William Maxwell Aitken, known as Lord Beaverbrook, was a British newspaper publisher in the first half of the 20th century. One day in the washroom of his London club he happened to meet Edward Heath, then a young member of Parliament, about whom he had printed an insulting editorial a few days earlier.
“My dear chap,” said Aitken, who embarrassed by the encounter, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I was wrong. Here and now I wish to apologize.”
“Very well,” grunted Heath. “But the next time I wish you’d insult me in the washroom and apologize in your newspaper.”
Forgiveness is often fraught with problems. It’s messy. Imperfect. And many times leaves two parties feeling hurt.
God is the perfect example of forgiveness. And Jesus demonstrated it on the cross when he uttered those famous words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Through blinded eyes and hardened hearts, they were crucifying the Son of God, but they didn’t know it. John records that Jesus “came unto his own, but his own received him not” (Jn 1:11). He was the light that shone in darkness, but they couldn’t see it. He was God in the flesh, but they didn’t recognize Him. He was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, but they didn’t understand it.
The coarse and cruel Roman soldiers who nailed the spikes into his hands and feet and gambled for His garments at the foot of the cross did not know they were fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah.
Little did they know that this man they crucified would rise again on the 3rd day, victorious over death and the devil. And that His mission, ministry, and message would be the focal point of history that has continued for nearly 2,000 years.
But their ignorance and lack of insight did not keep Jesus from praying for their forgiveness. No doubt, they didn’t know what to make of His attitude as they participated in his execution. “Father, forgive them….” Really? How? Why? And when?
Often in Bible classes, an argument arises with the question “Can you forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness?”
Obviously, forgiveness cannot be received unless we are willing to request it. Repentance is always necessary for us to enjoy the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus said in your brother repents, “forgive him” (Lk 17:4).
Yet, here on the cross, we witness an incredible spirit of forgiveness toward those who didn’t even realize what they were doing, let alone asking forgiveness.
We are challenged to a greater spirit of forgiveness as we think about what led up to these events.
Jesus was rejected by the very religious leaders who should have received him.. After a joke of a trial. False witnesses who suborned perjury. Now he’s hanging on a cross. Dying.
The curious onlookers mockingly challenge, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
The smug religious leaders snidely remarked, “He saved others; but he cannot save himself.”
Even “one of the criminals who hung on the cross next to Jesus “hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
And all the while the crowds passed by, leering and jeering at Jesus.
Really? You rail against a righteous sufferer? You ridicule someone exposed to painful and humiliating torture? You mock a dying man?
But what does Jesus say as he looks down on those blasphemers who with snide remarks are sneering at him mocking? How does he react? With anger? Disgust? Vindictiveness?
As he hangs there in excruciating pain he prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
As we reflect on Jesus’ dying words, Paul’s exhortation takes on new meaning. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col 3:12-13).
-Ken Weliever, The Preacherman