Christ prays for His enemies
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)
It is Friday morning, a little after nine in the morning. A group of people have just arrived at Golgotha. At the bottom of the hill a wooden cross is laid down. The Lord Jesus voluntarily stretches Himself upon it. The soldiers take iron nails and drive them through the hands of Christ. After the cross has been put up in the upright position, the four soldiers then hammer the nails through His feet. And Christ willingly lets Himself be nailed to the cross. How God's Word shows us here our natural enmity against God and against Christ. We crucify Him!
What does the Lord Jesus do when this painful and grievous suffering is laid upon Him? He prays! What does He pray? The first word that comes to His lips is: Father. His whole earthly life was spent in doing the will of His Father. His entire earthly life was a life of prayer. And the same characterizes His last hours. He prays. And His prayer is directed to God: Father.
At the same time, with that word Christ gives prophetic instruction to foolish, ignorant, blind sinners. Because with the word ‘Father’ He also says once more, Who He really is. The Son of God. Soon the centurion, who is also taught by this word, will confess it: Truly, this was the Son of God.
Christ speaks even more: forgive them. Do you hear that? Christ prays for enemies. Under circumstances that we would no longer think of them as our friends, He prays for His enemies. He prays for those who have just nailed Him to the cross. Four heathen, Roman soldiers, now sitting down the cross, dividing His garments. He prays for those who have cried out frenziedly with hatred, Crucify Him, crucify Him. He prays for those who stand around the cross mocking and shouting. Christ prays for enemies. Oh, does He not in this prayer covet the hand of you, lost, mortal sinner? Does He not declare in this word His deep and incomprehensible love to enemies? May our hearts be broken under it.
The suffering Saviour adds something else: for they know not what they do. Is that so? Did the soldiers really not know what they were doing? Did they not know that they were crucifying an Innocent? Had they not heard Pilate say, I find no fault in this Man? And the Jews who had cried out: Crucify Him! Did they not know what they were doing? Had they not heard His words? Had they not seen His miracles? Had they not had the light of the Scriptures, which testified so clearly that He was the Messiah? Ah, the people had seen something. And heard. And they did have the lamp of the Scriptures. But in their hearts and in their minds it is night. They do not see, that they are crucifying the Lord of glory. That's how blind we are. Blind to what sin really is. And blind to Who Christ really is.
No, the last words of Christ's prayer are not an apology. Christ does not plead that the guilt of His enemies is not so bad, because these people do not know what they are doing. On the contrary. He is drawing a picture of the deeply lost state in which we naturally lie. Father, forgive them ... for their condition is so bad, so lost, that they are totally blind. That they are hostile blind. Also on the cross Christ does not diminish and cover up sin, but shows the real character of your and my sin. Also at the cross He teaches us our misery.
Even more: at the same time He is also the interceding High Priest. And just as the intercession of the Old Testament High Priest was, as it were, founded on the sacrifice that had to be brought first, so His prayer is also based on blood.
For behold! The same Christ who prays for His enemies, hangs here with pierced hands and feet, from which blood flows. With a head crowned with thorns, from which the blood flows. With a back scourged open, from which the blood flows. See Him hanging there as the great Sacrificial Lamb. And on the basis of His own blood and righteousness He prays: Father, forgive these sinners blinded by sin their terrible guilt. And lay their guilt on Me.
Christ prays for forgiveness. The implication is: He prays for repentance. Because God never grants forgiveness where He does not work repentance. Then this word gets an even deeper sound. Then the Lord Jesus asks His Father first of all this: Let it be so, Father, that the eyes of My blinded enemies are opened to the awfulness of their sin. May their hearts be broken under it. May it become their guilt. May it become such an unbearable burden to them that they will have a real interest in having it forgiven. Let that debt also be taken from them. Be forgiven. May they appear before Me as acquitted sinners. That is what Christ prays for. He pleads on His own blood. And He asks for God's work of grace in sinners' hearts.
Reader(s), are you a blind sinner? Blind to Who God really is? Blind to your guilt and misery? Blind to Christ? See here a praying High Priest, Asking that blind soul eyes may be opened. That lost sinners may see their guilt. Are you an insensitive sinner? Do you have a cold, insensitive and unbroken heart? See here a praying High Priest, who asks that hard hearts of sinners may be broken. Are you a weary and burdened sinner, who cannot bear your guilt? See here a praying High Priest, Who on the basis of His own work prays for forgiveness. Oh, ask this great Intercessor: Open my blind eyes, break my hard heart, forgive my heavy guilt. On grounds of His intercession and His shed blood.
One more thought. How much teaching for God's people is there in this first word of the Saviour on the cross. It is a word of comfort. Because Christ here also shows something of His office as the interceding High Priest. Child of God: if He prayed like that on the cross, how will He not pray for you at this moment in heaven? As He always lives to pray for them. Always. Even if you do not know how to pray as you should. Even if you are so prayerless. Even if you, to your sorrow, still have to notice so much enmity against His ways and guidance in your own heart.
It is also an admonishing word. Christ has also left you, child of God, an example in these things. So that you would pray for your enemies! As Stephen prayed: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.
A.J.T. Ruis (firstname.lastname@example.org)