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Now You Know

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Now You Know

Luke 23.34

Pastor Oesterwind

Introduction:  We can travel to many places in the world and see great poverty.  Many countries lack sanitary conditions, and even drinking water is rife with disease.  Some people live in holes and call them houses.  They find food in garbage.  What is very disturbing about all of this is that many of these people don’t even know they are living out a wretched existence.  If this is all they have known and if everyone around them lives this way, then these folks really do not understand what it’s like to live in a country that is clean, free, and overflowing with abundant resources. 

Of course, spiritually speaking, here we are this morning – greatly impoverished.  Unclean, rife with disease and sin.  We live in miry pits and accept these as the norm – expecting nothing better …knowing nothing different.  We feed on the garbage all around us – the movies, entertainment, and sensuality of the world.  This is our food.  What is very disturbing about all of this is that many of us don’t even know we are living out a wretched existence.  If this is all we have known and if everyone around us lives this way, then we really do not understand what it’s like to live on higher ground. 

Transition:  Isaiah wrote that the Suffering Servant bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (53.12).  Jesus fulfilled these words in our text this morning.  We may live for years not knowing that Jesus bore the sin of many, but after a careful look at Luke 23.34 this Easter morning, I’ll be able to say to you, “Now you know!” 

Background:  The verse we are examining this morning contains the first of seven sayings of Jesus Christ from the cross.  We could say that these seven sayings are the last words of Jesus Christ just before He died.  You will not be able to find the seven sayings in one Gospel.  They are spread throughout the gospels; therefore it is more difficult for us to recall them without a concerted effort.

Taking the time to collect all seven and to think through them, produces a valuable look at what it is Jesus came to accomplish – to seek and save the lost.  Let’s just briefly survey the seven sayings[1] before concentrating on the first:

1.       “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23.34).  Men must come to understand their need of forgiveness; Jesus came to forgive them and restore fellowship with the Father.

2.       “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23.43).  Christians often go to this passage for assurance.  Today the thief would be with Jesus in Heaven – the soul does not sleep, there is life after death, being with Christ is paradise, and paradise is for all who repent!

3.       “Woman, behold your son!  [and to John]… Behold your mother” (John 19.26-27)!  Jesus did not neglect temporal responsibility for His mother. 

4.       “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? …My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Mark 15.34)?  This communicates Jesus isolation from the Father for us.  He died alone so that you would not have to die alone – He is with believers even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  This is also the only time Jesus refers to His Father as “My God”. 

5.       “I thirst” (John 19.28)!  These words indicate the humanity of Christ and highlight the physical suffering.  They also fulfill an OT prophecy (Ps 22.15).

6.       “It is finished” (John 19.30)!  One word in Greek summing up the whole of mankind’s redemption. 

7.       “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23.46).  This was spoken immediately after the words, “It is finished”.  The words of triumph are followed by words of rest.  This is what physical death holds for us – the commending of our own spirits to God.  When we die, we go home.  Death no longer contains a sting.  To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1.21).  Let us look closely at the first of these seven sayings…


“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23.34).”  Fulfilling the words of the Prophet Isaiah:  “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53.12).

Luke states that two criminals were led along with Jesus to a place called Calvary.  The only thing we may say with certainty is that this place was outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Jesus is crucified and as He is lifted up for the sins of mankind, He prays for the forgiveness of those who are carrying out this terrible deed.  His garments are divided, soldiers gamble for His covering, people look on, rulers sneer, soldiers mock, and even one of the thieves in this context blasphemed Jesus.  An inscription was nailed above Him.  It said, “This is the King of the Jews.” 

All of this is being done in ignorance.  Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” 

Transition:  The revealed Word of God concludes that this ignorance, while inexcusable, is forgivable! 

Ignorance:  Inexcusable but Forgivable

Three observations from the context help us understand the revealed Word of God…

1.       Those who crucified Christ did not know what they were doing because they did not know what God was doing. 

a.       This verse is not speaking just of the Roman soldiers.  I believe Jesus had all of those gathered at the foot of the cross in mind.  I believe ultimately He had you and me in mind as well.

b.      Peter spoke to the men of Israel after healing the lame man at the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3.  He told those Jews that they were the ones who delivered up Jesus and denied Him in the presence of Pilate (v. 13).  Pilate wished to let Jesus go, but they would not let Pilate do that.  They asked that a murderer name Barabbas be granted to them.  Peter said that the Jews “killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead” (v. 15).  Then he concluded, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (v. 17).

c.       Paul wrote that none of the rulers of this age knew what they were doing on this dreadful day.  “Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2.8).

2.       Those who persecuted and killed the disciples of Jesus did so because they did not know what they were doing. 

a.       Others persecute and kill disciples of Jesus even today because they do not know what they are doing.

b.      Jesus said, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16.2-3).  

c.       People do not know or understand what you and I know and understand.  They do not know about the grace, mercy, love, and peace that we bring with the Gospel message.  Many are self-righteous, but they are also blinded by ignorance. 

3.       Those who do not know what they are doing are still without excuse even though they are not without forgiveness. 

a.       Jesus prays that the Father forgive these men.  That is, one day, these men will have to realize what they have done.  They will have to know Who Jesus is!  They will have to understand their need to be forgiven.  Jesus did not pray, “I have forgiven them.”  The only people who ever hear those words are people who repent!

b.      If they do not, Jesus Christ Himself will come “from Heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1.7-8). 

c.       Jesus did not pray, “Father, vindicate Me and judge these men even though they do know not they are doing.  Send a legion of angels to slay them.  Let the earth open and swallow them up.  Let fire and brimstone rain from Heaven and consume them.  Let lightning fall and strike them.” 

d.      However, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  This love is beyond us apart from the grace of God.  I might be inclined to ask God to forgive family and friends close to me who wrong me, but enemies who are in the process of killing me?  By the way, the Father answered Jesus’ prayer through His death, which brings the forgiveness.

Transition:  So, the ignorance is inexcusable but forgivable.  Second, this morning, you might think you’d be better off remaining blissfully ignorant when it comes to your responsibility before God….

Blissfully Ignorant?

You might be tempted to think, “Okay, then don’t teach me anything about Jesus and then I won’t be guilty.  I can just remain blissfully ignorant and not culpable.”  But you have crossed over from unintentional ignorance to willful ignorance.  People who have never heard of Christ or who are involved in other religions or who are moral, seemingly good people will die and enter Hell. 

Once you say something like that, people are incredulous.  They simply don’t understand.  They usually ask, “Will God send a person to Hell even though they remain ignorant of who Jesus Christ is?”  Usually these people are accusing God of some kind of unfairness.  Of course, the answer to that question is that the fair and deserving judgment of God would be to cast all of mankind into Hell because all mankind has sinned and rebelled against God.  So, we should be very careful about yearning for our idea of what is fair. 

Even well-meaning Christians try to soften the answer to this question of those who do not know.  They think if they say that God will condemn a person to Hell, even if that person has been ignorant of Christ or never heard of Christ, is too harsh.  Of course, they are compromising the Word of God.  I believe from my understanding of the character of God, every person in this world, through every age of time will have or has had the opportunity to repent and believe in the Gospel.  You have that opportunity right now in the hearing of my voice!  “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”  (Romans 10.13-15)

God will not exclude a person because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.  All human beings are without excuse (Rom 1.20).  Yet God does not wish than any perish in Hell but all come to repentance (2 Pet 3.9).  God will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17.31).  That is, no one will ever be able to accuse God of unfairness and there is no such thing as blissful ignorance for you.  Now you know!

We may not know how God deals specifically, or even explicitly, from the Bible with people that seem to be blissfully ignorant.  People always ask about the infant, the mentally disabled, or those who have never heard the Gospel.  All we can do is tell them that we know God will deal with them fairly.  God will always do right.  To say that people who are disadvantaged because of a lack of knowledge are never able to come to Christ is flat out wrong.  Does not the Bible give us examples of people who were limited in their knowledge of God, but yet were accepted by Him?

Examples of God Revealing Himself to Those Who Did Not Know[2]:

1.       Rahab had a house located in a Jericho.  She was Gentile harlot.  Her knowledge of God was very limited.  But she acted upon what she knew.  She said, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us” (Josh 2.9).  She concluded, “the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (v.11).  The NT speaks of the faith of Rahab.  The writer of Hebrews states, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb 11.31). 

2.       Naaman was a Syrian man that lived in a very pagan culture.  Yet he concluded after God healed his leprosy, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (1 Kings 5.15). 

3.       The people of Nineveh were violent and immoral.  Jonah, God’s prophet, less than enthusiastically preached God’s deliverance if they would repent.  “The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3.9). 

4.       Cornelius was a religious man who had not heard of Jesus Christ, but wanted God to reveal Himself to him.  How did God answer the yearning of Cornelius?

a.       God sent Peter to him in order to reveal the work of His Son – His death, burial and resurrection for Cornelius. 

b.      Peter preached and Cornelius responded in faith.  Cornelius put his trust in Jesus Christ alone for his eternal life. 

c.       Many people today sincerely yearn to know their Creator.  God will send them a Peter to tell them about His Son.  It doesn’t matter where they live. 

d.      Peter preached to Cornelius, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10.34-35).  First, fear and faith; then, works of righteousness as expressions of gratitude for the eternal life they have received! 

5.       People from every nation will be a part of the redeemed!  All will sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5.9)!

Paul taught that people who have limited knowledge will perish.  Imagine how much greater the eternal punishment of a person who knows better and rejects God.  Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom 2.14).  That is, deep inside God has revealed Himself in the heart every man.  If that man responds to that spark of revelation given by grace, God will reveal more of Himself. 

Paul continues by saying that these Gentiles “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness (another gift), and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom 2.15).  So, God reveals Himself in creation, in the law that He writes on the table of every man’s heart, and even in the conscience of men. 

Transition:  So, the Word of God teaches us that ignorance is inexcusable but forgivable.  We now also know that ignorance is never bliss.  And finally, we must know the real meaning of Easter…

Know the Meaning of Easter!

Don’t use some hypothetical situation to keep you from acting upon what you now do know!  One anonymous writer wrote:  “Many things in the Bible I cannot understand; many things in the Bible I only think I understand; but there are many things in the Bible I cannot misunderstand.”  What is that we cannot misunderstand this Easter morning?  We cannot misunderstand Who Jesus is and what He came to do!

1.       Jesus is the resurrected and living Savior!  Mohammad, Gandhi, Mao, Buddha, and Confucius are dead.  Their followers never claimed that they arose from the dead.  Only Jesus came back from the grave!

2.       Jesus is the Living God!   Certainly, Mohammad, Gandhi, Mao, Buddha, and Confucius never claimed to be God.  Jesus is God alone.  He is the unique God-Man.  No man is His equal or peer!

3.       Jesus died for the sins of all mankind.  None of these other religious men could do that.  Only Jesus could die for sin.  Since Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead, the grace of God can be expressed to us in the gift of eternal life. 

4.       Jesus is coming in righteousness as the One called Faithful and True.  He will judge and make war.  His eyes will be like a flame of fire, and on His head will be many crowns.  He will be clothed with a robe dipped in blood (see Rev 19.11-13), but the blood will be the blood of those who refused to know Him!  “He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev 19.15).  The Jews cried out just before His crucifixion, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt 27.25).  It will be.  It will be upon all who reject Him.  This should serve as an encouragement for us to pray for the mercy of God so that unbelievers may receive the cleansing wave of the blood of Christ!

5.       Jesus is merciful and forgiving.  He will forgive even those who have hated Him and persecuted His followers.  He will forgive the vilest among us.  Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps (1 Pet 2.21).  If Jesus forgave these men at the foot of the cross, then we must forgive.  “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt 5.44).  If we forgive men, then our Father in Heaven will forgive us (Matt 6.14).  If we fail to forgive, our Father will not forgive us (6.15).  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4.32). 

Conclusion:  When we finally understand what Jesus Christ said 2,000 years ago, then we are truly following His steps.  We’re not unlike a woman who began attending a faithful, Bible-believing church and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion [i.e. the distinction between heaven being a free gift rather than being worked for].  She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message her faithful pastor preached was scary. He asked why it was scary and she replied:

If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights"—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by grace—then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.[3]

This new convert understood something that many believers fail to understand.  People ask what incentive is there to live a good and unselfish life without fear of punishment.  They are admitting that their only incentive to living an unselfish life is fear.  This woman was perceptive enough to recognize that since Christ forgave her by grace alone, the least she could do is give herself to Him.  She was not her own; she was bought with a price.  She gratefully recognized this. 

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  This means Jesus paid it all so all to Him I owe.  Our debt is a debt of gratitude not a debt of compensation for Heaven. 

An author writes of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy's funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest. At the funeral, the father displayed his son's body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.

Isn't that what God did at Calvary? … The cross that held Jesus’ body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.[4]

You see, now you know.  What will you do with this knowledge?  Your ignorance is inexcusable but forgivable.  Your ignorance is never blissful.  And your only hope is Jesus Christ:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Hymn:  Why? (122)


[1] See Zodhiates, S. (1998). Sermon starters : Volumes 1-4. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[2] See discussion in McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] Adapted:  Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Riverhead Books, 2008), pp. 189-190

[4] Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 1997), pp. 185-186

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