Visit any of the holy sites believed to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion today, and you will normally find people looking in hushed reverence. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the noise of a shouting throng and the cursing of tortured thieves and Roman soldiers polluted the air of Golgotha.
Noise was routine during a crucifixion. The begging, pleading and finally cursing of the crucified was an expected part of the process. But the “man in the middle;” the “King of the Jews” as His title read, did not join the symphony of profanity that spewed from the lips of His crucified companions.
In fact as Peter – one who perhaps witnessed part of the crucifixion – later would write, “As a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
Jesus did not curse. He did not threaten retaliation. He was silent… until He began quietly to pray. “Father, forgive them… they know not what they do.”
Praying? He was praying as His hands and feet were being nailed to a cross?
Who does that? Cursing… that was anticipated. But praying… and what was it He prayed over and over again? “Forgive them… forgive them… forgive them.”
Forgive? Forgive who? The jeering crowd of spectators and heckling religious leaders? The crude Roman soldiers pulling down overtime to carry out this bloody task? The thieves on either side who cursed Him? Forgive who?
We know. He prayed for all of them… but not only for them. He prayed for Peter, who denied Him. For Judas, who betrayed Him. For a nameless soldier who nailed Him, holding his arm fast to the wood with his knee while his hands did their worst. For the soldiers… the spectators who watched. For the thieves who cursed Him. And even for the women, including His mother Mary, who watched and wept helplessly, as her son was being executed.
And lest we forget He prayed for us as well. “Father, forgive them.” The greatest need of the human heart is for that forgiveness He prayed for as, in His flesh, He reconciled God and man.
We come to the cross and listen, and hear the greatest news that had ever been spoken. The Son of God prayed, in spite of all we had done, for our sins to be forgiven… wiped away through the blood being spilled that day.
There is forgiveness in none other than the One who still prays for us today:
“Father, forgive them… they don’t know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
And because of the cross, the Father answers, “I will.”