“Father, Forgive Them”, Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus on the Cross


About 80 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, the famous Roman politician and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, said, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – what? There is no word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.”

Crucifixion was not just a cruel manner of death – it was a living experience of the most horrible humiliation and disgrace. Victims of such torture were stripped of all clothing and then bound or nailed to a pole. The cross piece increased the vulnerability of the torture by spreading wide their arms – fully exposing their chest, stomach and ‘private parts.’ In addition, the crucifixion poles lifted the victim with their bound feet just mere inches away from the ground. This low proximity provided spectators close quarters to spit directly in their face or scream in their ears. Crucifixion was not meant to just terminate one’s life – it dehumanized them.

For Jesus, the gospel of Luke (23:35-39) records, “they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” The gospel of Mark (15:29) adds, “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’” The gospel of Matthew (27:41-43) reveals their teasing, “So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; but he cannot save himself. ... He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’’”

Now we understand what Cicero meant – there is no word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed. Let us imagine for one moment that the person on the cross was ... you. Hanging there helplessly, you are naked, exposed, taunted, mocked, spit upon, condemned, rejected and abandoned. What would you feel? What would you say? Personally, I think I would go all Old Testament on them and say, “Lord, send your wrath-filled fire and consume these people. Roast them!!!”

Jesus, however, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The foundation for the forgiveness of our sins comes as a result to this self-less and unbelievably grace-filled prayer of Jesus – while suffering on the cross. We are forgiven because God heard and answered the prayer of His precious own Son.

Jesus prayed for our forgiveness – it was a prayer that Jesus knew He would have to pray, even before the foundation of the world. 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah prophesied, “... because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Yes, Jesus suffered and died for our sins. In our place, Jesus was nailed helplessly on the cross. He was the one who hung there naked, exposed, taunted, mocked, spit upon, condemned, rejected and abandoned. Why? So that we may be fully clothed with the righteous clothes of glory – holy, blameless and fully forgiven. The cost of forgiveness came at a tremendous price, but the power of forgiveness has come to us because of the precious prayer of the Son of God as he poured out his soul unto death for us.

Can we believe this? We can, since God Himself encourages us to do so. The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is the heart of Christianity and the very prayer of our Savior.