In Luke’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus hangs from the cross between two common criminals (Lk 23:32-33). Jesus hangs there with them, as a convicted criminal just as they are. Indeed Jesus hangs indicted as an enemy of the state. An empire whose Caesar rules the known world cannot have a rival king within its territories. The King of the Jews had to be dealt with severely.
As Jesus hung with his life slowly slipping from his tortured body, onlookers vied for his clothes and hurled insults at the dying man (vv.34b-37).
In the midst of this horrific scene, Jesus utters a most remarkable prayer. All around him, the crowds are either verbally assaulting him, mocking him, dividing his belongings as if he were already dead, or completely ignoring the one many had thought would be their Messiah. The people have rejected the Christ, and in response, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34a).
I’ve been pondering this prayer for the last several days. There’s a single question that continues to pester me in response to Jesus’ magnanimity: Did God answer Jesus’ prayer?
Did the Father heed the request of His Son, the exact representation of His being (Heb. 1:3), and forgive the throngs who had thoroughly rejected the one way to the Father?
Saturday morning I had breakfast with a good friend of mine and she shared an incredible story about her own father. She had come to know Christ as an adult and freely shared her newly found joy with her family. After some time, her dad, a straight shooter, told her with no equivocation, “I don’t want to hear about your Jesus any longer!” Obediently, my friend stopped talking about Christ, even as she continued to live Christ.
Years later, her father lay on his death bed and my friend arrived to visit. “I’m going to die today,” he told her to her disbelief. “No,” he said to her. “I had an interesting dream last night. Your Jesus came to me. I made peace with him.” He breathed his last later that night.
My friend’s story is simply fascinating. Perhaps you’ve heard similar stories. They abound.
It has me wondering, though, for how many does the Lord so graciously reveal himself. And how often does the Lord save one to the knowledge of no one else? In short, how many of those who mock his appearance on the cross are yet forgiven?
I’m no universalist, but I am convinced of this: God is better than I think.