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"Father, Forgive Them"

"Father, Forgive Them"

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
June  2004

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As Jesus was dying on the cross for the sins of the world, he prayed for the salvation of the clamoring mob that was taking his life.  He asked, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).  He did not pray that God would forgive them without their repentance and against their will.
God has a law of pardon and Jesus was not asking the Father to violate His own law.  Remember friend, when God lays down a law, he expects men and women to comply with it.  If you or I will not submit to and follow his law our prayer, no matter how sweet and touching, will not be heard; it is abominable to God.  Proverbs 28:9 says, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is abomination.”  One translation puts it something like this: “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable,” to God.
A few hours before this crucifixion scene Jesus prayed in the garden, “let this cup pass from me;” but knowing that the will of the Father must always prevail he finished by saying, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”  Jesus’ request for the Father to forgive his slayers implied that they respect and obey the will of God.  For the prayer on the cross to be fulfilled, the people must in some way be brought to understand that they had crucified the Son of God, also to recognize their own sin and desire to be forgiven.  To fail to comply with the divine law has always been sin.
Their learning of the will of God and obeying it are clearly implied in Jesus’ prayer for them.  Christ could have simply said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”  While in his earthly ministry Jesus had the power to forgive sins.  You might recall that in Luke 5:19-24 the Scripture says that  those who had brought the man with palsy to see Jesus could not enter at the door, “When they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
“And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins, but God alone?  But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?   Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?  But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.”
Although he lived while the Law of Moses was still in effect, Jesus had the power to forgive sins, and he could say to the thief who was crucified with him, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”– to the man with palsy, “They sins be forgiven thee” – and to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.”  The Law under which they lived never said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  It never commanded, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sin,” but the Law in effect after the death, burial and resurrection of the Savior of the world gave these very commands.
But on the cross as He was dying as the Savior of the whole world, Jesus looked into the faces of sinners who would live after he was crucified.  In order to gain forgiveness of their sins, these people would need to comply to the New Law.  You see, the Law of Christ or New Testament was not in force until after He died.  In Hebrews 9:15–17 we read, “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”
The people for whom the Lord prayed were not in a condition to be saved at that time.  A great change had to take place in them before they could be saved.  They first had to realize that they were sinners and had to know the conditions upon which God would save them and be willing to meet those conditions.  It took time for all this to be brought about.
Fifty days after Jesus prayed that prayer his apostles, who were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day, preached to the people saying, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:  Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22,23).
In that preaching they were told that this One had been resurrected and that He was enthroned in David’s seat, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool, and that “that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 
The people who believed this gospel message cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  They were told, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  Jesus prayer was answered then in all those who complied to the conditions of salvation stated in the gospel on that day.  That is the only way He saves sinners today.
You see, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). The preaching of the gospel of Christ is the means by which God makes known to men His will.  Once sinners believe in Jesus as the resurrected Savior of the world they will gladly confess Him.
We are taught, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9,10), and verse 17 says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The book tells us in Acts 8 about an Ethiopian nobleman who had traveled to Jerusalem to worship and as he was returning home he was reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah the prophet.  A preacher of the gospel named Phillip intercepted him and asked, “Do you understand what you read?  And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?”  (Acts 8:30,31).  The passage then tells us that Phillip, “preached unto him Jesus.”  And immediately we are told that the Ethiopian asked the preacher, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36).  It is clearly implied that when “Jesus is preached” baptism for “the remission of sins” is preached.
The Father forgives but it is only on His terms.  Forgiveness takes place in the mind of God when a sinner believes and conforms to His will.  He has said, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  The true people of God are a forgiving people, but a sinner’s salvation depends upon the forgiveness of God.  When God forgives we must!