Final Words: Father Forgive Them

Final Words: Father Forgive Them March 24, 2024

On the cross, Jesus shows us what forgiveness looks like.

The theme at my church this year is Discipleship. We are focusing on what it means to follow Jesus, truly, in this world.

One thing we learned was that a disciple is someone who learns to emulate his or her leader or teacher. Disciples of Jesus are learning to become more like Jesus. This means that we are trying to make everything we do in thought, word, or deed reflect Jesus’ character.

We are commanded in Scripture to follow the ways of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16 to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow him. In 1 John 2:6, his disciple John instructed other disciples to live the way Jesus lived. Jesus instructed his disciples, and those disciples have instructed us through Scripture, to live as he did and to walk in the ways of Jesus.

Author interruption: I apologize for the lack of posts over the past several months. Life and work have been quite busy. I intend to do much more writing in the near future. You can also check out the podcast I host with my good friend Matt on Spotify. You can also join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Threads @revsteve83.

Jesus shows us what forgiveness looks like on the cross. Wolfgang Heubeck. Public Domain.

The Way of Jesus Leads to the Cross

The way of Jesus leads to the cross. Paul urges the disciples gathered in the church in Philippi to have the same mindset as Christ, who being in the very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be exploited but instead humbled himself, became a human being, and ultimately died on the cross for sins. If we are to strive to be like Jesus, we have to look at the cross.

That’s what I will be doing during Holy Week. I will be looking to the cross. I will be studying Jesus’ final words and learning what they have to teach us about living a life fixed on the cross and following the example Jesus set on it. And today, I will begin with The Forgiving Life.

Jesus was arrested by the Temple guards, found guilty of blasphemy by the high priest, and turned over to the Roman governor Pilate who found him guilty of some trumped-up charges of insurrection. He is now an innocent man condemned to die on the cross.

I am going to spare the gory details of what Jesus has and is enduring through this entire ordeal. Just know that he is in incredible pain and agony and is dying one of the worst forms of death ever devised. The word “excruciating” was invented to describe the pain one feels when one is being crucified.

As he hung on the cross, the New Testament records seven times Jesus spoke. Each time he speaks, he reveals an aspect of his mission, his character, and how to live a cross-shaped life. Today I begin Jesus praying to his Father.

“Father Forgive Them”

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” Let’s break this down word by word.


Jesus taught his disciples to pray to “the Father.” Here, Jesus does just that. Jesus knows that what is happening to him is an outrageous act of injustice. He is being wrongfully punished for crimes he did not commit. He has had his people, the ones he came to save, turn on him and force him to the cross. Jesus recognizes the Father’s authority to punish wrongdoing but also to forgive. Because of Jesus’ unique relationship to both God the Father and to humanity, he has the authority to mediate God’s salvation and forgiveness.


Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them (6:27-28) and portrayed God as being generous in forgiveness. Here he practices what he preached.

The Greek word Jesus has a broad range of meanings. It can mean to “send away” and could be used by a man divorcing his wife. It can mean “to let go” and “give up a debt.” It can also mean “to leave behind” like someone not taking another person as a companion on a trip. Any way you look at it, it has the idea of no longer being present with or laying hold to something. You are removing it from yourself. Here, it is a demand for satisfaction, vindication, for justice. You are releasing someone from the debts they owe you and leaving it behind. Jesus is pleading with the Father to release these people from the debts they owe to him and let them all go. He is begging the Father to not count this sin against them.

We can contrast this with a similar story in the recent history of Jesus’ people. In 2 Maccabees, which tells the story of the time between the Old and New Testaments, the Greek king who was ruling over Jerusalem at the time captured 7 brothers and their mother and tortured them so that they would renounce their faith and betray their fellow Jews. The brothers were in a similar predicament to Jesus: a pagan government was unjustly torturing them and planning to execute them.

The oldest brother was killed first, and his last words to the Greek king were: “you accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.” The third brother was even more vicious, saying before his death, “Because you have authority among mortals, though you also are mortal, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken his people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants.”

The seven brothers, in their final moments, sought and hoped for vindication and vengeance, which one could hardly blame them for. The fact that their words resonate with us says that this is normal and what one would expect. Their words make sense. Jesus is the one who does the unexpected; Jesus is the one who instead of seeking vengeance on his killers and praying for vindication is the one who instead pleaded with his Father to forgive them.


Who’s them? The soldiers? The mockers? The whole crowd?

Pronouns are annoying because they can be so imprecise. We are not entirely sure who Jesus is referring to when he says, “them.” The direct antecedent in the story is most likely the Roman soldiers who were carrying out his execution. The soldiers are “them” in the sense that they were literally the ones who were killing Jesus. They would not have known the story of God and Israel and would not have recognized Jesus as any sort of Messiah. They are just following orders and doing their jobs. Does that mean they are innocent? No, there is always a choice. But they are ignorant to what exactly they are doing.

Jesus could also be referring to the crowd of people gathered to witness his death as “them.” These are the people who insisted that he be killed instead of Barabbas. These are the people who demanded Pilate execute Jesus. Jesus’ death is exactly what they wanted, and they are getting it. But while they should know that they are executing an innocent man and that Jesus has been tried and convicted illegally, there is no way that they can grasp the fullness of what they are doing. They are killing their Messiah, their God in human flesh. Even though they are much less ignorant than the Roman soldiers, Jesus still chose not to hold this horrific breach of justice against them and pleads with his Father to forgive them, to not hold this against them.

Ultimately, though, the word “them” can be universally applied. We all contributed to Jesus’ death. Our sin is what led him to the cross in the first place. Our sin is what created the problem to which the cross is the solution. Jesus deserved none of this yet chose to lay down his life for the sins of all humankind. Jesus’ forgiveness is universally available. In dying on the cross, Jesus is choosing to not hold our sins against us. He has chosen forgiveness.

The Forgiving Life

Let’s look at the contrast between living a forgiving life and living an unforgiving life.

An unforgiving Life leads to a negative impact on one’s mental and emotional health.

    • Refusing to forgive leads to you holding onto the hurt someone else has caused you.
    • Holding on to that hurt essentially allows that hurt to continue hurting you
    • An unwillingness to forgive can lead to the following mental health issues:
      • Bitterness
      • Anger
      • Ruminating on the event—makes the event seem closer to you than it really was and undermines time’s ability to heal
      • Anxiety
      • Depression
      • Aggressive behavior
      • Emotional dysregulation
      • Self-harm or suicidal ideation
    • Not forgiving someone hurts you more than it hurts them. Withholding forgiveness, intended to punish the offender, ends up hurting you more significantly than the original offense. By not forgiving, you are letting the person who hurt you continue to hurt you without any effort on their part.
    • Not forgiving imprisons you in your own bitterness.
      • You can’t move on because you are continuing to allow the pain to hurt you.
      • You are prevented from healing because you are holding onto that pain and allowing it to control your life and dictate your life.

The Forgiving Life leads to good mental and emotional health.

    • Giving up your desire for revenge or payback or justice allows you to focus on healing from the pain.
    • It signals to the offender and to yourself that you are not going to allow that hurt to control your life.
    • It offers the possibility of healing the relationship and reconciling. Forgiveness makes love possible again.
    • Prevents past pain from dictating your future. It keeps the past in the past
    • Forgiveness sets you free.

Forgiveness enables one to know the very heart of God.

The Unforgiving Life prevents you from knowing the very heart of God. People who don’t forgive can’t understand someone wanting to forgive them. They can’t receive forgiveness because they don’t recognize it. we need to receive God’s forgiveness; that’s the first way we experience God’s love. His forgiveness allows us to be in a relationship with him where we can experience his love freely. Unforgiving people can’t get that.

Forgiving people helps us to connect with the very heart of God. Jesus was on the cross in order to forgive people. He was a sacrifice offered on our behalf so that our sins might be covered.

In the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the blood of a lamb on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Mercy Seat. This act enabled Israel to be forgiven of its sinned and reconciled with God.

On the cross, Jesus makes atonement for sinners by offering himself as a sacrifice so that their sins might be covered and they might be forgiven and reconciled to God. On the cross, God chooses to not seek justice against those who have wronged him; he chooses instead to forgive. Jesus demonstrates the very heart of God in dying on the cross.

The Most Forgiven People

In order to emulate Jesus, in order to be like Jesus, in order to grow closer in faith to him, in order to live the life God wants us to live, then we must forgive. Nothing we do is more Christlike; nothing we do is more divine. On the cross, God revealed Godself in the ultimate manner: God forgave sinners. He chose not to count our sins against us. God forgave me. God forgave you. If we want to be like Jesus, we too must forgive.

Christians are not a particularly special people. We are not always the kindest or most loving people. We are not always the most humble or servant-hearted people. We are not always the most merciful or most gentle or most joyful. But there is one superlative we can attach to the name Christian: Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. And if we are truly the most forgiven people in the world, we should therefore be the most forgiving people in the world. Forgiveness releases us from bitterness, and resentment, from a prison of our own making. Forgiveness displays the love of Jesus in action. Forgiveness is living the cross of Jesus Christ. And forgiveness connects us unlike anything else to the very heart of God. Being forgiven releases us to be forgiving and live a forgiving life.

How to Forgive

This is not to say that forgiveness is easy. It is not always easy to forgive someone for the hurt they have caused you. There could be years of offending acts and attitudes that we may need to forgive someone for. However, that does not mean that forgiving someone is impossible.

  • Pray a lot. Ask God for help, for wisdom, for strength.
  • Remember all that I have said about forgiveness today. Jesus forgave us and wants us to do likewise to others. Forgiveness releases us from a mental and emotional prison of our own making, letting things go and leaving them in the past so that we can heal. It is good for your physically, spiritually, and psychologically.
  • Having remembered all that, it is important that you feel what you are forgiving, that you acknowledge all the ways in which that person has hurt you or all the ways in which an offense has harmed you. You cannot forgive a debt unless you know exactly what the debt is. Pray for guidance in this process.
  • Let go of your desire for justice or revenge. That is what you are doing when you forgive: you are letting the other person off the hook and choosing not to hold their offense against them. You are choosing to put it in the past and leave it behind.
  • Only by having done that can you forgive your offender. You can move on.
  • After you have thought things through and acknowledged the debt you are preparing to forgive ask if the person who has hurt you is ready to acknowledge that debt and if they are willing to apologize for it. If they are, then forgive them and release them from that debt; you are leaving it behind and you will no longer bring it up, throw it in their face, or use it against them in any way. It might take you a while to repair this relationship and establish trust again, and it does not mean things automatically return to normal. It simply means you are not holding it against them anymore. You might need time to heal. You might need to time to forget. You might need to time to trust this person again. But forgiveness is the first step toward healing you need for yourself and healing the relationship with the offending party. Pray for God’s strength throughout this process.
  • There are instances in life when we will never receive an apology and the person who has hurt us will not repent for his or her behavior toward us. They refuse to acknowledge the pain they have caused you and take no accountability for their actions. You can still forgive them. You can still choose to let it go and move on. You can still choose to be free from the power of their actions to hurt you anymore. You can still refuse to allow their bad choices to dictate the way you live your life. Pray for God’s mercy in all of this.
  • There are still further instances when this cannot be done alone, the pain is such that you need someone to help you work through it. Some hurt in our lives rises to the level of trauma, pain so difficult it is hard to fully comprehend it and fully comprehend what we have to forgive. This is where therapy or counseling can be extremely helpful.
  • Forgiveness is a process and sometimes it takes time. As long as we are in that process of forgiving someone, we are obeying Jesus’ command and living his example.

Can we, Jesus’ disciples, live the Forgiving Life? Can we be willing to forgive others who have harmed us? Can we be willing to share the forgiveness we have received with others? Can we, the most forgiven people in the world, also be the most forgiving? As C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”


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