Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Forgiveness...The Nature of the Cross

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Crucifixion was one of the worst ways a man could die. The Romans often killed people this way, and here in Jerusalem their sight of crucifixion was a place called the Skull – an appropriate title since this place came to represent death. The process of dying was drawn out over a period of time. It began with what was called scourging – where a prisoner was bent over, tied to a post, and whipped on his bare back with a lash or a whip that had either pieces of bone or metal tied to the end of it.

It was a cruel punishment. And the punishment continued as the criminal was to carry the cross on his bloody back all the way up the hill, where the even more graphic details of death were to be carried out.

But why this man? Was he a wicked criminal deserving of death? No, in fact, we know him as a man without sin who raised people from the dead, who caused the deaf and the dumb to hear and speak again, who gave sight to the blind, who told the lame to get up and walk, whose gentle touch and words of love could restore hope and joy, and heal the body and soul.

But now, here he was. Jesus, the man who healed, was now himself bruised and battered, spit upon and falsely accused. And he said, “Father forgive them?”

The teachers of the law had claimed that he was a blasphemer, and even said that, “he was of the devil.” Over and over insults and spit were hurled at him, as if beating him wasn’t enough. The soldiers had placed a crown of sharp, skin piercing thorns upon his head. In order to make the pain more treacherous, they jammed the crown down further and further as they struck him on the head with a staff. Some people were ruthless; their blood was burning with hate and filled with anger. But there were also those who were laughing. Some thought it was funny. Scripture tell us that the soldiers would sarcastically fall to their knees and pay homage to him, shouting “Hail, king of the Jews.” And he said, “Father, forgive them?”

Christ was condemned to death like a common criminal -- as if he was nothing more than a thug or a thief! And everywhere there was more shouting, more words were tossed at him. But the words that Jesus returned were very different.

Out of all this injustice, all these lies and all of this pain, when nails were being driven in his feet and hands, Jesus had every right to bring down words of instant judgment upon them. He could have called a legion of angels to strike down each soldier, or to silence each laugh, in order to make right this wrong he was suffering, to end this misery that he was facing.

But he didn’t do that. Instead of words of hate and retaliation or revenge and justice or firing out words of death, he spoke words of life. Words that would have a sudden impact on a Roman centurion and a few who surrounded him. In fact the centurion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Jesus’ words were words filled with compassion for these people who did not realize what was actually happening at that very moment –when the enormous weight of sin was placed upon his shoulders. No, they weren’t words of judgment, but words of grace and life, and some of them sounded like this: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It is the substance of these words that today remind us of one of the most undeserved blessings that God showers on those who believe, and that is the blessing of forgiveness. Forgiveness, resulting in eternal life.

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