The Grace of Jesus

The Grace of Christ

Luke 23:33-38

“But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

            While Jesus was on the cross, the Gospels record Jesus making seven statements.  Each of them was profound and revealed the love and compassion of Christ that led to His willingness to die on the cross.  His first words on the cross, perhaps, are the most surprising and serve to capture the essence of His ministry.  Having just been nailed to the cross to suffer an intense and painful death, Jesus utters His first words that provide us insight into His compassion and grace towards sinners.  To understand the depth of these words, we need to understand the injustice that was performed.  Jesus was not condemned to the cross because of any violation of the law; instead, He was condemned because of the jealousy of the religious leaders who saw His popularity as a threat to their power over the people.  Even Pilot saw through their false claims but feared their influence, so he yielded to their demands and pronounced his sentence.  In response, Jesus would have been fully justified in pronouncing their judgment and asking the Father to exact punishment to vindicate His innocence.  However, instead, He asked for the one thing that is beyond our ability to understand: He asked for their forgiveness. The first words of Jesus on the cross were interceding for the people who condemned Him.                    

While the prayer initially seems shocking, it reveals the depth of Christ’s grace and the purpose of His coming.  Jesus did not come into the world to be a social activist or to show us the supreme example of how to live. Jesus came into the world to be the vicarious substitute for sinners by paying the penalty for our sin and satisfying the justice of God.  Thus, it was fitting that Jesus was crucified between two sinners.  He came to identify with sinners and bring salvation to us.  In His prayer, He fully manifests His compassion and grace towards sinners, a grace that extends to even His enemies.  Rather than demanding punishment for the religious leaders, Pilot, Herod, the Roman Soldiers, and the people who demanded His death, He instead prays for their forgiveness. This is the fullest expression of grace.  

            Yet even as He prays for those directly responsible for His death, the prayer has a far more profound significance.  In this prayer, Jesus is praying for of us.  We need to recognize that we are just as guilty for the death of Christ as the Jews and Romans.  In Isaiah 53:12, we find that our sins caused His death.  In this prayer, Jesus is praying for us, for every one of us, so we also might experience His grace and forgiveness.  For all our sins, there is none worse than our sin that put Him on the cross.  However, His prayer for our forgiveness is far more significant than we realize.  For in His prayer, He recognizes that for this forgiveness to be made possible, Jesus must experience the judicial wrath of God.  He is not just asking for God to forgive us; He is asking that His death will be sufficient to pay the price for that forgiveness.

            This is the depth of Christ's grace and love for us.  In His darkest moment, He was thinking of you and me and praying on our behalf so that we might receive His forgiveness.  The next time you see a picture of the cross, remember that on that cross, Jesus was praying for you, that you might be forgiven of all your sins and receive His salvation.  The only requirement for us is to accept the grace that is offered, a simple act that opens the door to his boundless forgiveness. Charles Wesley captured the wonder of this grace in his hymn “And Can I Be That I Should Gain:”

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

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