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"Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.
"When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified Him, along with the criminals, one on His right, the other on His left.
"Jesus prayed, 'Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.'
"Dividing up His clothes, they drew dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, 'He saved others. Let's see Him save Himself. The Messiah of God -- ha! The Chosen -- ha!'" Luke 23:32-35 (The Message).
Luke's story has very little detail. It's almost as though he deliberately pulled the curtain on Jesus' suffering. He was sensitive and discreet about his descriptions, writing only about those things which related to the character of Jesus and the fulfilment of prophecy -- although he didn't mention that fact in his story. He was writing about the Son of God, not a sensational tabloid account of a criminal's last hours. Even Jesus' criminal companions come in for the same kindly discretion.
Right in the middle of this tragic event there stands a shining light of hope for all of them; soldiers, perpetrators, unfeeling crowd, and even the two guilty men hanging on their crosses beside Him. One sentence echoes down through time, embracing everyone, from the first pair who set the ball rolling to every other person who has lived, and will live, to perpetuate the first pair's rebellion against their Creator.
"'Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.'"
Jesus encapsulated in His prayer the reason for this heinous deed, the responsibility for which sits squarely on the shoulders of every person who has lived. "They do not know what they are doing." He extended forgiveness, then, to all of us now, since we have no idea of the implications of our stubborn rebellion against God.
Do you know how far-reaching one act of selfishness can be in your life? One careless word, one lie, one act of treachery or betrayal, one night of lust, one stolen kiss, one impulsive decision, can ruin a life, a family and even an entire community in a split second. We are left with a lifetime to regret what we did in a moment.
The spilt blood of Jesus speaks up for you even in the situations that leave you helpless and condemned. You did not know what you were doing! That does not excuse your behaviour. Jesus' sacrifice does not remove the responsibility for our sin. He paid the debt by giving His life for ours, blood for blood, so that the Father's justice would be fully satisfied.
The implications of Jesus' gift are huge. Not only has the debt of our sin been paid but also the debt of those who have sinned against us. We no longer have the right to punish those who owe us because it is illegal to punish a person twice for the same sin.
This makes the sin of unforgiveness unforgiveable. It would be morally wrong for God to clear our debt if we refuse to clear the debt of someone who owes us. That makes unforgiveness an "unpardonable" sin which can take even a believer into eternal separation from God.
Jesus lived out His own teaching in the midst of His cruel suffering. He was innocent, yet He forgave those who were responsible for putting Him there. He was there because He chose to be there, willingly submitting to His Father's will. There was no other way to reconcile God's wayward sons and daughters to Himself.
Jesus does not expect us to do what He did not do first. He taught us and showed how by His own impeccable choice to obey the Father to His last breath. He led the way and calls us to follow. In that there is life!
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