The First Saying of Christ from the Cross
“Then said Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them.
for they know not what they do.’
And they parted his raiment and cast lots.”
The Congregational minister, Jonathan Edwards, preached a now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Calvary tells us about God being in the hands of angry sinners. Men had done their worst.
They had taken the Lord of Glory by force in the middle of the night. They had quickly moved Him through the ecclesiastical and civil courts in order to get a death sentence issued based upon false accusation. They had beaten Him, spat upon Him, mocked Him, and finally suspended Him upon a wooden cross between heaven and earth in a violent act of crucifixion. And the Lord’s response to all of this hatred and hostility was to pray for those who tortured Him so unjustly.
The public ministry of Jesus began with prayer according to Luke 3:21, and He would close it the same way. Jesus prayed for sinners in His last hours. He came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost and He would continue to do that to the very end.
From the Lord’s example at Calvary, we are reminded that we must never stop praying for the wicked and the wayward. The brother of the great evangelist D.L. Moody will always be happy that their mother prayed like Jesus prayed. Following the death of their father, Mr. Moody’s older brother became a prodigal and ran away from home. It broke their mother’s heart because for years on end she did not know what happened to her son. But she never stopped praying for him.
“I remember some nights, said Moody, waking past midnight and hearing a voice in my mother’s chamber; and I heard that mother weeping and saying, “O God, send back my boy. O God, shelter him and protect him, and take care of him.” That was her cry. And when there came a day when the nation returned thanks for the harvest, a day when all the family came together, mother used to say to us and raise our hopes, “Perhaps he will come back to-day,” and his chair was kept vacant, and the place at the table. And he never returned.
We wrote to different parts of the country as we grew up: If we found any paper that had a man named with the name of our brother, we would write to see if it was our brother. I remember once finding a notice in a Californian paper of a man bearing that name, and I thought it was him. I wrote out there and was very much disappointed at receiving a letter telling me he wasn’t that man.
Yet mother prayed on and hoped on, seemingly against hope, until the hair once black turned grey and the step once firm began to tremble, and I could see grief carrying that dear mother into an untimely grace. How my heart used to bleed for her!
One day, as she was sitting in her little cottage, her two youngest children, that were infants when brother left home, and were now grown up almost to manhood and womanhood, sitting at the table with her, a stranger appeared at the gate, and he came up to the east piazza and stood with his arms folded, looking on that mother he hadn’t seen for years.
Mother didn’t recognize her boy; but when she saw those tears rolling down over the long black beard, through those tears she saw it was her long-lost boy, and when she saw it was her lost boy she said, “Oh, my son, come in.”
And he says with his arms folded, “No, mother; I will not come across your threshold until you forgive me.”
Sinner, do you believe she was ready to forgive him? She didn’t wait for him to come in, but ran to the door, threw her arms round his neck and wept for joy. The dead was alive, the lost was found, the wanderer was come home, and the joy it gave that mother, I cannot tell it to you. None but the mother that had the prodigal boy can realize that mother’s joy. I cannot tell you what joy it gave us as a family.”
Jesus said that there is joy in the presence of the angels of heaven over every sinner that is converted.
So, the Lord prayed at Calvary and His prayer was answered. Just a few weeks later, on a Day called Pentecost, three thousand souls were saved when the glorious gospel was preached again with great power. Many of the people who had shouted for the death of the Stranger from Galilee, bowed their knee to their Sovereign (cp. Acts 3:17). Souls were saved at Pentecost, not because Peter was so eloquent, but because Jesus prayed at Calvary and His prayers were always answered. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”