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Jesus Loves Murderers - Luke 23:33-34

Taught on | Topic: Forgiveness | Keywords: murder, crime, criminal, murderer, death, crucifixion, Calvary, the cross, prayer, Scripture, forgiveness, sin, ignorance, innocence

A Jewish proverb reads, "Blood that has been shed does not rest." And yet there is rest that is possible for even the worst murderers of all time—those who killed Jesus Christ—if they would be willing to receive it. In two verses of Scripture, we will examine how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered Him.

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4/26/2015
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Jesus Loves Murderers
Luke 23:33-34
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
A Jewish proverb reads, "Blood that has been shed does not rest." And yet there is rest that is possible for even the worst murderers of all time—those who killed Jesus Christ—if they would be willing to receive it. In two verses of Scripture, we will examine how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered Him.
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Jesus Loves People

Jesus Loves People

Jesus loves people—all people:prostitutes, drug addicts, abusers—and you. This profound truth is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable, and during His time on earth, He was compassionate and merciful toward people from all walks of life. What would it be like if you personally encountered Him? Join Pastor Skip Heitzig in this series to learn more about God's radical love for you and fall more in love with the living Savior.

Visit jesuslovespeople.com for more information on this series.

FREE - Download Entire Series (MP3) (Help)

Outline

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  1. The Murder of Jesus: "they crucified Him"

    1. A Human Plot

    2. A Divine Purpose

  2. The Mercy of Jesus: "Father, forgive them"

    1. A Prayer to His Father

    2. A Part of His Character

  3. The Motive of Jesus: "for they do not know what they do"

    1. What It Doesn’t Mean

    2. What It Does Mean

Study Guide

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In 1976, New York City was terrorized by David Berkowitz, a serial killer known as the Son of Sam. He was caught and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences—365 years. A decade into his imprisonment, Berkowitz's heart was touched after reading a Gideons Bible another inmate gave him. One night, while reading Psalm 34, he got on his knees and cried out to Jesus Christ to forgive him. Today, still imprisoned, he leads a ministry that reaches out to inmates with emotional issues. When Skip was speaking in New York several years ago, he learned that Berkowitz listens to him on the radio and had asked Skip to visit him. What Skip saw was a man transformed by the gospel who now refers to himself as the Son of Hope. His story is a powerful testimony that Jesus loves murderers.

The first crime ever committed was a homicide (Cain and Abel), and it's been a problem since. A UN report said that 437,000 people were murdered worldwide in 2012. Intentional killing is among the leading causes of death in America. But virtually everyone has gotten away with murder: Jesus said even our anger toward others is enough to put us in danger of judgment (see Matthew 5:21-22).

Murder begins not in the hands but the heart, not with an act but an attitude. The worst murder in human history—the killing of the Son of God—began with such an attitude. On the divine side, it was the ultimate sacrifice for all of humankind. But on the human side, it was the ultimate crime, a flagrant violation of the sixth commandment.

As we look at the murder of Jesus, we see the most evil act ever perpetrated by human hands—the sinless Son of Man betrayed, tortured, and crucified. This crucifixion was a conspiracy of the Pharisees and state-sanctioned terrorism by the Romans, designed to be the most painful and intimidating of deaths. The Roman orator Cicero said that there was no fitting word to describe so horrible a deed. The Romans had crucified 30,000 people in Judea alone in Jesus' time. No victim of human injustice was ever more innocent than Jesus, and yet He was murdered like a criminal. Of course, God's redemptive purpose was in it, and it is so like God to bring the greatest good out of the worst evil. When have you seen God bring good out of evil? Read Isaiah 53. Discuss what stands out to you, especially when it comes to the power and reach of God's forgiveness.

It was on the cross that we see the full power of the mercy of Jesus (see Luke 23:34). While nailed to the cross, Jesus made seven short statements, which Warren Wiersbe called "windows that enable us to…see the heart of the Savior and the heart of the gospel." While Jesus was doing the greatest work on earth, He uttered the greatest words heard on earth. His first statement was the most shocking: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). It's one thing to say that Jesus loves murderers; it's another for Him to say it of His own murderers. At his birth, there had been no room for Him; when He was a toddler, Herod sought to kill Him; throughout His ministry, religious leaders plotted to slander and murder Him; at His trial, the crowds cried out for His crucifixion. And we get upset when someone cuts us off on the freeway! The verb tense in this verse indicates that Jesus kept saying, "Father, forgive them." As the soldiers stripped and beat Him, as He was laid on the cross, as He was nailed down, as He was lifted up—"Father, forgive them." Who is the most unlikely person you know who has received God's forgiveness? What does their story tell you about God's mercy?

In 1993, sixteen-year-old Oshea Israel murdered a twenty-year-old man, the only son of a woman named Mary Johnson. Ms. Johnson visited Israel in prison because she wanted to forgive as Christ did. By the end of her visit, he was overcome with emotion and hugged her. As she left, she thought, I just hugged the man who murdered my son. All the bitterness in her heart fled, and today Israel is out of prison and the two are neighbors. Jesus' prayer was like that mother's hug, and it shows us three things: Jesus was fulfilling Scripture (see Isaiah 53), His prayer was consistent with His nature, and forgiveness is the greatest need of the human heart. Mary Johnson said, "Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out." When has your heart been callous toward others? How can prayer soften it? When Jesus entered into suffering, prayer was His first reaction. How often is it yours?

Finally, let's look at the motive of Jesus: "for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Now, everyone involved in Jesus' trial and murder knew it was wrong, so Jesus' prayer must mean that they didn't know His identity. It wasn't until Jesus died and there was darkness and an earthquake that one centurion said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). And while the crowd knew the reality of their crime, they didn't know its enormity. In their spiritual darkness, they didn't grasp that they were killing the Light of the World. But ignorance is by no means innocence. Pleading ignorance to the identity of Jesus and the enormity of what He accomplished on the cross is no excuse.

Jesus' prayer—"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do"—was answered: first in the repentant thief on the cross, then in the centurion, then again at Pentecost when 3,000 people were saved, and on down through the centuries. And while obedience to Jesus is the proof of a changed heart, God stands ready to forgive any and all who would ask for forgiveness. In a letter to Skip, David Berkowitz said, "I became a cruel killer and threw away my life and destroyed the lives of others. Now, I've discovered that Christ is my answer and my hope." Has Jesus' prayer been answered in you?

Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching

The BIG Idea

Mankind’s greatest need—forgiveness—is God’s greatest accomplishment.

Detailed Notes

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  1. Introduction
    1. Murder has always been a problem with humanity
      1. The first human crime ever committed
      2. Genesis 4
    2. 437,000 people murdered in a year
      1. 1 in 153 chance of being murdered
      2. One of the chief causes of death in America
    3. Everyone has gotten away with murder; Matthew 5:21-22
    4. Murder doesn't originate with the hands, but it begins in the heart
    5. The greatest murder in human history: the killing of the Son of God
      1. On the divine side, it is the ultimate sacrifice; John 10:18
      2. On the human side, it is the ultimate crime; Exodus 20:13
  2. The Murder of Jesus: "they crucified Him"
    1. A Human Plot
      1. This is the most evil act ever perpetrated by sinful hearts: the killing of the sinless Son of God
        1. Matthew 17:22-23
        2. Acts 2:23
      2. Not only murder, but a conspiracy to murder; Matthew 12:14
      3. State-sponsored terrorism
        1. Roman government used crucifixion to intimidate
        2. "To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is—what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed" —Cicero
      4. The Persians invented crucifixion
        1. Believed the earth was sacred
        2. Egyptians, Carthage, Phoenicians
        3. The Romans perfected crucifixion
      5. By the time Jesus was put on a cross, Rome had crucified about 30,000 people from Judea and Jerusalem
      6. Crucifixion deliberately delays death and gives maximum amount of pain to the victim
        1. Vertical piece of wood + patibulum
        2. No victim of human injustice has ever been more innocent than Jesus, yet He was murdered
    2. A Divine Purpose
      1. Even with the most vile act of crucifixion, God brought the maximum amount of good out of it
      2. It was always in the plan of God the Father to see this happen
        1. John 3:16
        2. Isaiah 53:10
      3. Calvary comes from the Latin word calvarium
        1. Greek kranion
        2. Hebrew Golgotha
        3. Means a skull
  3. The Mercy of Jesus: "Father, forgive them"
    1. Jesus was on the cross for six hours
      1. He made seven short statements: the seven last sayings of Jesus
      2. "These seven last words from the cross are windows that enable us to...see the heart of the Savior and the heart of the gospel" —Warren Wiersbe
      3. While Jesus was doing the greatest work on earth, He was uttering the greatest words on earth
    2. This statement is shocking and unusual
      1. It's one thing to say Jesus loves murderers; it's another thing to be the person being murdered and to say that
      2. Not the natural human reaction if you are being attacked
      3. In the Greek, it's in a continual tense: Jesus was continually saying
      4. It was His undergirding prayer during the whole event
    3. A Prayer to His Father
      1. The very first words out of His mouth were a prayer directed to the Father
      2. Jesus stayed connected to heaven while He suffered anguish on earth
      3. Why did He pray this?
        1. He was fulfilling Scripture; Isaiah 53:12
          1. Why make intercession for sinners? Because sinners need intercession
          2. "I can't believe unbelievers are acting like unbelievers!"
          3. Instead of being moved by what we hear, read, or see, pray for transgressors
        2. Consistent with His nature
          1. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20
          2. Luke 7:36-50
        3. It's the greatest need of humanity to be forgiven
          1. Mankind's greatest need is God's greatest accomplishment
          2. Put your name in this verse
    4. A Part of His Character
  4. The Motive of Jesus: "for they do not know what they do"
    1. One of the most misunderstood phrases in all the Bible
    2. What It Doesn't Mean
      1. They were not unaware that they were sinning
        1. Matthew 26:59-61; Mark 14:55-59
        2. Luke 23:13-23; John 19:6
      2. Even if they were ignorant of what they were doing, it was no excuse
      3. Ignorance does not mean innocence
    3. What It Does Mean
      1. The Roman soldiers performing this deed didn't know the identity of Jesus
        1. Only one discovered who Jesus was
        2. Mark 15:39
      2. The rest of the crowd knew the reality of their crime, but not the enormity of their crime
        1. 1 Corinthians 2:8
        2. People who reject Christ by and large don't know how enormous an offense that is
        3. Some people's strategy is to plead ignorance
        4. Acts 17:30
  5. Closing
    1. Jesus' prayer was answered
      1. The criminal on the cross; Luke 23:43
      2. Roman centurion; Luke 23:47; Mark 15:39
      3. Pentecost: 3,000 people came to Christ; Acts 2:41
      4. Thousands in Jerusalem in the weeks that followed
      5. Priests; Acts 6:7
        1. Jesus' prayer wasn't a promise of instantaneous and automatic forgiveness
        2. It anticipated that there would be people who understood the identity of Jesus and the enormity of this crime and would turn to Him to be forgiven
    2. We have to assume our own guilt for the cross: Jesus died in our place

Figures referenced: Cicero, Warren Wiersbe

Latin/Greek/Hebrew words: calvarium, kranion, Golgotha

Cross references: Genesis 4; Exodus 20:13; Isaiah 53:10, 12; Matthew 5:21-22; 9:2; 12:14; 17:22-23; 26:59-61; Mark 2:5; 14:55-59; 15:39; Luke 5:20; 7:36-50; 23:13-23, 33-34, 43, 47; John 3:16; 10:18; 19:6; Acts 2:23, 41; 6:7; 17:30; 1 Corinthians 2:8


Topic: Forgiveness

Keywords: murder, crime, criminal, murderer, death, crucifixion, Calvary, the cross, prayer, Scripture, forgiveness, sin, ignorance, innocence

Transcript

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Introduction: Hello and welcome to this message from Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque. We pray that God uses these teachings to bring people into a relationship with him and we're thankful to hear when that happens. If this message encourages you, we'd love to know. Email us at mystory@calvaryabq.org. And if you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely at calvaryabq.org/giving. Jesus loves everyone and is compassionate towards all people. As we continue our series called Jesus Loves People we see the mercy of Jesus even as he's being led to the cross. In this message we see how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered him. Now turn your Bibles to Luke, chapter 23, as Skip begins the message "Jesus Loves Murderers."

Skip Heitzig: Would you please turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke, chapter 23; Luke 23, please. The summer of 1976 was the summer of terror for the residents of New York City, some of you will remember from being alive then, others from because you just know your history so well, that one of the most notorious criminals in American history was called David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" he was nicknamed. He went on a killing spree and killed several people in that city and then he was arrested. By his own admission he was involved previously in the occult. When he was arrested, he was sentenced to six life sentences, six life terms, 365 consecutive years in prison.

A few years back I was in New York and I was speaking, and a pastor said, "Would you mind visiting a prisoner in the Sullivan Correctional Institute? His name is David Berkowitz." And my head just turned like, "What!?" He said, "Yeah, I've been meeting with him over the years. He's been a---he's become a believer, and it's true. It's real. He's not doing this to garner favor. He's not getting out. He knows he'll never get out. But the Lord's using him and he listens to you, Skip, on the radio, and he would just love to meet with you." So I spent a couple hours with him in prison. And I heard his testimony, how he was ten years into his sentence and he was given a Gideon's Bible. God bless the Gideons, once again, a Gideon's New Testament and Psalms.

And he was reading Psalm 34 that says, "This poor man cried unto the Lord and he heard his call." Berkowitz got on his knees after reading that and he asked Jesus to forgive him and to be his Savior. And he has seen his life in prison as a ministry to inmates who have emotional problems and coping problems. He sees them really as a congregation. Well, he was brought to my mind, because a couple weeks ago I received this card from him and once again to see on the envelope "David Berkowitz, Sullivan Correction Facility." And he reminded me of our visit, but also once again thanked me and thanked you for the radio broadcast that feeds him and his fellow inmates. And he signed it by saying, "On behalf of all the brethren here in the prison, we salute you, Brother David." [applause]

David Berkowitz, like Christopher Pritchard in the video, has discovered that Jesus loves murderers. I love, love, love the redemptive story that has been in all of these little pericopes of Scripture we've been looking at---whether it's a prostitute, or a religious person, or what we see today, murderers---the willingness of Christ to forgive. Murder has always been an issue, been a problem with humanity. It was the first human crime ever committed, Genesis, chapter 4, Cain killing Abel. And history is peppered with such crimes, when we first had rocks, and then we had knives, and then we got javelins, and then we developed guns and bombs. We've always had a problem with murder.

Want to know a stunning statistic? The United Nations released a report two years ago measuring the murders on the earth in a single year: 437,000 people murdered in a year. That's the population of this place, gone because of murder. You have a 1 in 153 chance of being murdered. That's staggering. It is one of the chief causes of death in our country. It ranks right up there with heart disease and cancer and accidents. You'll find intentional killing as one of the causes of death. But I would venture to say that virtually everyone in this room has gotten away with murder. How's that for a statement? Listen to the words of Jesus carefully. "You have heard that it was said by those of old, 'You shall not murder.' But I say unto you if you are angry at your brother without a cause, you are guilty of judgment."

Murder, we find out from Jesus, doesn't originate with the hands, but it begins in the heart. It is an action, but it is far more. It begins with an attitude toward someone. I found it a bit humorous that one of the famous attorneys in American history Clarence Darrow once said, "I've never killed anyone, but I frequently get satisfaction out of obituary notices." That's an honest attorney. According to a group of researchers out of New York, 7 percent of our population say they would murder someone for enough money. That is 1 in every 14 people. Whether they could actually pull the trigger is another question. But 36 million say they would be willing to consider the offer. Now, today I bring you to a story that is so very familiar to every believer. You know it well.

But I want to frame it for you a bit differently today. I want you to look at it a little bit in a way that you have not in the past. We want to consider today the greatest murder in human history, the killing of the Son of God. When I say that, I know there are always two sides: there's the divine side and there's the human side. On the divine side it is the ultimate sacrifice---"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." It was a gift. Jesus said, "No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of myself." But that's the divine side. On the human side it is the ultimate crime. It is a flagrant violation of the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not murder." I bring you now to the cross of Christ in Luke, chapter 23, beginning in the thirty-second verse.

"There were also two others, criminals, led with him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right hand, the other on the left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.' And they divided his garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen of God.' The soldiers also mocked him, coming and offering him sour wine, and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.' And an inscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."

I want you to first consider the murder of Jesus. And it was nothing less than that. For look in verse 33 where it specifically says, "there they crucified him." "They crucified him." This is the most evil act ever perpetrated by sinful hearts, the killing of the sinless Son of God, the Son of God, the author of life, murdered. And Jesus would say as much, because he predicted as much. He told his disciples, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men and they will kill him." After the fact, the apostle Peter said to the people of Jerusalem, "You have taken Christ by lawless hands and put him to death." So they murdered him. Not only was it murder, but to add to it, it was a conspiracy to murder.

For we understand the Jewish leaders, the elite plotted against Christ how they might ensnare him and then deliver him over to the secular government to enact the death penalty. Matthew, chapter 12, "The Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might destroy him." In the modern criminal code that's conspiracy to murder. That carries alone up to a life sentence. But in reality, what we have here with the Romans who carried out this crime is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism, because that's how the Roman government used crucifixion. They used it to intimidate, to terrorize people, to say, "Don't you ever think of crossing the Roman government, because this is what you might get."

Crucifixion was so horrible that a Roman statesman by the name of Cicero said these words: "To arrest or bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to beat him is an abomination, to kill him is an act of murder, but to crucify him---there is no fitting word that could describe so horrible a deed." Now the Romans didn't invent crucifixion, the Persians did. The ancient Persians believed that the earth was sacred. And if you're going to execute a person, it shouldn't be touching that ground, because the ground was sacred. So they devised a means by which the victim could be lifted up above the earth and killed, and they invented crucifixion. Before the Romans came along we have record of Egyptians and those from Carthage and the Phoenicians all using crucifixion to execute criminals in pre-Roman times.

But then, then came the Romans, and they, they perfected it. In fact, they loved it. They considered crucifixion to be their favorite form of execution. You may not know this, but you should know that by the time Jesus was put on a cross, the Roman government had already crucified about 30,000 people from Judea and Jerusalem alone, so that for the citizens to see men hanging on crosses was very, very common a sight. And there is Jesus taken to Golgotha and there they crucified him. According to history the idea behind crucifixion is that it deliberately delayed death and gave the maximum amount of pain, torture to the victim. A victim could last for days on a cross. Essentially, a cross, as you know, is a vertical piece of wood to which would be attached a crossbeam known as a patibulum.

Weighed about seventy-five pounds. And it was just that crossbeam that the victim would carry from the place of sentencing to the place of execution. Jesus did that, we are told, and then they laid him down on that as they affixed that piece to the vertical piece. They stretched out Jesus' hands and two large iron spikes, like railroad spikes but much sharper, were used and placed---not through the palms of the hands, that's too fragile, that would rip the flesh---but through the wrists. Because that would, that would stabilize the victim and staple him, without tearing, to that cross. But what you really need to understand is that no victim of human injustice has ever been more innocent than Jesus and yet he was murdered. The murder of Jesus.

Now, that's not the full story. It's not enough to say he was murdered, because behind the scenes we see that even with the most vile act of crucifixion God brought the maximum amount of good out of it, and it was always in the plan and purview of God the Father to see this happen. That's what it means, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." And the prophet Jeremiah---excuse me, Isaiah predicted something. When I first read it, when I was a new Christian, it just---I was stunned by it. Isaiah 53, it said, "For it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he," it says in Isaiah 53, "he has put him to grief." I was shocked by that. "It pleased the Lord to bruise his Son; he has put him to grief"? Why? The very next phrase answers the question: "to make his soul an offering for sin." That's why.

That's God's redemptive purpose in this horrible thing that is going on. And so we're told, verse 33, "When they came to the place called"---please notice the word---"Calvary," it's not cavalry. [laughter] You know why I make an issue out of this is you don't know how many times over the years people have said, "Oh, you're at Cavalry Chapel." I go, "No. We're not a regiment on horseback with swords; that's a cavalry." We're Calvary---completely different." Calvary comes from the Latin calvarium. The Greek is kranium. The Hebrew is Golgotha. It means the same thing: a skull. It indicates the shape of the place where the execution took place. That's the murder of Jesus at Calvary, the Place of the Skull. Next please notice in verse 34 the mercy of Jesus.

"Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them.' "Jesus was on a cross for six hours from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. During that six hours he made seven short statements recorded in the Scripture. We call them the seven words, the seven last saying of Jesus on the cross. A person's last words are always significant, but these are most significant. As Warren Wiersbe said, "They are windows that enable us to see into the very heart of God," these seven statements on the cross. I like to think of it this way: While Jesus was doing the greatest work on earth, he was uttering the greatest words on earth. And the first statement is, "Father, forgive them. It's a shocking statement. It's not what we would expect. It's an unusual request for the victim of murder to say, "Father, forgive them."

You know, we talk about Jesus loves people, and it's one thing to say Jesus loves murderers, it's another thing to be the person being murdered and say, "God loves people, God loves murderers." "Father, forgive them." "Forgive them"? This crowd? This world that pushed him away from birth that could offer no room in the inn when he was about to be born? One of whose leaders tried to murder him when he was a baby in Bethlehem? This crowd, whose leaders plotted this murder, who brought forth false charges and false witnesses to get him up on that cross, who shouted vociferously, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" "Father, forgive them"? What is the natural human reaction if you are being attacked? It's not "Father, forgive them."

Let me bring it down to a level we can all understand, because some of you have never been attacked. Let's say you're driving down the road. You're just driving and some---I won't even give a term to that person. Some person pulls in front of you and cuts you off. Is your first reaction, "Father, forgive them"? No, no. I---my first reaction, I pray for them, but it's a very different prayer. [laughter] The other day I prayed a prayer when I was being cut out off by, not one, but two trucks going at least three times the speed limit. I said, "Father, please, may there be a police officer somewhere close by to give these numskulls tickets." Something like that. [laughter] It was like, "Father, judge them, and may they have four flat tires. Oh, that'd be great. And the spare, that'd be even better." [laughter]

"Father, forgive them"? That's not what we would expect. In fact, maybe we would expect Jesus to say, "Father, judge them for this act." We would understand that. Or even if he were to turn to the crowd and say something like, "Three days, just three days, I'm coming back and I'm coming for you." [laughter] But he said, "Father, forgive them." You know what's even more amazing? In the Greek language it's in a continual tense. "He was continually saying," it could be translated, "Father, forgive them." You know what that means? That means that was his undergirding prayer, not once, but during the whole event. So I imagine when they brought Jesus and stripped him at Golgotha, "Father, forgive them."

When they placed him down and they stretched out his hands and put spikes in his hands, "Father, forgive them." When they raised up the cross, "Father, forgive them." And as the day wore on, "Father, forgive them . . . Father, forgive them . . . Father, forgive them." That's his---that's his statement. I read a story this week. I had read it before, but it was just so amazing I revisited it this week. In 1993 a murder was committed by a sixteen-year-old boy. I think he was sixteen at the time. His name was Oshea Israel. He's in prison. He murdered a twenty-year-old boy. The mother of the boy that was murdered, her name is Mary Johnson---let me rephrase this. It wasn't the son of that mother, it was the only son, the only son of this mother was murdered.

The mother tried to get to the prison and visit the murderer of her son. She was denied access by the prisoner himself. Finally, after a period of time, after incessant asking, she was allowed entrance to the prison to have a visit. Now, that is what she said, she goes, "As a Christian," she said, "As a Christian, I knew I had to forgive him, but I just needed to find out why he killed my son." So she went to the prison. She visited with him. And after the visit was over, something came over her. She was so emotionally distraught, she just broke---she had an emotional breakdown and she started collapsing to the ground. The prisoner, the murderer of this woman's son looked at her and he said, "The only thing I could think of in my mind is 'What would I do right now if this were my mother?' "

He said, "I would hold her up." So he grabbed her and picked her up, held her. Picked her up and embraced her, she was so distraught, embraced her. And she hugged him back and just stayed in that position locked in an embraced for a moment. And she had this thought, she goes, "I just hugged the murderer of my only son." And she said, "As I left that day, all of the pain and bitterness and anger and animosity melted away." I want you to think of this scene on the cross, "Father, forgive them," like that woman's hug of the one who took her only son, as Jesus is saying, "They're about to take your only Son, Father, forgive them." And please notice this is a prayer. This is a statement not directed to the crowd, not directed to another criminal on the cross. He will speak to one of the thieves.

We'll get to that next time. He will speak to his own mother in the course of the crucifixion. But the very first words out of his mouth were a prayer directed to the Father. Do you think that's a good idea for us whenever we suffer? You think this might be a great role model for us, that instinctively right out of the shoot our first movement would be heavenward? I like to think of it this way that Jesus stays connected to heaven while he suffers anguish on earth, and I think it's a good model: I'm going to stay connected to the Father. And he prays, "Father, forgive them." Why does he pray it? First of all, he's fulfilling Scripture, right? You remember Isaiah 53, right, where it says, "He bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors"?

That's what the Scripture said he would do. He's doing what the Scripture predicted. He's fulfilling prophecy. He made intercession for the transgressors. Why on earth would you make intercession for transgressors? Easy answer---because transgressors, sinners need intercession, prayer. They need it. Murderers need prayer. Criminals need prayer. So he made intercession for the transgressors. It's a bit amazing to me, really, how we as believers, as Christians, we tend to have this reaction to what the world does whenever we hear of an atrocity, a crime. You know, we usually don't get past the shock of [gasp] "I can't believe that happened! Oh that's so horrible."

And the reason I say that's a bit odd is because listen to how it sounds when I put it this way: "I can't believe that unbelievers are actually acting like unbelievers. Wonder of wonders." Instead of being moved by what we hear or read or see on a news clip, to pray for the transgressors, to pray for them, to enter into that situation by bringing it before the throne of God and interceding. Jesus did. He was fulfilling the text of Scripture. Second reason he did it is because---well, that's just Jesus. That's consistent with his nature. Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them," because that's what Jesus always did. Whether it was the man let down the roof who was a paralytic, the first thing he said is, "Man, your sins are forgiven. Be of good cheer."

Or the woman who barges into Simon the Pharisee's house and cries all over his feet, as we saw last week, "Woman, your sins are forgiven." For Jesus to say it from the cross, "Father, forgive them," well, that's consistent with our Jesus. He's always doing that. He's always reaching out. He's always offering forgiveness. And here's a third reason why he prayed this---'cause it's what you need the most. It is the greatest need of humanity to be forgiven. I've watched thousands, thousands of people march forward through the years in altar calls. I see it in their eyes. I see it in their tears, what they want more than anything else is to be forgiven.

I remember this as a little boy when I offended my father one time. I offended him many times, but on this one particular occasion I knew that I offended him, I knew that I had broken his heart, and I so wanted to hear from him, "I forgive you." I didn't hear it for a while, because he was so deeply offended. Mankind's greatest need is God's greatest accomplishment---forgiveness. May I suggest that you put your name in the verse. Father, forgive Skip. Father, forgive Michelle, or Gail or Pete or George or whatever. Put your name. Personalize it. This is Jesus loving murderers. This is Jesus wanting sin to be forgiven. So we've seen the murder of Jesus, the mercy of Jesus. Please consider the last phrase of what he says in verse 34, the motive of Jesus: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."

We have just come across one the most misunderstood phrases in all of the Bible. Let me tell you what it does not mean. When Jesus says, "They don't know what they're doing," he is not suggesting that they were unaware that they were sinning. Oh, they knew what they were doing. Oh, they knew that this was wrong. They knew that this was evil. They knew because they had brought in false witnesses, it says, with false accusations against Jesus. And we know it to be true because Pilate who interrogated this criminal came out and said, "I find no fault in him at all." And all they could respond is two words: "Crucify him! Crucify him! Cruci---we don't care about justice. We don't care about doing right. We just want him dead."

They knew it was wrong, so he is not suggesting they were unaware. And, by the way, even if they were ignorant of what they were doing, it's no excuse, is it? Does ignorance mean innocence? Well, if you struggle with that, you may want to try going sixty-five miles an hour in a thirty-five mile an hour zone until you see a nicely appointed black and white car follow you and stop you. And what would this sound like, "You know how fast you were going, sir?" "Uh, no." "You were going sixty-five. It's a thirty-five mile an hour zone." Now imagine this: "I didn't know." Do you think the officer will neatly fold up his little ticket book and walk away and go, "Okay then, you're innocent because of your ignorance; ignorance equals innocence"? No. You know what he'll say? He'll write the ticket and he'll say, "Now you know."

And when you pay the fine, then you'll know. You're still guilty. So we're still left with the question: What does this phrase mean, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they're doing"? Well, it means two things at least. It means, number one, for the Romans, the Roman soldiers actually performing this deed, they didn't know the identity of this criminal. This was their job. They had crucified thousands of men like him. They didn't know who this was. They didn't have the fixed identity of this man in their minds, and they didn't know. In fact, only one of these soldiers, after the fact, and only after the fact---after his death, after three hours of darkness, after an earthquake, after the veil of the temple is ripped---only then does one of them discover who this is and says, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

But it means a second thing: for the rest of the crowd, they didn't know the enormity of their crime. They knew the reality of it. They knew it was wrong. They knew it was real. But they didn't know how big this crime was. They didn't know the full horror of what they were doing. First Corinthians chapter 2 verse 8, "Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." You know I found that people who reject Christ by and large don't know how an enormous offense that is. They don't. Uh-uh. You know, "There's a lot of different belief systems. I don't believe in Jesus. So what?" They do not understand the enormity of what that is, and how judgment will fall, and how they will be alienated from God forever and ever.

And, actually, I might be even addressing somebody that's your exit strategy. You're going to plead ignorance. That's your strategy. If your strategy is, "Well, you know, I like to call myself a free thinker. In fact, I like the term, not atheist, I'm an agnostic. I just don't know." Which usually means, not always, but it often means, "I don't know and I don't really care to find out. So I'm just going to sort of bump through life not knowing. And if there's a God, and if I ever stand before him at judgment, I'm just going to plead ignorance and say, 'Well, I just didn't know.' "Well, the bad news is now you know. You know too much. Just from this message alone, you know too much and you are held accountable. Don't fret over all those people who have never heard about Jesus.

That's usually the argument. "What about those people that live way out in the jungles and never heard?" You have heard. Let's worry about that. As Peter will say to the people of Jerusalem, "Truly, these times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." So, was Jesus' prayer answered, "Father, forgive them"? Aah, it was, wasn't it, in many ways, many times over? The first answer to the prayer comes when he says to the criminal at his side, "Today you'll be with me in paradise." Something happens in that transaction with this criminal. We'll look at that next time. The second answer to the prayer is with that Roman centurion. And the Bible says this, "Glorifying God," it says, "Glorifying God he said, 'Truly this man was a righteous man! Truly he was the Son of God!' "

There was a conversion, I believe, of that soldier to who this criminal "Son of God" was. The third answer came at Pentecost. Three thousand people come to Christ, and thousands upon thousands more just in the city of Jerusalem will believe in this Jesus in weeks to follow. Some of the very people at the foot of the cross in this scene who are jeering and mocking and not believing will understand the identity of this person and the enormity of this crime, and they will come in repentance. In fact, we know that many priests were around the cross at the time. Acts, chapter 6, says, "A great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." It's a key phrase: "they were obedient."

You see, this prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing," this isn't some promise of instantaneous and automatic forgiveness. It anticipates that there will be in that crowd and in days to come people who will understand the identity of that person and the enormity of this crime, and will in realizing that turn from their sin and turn to him in order to be forgiven. Like Christopher Pritchard, like Oshea Israel, like David Berkowitz---all who have discovered personally Jesus loves murderers. And in speaking of murderers, we have to assume our own guilt for the cross. Our sin put him there. He died for us in our place. And so maybe his prayer will be answered by a few of those in this group turning their lives to Jesus and personally discovering that Jesus loves murderers like us.

Our Father in heaven, I'm always . . . I guess amazed. There's no word for it when I find someone that society considers so bad, so evil, so disposable, being touched by Jesus Christ, having a real conversion experience, and then becoming a tool in your hands, even after all the blood that's on their hands, to be used by you to touch the lives of others, who though may be cast off by society, you said you would never cast off. You love. You redeem. And how we look forward to an eternity spent with sinners who have been forgiven, congregating together before your throne, from every tribe, tongue, people.

Lord, I pray for anybody here who doesn't know you personally, who hasn't turned their life over to you personally. I pray they would come to the awareness of the identity of Jesus and the enormity of the roadblock that exists between them and you if they haven't turned to Jesus. I pray they would be forgiven, in Jesus' name, amen.

Closing: No matter how bad we are or have been, when we come to Jesus in repentance, we will be forgiven. How has that transformed your life? We'd love to know. Email mystory@calvaryabq.org. And just a reminder, you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque.

Additional Messages in this Series

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1/25/2015
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Jesus Loves People
Mark 10:21;Philippians 1:8-10
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
Welcome to our new weekend series, Jesus Loves People! For the next many weeks, we will observe how Jesus' love for people was displayed and conveyed to a cross section of society. We will see Him as He loves the most religiously devout folks to the weak and doubting, from the prostitutes to the priests, from the bewildered to the brokenhearted. We will marvel at His love for thieves, murderers, and atheists. In each message, we will consider how we as God's people can show authentic love to people within each group.
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2/1/2015
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Jesus Loves Doubters
Matthew 11; John 20
Skip Heitzig
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Jesus never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. I have personally wrestled with issues of faith and doubt on a number of occasions. Oswald Chambers quipped, "Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Today we will see how Jesus loved two doubters—both of whom were friends of His.
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2/8/2015
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Jesus Loves the Broken
John 5:1-16
Skip Heitzig
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Just about everyone who has ever lived has experienced a broken heart to some degree or another. But then there are others who have been affected so adversely by events in their lives that they can be described as broken people. We can respond by questioning why God allows bad things to happen or by loving the broken in His name and thus being part of the solution.
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3/8/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 1
John 8:1-11
Skip Heitzig
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There is not a hotter or more controversial subject being discussed today in our country than homosexuality. Voices are loud and tempers run hot whenever this subject is mentioned. Although the text before us doesn’t deal specifically with homosexuality, it does show us how Jesus approached a woman caught in sexual sin and what He had to say to those who were quick to condemn her.
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3/15/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 2
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
Be assured that I didn't select the topics in this series because I am equating homosexuals with murderers; nor am I suggesting that addicts or homeless people are to be seen the same as terrorists. It’s simply that the church has historically been unkind to these groups, and we believe it is time to make the statement that Jesus loves all people. In today’s text, we see it clearly: everyone has some kind of past, and everyone can be freed from sin.
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3/22/2015
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Jesus Loves Haters
Matthew 5:43-46;Luke 9:51-56
Skip Heitzig
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One of the worst things to ever hear or say are the words "I hate you." And since Jesus is the One who God sent to show love to the world, how He handled haters is significant. Today we will explore and hopefully apply two important lessons. Hatred can flow in two directions: hatred towards you and hatred from you. Jesus shows us what to do about both. Get ready by turning to two passages: Matthew 5 and Luke 9.
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3/29/2015
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Jesus Loves Traitors
Matthew 26
Skip Heitzig
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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a traitor as "one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." On this Palm Sunday, I've chosen to consider in contrast the two traitors seen side by side in the New Testament accounts of the Passion of Christ. Though we may see some similarities in Judas and Peter, they are separated by one giant factor—the cross of Jesus Christ, the one thing that still offends most people.
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4/12/2015
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Jesus Loves Atheists
John 18:28-38
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Yes, Jesus loves people who don't believe in Him or who aren't sure what they think about Him. Pontius Pilate was the cynical Roman governor of the district of Judea. He was unsympathetic to religious Jews and religion itself. He had no room for the superstitious claims of prophets, priests, or would-be messiahs. He was a secular pragmatist concerned about Roman order and personal advancement. Pilate also represents how Jesus loved and handled atheists—and how we should.
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4/19/2015
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Jesus Loves Prostitutes
Luke 7:36-50
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It was Blaise Pascal who noted, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." In our text today, we find a woman, the city prostitute who acutely felt the need to have the vacuum of her heart filled. She discovered that Jesus loved her with a wholesome love—the kind of love every woman is searching for.
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5/3/2015
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Jesus Loves Criminals
Luke 23:33-43
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A lengthy seventeen-year study in Washington, D.C. by psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson shows that crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression but to people making wrong moral choices. Corresponding to that is another report showing that the lack of proper moral training by parents has a direct correlation to crime, especially to children in their formative years. But when parents and their offspring fail, Jesus can step in to rescue.
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5/17/2015
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Jesus Loves Terrorists
Acts 9:1-16
Skip Heitzig
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One magazine noted that "religious terrorism is the communism of the 21st century, the most serious international threat to human rights." I am aware that the title of this sermon is a strange one, and it's even stranger to think we should be told to love terrorists. Today we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper biblical response to it is, and we see the conversion of a terrorist who became Christianity's most celebrated cleric.
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6/7/2015
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Jesus Loves Addicts
Luke 4; Matthew 11
Skip Heitzig
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When a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that provides temporary pleasure and then such acts become compulsive and interfere with ordinary life responsibilities, he or she is said to be an addict. Addictive behavior is widespread and is one of the reasons many addicts turn to Christ for help. Jesus has a special message for them and a special plan to help them. As the body of Christ to our generation, shouldn’t the church be part of that plan?
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6/28/2015
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Jesus Loves People, BUT...
Romans 2:1-11
Skip Heitzig
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In this last message of our series Jesus Loves People, we want to bring equilibrium to the series itself. It’s true that God loves people. It’s equally true that He hates evil and the practice of it. Today we want to show how both the wrath of God and the love of God are integral parts of the nature of God Himself. This is crucial so that we don’t distort Him to the world and mislead people eternally. Let’s consider three requirements for representing the God who loves people.
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There are 13 additional messages in this series.