Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Greatest Prayer Jesus Ever Prayed

Luke 23:32-34
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

Two weeks I talked about Jesus in the garden and how he prayed about things to come and He prayed about the "cup" that he would drink from for you and I.

This week let's look at the last prayer Jesus prayed while He lived on this earth. Jesus only had one subject in this prayer and that was forgiveness of sin!

What ever happened to sin? Does anyone sin anymore?

We don’t call sin "sin" any more but rather we use words that sound better. They call it "an alternative lifestyle." They don’t want to say "homosexual life." They call it "pro-choice" because it sounds better than "murder." What used to be called "living in sin" (unwed) is now called "a committed relationship."

People have always wanted a God who will place His stamp of approval upon their life-style, never requiring any change for the better. And they have come up with all kinds of euphemisms to make it sound all right. We have come a long way from what the founders of our nation taught.

Jamestown, Virginia, was the first permanent settlement in the new world, and some of their religious practices were rather interesting. For instance, they had 2-hour church services every day, and for 5 hours on Sunday. Everybody had to attend. Missing church was considered a sin and was dealt with severely. The penalty for missing a service was the loss of food rations for a whole day. A second absence resulted in a public whipping. And the penalty for missing 3 times was to be placed in the stocks daily for 6 months! Historians tell us that research has not revealed anyone in Jamestown Colony ever missing church 3 times.

During the colonial days, in almost every colony, an adulterer could be publicly disgraced and branded on the forehead or on the cheek. Things are certainly different today, aren’t they?

Now, none of us would like to return to the Puritan punishments, but hasn’t the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction? We’ve emphasized love, grace, and forgiveness, but say little about sin, wrath, and punishment. And the result is that many today view God as a doting old grandfather who would never hold man accountable for sin.

In fact, our attitude seems to be, "God will forgive me; that’s His job!"

With that in mind, go with me for a few moments to the morning Jesus was crucified:
Luke 23:32-34.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him, along with the criminals - one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.
When Jesus came into our world He saw things that the world was unable to see. He thought thoughts that the world had never thought. He did deeds that the rest of the world could not do. And the world could not stand that. It tried to pull Him down to its own level. But Jesus refused to be a part of the darkness of this world.

There the story loses its analogy, because Jesus did not run away from our darkness. Instead, He conquered it. And the place where that victory took place is a hill called Calvary, Golgotha, the "place of the skull," on an old rugged cross.

The gospel writers say that Jesus spoke 7 times while hanging on the cross. His first words were those that we read just a few moments ago, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."

Now we have heard and read those words many, many times. They are precious to us. But I think that a lot of people misunderstand what He did. And it is important that we don’t misunderstand.

I. Jesus was praying.

Remember the prayer two weeks ago? "Thy will be done." Now, this week, we hear Jesus praying different words, "Father, forgive."

Here, we see the Son of God on the cross. As He hung there his mind was not on Himself but on others.

Think about this: Jesus was nailed to a cross with heavy, square wrought-iron nails through His wrists and through His feet. He hung there for several hours. When His body slumped, excruciating, fiery pain would shoot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain - the nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he placed the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he felt the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of the feet. As the arms fatigued, cramps swept through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air could be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fought to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide built up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint rendering cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue was torn form his lacerated back as he moved up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony began: It was now almost over - the loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level - the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues - the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He then felt the chill of death creeping through his tissues... Finally He was able to allow his body to die.

But before He died He prayed this great prayer that we are studying this morning." Father, forgive them"

So what was Jesus doing?

Well, the answer is obvious, "Jesus was praying."

But, wait a minute, men don’t pray on crosses. We pray in gardens. We pray in church buildings and synagogues. We pray where we can get away from the noise and confusion of the world and think clear thoughts. We don’t pray on crosses. You curse on crosses. You scream on crosses. You cry on crosses. You experience pain on crosses. You certainly don’t pray to forgive others on crosses.

The Romans worshiped revenge as one of their gods. They were constantly waging war on countries that had done them wrong, seeking revenge. The Jews felt much the same way. Part of their law was "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, blood for blood."

You don’t hang on a cross and pray for others. You especially don’t pray for their forgiveness.
And yet, that is exactly what Jesus did as He hung suspended between heaven and earth, dying on the cross.

Have you ever wondered, "What kind of mind designed the cross?"

I look at some of the things we call "entertainment," the horror movies that are produced today, and I wonder, "Who in the world thinks these up?"

Who thought up the cross? Who thought about a person having nails driven into his hands and feet, watching him die a slow death that drags out over hours and sometimes days? What kind of twisted mind thought up something like that?

Jesus hung there, experiencing the result of man’s twisted thinking. He began to pray. Now I want you to notice something. Luke uses an unexpected verb tense when he wrote, "Jesus said, `Father, forgive them.’" The verb tense of the word "said" expresses "continuous, repeated action." It was not just once that Jesus prayed this prayer, but many times. Again and again He prayed, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."

I wonder how many times He prayed it?

Did He pray it when they beat Him with the cat-o-nine-tails? Did He pray it when they thrust a crown of thorns upon His head, put a purple robe around His shoulders, and mocked Him by saying, "Hail, King of the Jews"? Do you suppose He prayed that prayer as He was carrying His cross up the hill? Did He pray it as they were driving nails into His hands & feet? Did He pray it as He was hanging there, His life’s blood dripping to the ground? Do you suppose He prayed that prayer when He looked into the angry faces shouting, "If you really are the Son of God, come down from the cross"? How many times did Jesus pray that prayer?

Luke says that it was not just once, but again and again He prayed, "Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing."

II. What Was He Praying For?

So Jesus was praying, but I wonder if we understand what He was praying for? I’m convinced that there have been some false conclusions about that.

Some have said that Jesus was praying for a "blanket pardon for all the people who participated in His crucifixion. He was just going to forgive everybody who had anything to do with it." I don’t believe that, because God never forces His forgiveness on anybody. He is not going to walk up to a cursing, mocking priest shouting "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" and say, "I’m going to forgive you whether you want to be forgiven or not."

Jesus paid the price, and God offers forgiveness. It is free to any who want it. But He never forces it on anyone.

I don’t believe that Jesus was excusing ignorance when He says, "...they don’t know what they are doing." There are some people who think that we ought to keep quiet about Jesus because if we tell people about Him, then they are accountable to God for what they know. So they’re better off if they don’t know anything. Then God will just excuse their ignorance. But that is not what Jesus was praying at all.

In Acts 3:17-19 we hear the words of Simon Peter as he preaches shortly after the Day of Pentecost. "Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that you sins may be wiped out..."

Peter was saying, "You acted in ignorance. No question about that. And when you acted in ignorance you fulfilled what God had foretold through the prophets. Christ had to suffer for the sins of all the people." But He didn’t go on to say, "Jesus prayed for God to forgive you, so you are all forgiven." Instead, Peter said, "Now repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."

So what was Jesus praying for? When He prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing," what was He really praying for?

To answer that we need to understand the word "forgive." There are different words used in the New Testament for "forgive." One word means "to forget, to wipe out completely." God wipes away our sins and forgets them, never to remember them again. But that is not the word that is used here. The word that is used here is found also in Matthew 19:14. There it is used when children are brought to Jesus, and the apostles try to keep the children from coming to Him.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them."
The word that is translated "let" in "Let the little children come..." is the same word translated "forgive" when Jesus said "Forgive them" on the cross.

So what was Jesus saying? He was not saying, "Forgive the little children." He was saying, "Let them come. Don’t stop them. Don’t hinder them from coming. Don’t stand in their way. Don’t interfere."

That is exactly what Jesus was saying on the cross when He prayed for them. He was saying to God, "Don’t rush to inflict your wrath upon these people. Hold it back. Don’t interfere."

How would a righteous God feel when a wicked world crucified His Son? How would you feel? He would be angry, and His wrath would fall upon them. But Jesus prayed, "Father, hold back your wrath."

Even now the prayer of is still being honored. God is still holding back His wrath.

"Hold back the wrath," Jesus prayed. "Give Roman soldiers who drive nails into the hands a chance to repent. Give angry crowds a chance to get right with God. Give all of the sinning and evil people a chance to be redeemed. I’m paying the price, Father. Hold back your wrath. Give them the chance to be forgiven, cleansed, and made new."

You and I are here today because the prayer that Jesus prayed 2,000 years ago is still being honored by God in heaven. That’s why the sun shines on the good and the bad. That’s why the rain falls on the just and the unjust. That’s why sometimes evil people seem to prosper while good people don’t. But one day the nail-pierced hands of Christ will be taken away and God’s wrath will be unleashed. And what happens to us then depends on what we have done with Jesus.

For 2,000 years His disciples have been going into the world telling people that God paid the price on Calvary’s tree for their sins. For 2,000 years they have been inviting people to come and be forgiven of their sins.

Maybe we’ll have a few more years to preach the message. Maybe we won’t.

Right now, though, that prayer is still being honored. Right now forgiveness is still offered. God will never force it on you. But He offers it, makes it available, and paid the price for it. It is ours for the taking.

In the garden He prayed "Not my will but your will be done."

On the cross the will of God was being done.

On the cross Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them."

This, too, was the will of God.

John 3:16. (The Message.)
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
Max Lucado told this fictional story of an angel trying to find another way for salvation:

He looked around the hill and foresaw a scene. Three figures hung on three crosses. Arms spread. Heads fallen forward. They moaned with the wind. Men clad in religion stood off to one side…Arrogant, cocky. Women clad in sorrow huddled at the foot of the hill…Faces tear streaked. All heaven stood to fight. All nature rose to rescue. All eternity poise to protect. But the Creator gave no command. "It must be done…" He said, and withdrew. The angel spoke.. "It would be less painful…" The Creator interrupted softly. "But it wouldn’t be love."

"Father, forgive (hold back your wrath), for they know not what they do!"

1 comment:

Hope said...

Very powerful and heart wrenching message, Brother Ezell. Thank you for sharing what God laid on your heart.

Happy Easter to you and your family!