My wife Jessica is a remarkable woman. She was diagnosed with dyslexia after graduating from high school and still became the first person in her family to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She is smart, gifted, a fine Salvation Army officer, a wonderful mother, and an all-around great person. She’s really pretty, too.
A strange thing about Jessica is that if she faces some small discomfort, she melts down. Bangs her funny bone? Hysteria ensues. Gets a paper cut? Forget it—life is over. This quirk is strange to me because we have faced some significant things together and she stood up to them like a champ. She was by my side while I faced a prolonged illness—she was my caregiver, my advocate, and my encourager. After being told we were probably not going to be able to have kids, she gave birth via C-section twice. The second time was a very dangerous delivery, but my wife was unstoppable. She is sort of like a superhero. Sure, she has her “kryptonite” moments of paper cuts and stubbed toes (don’t we all?), but when you need somebody tough to save the day Jessica should be your first call, because it’s in the difficult moments that she is at her best.
BECAUSE JESUS DID
We are who we really are in our most difficult moments. Tough times show our true nature. When Jesus was at His lowest point, on the cross, knocking on death’s door, what did He do? Jesus prayed. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, author Philip Yancey says that “the simplest answer to the question ‘Why pray?’ is ‘Because Jesus did.’”
The “biography books” about Jesus in the Bible show that over and over, in all kinds of circumstances, Jesus went to His Father in prayer. He prayed in celebration and thanksgiving for blessings. He prayed to recharge at the end of a long day of ministry. He prayed in the middle of crowds and He prayed (a lot) all by Himself. And it seems like He prayed with specific intensity at the pivotal, even most dangerous, moments of His life.
In our society we are used to hearing people give “shout-outs” to God—the athlete who wins the championship, the performing artist who wins the award, even the politician who wins the election. It’s a little rarer, though, to hear that kind of testimony when times are difficult. “When the going gets tough, the tough get…praying?” Not usually. But that’s what Jesus does. Whether it’s at the graveside of His friend Lazarus, in the garden prior to His crucifixion pleading with God to consider a “plan B,” or even on the cross as His death sentence is being carried out, Jesus prays.
But Jesus doesn’t pray for Himself in this dark moment. He prays for others. Charles Spurgeon writes, “There is no prayer against [His accusers and executioners] in the words that Jesus utters. It was written…by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He made intercession for the transgressors,’ and here it is fulfilled.” It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus doesn’t pray for Himself? With simply a word He could have been off the cross and on the road back to Nazareth (or wherever else He might have wanted to go) with His mother and friends, Jerusalem in the rearview mirror. Better yet, His prayer could have been something like, “You know what, Father? I’m done. Bring me Home, please.” But that is not His prayer.
“ONE LAST GASP OF GRACE”
The word “forgive” in the original Biblical language is from the same root as “send forth” or “let go.” In other words, Jesus is literally asking that God send the sins away. “Let it go, Father. Don’t hold this against them. Omit it from their records.” In His darkest hour, Jesus’ prayer is not for Himself. In what Yancey calls “one last gasp of grace,” Jesus is using some of His final words to pray for His persecutors. “Father, forgive them,” He insists.
One of the things I’ve come to believe about Jesus is that when the Bible records Him praying for people, it’s not really just for the people around Him in the moment. Doctrine 4 affirms: “We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the divine and human natures are united, so that He is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.” Jesus, the true and proper man, prays for men and women in first century Palestine. But Jesus, the true and proper God, looks across time and space and prays for you and me. How awesome is that?
The eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us that this has always been the case. “Who would dare to accuse us, whom God has chosen? The judge Himself has declared us free from sin. Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us!” (vs. 33-34, J.B. Phillips New Testament). The Bible reads a lot differently when we appropriately insert ourselves as the ones being prayed for by Jesus; and this crucifixion prayer is no exception. “Father, forgive Brett, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.”
Pastor and professor Paul Scherer notes that Jesus’ prayer for His tormentors is based on their ignorance—“…they don’t know what they are doing.” The ignorance of the Roman soldiers, who are doing the executing, he calls “circumstantial ignorance.” They don’t really know what’s going on. They are just going about their business. The ignorance of the religious leaders, who are ordering and overseeing the executing, he calls “judicial ignorance.” They know full well what is going on, but they just don’t get it. They think and act like they do know what’s going on, but they do not, because their judgment about Jesus is way off base. “Both are held up before the face of God,” Scherer writes, “with merciful entreaty.”
Are we brave enough to identify ourselves with one of those kinds of ignorance? Either the kind that says, “I’m not sure I understand all this stuff about Jesus,” or the kind that says, “I DO understand all this stuff about Jesus in my head, but I’m choosing not to let it sink into my heart and spirit, choosing to not let it make a difference in my life”?
Either way, I have good news: someone is praying for you. It may be someone you know, like a friend or family member. It may be someone you don’t know, maybe a person who just commits to pray for all the people who decide to read this magazine (there really are people like that).
No matter what, I can tell you for sure that there is Someone who knows you, who is praying for you, who wants nothing more than for you to be forgiven and made right with His Father. He said so with His dying breath: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
HE IS RISEN!
Read Matthew 27:50-54. What do these miraculous signs following Jesus’ crucifixion mean?
And why did the soldiers witnessing them finally realize Jesus “truly was the Son of God”?
THE TEMPLE CURTAIN TORN
In the Old Testament and in Jewish practice, the curtain separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. It symbolized the separation between God and man. Christ’s death reverses this and opens the way into the presence of God. The power of God tore this curtain, meaning all people now have access to God, the Most Holy One.
The earth shook, for it could not hold the dead body of its Creator. Origen, the early Christian theologian, comments that this earthquake was not just one belonging to the planet, but to all flesh. When Christ, the new covenant, came upon them, all things trembled and were afraid. “Both heaven and earth and all things within them wished to acclaim their crucified Lord” (Jerome).
THE OPENED TOMBS
“Graves were opened, for the gates of death had been unlocked. And a number of the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep arose” (Hilary of Poitiers). “The raising up of the saints’ bodies was announcing that the death of Christ was actually the cause of life” (Apollinaris of Laodicea).
Major Brett DeMichael | Administrator & Associate Corps Officer | Northeast Ohio Division | Eastern Territory