April 2, 2020 • Life for Leaders
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Introduction to This Devotional Series on the Seven Last Words:
Today and tomorrow, and then every day next week, my devotions will be based on the so-called “seven last words” of Christ from the cross. These words are not literal words, but rather phrases or sentences spoken by Jesus as he was being crucified. They come from the biblical gospels (one from Mark, three from Luke, and three from John).
For centuries, Christians have used the seven last words for devotional inspiration, especially during Holy Week when we remember Jesus’s passion. Reflection on what Jesus said while on the cross draws us into a deeper experience of the reality of his sacrifice. It helps to open our hearts in a new way to his lavish love.
This devotional series will contain my own meditative responses to the seven last words. I hope what I share will inspire and encourage you. But please don’t feel bound by what I have written. Let my example lead you into your own personal reflections. The meaning of the cross exceeds anything I could express in words—whether in seven devotions or seven thousand.
I pray that God will use this guide to help you grasp his glorious grace in a new way. As this happens, you will also be prepared for a truer, deeper, and more joyous experience of the Cross and the Resurrection.
It makes perfect sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That’s one main reason for his death on the cross, after all. In the phrasing of Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity, and so that we might also be reconciled to each other (see Ephesians 2:11-22).
Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn’t come only to those who don’t know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins neither because we have acted in ignorance, nor because we have some convenient excuse, nor because we have tried hard to make up for our sins, but because he is a God of amazing grace, with mercies that are new every morning.
As we consider the words, “Father, forgive them,” we rightly understand that these words apply to us. We too are forgiven through Christ. As John writes in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Because Christ died on the cross for us, we are cleansed from all wickedness, from every last sin. We are united with God the Father as his beloved children. We are free to approach his throne of grace with our needs and concerns (Hebrews 4:16). God has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
Thus, as we begin our reflections on the cross of Christ and its meaning, we are encouraged by the good news of our forgiveness. We come to our Lord freely because we know we have been forgiven.
Something to Think About:
Do you take time on a regular basis to confess your sins so that you might enjoy the freedom of forgiveness?
Do you need to experience God’s forgiveness in a fresh way today?
Something to Do:
As you consider the third question above, talk to God about this. Confess where you have sinned and ask for a fresh experience of forgiveness.
Gracious Lord Jesus, it’s easy for me to speak of your forgiveness, even to ask for it and to thank you for it. But do I really believe I’m forgiven? Do I experience the freedom that comes from the assurance that you have cleansed me from my sins? Or do I live as if I’m “semi-forgiven”? Even though I’ve put my faith in you and confessed my sins, do I live as if sin still has power over me? Do I try to prove myself to you, as if I might be able to earn more forgiveness through my own efforts?
Dear Lord, though I believe at one level that you have forgiven me, this amazing truth needs to penetrate my heart in new ways. Help me to know with fresh conviction that I am fully and finally forgiven, not because of anything I have done, but because of what you have done for me.
May I live today as a forgiven person, opening my heart to you, choosing not to sin because the power of sin has been broken through your cross and resurrection. And may I extend your forgiveness to others, so that the reconciliation earned by your cross might be realized in my relationships.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for your matchless forgiveness! Amen.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.