel. It is for people of every nationality, economic status, and ethnic identity. People of all cultures can identify with the emotional, relational, physical and spiritual states reflected in our Lord’s seven words from the cross.

Beginning next Friday, in this space, we will contemplate his prayer for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This will be followed by an examination of his promise to the criminal on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

“Woman, here is your son,” spoken to Mary, and to the apostle John, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27), provided an earthly home for his mother, whom he entrusted to that beloved disciple who stayed with Jesus until he died.

The words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) take us into the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death. “I am thirsty” (John 19:28) is a stark reminder of the Lord’s humanity and his identification with the rest of humanity.

The final words are rich in spiritual and theological significance. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” ( Luke 23:46) and “It is finished” (John 19:30), remind us that the Lord Jesus gave his life voluntarily to pay the debt for the sins of the world. This is the teaching of the New Testament.

Whether or not you were brought up in a church that observed the liturgical practices of the Christian year (I was not), it can be spiritually edifying to use the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday as a season of preparation. To meditate on the Lord’s death, remembering what he endured on the cross. To give thanks for his sacrifice. To worship the One who came to draw us to himself for salvation. To repent of our sins and deepen our faith in him.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner



Love Grows by Expression

In case you hadn’t noticed, today is St. Valentine’s Day. This day is observed all over the world as an occasion to express feelings of affection. It is named in honor of St. Valentine, a third-century Roman martyr who died on February 14 around the year 270. He is said to be the patron saint of lovers.

Many traditions are associated with him. One my mother told me when I was a boy had to do with his imprisonment. He sent messages from the jail on heart-shaped ivy leaves to a friend on the outside. This story gave rise to the practice of sending similar messages on heart-shaped greeting cards, called “valentines.”

Whether or not this legend is true, the greeting card manufacturers make sure we see their displays of valentine cards in every store we enter. Even convenience stores and gas stations sell flowers to remind us of the day. We buy the cards and the flowers because we want to communicate love with tangible expressions. These gestures touch the heart of their recipients.

The first letter of John says a lot about how we may love God. What touches his heart is more than words. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). God sees it when we put our love for him into action by loving others in tangible ways. “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:21).

Love grows by expression. The more we show our love by serving others, the more our love for them, and for God, will grow. The famous Bible teacher Dr. John Mitchell used to say, “Love is sincerely wishing the other person God’s very best and taking whatever action is necessary to see that accomplished.” It’s true for marriages, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, and anywhere else love is needed.

I read a story about a man who was standing in the greeting card section of a store. He was having trouble picking out a card. A clerk asked if she could help.

He said, “Well, it’s our fortieth wedding anniversary but I can’t find a card that says what I want to say. You know forty years ago it wouldn’t have been any trouble picking out a card. Back then I thought I knew what love was. But we love each other so much more today. I just can’t find a card that says it.”

I thought as I read this, “Here is a married couple who have shared forty years of unselfishness, forgiveness, companionship and taking care of each other.” That is love. It has grown and grown because it has been expressed ‘in actions and in truth.’ No wonder he couldn’t find an appropriate card!”

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner





“He Appeared to James”

(This is a poem I wrote 21 years ago based upon 1 Corinthians 15:7. The Hebrew form of the name “James” is “Jacob.”)

And what now?
Now that I am here again.
Now that you have seen me. What now?
Will you fight me like our scheming ancestor?
What now then?

Oh yes. You recognize the hands of the artisan.
Those same old scars and some new ones. See?
Like me, you bore Joseph’s mallet, adze, and rule.
You, too, learned his craft.
And you know me!

Where were you when our mother watched me die?
You were not there to help her grieve.
From the treasures of her heart, she could have told
from where I came and where I go.
But you would not believe.

You thought me mad.
Now you wonder if you, the other,
are mad. This is not madness. This is a miracle!
Like Jacob, you have seen God face to face
in the face of your brother.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner