Lent Devotion Day 44

Source: Ken Costa

Luke 23:34-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”][a] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[b] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[c] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[d] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[e] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[f] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus had been betrayed by one of his own disciples for thirty pieces of silver. He had been arrested, interrogated, and tried with falsified evidence by the Jewish ruling council of his day. Peter, who was his most vocal supporter, had denied him, and Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas had questioned his motives and authenticity. He had been whipped profusely, mocked with profanity, and paraded around as a laughing stock: a fake king with a crown of thorns on his head. Not only that, but he had been forced to carry the very instrument of his own execution on his back. If we imagine ourselves in Jesus’ position, looking down at the crowd whose schemes and strategies had put us there, what would our first words be? Would they be words of mercy and grace?

The words that fell from Jesus’ parched lips were: “Father, forgive them.” Instead of asking God to give his killers their just deserts, Jesus asked him to bestow complete forgiveness on them. Jesus interceded on behalf of the people who were torturing him, and at Golgotha he modeled the words he had shared again and again in his earthly ministry: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). And that’s what he is still doing more than two thousand years later. From the throne room of heaven, Jesus is not accusing us but is standing as our advocate and interceding on our behalf.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His last words were a prayer. He could have prayed, “Father, forgive them their sins.” After all, he forgave others their sins. Had he meant, “Forgive them their sins,” though, he would have prayed it. Instead, the connotation seems different, more gentle. Jesus recognized that they were unknowing. At the cross there is the strangest and most beautiful encounter—a once-for-all meeting of human beings at their worst and God at his best. Father, forgive them—they are doing the best they know how. And by placing ourselves within the loving mercy of these words, we are released with the most extraordinary grace. Now is a great moment to ask God to bring to mind anything ugly you’d like to be rid of failures, short-comings, bad attitudes, messed-up relationships—and in repentance and gratitude, ask Jesus to exchange them for his righteousness.

Lord, how can I thank you for what you have done for me on the cross? Thank you that you have exchanged my sins for salvation and my meaninglessness for purpose. Give me a humble heart to receive your forgiveness and a grateful heart to know that I am now—today—clothed in your righteousness, amen.