“FATHER, FORGIVE THEM!”
BY: Frank Tunstall
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
Arguably, betrayal is the hardest of all emotional wounds to heal. Betrayal by its very nature assumes a traitor has won confidence and was in a meaningful relationship of trust. Absalom the traitor was a son whom King David loved (see 2 Samuel 16). Ahithophel became a traitor who had also been a brilliant personal counselor of King David. He had worked his way up to the highest level of David’s government – special counselor to the king. David trusted him with the most closely held secrets of the realm (see 2 Samuel 17).
With Jesus, it was Judas, a disciple whom the Lord had personally and prayerfully chosen, and even trusted him enough to make him His treasurer (John 12:6; 13:29; 22:48).
It can also be an employee who has earned trust and been promoted to a position of high responsibility. He is given opportunity, but he turns and betrays his employer. For another example, infidelity sends down deep roots in the soil of betrayal.
Jesus had many enemies, but it was an insider who betrayed Him.
Yes, in the pantheon of painful human emotions, the feelings associated with betrayal hurt the most and leave the worst scars over the longest period of time.
Our awesome Lord’s first recorded statement from the cross was, “Father, forgive these people, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 TLB).
Forgiveness is the crown jewel of the Gospel. God always responds to repentance with forgiveness.
Forgiveness, however, does not immediately restore trust from wounded people. Trust is like money. You work to earn it, and when you’ve earned it you can spend it all. But when you have spent it, it is gone and you cannot call it back. All you can do is earn more trust, and that takes time. Trust usually comes in the slow process of line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10-13).
If forgiveness does not completely restore trust, it does open the door of opportunity to earn more trust.
Was Jesus willing to forgive Caiaphas? Yes.
- Annas? Yes.
- Pilate? Yes.
- The members of the Sanhedrin? Yes.
- Judas? Yes.
- Peter? Yes.
Only Peter however, among this list of primary actors in the drama of Calvary, actually repented, and Peter did it with bitter tears (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62).
God will always respond with forgiveness to the repentance that produces a broken heart (2 Corinthians 7:10). Always! A trillion times out of a trillion!
What did Jesus know that helped Him forgive while on His cross?
Jesus did not live with rose colored glasses that minimized evil and winked at sin. But He did live with a marvelous attitude that left the door wide open for His enemies to repent and become His friends. This is expressed in the Prophet Zechariah’s prediction of how Messiah would be brutally betrayed and mistreated: “One shall say unto him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (Zechariah 3:6 KJV).
Jesus said ignorance played a role in the choices of His enemies who committed the crime of the ages that put Him on the cross (Luke 23:24). Ignorance always seems to be a factor at some level when sin is committed. Many people who violate God and others, if they fully comprehended all of the consequences, would change their course. Some do seem, however, to curse the consequences and plunge headlong into the pit of evil.
Our Lord is long suffering. He is not willing for anyone to perish; instead, He wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus loves all His enemies in every generation and wants to see them saved. That is true even of traitors.
THINK ABOUT IT: God will always respond to repentance with forgiveness. Always. Yes, the forgiveness that follows repentance is the crown jewel of the Christian faith.
When you are dealing with violated trust, two principles stand out from the life of Jesus. First, always leave the door open for the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to motivate repentance that produces a change of heart. Said another way, release the matter to God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). When change happens, forgiveness and reconciliation can follow. Then the process of rebuilding trust can begin.
Second, keep your own heart open to accept that even traitors can become friends of God and of the people they so deeply wounded. Achieving this open heart attitude is aided by the solemn recognition that “we all like sheep have gone astray.” Each of us has turned to our own way, “but the Lord laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
My chains are gone.
I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.