The message of Holy Week centers in the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we turn our thoughts to Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. We center our thoughts on this verse: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. Nails were pounded through the hands. A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head until the blood ran down his face. Yet, it was not the severe pain that finally caused the condemned person to die, but hanging in the blistering sun with no water and no food. Some would last for a whole week. Before it was all over, they were shouting tyrants and completely insane. This was the cross on which our Savior died.
Why did they crucify Jesus? Certainly it was not because of his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. No one would crucify a man for saying: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). No one would be crucified for saying that the first and the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
Do you think people today would crucify Jesus for the wonderful ethics he has given us? Some might argue with his teachings, but I think most would be very proud of having some contact with the teachings of this great man.
When Jesus preached and taught in his hometown of Nazareth, people were extremely proud of him. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. “Where did he ever learn to teach like that?” But things were different when they heard him say that he was the promised Messiah. Then they were anxious to kill him and get him out of the way. When Jesus Christ is proclaimed as God today, it also causes a lot of turmoil because others also claim to be God.
After walking with Jesus for three years, Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). When that message got out, those in the hierarchy said he was a dangerous person. So they decided to get rid of him because of his great ability to teach and their fear that people would follow him and accept what he was saying.
When Jesus Christ claims to be God Ð whether it be in the first century or the twenty-first century Ð people get angry. When he made the statement, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), they said this was ridiculous and offensive to many people. As a result, Jesus is not referred to as the Savior of the world in many places.
This is Holy Week. Thousands of sermons are going to be preached. I would like to know how many of those sermons being preached from the pulpits of our churches are really holding up Christ as the crucified Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is the one who has come into this world to suffer, die, and make payment for our sins. He was not brought to that cross simply because of a verdict by Pilate.
This scene was foretold in the very beginning when Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan in the garden. God said to Satan, “(My Son) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” ( Genesis 3:15). It was true that Satan would cause Jesus some suffering and a great deal of agony. That is what hurting the heel is all about. But it seems kind of insignificant in comparison to what Jesus is going to do to Satan. He will crush his head, destroy him, and gain victory for all who trust in him over Satan.
As our Savior stood before the crowd, they shouted, “Crucify him!” This crowd was made up of the blind leaders Ð the high priests, the teachers, the clergy, the Sanhedrin Ð and people who blindly followed these leaders.
What about us living in the twenty-first century? While we have not nailed Jesus’ hands to the tree, we do turn our heads from him, even as he offers answers for our personal, national, and international problems. It is for these people Ð both those who have nailed him to the tree and those who have turned their backs to him Ð that Jesus utters this prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Now this is a very interesting prayer that demands some attention. We could ask the question: Does our ignorance excuse our rejection of him? William Barclay hurries on to say, certainly not. But there is something to ponder here.
The people in Jesus’ day did not really understand who he was, and so Peter tried to remind them. Some time after Jesus had been resurrected and ascended into Heaven, Peter and John were in Jerusalem healing people. When they healed a young man, the crowd became excited and asked how they did that. Peter told them that it was not by his power but by the power of Jesus Christ. He went on to say, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:17-19).
Peter was telling them that, in spite of the fact that Jesus told them he was the Messiah and the people still remained ignorant of who he was, the Lord Jesus is anxious to forgive their sins. But they must first repent and turn to him.
St. Paul said the same while staying in Athens. He told them that in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands that all people everywhere repent, and God will forgive them. But if they don’t, a judgment will come. Repentance is necessary, and faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for sinners to go to Heaven.
When Paul wrote his letters to the young man Timothy, he introduced himself in this way: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13).
If you were brought up in a home that had nothing to do with the church, and the message about the Savior dying for the sins of the world made no impression on you, you may ask, What about me? The same message comes to all of us on this Holy Week: No matter what our paths might have been, no matter if we denied him in one way or another, if we will confess our sins, Jesus is more than willing to forgive us.
Churches are found on many street corners in our small towns. Many churches were built by our forefathers who wanted their people to know the message of Jesus Christ. People could go in, study during the week, and hear the sermon preached on Sunday morning. They could hear the simple words, God loves you and he sent his Son to die for you.
Now I wonder if there can still be ignorance? The media today takes this Gospel to the far parts of this world. Aren’t people able to hear if they want to?
While it is true that many do not say a word about their Savior from one time to another, there are some faithful witnesses out there. These people kindly and lovingly Ð but pointedly Ð tell others, You need Jesus. How long can people say they have never heard the Gospel? Maybe it is not until something happens in a person’s life that they begin to hear the message that if they will repent and trust, they will be saved.
Let me turn back to the opening sentence of this sermon. I said the message of Holy Week must center in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me add to this sentence: The message heard in the evangelical church must center in the cross and resurrection of the Lord every Sunday. Only in the crucified and risen Savior do we find salvation. Jesus hung on Calvary’s tree for our sins. He also said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
This eternal truth must be echoed wherever the Christian message goes.