The Seven Last Words of Christ
“Father Forgive Them…”
This is the time of year that Christians around the world are observing Lent, a forty-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Lent begins on “Ash Wednesday” and ends at Easter. Many churches observe. a special worship service on Ash Wednesday. During an Ash Wednesday service, Christians kneel at the altar and ashes are pushed into our foreheads to remind us that we came from dust (birth) and to dust we shall return(death). Then we leave this service humbled and go out to forty days of walking with Christ (in our hearts) to His death and to the cross, especially remembered on good Friday. But then Easter, or Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, arrives and puts an end to all the death and sorrow and sadness of Lent.
Lent, the forty-day period before Easter, is a time for reflection and prayer and repenting of our sins. Lent is a time of remembering Christ’s death on the cross and the costliness of grace. And Lent is a time of following Jesus in His sufferings. And it is a time when many Christians fast or give up something for Lent to express our sorrow because our sins caused our Savior to have to die.
During this Lenten time we will spend some time remembering the seven last words or statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross dying. The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record some of these seven statements Jesus made from the cross. The first words from the cross, uttered by Jesus just after He was nailed to the cross was this prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
The first words spoken by Jesus from the cross were a prayer. Jesus was praying for the soldiers who had tortured Him and beaten him and mocked Him and placed the crown of thorns on His head and crucified Him and who now were gambling for His clothes! “Father, forgive them.” He was also praying for the crowd who were making fun of Him as He hung there in terrible pain on the cross dying before them. “Father, forgive them.” And He was praying for the religious leaders who, from their own jealousy had conspired with the Romans to murder Him. They were standing there in their long robes mocking Him as He bled and died. “Father, forgive them.” Can you imagine such mercy and such love? To know that Jesus was praying for them and forgiving them during the time that they were murdering Him is a mind- bending thought.
Adam Hamilton in his book “Seven Last Words” writes that there was someone else included in Jesus’ prayer besides those people around the cross at that terrible moment. Adam Hamilton writes: “But there is someone else included in Jesus’ prayer, someone for whom Jesus was pleading from the cross for God’s mercy to be extended: We are among the “them”. who Jesus was praying for”
Adam Hamilton continues writing: “The entire human race was there at the Crucifixion. The death of Jesus was an event that transcended time. Jesus was offering Himself to God his Father as an offering of atonement. In that moment on the cross, He was both the High Priest pleading for atonement for the human race and He was also the offering itself.”
Do you remember that old gospel song that asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The answer to that song’s question is “yes”. You were there when they crucified our Lord and so were all of us, and all of humanity!
Our need for forgiveness and God’s willingness to give it are major themes in the Bible. The church has a traditional list of the seven deadly sins which are: lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, anger, envy and pride. When we go with these impulses we step away from God’s path. These sins dehumanize us and hurt others and separate us from God.
Our sin is not a trifling thing. The Son of God was crucified for it. Forgiveness because of the cross is Gods’ gift to all of us. We don’t do anything to earn our way to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) (John 3:16) God has already done everything necessary to save us and forgive us. God’s forgiveness and salvation is ours when we accept this gift. Adam Hamilton writes: “The gift of salvation has already been given to you. Your job is to receive it, to trust it, and to walk in the joy of your forgiveness and salvation.”
This prayer of Jesus on the cross, I believe, is meant to become our prayer! “Father, forgive them, for they no not what they do.” God, our heavenly Father has forgiven us of all of our sins and we are to be children of our heavenly Father and follow in His footsteps and forgive others of their sins. Jesus spent much time teaching us about the importance of forgiving others. In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
And when the disciples asked Jesus how many times they should forgive a person who wronged them? Was seven times enough before they stopped forgiving? Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus was saying that we should always keep on forgiving. The alternative is to be consumed by resentment, anger and hate. And that is no way to live!
When Jesus was asked to teach us how to pray, He gave us “the Lord’s Prayer”. Again, in the Lords’ Prayer we find Him teaching us to follow His example and forgive the people who harm us. Jesus prays these words in the “Lords’ Prayer”: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” (Matthew 6:12)
Is Jesus saying that if we do not forgive others then God will not forgive us? I believe that God has already forgiven us. But have we accepted His gift of forgiveness? And salvation comes with forgiveness. To accept Gods’ gift of salvation and forgiveness we need to believe it is there to accept. When the holy Scriptures say that God forgives our sin and offers us the gift of salvation, we need to believe it and take it. If we don’t believe the Gospel “good news” and if we walk away and leave our gift behind, it won’t do us any good. Scripture say that our part is to simply believe. That’s it.
Perhaps if our hearts will not be open enough to forgive the sins of another person, then our hearts may not be open enough to believe that God forgives us our sins. I don’t know this to be true but there is a connection between the way we forgive others and the way we accept Gods’ forgiveness for ourselves, since it is mentioned many times in Scripture. It is another one of those mysteries that we take on faith. Scripture says,” The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38) Faith or belief in God is all we need. Another mystery!
On the cross Jesus’ final words demonstrate God’s willingness to forgive our sins. And we are called to follow in His footsteps and forgive those who sin against us. Let’s take a minute and think about people who we have not forgiven. Would you be willing to pray the prayer for those ones you are still cannot forgive? The prayer that Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him?
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
This blog took many of its’ material from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Final Words.”