"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34)
This first of the seven cross-sayings of Jesus presents Him in the attitude of prayer. His public ministry had opened with prayer (Luke 3:21), and here we see it closing in prayer. Surely He has left us an example! His hands would no longer minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the cross; His feet would no longer carry him on errands of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; He would no longer instruct the apostles, for they have forsaken Him and fled. How then does He occupy himself? In the ministry of prayer! What a lesson for us.
In praying for his enemies not only did Christ set before us a perfect example of how we should treat those who wrong and hate us, but He also taught us never to regard anyone as beyond the reach of prayer. If Christ prayed for his murderers, then surely we have encouragement to pray now for the very chief of sinners! Never lose hope. Does it seem a waste of time for you to continue praying for that man, that woman, that wayward child of yours? Does their case seem to become more hopeless every day? Does it look as though they had gone beyond the reach of divine mercy? Perhaps that one you have prayed for so long has been ensnared by one of the Satanic cults of the day, or he may now be an avowed and blatant atheist, in a word, an open enemy of Christ. Remember then the cross. Christ prayed for his enemies. Learn then not to look on any as beyond the reach of prayer.
One other thought concerning this prayer of Christ. We are shown here the efficacy of prayer. 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. I base this conclusion on Acts 3:17 where the apostle Peter says, "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." It is to be noted that Peter used the word ignorance, which corresponds with our Lord’s "they know not what they do." Here then is the divine explanation of the 3,000 converted under a single sermon. It was not Peter’s eloquence which was the cause but the Savior’s prayer.
Adapted from The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, 1. The Word of Forgiveness, by A.W. Pink.