Praying the Bible – Praying with Jesus

I can hardly imagine a person praying during his torture and execution. I find it even more difficult to imagine that person praying for his executors. But Jesus was no ordinary person.

He loved people to the end, and he prayed that his Father would forgive the people who killed him.

What an extraordinary accomplishment!

I have a hard time forgiving my “enemies,” and I’ve never experienced anything close to the agony of crucifixion. Maybe you have a hard time forgiving, too. But Jesus hung there on the cross–his life ebbing with every gasping breath, soldiers throwing dice for his clothes beneath him–and prayed,

Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

The Bible records seven statements Jesus made on the cross (known as the “Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross”). This is one of them. It has been lauded in stories, songs, and sermons ever since. It stands as a great challenge to us that we, too, would forgive those who persecute and execute us, whether they’re after our bodies or our spirits.

Forgiveness and reconciliation, as I’ve mentioned before, are at the heart of the
message Jesus proclaimed. We can assume that God did, indeed, forgive those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Sadly, the church wasn’t so forgiving. For centuries, Christians persecuted Jews as the murderers of Christ. We are starting to undo that great sin, and we still hope to fully follow Christ’s ultimate example of forgiveness.

Why is it so hard to forgive people? When was the last time you were forgiven? What did you do to need forgiveness? Who do you need to forgive? Are you ready to forgive that person? If your answer is yes, stop now to pray. If you’re not ready, how about praying that God would help you get ready? Spend time thinking about how Jesus forgave you. (And remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean the wrong wasn’t wrong. Forgiveness means you give up your right to revenge.)

If you like this and you’d like to read more, check out my book, Ask Seek Knock. Thanks.

Copyright Tony Jones, 2008. Used by permission of NavPress.

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  • djayt

    The parenthetic statement at the end of the post is worth the price of admission. And not just because it’s a good opportunity to use “parenthetic”.

  • It seems to me, that when you look at Acts chapter 2 (which should be allowed since it was also written by the author of Luke as a companion text, the context and intent should be the same) and the sermon that Peter preaches on Pentecost, that this statement by Jesus on the cross is the door to our salvation.
    Peter doesn’t preach about sin and sacrifice and atonement and the things we find in Paul. Peter preaches that the messiah came, and we all missed it. Not only did we miss it, we allowed him to be killed. He preaches that we must repent of that, turn from it, follow the teachings of that messiah, and be reconciled to G-d and to each other.
    In other words, Peter is preaching that we should pray “Father, forgive me, I didn’t know what I was doing”. And this is the door that Jesus opened for us. He understood that we did not understand. He recognized that we did not recognize. And he transcended what we could not transcend — our fallen nature. He gives us the type for our redemption. A simple prayer, “G-d… I didn’t realize…” said with a broken and contrite heart.

  • @djayt (and Tony, too, really) – I rarely struggle with the need to give up revenge. I struggle with the need to give up the anger and the bitterness. I rarely entertain notions of retribution. But I harbor much ill will, some of it stretching back decades. Is forgiveness really just about revenge/retribution or is it also about a cleansing of our heart to be free of ill will? And how do we accomplish this?

  • djayt

    Is ill will just revenge waiting to happen? Particularly, to be justified when something ill befalls the target? Is joy at the failure of a rival revenge once removed? Am I asking a series of questions to which I have no answer?