"Oh Father, Please Forgive Them!"
April 1, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Love That Forgives Enemies
1. "Oh father, please forgive them! They don't know what they are doing." [Those are] the words of Jesus heard from the cross. "Please forgive them!"
2. The word "them" stands for the people who were right there. It [stands for] the people who had crucified Jesus. There were some people there who were actively involved and some passively involved. On the one hand, there were the people who hated Jesus. There were some who were thinking that they absolutely had to turn this man into a dead one in order to preserve their own interests. Thus, it was the chief priests and the members of the high court who were actively moving in order to execute Jesus. They were ridiculing Christ at the cross, saying, "[You] saved others. If you were the chosen one, the messiah from God, you should save yourself." And also, I see there were people there who were insulting him in conjunction with the chief priests who instigated them.
3. In addition, Luke tells us that there was also the crowd standing there and looking on. They were not the ones actively insulting [him]. They probably had a mix of feelings at what was happening. Among those emotions, I would think that some people felt the execution of Jesus was undeserved. Or maybe, until the cross was set, some were talking with those near them about what was going on. However, they were bystanders, after all. Even if they did feel something, they didn't do anything, but would soon go away and leave, and return to their lives as if it was nothing; that's how they were. Yet, they did take part in what happened in the form of bystanders.
4. Furthermore, there were also Roman soldiers there. They treated Jesus with contempt as they followed their orders from higher up. They scolded Jesus. They did not hate Jesus from the start. It was probably a good chance for them to vent some long standing anger. They gave a harsh teasing to a non-resistant man. They could care less whether Jesus lived or died. It didn't matter [to them].
5. Thus, there is a difference between those actively involved and those passively involved, yet, either way, these people joined forces and crucified Jesus Christ. The Lord prayed for these people, "Oh father, please forgive them! They don't know what they are doing." -- What does "to love" really mean? What in the world really does "to forgive" really mean? If we want to know what [it means], we are to turn our eyes upon Him. Jesus never speaks on either love or forgiveness as an abstract idea. With [his] body, with [his] life and [his] death, the Lord has shown us love and forgiveness.
6. However, if the figure of Jesus and the cross were just examples of love and forgiveness, the story should probably end with that. "In this way then, he had died praying." But, the gospels do not end there.
7. To begin with, if we were just looking at an example of love and forgiveness here, I don't think it would bring us [much] hope. Please consider what the amazing love which Jesus revealed in the suffering of the cross had brought. I certainly do know some people led to faith by the words of Jesus' prayer. But, try to read this scene very carefully imagining the very details in your minds. Can we really make the claim that the love of the Lord which even forgave his enemies, in this scene, in the real world, brought any kind of transformation in these people?
8. At the feet of Jesus weren't there people completely indifferent to the words of his prayer that was filled with love and forgiveness as they drew lots and shared the clothes of Jesus? Didn't the masses keep being bystanders as ever? Didn't the members of the court sneer [at him]? Didn't the soldiers insult him while jabbing sour wine at him? Even if one cut out a section of the words from Jesus' prayer, perhaps the story would tie together without any problem at all. (According to a manuscript, that section is actually lost.) It would mean that the situation would be no different at all because of Jesus' forgiveness or love or because of the words of his prayer.
9. When we read that, the thought will surely come to mind, "Isn't this the cold reality that we often face?" When we forgive someone, don't we expect the other person to change even a little because of it? When we show love, don't we expect the other person to change even a little because of it? But, in the real world, we may have forgiven [someone], but he or she never notices his or her own faults and has a change of heart. We may have loved [someone], but it doesn't necessarily lead to that person loving us. That's how it seems to be. If the figure of Jesus were just an example of love and forgiveness, then there would be no hope at all, would there? -- Because we are thrust before the cold reality that there are people who might never change, even with the perfect love and forgiveness of Jesus.
The High Priestly Prayer
10. Everyone, the scriptures are not telling us some mere love and forgiveness model. More than that is being stated here. Jesus is not doing a demonstration here of love and forgiveness. That's not it, he is "praying." He prays seeking for the forgiveness of sin on behalf of the people. To begin with, this prayer of intercession of his is not something he does in order to cause some kind of inspiration to others, with the figure in which he was praying. This prayer of his is not that, but rather he prays because he has been listening. As for his offering of the prayer of intercession, he offers it because he is the one who accepts prayers. As a priest standing before God, Jesus is seeking forgiveness of sin on behalf of the people and is offering up a prayer of intercession.
11. In olden times, there was a person called the high priest who administered rites in the temple. Particularly important among the rites that he performed as intercessor was the ceremony for the atonement of sin on The Day Of Atonement (Yom Kippur). What kinds of things did he perform on The Day Of Atonement? The regulations for that ritual is recorded in Leviticus chapter sixteen. On that day, the atonement bull and male goat are slain. The high priest entered into the Holy of Holies carrying the blood of various sacrifices. They were the sacrifices for the atonement of his own sins and for the atonement of the sins of the people. In this way then, in order for the sins of the people to be forgiven, a sinless animal had to be slain. The high priest performed the ceremony of the atonement for sin in the prescribed manner with blood. After that he offered the intercessory prayer and sought in prayer for forgiveness of sin.
12. But, the ceremony for the atonement of sin, which was repeated each year, was, if put in movie terms, a preview. The part that one was really supposed to look at came next. The ceremony that was held at the temple was a preview of the most important ceremony for atonement which would be held only once in world history.
13. The most important ceremony for atonement is the ceremony in which the son of God himself performed as the high priest. Jesus became the high priest to perform the most important ceremonial rite. And at the same time that he was the high priest he also became the sacrifice for the atonement of sin. It was the ritual in which [the high priest] does not slay the bull and the goat, but the sinless son of God offers himself as the sin atoning sacrifice. It was the rite where not the blood of bulls and goats unable to perfectly atone for sin [was shed], but where the blood of [God's] son able to perfectly atone for sin was shed. Thus, the son himself officiated the ceremony, where, for the first time, the final and perfect sacrifice was offered, where the perfect intercessory prayer was offered. That's what's going on in the scene that I read to you today.
14. Well, was the intercessory prayer, which was offered as he shed his own blood, the prayer of "Oh father, please forgive them" ever even heard? Didn't that prayer end up vanishing away in vain? About this the scripture states with confidence, "That prayer was certainly heard." How so? It is because it tells the resurrection of Christ. Just as the high priest concluded the intercessory ritual and appeared coming out of the Holy of Holies, the final atonement ritual began after being accepted by God, and then the Lord re-appeared. This year too, after today, we enter into passion week. But, it does not end with passion week, on the Sunday a week later Easter will surely come. It expresses the fact that the intercessory prayer was completely accepted by God.
As Just A Receiver
15. Because of that atonement sacrifice and intercessory prayer, now not just the Jews, but also the Gentiles, and people the world over receive forgiveness of sin and can have a part in salvation. That is the gospel which is being told to us as well. And Luke shows with another episode that continues, that that salvation has no limits in the span it reaches.
16. Three crosses were set up there. On both sides of Jesus, who is at the same time the high priest and also the sacrifice for the atonement, two criminals are crucified. It isn't very important what sins they have actually committed or for what reason they are there. The important thing is that they are in a situation where they can no longer do anything regarding their sins from the past. A person has no hope whatsoever if saved by doing payments or recompense for one's sin on his or her own strength; for, he or she can no longer do anything to pay for his or her sins. If we're saved by piling up good works, those [guys] are hopeless because they can't do any good deeds any more.
17. But, one of the two men makes a bold request from Jesus as follows. "Oh Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, please remember me!," (verse forty-two). He sought from Jesus. If he is to be saved, though he cannot do a thing, it will only come from Jesus who has prayed interceding on his behalf. All he has is to cling to Jesus, [to rely on Christ].
18. Then, he heard the words of grace from Jesus. "I clearly say to you, you will be with me today in paradise." "To be in paradise" means complete salvation. He will die today. Suffering and exposing a miserable figure, he will die. But, he will not be utterly destroyed. He can say, "Today, I will be in paradise." Being certain about that much, he can have a share in salvation because he will be with Jesus who has atoned for [his] sin and interceded for [him]. That's good. That's enough.
19. It might sound like a selfish story, with the man being saved like that. Do you see it that way? I do. It is a selfish story. It's good because if it weren't a selfish story, then it would be impossible for a person to be accepted or received by God and saved. We just accept or receive. We depend upon Christ's intercession and just receive God's words of forgiveness and grace.
20. Isn't it expressed well in the Lord's Supper to be served next? Those who expressed their faith during baptism already have come to the front. What is the reason? They do it to receive. That's right, as recipients and only as those receiving, they have come out to the front. Please recall without fail once again when we line up here, that we are a people who rely on just Christ's intercession and intervention for us and we only receive God's words of forgiveness and grace. And all of you who have not yet received baptism, please do look carefully at the example of those lining up to receive it. This is a message from the scriptures. Human beings just receive it with thanksgiving. And that's good. Come on now please, sometime soon join this line and please receive the grace of salvation which God has expressed in Christ with your own hands.