Under the scorching heat of the desert, Jesus uttered the first words past his dry, cracked, and bleeding lips, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). That must have puzzled those standing at the foot of the cross. His body had writhed in agony after being beaten throughout the night, only to be nailed to a rugged, splintered, and wooden cross the next morning. What Father could have stood idly by while his perfect and innocent Son was being crucified alongside criminals? Who is this Son, who cries out to such a Father? Who is this Man who in the midst of being crucified pleads for the forgiveness of his torturers? His cry from the cross is as much a conviction as it is a comfort.
There is no indemnity for us from the crimes committed against Jesus at the cross. We are all complicit. Scripture says that we have all sinned and that our sins must be punished. It is our hands driving in the nails and our fingers pressing down the thorns into his brow. We have unjustly tried, convicted and sentenced him to death. We are spitting upon, mocking and reviling him. When he’d made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem days ago, we cheered, “Hail! Hail!” (Lk.19:37-38) Today we shout, “Nail! Nail!” Humanity proved its total depravity at that cross. Filled with self-righteous bloodlust, we were thrilled to kill the man who had healed our sick, raised our dead, fed our multitudes, and forgave our sins. Yet he pled for our forgiveness. “Father, forgive them” (Lk. 23:34).
But Jesus does not only die by our hands, he also died for us. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). Jesus was not the only victim on that cross. Those who put faith in him become victims because his death was vicarious. He died instead of us. He wasn’t just taking our punches at the cross; he was also taking our sins and bearing the punishment due us. As we murdered him, we witnessed our desperate need of his sacrifice. We didn’t know that we were crying out for blood at that cross because we needed it for our salvation—“for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
Death, hell, and the devil all surrounded the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. The powers of darkness reveled as, “He breathed his last,” (Lk. 23:46b). They had won. Humanity and all of creation would forever remain under their dominion.
But Jesus was not only victim, but willing sacrifice—working out the eternal plan of the Trinity (Eph 1:1-10). The first word he’d cried out was, “Father” (v. 34) and he had said earlier, “My Father is working until now, and I [too] am working” (Jn. 5:17). Jesus was triumphing through the cross the whole time! It looked like the devil was winning, but God was working. “He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets,” (Col. 2:15, MSG). What a fool's parade God made of death, hell, and the grave at Calvary. If they had only known, they wouldn’t have showed up for work that day!
The wickedness of man had peaked at the cross—“but where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). We bristle against this sharp rebuke, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). The wickedness of lawless men paved a path of redemption for those who would repent and believe this scandalous gospel. Paul describes this truth as “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” that if the rulers of his age had understood it “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). We didn’t know that we were killing God and that through our wickedness God had planned to secure our redemption! But God offers comfort at the cross! Jesus proclaimed a cure as surely as he pronounced conviction.
Conviction and comfort both collide in joy as I marvel at Christ’s words. Psalm 85:10 says, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
We didn’t know that God had set the scene for the most cosmic kiss of the ages: justice and mercy! The force of this kiss shook the gates of hell and rang all of heaven’s bells. Angels longed to look into these things. How could God the Father be completely just to his own character while completely merciful towards rebellious sinners? He did it by the same means the devil used Judas to betray Jesus, the Son—with a kiss (Mk. 14:44).
The righteous requirement of death for our sins by God was met by the merciful provision of God’s own Son as a sacrifice in our place. Justice and mercy kissed at Calvary. Our ignorance of our sinfulness was no excuse. But our ignorance of God’s plan was our rescue! Who would have ever have imagined such a harmonious union? They converged to adorn God’s divine wisdom for rebels who “know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Lk. 23:34). But you knew, O God. You knew.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33
Kileeo Rashad is based in Philadelphia, PA, where he serves his local church in many capacities; speaker, preacher, deacon, and hospitality director. He is currently working on a debut writing project which will address breaking silence on sexual brokenness within the church. Kileeo is also the founder of Restoring the Breaches, a ministry that aims to help churches and individuals facilitate gospel-centered conversations around sexuality.