Friday, April 2, 2010

A Good Friday Meditation: The First Word from the Cross: Forgiveness

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

The Gospels portray Jesus as being in charge of his own fate. The God-Man was not the helpless and passive victim of unforeseen circumstances that sneaked up on him, as it were, and overwhelmed him to the point that he unfortunately lost his life. Jesus did not die accidentally; nor did he die because of irresistible forces overcoming him and taking his life away from him.

He said plainly: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Jesus struggled in prayer in Gethsemane and prayed “Father if it be your will, let this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” (Matt. 26:38)

Then, when they came to arrest him and Peter tried to defend him against arrest by using his sword to wound the servant of the High Priest, Jesus said “No more of this” and healed the servant. Jesus then said: “Am I leading a rebellion that you have to come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22:51-53)

Peter picks up on this in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, which is recorded for us in the Book of Acts, and he forthrightly declares:

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. . . There let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins.” (Acts 2:22-24, 36-38)

Jesus died with words of forgiveness on his lips. He died saying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He died knowing that he was dying for the sins of the world and that through his sacrificial death, as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; salvation would come to his people Israel and through Israel to the whole world.

Jesus died, not as a helpless victim of fate, but in the foreknowledge and according to the good purpose of God. He died so that we might have forgiveness and he died praying for forgiveness for us.

Some people reject the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement, the teaching of Scripture that Jesus died in our place bearing our sins so that we could be forgiven because they envision Jesus as a helpless victim who is unjustly punished. They reject the idea that God must punish sin and they view the idea of the substitutionary atonement as irrational.

• But Scripture does not portray Jesus as a helpless victim, but as a willing sacrifice.

• It does not portray Jesus as unjustly punished, but as one who took our punishment upon himself consciously and deliberately.

• And it does not portray the cross as an unfortunate quirk of fate, but as central to the plan and purpose of God from all eternity.

Jesus’s words “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” express the central purpose and meaning of the cross. For Christians from the apostles to us today these words stand at the very heart of our faith for our glad testimony is that we have found forgiveness of sins at the foot of the cross. And still the invitation given by Peter on the Day of Pentecost remains open to all who will believe. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)

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