Luke 23:34. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:43. And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Why did Jesus die on the cross? Do you know the answer? Can you explain his death?
Luke explains it by recording two statements of Jesus from the cross. Two declarations that embody the reason he died and our union with Christ. The first is the offer of forgiveness from sin – Father, forgive them. The second is the promise of eternal life with him – today you will be with me in paradise. Scholar Michael Wilcock calls these two words of Christ the “nails that held him to the cross.”
Forgiveness from sins
Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of his killers is so shocking and so beyond our understanding that many have tried to explain it away or even remove it altogether. It can’t mean what it appears to mean. Jesus can’t really be offering full forgiveness to these men. But there’s actually no way around it. Jesus is doing the very thing he taught us to do – bless those who persecute us. Love your enemy. And forgive endlessly.
Clearly Jesus is the one person who could have prayed, “Father, destroy them. Open up the earth and swallow them up. Send a flood. Send a hailstorm. Send a lightning bolt. Smite them O mighty smiter!”
But instead Jesus is asking the Father to remove their sin, his own murder, from their charge. Blot out their transgression. Throw it into the sea. Remove it as far as east is from west. Do not count it against them.
What kind of love is this? If these were his family, friends or disciples he was forgiving for abandoning him we would call it great love. But what do we call it when you forgive the very ones that are nailing you to a cross? What glory is needed for this? What internal peace? Truly this is love beyond understanding.
How forgiven are you? One way to answer this question is to look at how well you forgive yourself and others. How burned out are you on performance? How much guilt are you carrying? What past mistake haunts you? How many grudges are you holding right now? How much score keeping are you doing? How much judgment are you hurling at the other side?
Do you believe that God has forgiven you of all your sin?
This is the hope of union with Christ – full and free forgiveness from the Father. How forgiven are you? Completely. Finally. Irreversibly. Do you believe this? And will you enjoy your forgiveness today? God wants you to. He wants you to be free from guilt. He wants nothing more than for you to be free to stop living as if you are a debtor paying him back, and start living like you are his child who simply loves and trusts your dad.
Eternal life with him
The thief on the cross had asked Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And then Jesus responded with far more than he could ask or imagine. The thief asked for a future blessing on resurrection day. A pleading for mercy at the judgment. But Jesus declares much more grace – TODAY you will be with me. Not only will I remember you, I’m taking you with me to heaven so we can always be together.
Our union with Christ takes us beyond the doorway of forgiveness and into the house of God’s eternal presence forever. Did the thief hear Jesus’ cry for forgiveness? Did it melt his heart? The sinner who had mocked him moments earlier, now turns to him receiving his great grace. Eternal life. Life in the garden paradise of God. No aisle walked. No commitments made. No works performed. No good deeds done. No offerings. No sacraments. No catching up to do. Just a plea for mercy with the fullest and freest response of unconditional love the world has ever seen. A man who has done not a single thing for Jesus walking into the presence of God arm in arm with Christ. Is this the grace your living in?
“To live is Christ” is to embrace the truth that we are the thief on the cross, we are the soldiers pounding the nails. But those two nails are the forgiveness and eternal life of Jesus Christ. Now, by our union with his death and resurrection, both are freely ours in Christ. May we spend today enjoying the forgiveness and presence of God that our Savior paid so dearly for. How? Maybe start by forgiving someone. Or maybe forgive yourself. Or maybe stop trying to perform for Jesus today, and just be with him in paradise.
Do you know why Jesus died? What his death offers you?
You in Christ
In Christ you are forgiven and in the presence of God’s love. Did you earn these blessings or did you receive them?
Christ in you
What is a specific way you can enjoy the presence of God today?
Playlist: Songs of forgiveness.