"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34).
Really? They didn't know what they were doing? But Jesus, they were spitting on you and tearing your clothes and hitting you! They knew all of those actions would cause physical harm to your body, didn't they? How could they not have known that nailing you to a cross would kill you? How could they not have been aware of the blood as they watched it spill from your body? They had to have known what they were doing. They couldn't possibility have misunderstood what their brutality would cause. They killed you, cheering all the while. They shouted, "crucify him!" and celebrated your final breath. How could you say, "they do not know what they are doing"? Didn't they know precisely what they were doing?
I'm so quick to want to hold people in judgement for their actions. When someone does wrong I want them to get their justice…and quickly. I read the story of Jesus' crucifixion and I want a swift and severe penalty for the sin of all those who nailed Him to that cross.
But then I am stopped dead in my tracks, humbled by my blind ignorance and deceitful heart.
I nailed Him to that cross. My sin put Him there. Every disobedient action was my own cry of "crucify him!" Every step outside of God's will was my own moment to spit on Jesus as He passed by me on His way to Calvary. When my heart has been turned away from Jesus I have been busy casting lots for His clothes, helping to fashion the crown of thorns that would be placed on His head in an act of scorn. I put Jesus to death. The judgement I wish upon the mockers and pharisees in the New Testament is the same exact judgement that should fall upon me.
Jesus, the perfect One who didn't deserve to be killed, doesn't cry out for harsh and heavy-handed judgement to be taken against the guilty. He understood what I so often forget, they didn't know what they were doing because they didn't understand that He was truly the perfect Son of God sent to pay the price for the sins of the world. He had to endure the cross to fulfill His life-saving mission on earth. He did it so that He could redeem those who killed Him, not judge them.
When I stir inside with thoughts and desires of judgement for my fellow sinners I must come back to the foot of the cross and look up. It is there that I am reminded that I am one of those hateful sinners who put Jesus up there to hang, suffer and die. I am not apart from the voices on the ground throwing insults, spitting and cursing the Lord; I am one of them, I am in their company.
The only hope I have of stepping out of that crowd is to find forgiveness for my sins in the sacrifice of Jesus. He paid the price for my sin, disobedience and hate. Until I embrace His forgiveness in my own life I cannot step out of that crowd and pour out His forgiveness to others. Until my heart is overcome with Jesus' forgiveness, I am powerless to forgive others and I remain a hypocrite, filled with hatred in my heart.
As Jesus taught in His final hours on the cross, those who need forgiveness don't even know what hurtful and sinful actions they have taken that have led to their need for repentance. They don't know that they need forgiveness. But that lack of understanding on the part of the sinner doesn't change the need for the offer of forgiveness to be given on the part of the one hurt. Jesus, despite being brutally killed and beaten, offered forgiveness to those who never asked for it or even knew they so desperately needed it. His offer wasn't contingent on the request of the sinner, it was rooted in the will of the Father.
Oh Lord, how I need your help to be a forgiver, not a judge. Even when those that hurt me don't know what they are doing and don't ask for forgiveness I need your help and power in me to forgive. What profit is there to me if I forgive those who come seeking my forgiveness? That doesn't require your Spirit and power. But I want the forgiveness that is found only in You. The forgiveness I desire and need is the forgiveness that keeps forgiving regardless of any other human action.
Because "they know not what they do." But I know what you did. You forgave. Through your perfect gift of forgiveness I can be filled with that same power to forgive. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I am empowered to be a forgiver because you first forgave me, even when I knew not what I was doing.