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The Suffering Savior's Concern for Sinners

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The Suffering Savior’s Concern for Sinners

Text: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Scripture Reading: Luke 23:32 – 38

Hymns:  “Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus,” Russell

              “Christ Receiveth Sinful Men,” Neumeister

              “Though Your Sins Be as Scarlet,” Crosby

Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you would open our eyes and help us to see the grace and the graciousness of your gift to us through Jesus Christ. As you have given your best for us, even so today we offer our best to you. Help us to bring the firstfruits of both our love and our labor to the altar of worship. May your blessing be on these tithes and offerings. Bless not only the gifts but the givers. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Luke records one of the turning points in Jesus’ life: “When the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). We should steadfastly set our faces toward the cross that we might appreciate what Christ accomplished and what God offers to those who trust in his salvation. Charles Spurgeon said, “A view of Christ on Calvary is always beneficial to a Christian.”

Repeatedly, we need to go to Calvary where God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. We need to go to Calvary where Christ was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We need to go to Calvary and by inspired imagination behold him bearing our own sins in his body on the cross. We need to go to Calvary to be overwhelmed with the tremendous truth that God has commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.

There were great crowds on Calvary that day when the sinless, stainless, spotless Lamb of God was crucified. Some of the onlookers were indifferent, but also in the crowd were the triumphant, self-righteous Jewish leaders who bitterly resented Jesus because he did not fit into their plans for a nationalistic and materialistic messiah. The brutal Roman soldiers were there as well, unconcerned about the sufferings of him whose agony of soul for sin far exceeded the physical anguish of death by crucifixion. Further back were the distressed and desolate loved ones of Jesus whose hearts were indescribably crushed by this shameful catastrophe.

If we had been there that day on Calvary, we would have seen and heard many things that needed interpretation if we were to relate ourselves properly to him who died on the center cross. For example, listening sympathetically to the cries of those who were dying on the crosses would help us to learn more about Jesus. He had said on one occasion, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34 NIV). The words that fall from our lips are photographs, to some extent, of the mind from which they come. The words of Jesus spoken from the cross present to us a photograph of his heart’s concern for sinners.

It is highly possible that Jesus’ plea for forgiveness for those who were in charge of the crucifixion helped bring about the change in attitude of one of the thieves who was also being crucified. Matthew’s gospel records that at first both of the thieves railed upon him and mocked him (Matt. 27:38 – 44). Something happened to cause one of them to acknowledge that he was receiving the due reward of his deeds, and there arose from his heart a plea for merciful consideration once Jesus entered his kingdom (Luke 23:40 – 42). Possibly his curses and insults were changed into a prayer for mercy as he heard Christ pray, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

I. The desperate need for forgiveness.

“Father, forgive them.” It was beyond the power of those who had a hand in Jesus’ crucifixion to comprehend fully the enormity of their sin. They could not possibly recognize, at this time, how greatly they needed the forgiveness of God.

      A. Judas, the betrayer, needed forgiveness.

      B. The Jewish leaders, who in proud, prejudiced self-righteousness were gloating in success over Christ’s death, needed forgiveness.

      C. Herod, the puppet king who considered Jesus as a worker of magic and who requested the performance of a miracle, was in need of forgiveness.

      D. Pilate, the conniving, cowardly politician who had delivered an innocent man into the hands of a malicious mob needed forgiveness.

      E. The cruel Roman soldiers who, in total indifference to his sufferings, gambled for his robe while he suffered indescribable agony needed forgiveness.

      F. The milling mob who came by to curse and revile and taunt the suffering Savior was greatly in need of forgiveness.

      G. The disciples who, in fear for their lives, had fled during the night because of their personal peril needed forgiveness.

      H. All of us stand in need of forgiveness, for all of us are sinners. We have broken God’s holy law. We have fallen short not only of the divine standard but of our own human standard and ideal. Honesty would require of each of us that we admit, “I am a sinner and in need of forgiveness.”

II. The meaning of forgiveness.

      A. Perhaps Jesus was interceding to hold back the wrath of God upon those who were unjustly crucifying an innocent man.

      B. Perhaps Jesus was praying for them to have a full opportunity to repent and to experience the cleansing of forgiveness.

      C. To experience forgiveness is to have an indictment based on personal guilt removed and canceled.

      D. To be forgiven is to have a warm relationship restored that has been broken because of sin.

      E. In the parable of the prodigal son, which in reality is the parable of the waiting father, Jesus exhibits the meaning of forgiveness. It is to receive the wayward son home with a welcome. It is to hold his sin against him no longer. It is to restore a warm relationship.

Jesus was concerned about sin to the extent that he was eager to forgive those who had driven the spikes into his hands and feet.

III. The consequences of forgiveness.

In the midst of his indescribable sufferings, the Savior was expressing the hope and the prayer that his crucifiers might experience the joy of forgiveness.

      A. To be forgiven is to enjoy the love of the Father’s heart and home (Luke 15:20). The father in Jesus’ parable had eagerly awaited the day with loving compassion when his wayward son would come to his senses and forsake the way of life that disappoints and brings destruction.

      B. To be forgiven is to experience the prestige of divine sonship. “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet” (Luke 15:22).

To recognize the consequences of divine forgiveness is to understand why David rejoiced and praised God for the assurance of forgiveness following his confession of sin (Ps. 103:1 – 3).

IV. Conditions for receiving forgiveness.

Luke’s gospel, which alone records this prayer of intercession for forgiveness, majors on the offer of forgiveness through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

      A. Repentance is necessary for one to enjoy the blessings of forgiveness. God is eager for people to receive forgiveness, as the Savior’s prayer on the cross indicates. Jesus insisted, as had John the Baptist, that people must repent or perish (Luke 13:3, 5). Before people will repent, they must recognize that they are sinners in need of forgiveness. The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of believing that they had already received the favor of God and had no need of repentance. In irony Jesus had said to them, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (5:32). In the parable of the waiting father, Jesus emphasizes that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who feel no need for forgiveness (15:7, 10).

      B. Faith is necessary for one to receive the consequences of forgiveness. When four friends brought a paralyzed man through the crowd to the Great Healer, his first reaction when he saw the combined faith of the five was to say, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20 NIV). The faith of their hearts, which he detected in their eyes and which they had proven by their efforts, made it possible for him to bestow the blessing of forgiveness on the man who was looking to him alone in his time of need.

      It was the faith of the prostitute in the forgiving grace of God through Jesus Christ that made it possible for her to receive the gift of forgiveness (Luke 7:50). Because of the blessed benefits of forgiveness, she had within her heart an immeasurable love for the Savior that manifested itself in a lavish display of gratitude (Luke 7:44 – 47).

      C. Genuine repentance and saving faith are two inseparable sides of one coin. They are so inseparable that at times the call to conversion comes in the form of a challenge to repent. In other instances, it is an invitation to trust. Genuine repentance and saving faith — the two parts of the human response to the good news of God’s love — are as inseparable as a man and his shadow in the brightness of the sun at noon.


In the midst of his awful agony on the cross, the suffering Savior manifested God’s concern for sinners by praying for his crucifiers. Do you qualify to be included among those who receive the benefits of forgiveness? Have you sinned? Are you willing to admit it? Are you sorry for it? Listen to this prayer from the cross, believe that he loves you in spite of your sin, and come for forgiveness now.

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