Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34).
The context of this verse occurs when Jesus is being crucified. Though He was innocent, He carried His cross alongside two criminals to the place where they would be crucified, called The Skull (Golgotha). On the cross, the Son of God—situated between two sinners deserving of death—spoke to His Father and said, Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34). This was and is the worst crime in the history of the world; the only innocent Man to live on this earth, the only Man undeserving of death and punishment was put to death in the most humiliating and unfair way … and He said what?
This prayer was directed toward the taunting crowd, religious leaders happily observing His death, apathetic Roman soldiers placing bets for His clothing, and the criminals on either side of Him. Could you forgive someone for a terrible crime simply because they do not know God? This is the hardest prayer anyone can pray. To forgive someone undeserving of forgiveness; to forgive someone who does not even recognize their need for forgiveness.
Could you pray this prayer for terrorists, for killers, for gunmen, for bullies, for family members who hurt you deeply, for friends who stab you in the back, for co-workers who use you, for any number of circumstances that cause you or someone you love pain.
On my own, I know I cannot pray this prayer—for I am far too angered by injustice, by acts of evil, by selfish deceit. But with the Holy Spirit as my Helper and my Advocate, I can seek to grow in this prayer. To see people as not just wrong or evil but incredibly lost … and to pray most of all for God to make Himself known to them, for He is the One whom all wrongs are ultimately committed against.
Jesus forgave those who murdered Him not only on the cross but also in their hearts. He saw their state of lostness and just as He had compassion on the crowds who surrounded him during his ministry he had compassion on His persecutors.
Intersecting Faith and Life: If Jesus is our utmost example for Holy living according to God’s will, then we can follow His example even in this—the offering of forgiveness to those who persecute us. Let us pray for our persecutors and our enemies that they might know the love of God and the freedom of forgiveness and grace.