Most of you well-know the account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Growing up in America we have been exposed to the facts of the Gospel, especially here in the Bible Belt where many of you were raised. Whether or not we have staked our souls on the claims of the Gospel is an entirely different matter…but most of us would nod yes if someone asked if we were familiar with the story of Jesus being nailed to a cross of wood. Thinking on this even yesterday afternoon I remembered the words of Jesus as He hung in the sky, suspended between Heaven and earth, unspeakably suffering during earth’s greatest crime. Found among His gasping utterances was this one:
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34
Let’s confess something: that is not likely what we would have been praying. We would not have sought the pardon of our executioners. Our inner sense of justice would have silently (perhaps audibly) requested the repayment of brutality by the Roman soldiers who drove the iron spikes into our hands and feet. We might have wished for the ground to open up and swallow the murderous crowd which had demanded “Crucify him, crucify him!” A thorough slaughter of the religious leaders who had deceived and agitated the mob, mocked the judicial process and facilitated the crime would have been sensible to us. Whatever we might have prayed for that day had it been us on the cross, we would not have pleaded for the forgiveness of our enemies. It never would have crossed our minds.
But allow me to further expand our understanding of the mercy and love of Jesus. I am no Greek scholar but I do know that the verb tense found in Luke 23:34 is the imperfect tense. That little tidbit likely does not stoke a fire in your heart, but it is helpful for us to know that, by using this verb tense, Luke was originally telling his readers something that is not apparent in modern English translations. Jesus was repeatedly, continuously praying, “Father forgive them…Father forgive them…Father forgive them…they do not know what they are doing.” The love and mercy of Jesus Christ for humanity is so strong that nobody could say of Him on that dark day that He merely offered some token, forensic, forced prayer for their forgiveness. No, their well-being and desperate need for mercy – to which they were completely blind – was so strong a desire in the infinite heart of Jesus that He prayed for it multiple times. Maybe off and on for hours. Perhaps in response to each and every taunt that His beaten, swollen ears could register. There is no way for us to know how long Jesus prayed for their forgiveness or how many times He asked the Father for their pardon. We just know this: every time He asked for it there was someone who needed it.
I want to thank my King today for interceding for my own repeated need for forgiveness. Jesus has not reached His quota or maximum for Jeff Lyle’s need for cleansing. He offered a sacrifice that day on Golgotha, and the payment He laid down has truly paid my debt in full. His request for the forgiveness of His enemies that day has echoed down through twenty centuries and landed squarely upon me and my daily need. There is no chance that the prayer of Jesus Christ for my pardon will not be answered; theologically speaking, it was not really a request for me personally. It was a decree from Him – Jeff IS forgiven. From my perspective it occurred on August 4, 1994 in a grungy little apartment off of Sweetwater Road in suburban Atlanta Georgia. From God’s perspective my forgiveness occurred before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8) which is utterly stunning, and far beyond our intellectual grasp. Regardless, I have needed that sense of ongoing forgiveness countless times since that transformational day in the summer of ’94. To know that my Savior prayed it continually while hanging on the cross brings a sensation of deep gratitude and holy comfort to my oft-accused conscience. It is as if He would want me to quiet my restless heart in the certainty that, as often as I have required the cleansing from my stubborn sin, there is a divine decree on my behalf which was once phrased in repeated intercession,“Father, forgive Jeff. He really does not know what he is doing.”
The imperfect verb tense in the language of biblical Greek…who knew that something like that could bring such a hope this morning. I trust that it has helped you too.