Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus). And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of 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. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering. He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.
We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross. All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.
The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses. The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus. The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus. The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.
As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing. God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.
Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus. It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.
The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”
(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)
No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.