Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Christ the King/Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29), Series C
Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
Sunday, November 24th, 2013
Sermon: “Father, Forgive Them”1
Text: Luke 23:33-43
Focus: Jesus died and prayed for his enemies.
Function: That the hearers would rejoice in God’s grace and forgive those who sin against them.
Structure: Story-Applied
Locus: “So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us” (SC, 5th Petition of Lord’s Prayer).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear Christian friends, listen to the words about Jesus:
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments” (Luke 23:32-34, ESV).2
“Father, forgive them…” (v. 34). Jesus spoke these shocking words from the cross as the Roman soldiers gambled for his clothes and the Jewish priests mocked him. The criminals on either side of him railed against him (v. 39; cp. Matt. 27:44). All of his disciples, except John and the women, had betrayed, abandoned, or denied him. And still Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them…” Jesus likely prayed this prayer over and over and over again. (The imperfect verb tense in the original Greek indicates that Jesus probably spoke these words not just once, but repeatedly.)
Father, forgive them. Father, forgive! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Father, forgive them for their hatred, bitterness, and spite. Father, forgive them for
1 This sermon is an expansion of my shorter sermonette that aired on KFUO radio AM 850 in St. Louis, Missouri, on Friday, May 24th, 2013.
2 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
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their violence and power plays. Father, forgive them for their hypocrisy and deceit. Father, forgive them for their selfishness and fear. Father, forgive them for refusing to believe and follow me. Father, forgive them for every sin they’ve ever committed or ever will again. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Father, forgive them. Father, forgive.
And because Jesus prayed it, the Father did forgive them. He forgave us too—and still forgives us. Jesus never stops praying for us. Even now our risen and ascended Lord is seated at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). While we await the return of the King, Jesus is not in some kind of “holding pattern” up there in the sky somewhere. No, Jesus prays for us. (Aside: I often wonder, “What does Jesus say in his heavenly prayers?” Could it be that he still pleads, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”?)
This prayer of Jesus startles us—or at least it should! The Good News that God loves and forgives sinners was shocking in Jesus’ time. It’s shocking even today. Grace rarely enters the equation for us. You get what you pay for and pay for what you do. What goes around, comes around. (We believe in karma, not grace!) Do unto others… before they do it to you!
C.S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive…”3 So Jesus’ reckless, prodigal grace surprises fallen sinners who are not naturally inclined towards grace. We forget that forgiveness is for giving! We are prone to bitterness and would rather bear a grudge against somebody than to bear with them patiently in love. We do not forgive one another as Christ Jesus forgave us (cp. Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness is hard work. And we are too spiritually lazy to do any work.
We have the spiritual inertia of rocks. We’d rather say things like “After what they did to me, they don’t deserve forgiveness” and “I’ll forgive her, but I won’t forget” and “I may love
3 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 104.
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him, but I don’t have to like him.” Of course, these attitudes are just ways of getting around the business of forgiving others.
But Jesus does it differently. God in Christ Jesus did not count our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19). Instead, he reconciled the world to himself. He keeps no record of wrongs (Psalm 32). “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities…. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:10, 12). Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
This is what we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven… Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:9, 12). Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism:
“We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us” (SC, 5th Petition of Lord’s Prayer).
We daily sin much. We deserve nothing good. And so we also pray the prayer of David: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). Because of our folly, pride, and ignorance, we don’t recognize or remember everything we do wrong. We “know not” what we do. So when we confess our sins to God, we say, “I’m sorry, Lord! I messed up. I don’t know why I did it, but I know I was wrong. Please forgive me. Save me from my sins! And help me to do better next time.” When we pray, we tell God that we know not what we do.
But we do know and believe what Jesus did for us on the cross. He died on the cross to forgive our sins. He rose again to give us eternal life. Christ came to save us from our foolish, wicked, ignorant selves! He came to take away the shame and blame for everything we’ve done
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and left undone, the sins we know and the sins known only to God. Jesus knew what he came to do for you. That’s why he suffered all that pain and ridicule at the hands of the Romans, the religious leaders, the crowds, and us. Jesus did all that for you because he came for one purpose: to save you by bleeding, dying, and praying for you. That makes all the difference.
Forgiveness has a price. It cost God the life of his Son. Jesus suffered and died on the cross, bleeding out and gasping for air, so that you could be forgiven. Jesus died to save you. He died with wonderful words of mercy on his lips, which he prayed and spoke on your behalf: “Father, forgive them… Father, forgive… Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
When Jesus prayed that prayer for us on the cross—and prays it still—our Father in heaven promises to hear and answer it for Jesus’ sake. He forgives all our sins and gives us his grace and Spirit to live holy lives pleasing to him. He gives us grace to love and forgive our neighbor too. And so, as God’s forgiven people, we pray for our family, friends, coworkers—and enemies—the same prayer Jesus that prayed for us: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In the name of the Father and of the Son and of  the Holy Spirit. Amen.