” Father forgive them–” Luke 23:34
Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Luke 23:34
This first of seven sayings of Jesus Christ on the cross presents him in an attitude of prayer. How significant and instructive. His public ministry had opened with prayer (Luke 3:21) and here we see it closing in prayer. No longer might his hands minister to the sick for they are nailed to the cross. No longer may his feet carry him on acts of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; no longer may he engage in instructing the apostles for they have forsaken him and fled. How then does he occupy himself? In the ministry of prayer. He prayed for others, he prayed for sinners, even in his last hours.
In praying for his enemies not only did Jesus set before us a perfect example of how we should treat those who wrong and hate us, but he taught us never to regard anyone as beyond the reach of prayer. If Jesus prayed for his murderers then surely we have the encouragement to pray now for that man, that woman, or that wayward child who is in need of salvation. It may seem to you that they have gotten beyond the reach of Divine mercy, but remember then the cross, and Jesus praying for his enemies. Therefore, look not on anyone as beyond the reach of prayer.
There is more that we can learn concerning this prayer. We are here shown that prayer is powerful and effective. This cross-intercession of Christ for his enemies met with a marked and definite answer. The answer is seen in the conversion of the three thousand souls on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 3:17 the apostle Peter said, “And now brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.” It is to be noted that Peter uses the word ‘ignorance’ which corresponds with our Lord’s “They know not what they do”. Here the Divine explanation of the three thousand converted under a single sermon. It was not Peter’s eloquence that was the cause, but the Savior’s prayer. And the same is true for us. Jesus prayed for you and me long before we believed in him: “Neither pray I for these alone, (the disciples), but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” (John 17:20).
Let us profit from our perfect Exemplar. Let us too make intercession for those who have not accepted our Lord’s gift of eternal life, and if we pray in faith we also shall pray effectively unto their salvation.