What Does the Prayer of Jesus from the Cross Teach Us?
Next to the month of December, this month is perhaps the most important month of the year for Christians and Christian churches. It is this month that we have the Palm Sunday in which Christians around the world remember Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem (over 2,000 years ago) riding on a colt, where he knew that he would be betrayed by his own disciples, arrested for being a political rival and a religious rebel, and be delivered unto the hands of Pontius Pilate. Although Jesus could not be found with any wrong doing, he was still charged with death penalty. And even before he was sentenced, this innocent man was humiliated, mocked, blasphemed, spit-at, and beaten horribly.
On Friday (the day in which churches historically have called the Good Friday), the enemies of Christ put Jesus on the cross at the place called Calvary or Golgotha (in Aramaic which means “the place of skull”), and there he was crucified on the cross like a piece of meat dangling by the nails covered by his blood, and there he died. There Jesus Christ, the Son of God died.
But death could not hold Jesus down and the grave could not contain him, thus on the third day (i.e., the first day of the week) he arose from the grave, and it is that Sunday that we call the resurrection Sunday. All that Jesus went through before his death and his actual death on the cross, and his Resurrection is the central message of the gospel and of Christian faith.
Like many Christians around the world, I have eagerly waited for the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” which was released a few years ago. The movie portrayed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ before his trial and crucifixion. But this evening we will be looking and studying on the last few minutes of his life while he was hanging on the cross, specifically, his last few words. There are about seven accounted last sayings of Christ, and this evening we’ll look at one of them from the Luke’s Gospel. It has become a tradition for me to preach one of the last sayings of Christ from the cross. Last year, I’ve preached from Luke 23:43, which Jesus said to one of the thieves on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” This evening, we’ll look at Luke 23:34, which Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
The Bible teaches that the message of the cross is the wisdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it reads, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Interestingly, in the NT there is more said on the crucifixion, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the birth of Christ. To the writers of the NT the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ seemed much more important than the incarnation of Christ. This is not to say that the birth is not important but not greatly emphasized like the death. And there are more theological papers and books written on the subject of the crucifixion, the death, and the resurrection of Christ than his birth. Apparently, not all four Gospel writers wrote on the birth of Christ (e.g. Mark), but all the four Gospel writers did record what Jesus said while He was hanging on the cross. My prayer is that all of us would have a better understanding about our savior on the cross and the message of the cross, and hopefully, all this will prepare us for a meaningful Easter Sunday this weekend.
With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to Luke 23:34. But before we get into our text, we need to first understand the historical background that leads to Luke 23:34. And that begins from Luke 22. Dr. Luke has recorded in the beginning of chapter 22 about Judas agreeing to betray Christ for small amount of money. And then verses 7-20 records the Last Supper in the upper room with Christ and his disciples. In verse 21, Jesus predicts his betrayer. And according to Matthew’s account, it was during this time that Jesus told the disciples once again about His death. But the disciples did not seem too concern about that, but rather gets into argument over who is the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 22:24-30). And in verses 31-34, Christ predicts Peter’s denial. And in verses 35-38, Christ predicts about how people will fight over who will take the clothes of Jesus. In verses 39-46, Luke records the famous prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane. In verse 47-53, Judas betrays Christ. In verses 54-62, Peter denies Christ. In verses 63-65, Christ is beaten. In verses 66 to 23:25, Christ gets various trials in just a few hours. And from 23:26 begins the event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which leads to our text in verse 34.
As a way of outline I want to point out four perspectives from our text this evening: prayer of Jesus, prophecy of Jesus, pride of mankind, and pardon of God.
I. Prayer of Jesus
Not all the sayings from the cross are prayers, but this one sure is (3 out of 7 sayings of Christ on the cross are prayers).
It’s worth noting that our Lord’s public ministry began with prayer. In Luke 3:21, the Scripture says, “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened.” So the public ministry of Jesus began with prayer, and here we see that the public ministry comes to an end by prayer. Our Lord was not only a great example of preacher, teacher, shepherd, but also a great example of man of prayer. And this is an example in which all of us need to follow and imitate.
Our Lord’s hands were no longer available to touch and heal the sick, for they are now nailed to the Cross, no longer those feet helped him to travel many different places to minister, for they are now nailed to the Cross. His face no longer gave people hope and comfort, for it is now marred with blood. His whole countenance no longer warmly welcomed people to come to him, for he now looks like a shredded meat that is dangling by the nails. As Isaiah prophesied, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2 ESV).
So there, Jesus is hanging on the cross in the midst of excruciating pain, what do we find Jesus doing or how does he occupy himself? Scripture does not even give a slight hint of revenge in the mind of Jesus or from the mouth of Jesus though he has every right to do so. That would have been a justifiable retribution. But Jesus chose not to. Instead, Scripture shows that he is praying! What a lesson here for all of us! (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-23).
You may be in a situation or perhaps you know of an individual that seems so hopeless and bleak and even the very idea of praying may seem useless. May I say to you – don’t give up in praying! Consider Jesus! Look to Jesus as your example, comfort, and encouragement! Even in his last hour on the cross, he is praying! He is praying for others and even for the very people who are responsible for putting him there. If this isn’t a great example of our Lord for us to emulate, I don’t know what is.
So, don’t loose hope Christians! Pray! Make prayer as a part of your normal activity like breathing air, that even at the last hour of your life you can conclude or finish your life with prayer. And don’t just pray – pray passionately. Pray fervently. Pray biblically! Pray for the glory of God! Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers who ever lived in the 19th century said:
A man scarcely needs to be reminded that he must breathe. It is essential to his very life that he should breathe. And it is essential to our spiritual life that we should pray. I never thought it necessary to prepare a discourse to exhort you to eat, neither ought it to be necessary to exhort Christians to pray. It should be to you an instinct of your new nature, as natural to your spiritual being as a good appetite is to a man in health. There should be a holy hunger and thirst to pray. And the soul never prays so well as when it is reminded, not by the hour of the day or night, but by its real needs, and when it resorts to its place of private prayer, not be cause it thinks it ought, but because it feels that it must, and shall, and will go there, and is delighted at the privilege of having communion with its God.
II. Prophecy of Jesus
It is fascinating that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was foretold or prophesied about 700 years or more prior to the historical event that we are now reading and studying about. For example, the prophet Isaiah had prophesied that Jesus would be numbered with the transgressors on the cross in Isaiah 53:12 (cf. Luke 23:33).
Isaiah also prophesied of the bloody Jesus in 53:2; and how that Jesus would make an intercession for the transgressors on the cross in Isaiah 53:12b.
III. Pride of Mankind
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” And the reason for that is because of pride. And one of the products or fruits of pride is ignorance. And this is what Jesus is praying – God’s forgiveness on their stupidity or ignorance. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” If you have The MacArthur Study Bible, notice what it says about our text:
They were not aware of the full scope of their wickedness. They did not recognize Him as the true Messiah (Acts 13:27, 28). They were blind to the light of divine truth, “For if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Still, their ignorance certainly did not mean that they deserved forgiveness; rather, their spiritual blindness itself was a manifestation of their guilt (John 3:19). But Christ’s prayer while they were in the very act of mocking Him is an expression of the boundless compassion of divine grace.”
Sin is sin, no matter how God looks at it, and every sin is offensive to God, who is Holy. And sin of ignorance is no lesser sin than sin of pride or lust. God, who is Holy will not lower His standard of righteousness and holiness to the level of our ignorance. Ignorance is not innocence. As a matter of fact, ignorance is more liable, responsible, and accountable now than it was in the days of Jesus or in the early church. We have no excuse for ignorance because we now have the completion of God’s revelation. God has clearly and fully revealed himself in a way that we can know him and his will in Scripture. We have no reason to be ignorant about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, sin, salvation, church, marriage, sex, parenting, money, the future events, and etc. One of the reasons why some people are ignorant is because of their laziness. And they have no one to blame but themselves. God has spoken and by his Word we shall be judged.
It is amazing when I hear people say that they are praying or “waiting for God to speak” to them about certain issues when God has already spoken about many of those issues in the Bible! Oftentimes, people wait or pray for that which God has already revealed in the Bible. So instead of waiting or praying, people need to simply act upon the Word of God.
Since ignorance is a product or fruit of man’s pride, I would add one more to the list of product of pride. It is the blindness of human heart. As Jesus says here “…for they know not what they do”
IV. Pardon of God
What is the first thing that came out of Jesus’s prayer for the people? The answer to that question shows what man’s greatest need is. This is not only true back then, but it is also true for today. It is true for every race, every gender, and every age. And you know what it is? It is God’s forgiveness! That is everyone’s greatest need.
The next question is: does God forgive where there is no confession and repentance? No. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thus, if I want to receive God’s forgiveness, I must come to Jesus Christ alone by confession and repentance.
There is a practical implication here for us Christians too. For those of us Christians that have received the pardon from God, we need to pardon others. Because I have been forgiven by God, I need to forgive others if they ask for our forgiveness. Charles Spurgeon said, “You are nothing better than deceitful hypocrites if you harbor in your minds a single unforgiving thought. There are some sins which may be in the heart, and yet you may be saved. But you cannot be saved unless you are forgiving. If we do not choose to forgive, we choose to be damned.”
Furthermore, he said, “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to forgive rises a stage higher in experience than to be forgiven. To be forgiven is the root; to forgive is the flower” (italics mine).
Sometimes what hinders us from forgiving others is the thought that somehow it’s not fair that the guilty party is not punished for their wrong doings and etc. But such thought happens when we have a wrong view of God. God is not some benign deity who slumbers and sleeps, and is ever forgetful of all his subjects. No. God is fully aware of all the evil doers and He will settle accounts one day. When Jesus prays for their pardon, he is fully trusting on the Father’s omniscience and justice that one day God would avenge all the evil doers. Likewise John Calvin wrote:
Thus when Christ saw that both the Jewish people and the soldiers raged against him with blind fury, though their ignorance was not excusable, he had pity on them, and presented himself as their intercessor. Yet knowing that God would be an avenger, he left to him the exercise of judgment against the desperate. In this manner ought believers also to restrain their feelings in enduring distresses, so as to desire the salvation of their persecutors, and yet to rest assured that their life is under the protection of God, and, relying on this consolation, that the licentiousness of wicked men will not in the end remain unpunished, not to faint under the burden of the cross.
I pray that those four perspectives that we have learned from our Lord’s prayer on the cross would cause us to praise and serve him even more passionately!
 2200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon, 145.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 volumes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003), 17:300-01.