LUKE 23:32-34 (NIV) | "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
I was only 24 years old when my older brother was killed. We were not close; he was openly hostile to the gospel, at least the gospel I represented in those days. His life was hard and defiant. When my dad asked me to pick out the gospel passage that would be read at his funeral, the only passage I could think of was Jesus’ words on the cross.
Jesus forgives, even when we don’t deserve it or ask for it. He forgives the ignorant. He forgives the defiant and abusive. Even on the cross, in agony, Jesus seems to be intent on forgiving people instead of responding as they deserve. That was my only hope for my brother — that a God who could be so gracious on the cross when grace wasn’t requested or gladly received might choose to be as gracious with my brother and forgive him.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and this passage has grown to mean much more to me. The Bible says Jesus is our high priest, and on the cross he acts as both priest and sacrifice. The depths of his love and perfect sacrifice are worthy of much attention, but it is his role as priest here that has gripped me lately.
Priests traditionally are those who “stand in the gap” between God and people. They are the ones who make a way for the people to be right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice made righteousness before God possible for us, but he also prayed for forgiveness. Why? He used his priestly authority and power to forgive and not bring judgment. His words always had the effect he intended, so something changed when Jesus asked his Father to forgive those hurling insults and abuse at him. This wasn’t Jesus being nice; this was Jesus being a high priest right until the end of his time on earth.
Here Jesus does for people what they cannot do for themselves. Though they don’t know it, they are in desperate need of forgiveness, and so Jesus stands in the gap and asks the Father to forgive them. Done. As it turns out, I find myself constantly bumping into people that desperately need forgiveness and don’t even know it. So what’s a follower of Jesus to do?
For my part I intend to become a serial forgiver and see if there are any limits to what and who can be forgiven. I don’t mean extending forgiveness to others on my behalf but rather on their behalf, asking God to forgive them their sin and pleading the shed blood of Christ over them. I started in my home and personal relationships; I’m now extending my role as priest to leaders, institutions, governments, corporations, combatants, and nations. I’m finding no shortage of opportunities to practice praying for forgiveness!
I’ve also been surprised to see how taking up my role as priest and liberally ministering forgiveness changes my own attitude and posture toward people. Tonight as I write this I’m realizing that I haven’t asked for forgiveness for the person who killed my brother, for those who botched the investigation, and for anyone who failed to come forward with what they knew. So it’s back to the cross for me, not just for the blood that cleanses but to take up my role as priest once again and tend to some unfinished business.
QUESTIONS FOR APPLICATION
- Forgiveness begins in your own heart; take a moment to extend personal forgiveness to those who may have hurt or offended you.
- Do you have relationships with people who need forgiveness and release? Take up your role as priest and ask God to forgive them, washing away their sins with the blood of Christ, whether they are aware of it or not.
- Are there things you think are too hard to forgive? Ask Jesus what he thinks about that — if he wants to confirm or change your thinking.
This reading is a part of our "Small Feet Big Shoes" devotional series. You can also sign up to receive these meditations by email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Uebele has been involved with CRM since 1995 as a ministry partner and a member of the Board. For more than 20 years Keith has worked as a principal strategist for Intel Corporation. His strategic and executive skills have been particularly applicable within CRM. Keith and his wife, Ellen, live in Portland, Oregon and have three adult children.