Father, forgive them.
We were taught the words when we were very young. Grownups asked, “What do you say?” We replied, “Please.” Again, they asked, “What do you say?” Then, we answered, “Thank you.” They were teaching us. We also learned when to say, “I’m sorry.”
They were like magic words. “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry” opened the doors to approval and acceptance. Say those words, and life goes smoother.
After a while, we discovered that we did not necessarily need to mean the words. We just had to say them the right way. Not through gritted teeth. Not as a sneer. Not in anger.
But with politeness, as if we were speaking from our hearts, even though they came only from our mouth.
As we grew older, we found this empty-hearted method also worked with the serious words, such as, “I forgive you.” or “I love you.”
At times we meant those powerful words. But sometimes, they became counterfeit words, empty words, lying words. There was no truth behind those words.
They were just words.
Such words are not God-words.
His words may have come from his mouth, but they have always sprung from his heart.
God’s words are not always polite. They may expose our emptiness and selfishness. They may call us “Liar!” or “Hypocrite!” They may hurt our feelings. But they always accurately express his feelings.
His words are always true. His words are backed up with actions.
Of the forbidden tree in Eden, he said, “when you eat of it, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). To murderous Cain, he said, “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:11). To an overconfident Peter he said, “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times” (Mark 14:30).
Which of these words did he not mean? Which warning was not carried out?
They were not just words.
To the Israeli slaves in Egypt, he said, “I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob” (Exodus 6:8). To fisherman Peter and his brother, Andrew, he said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). To the hostile crowd, he said, “After three days I will rise again” (Matthew 27:63).
Which of these words did he not mean? Which promise was not carried out?
They were not just words, were they?
They never are.
When the Savior God tells us, “I forgive you,” there is truth behind those words because there is blood behind those words.
Blood was dripping from his hands and feet when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The prayer fits every member of the human race. The ones who were carrying out his execution, those who said, “His blood be upon us and our children,” they had no idea of the depth of the crime against heaven they were committing. So little do we know of the seriousness of our sin—any sin.
“Father, forgive them!” is his continuing prayer for us.
Those words have meaning. They have power. They give forgiveness.
They are more than just words.
Prayer: Lord God, your Bible contains the most important words for our life. In its pages, we learn of the judgment against us. In its pages, we learn of the judgment for us. Lead us to listen to your words. They show us our sin. Then they show us our Savior. They offer salvation. For this, we thank you. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.