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TEXT: Luke 23:34

SUBJECT: Henry on the Seven Sayings #1

      Tonight, with God’s blessing, we’ll start a new Puritan study called Matthew Henry on the Seven Sayings.  The “seven sayings”, of course, refer to the words of our Lord on the cross.  I’m slow to find symbolism in the numbers of the Bible, but here I think we have some.  If seven is the number of perfection, then we can say our Lord said everything He needed to say on the cross—and nothing more.  Even in death, He was the perfect Man, the one who did,

“Always those things which please the Father”.

      The seven sayings are spread all over the four Gospels.  The first two are found here in Luke 23.  We’ll look at the first one tonight, with the Lord’s help.  The first thing our Lord said on the cross—after a night of agonizing prayer and brutal treatment at the hands of men is…

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

THE CROSS AND THE WORDS

      The first thing Matthew Henry says about the passage is very interesting.  It never occurred to me and I wonder if it has to you?  He explains why the Lord must die on the cross, and not in some other way, such as hanging or stoning or being beheaded.  He says,

“One reason that He died the death of the cross was that He might have liberty of speech to the last, and so might glorify His Father and edify those around Him”.

      Hanging—I suppose—would have allowed for an atonement.  The Law, after all, said, “Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree”.  Our Lord could have borne the curse of the Law by a death far quicker and less painful than crucifixion.  But He didn’t.  Henry says the cross was needed so that Christ could finish His work of glorifying God and blessing others by His words.

      This means we are required to speak well even when things aren’t going our way.  When we’re under pressure, we often lash out at others and justify ourselves for it—after all, I had things on my mind!  But the example of our Lord says otherwise: even when suffering the pain an disgrace of a crucifixion, “the law of kindness was upon His tongue”.  We need to remember that: problems do not excuse bad words.  There are no time outs in the life of holiness.  The Law of God is in effect at all times.

      Cut others some slack when they’re stressed out—overlook their thoughtless or angry words by all means.  But don’t cut yourself any slack.  The Bible tells us to be patient with the sins of other people, but—as far as I can see—it never tells us to be patient with our own sins.  We’d be holier people if we were as hard on ourselves as we are on others and as soft on others as we are on ourselves!

      Even in death the words of our Lord Jesus Christ glorify God and bless those who hear Him.

      The other thing to note here is also important: the prolonging of our Lord’s pain and humiliation served a good purpose.  When Abraham was commanded to slay his son, Isaac, he wasn’t told to torture him first!  Isaac’s death would have been quick and relatively painless.  But when God slew His Son, He did it slowly, over six hours.  Why?

      Not because He enjoyed seeing the Lord’s suffering, of course, but because He had things for Christ to do in His last hours.  We need to remember this: God wants us to glorify Him until the end of our lives—and not to quit a split-second before that time.

      John Calvin was a severe asthmatic.  During the last weeks of his life, while struggling mightily to breathe, he kept up the pace of his work.  His friends told him to take it easy—he’d done more than others could do in ten lifetimes.  Yet Calvin was taken aback by their words and rebuked them,

“Would you have my Master find me idle when He comes?”

      The Lord was coming for him in death—Calvin knew that perfectly well.  He would work till the very end, doing as much as he could until God said, “that’s enough”.   In this way, Calvin followed the Lord’s example very well.  If Christ has six hours on the cross, He fills the time doing good.

THE UNEXPECTEDNESS

      About the prayer itself, Henry notes how unexpected it was.

“One would think He should pray, Father consume them: Look upon their sin and requite them for it”.

      But, of course, He doesn’t.  He might have, and if He had, He could have quoted Bible verses to support Him.  If you read the Psalms, in particular, you’ll find a lot of them are full of denunciation, inspired men pleading with God to destroy sinners, to blot them out, to starve their children, and so on.

      But our Lord doesn’t pray that way.  No, His first prayer is for His executioners’ pardon.  Why?  There are two reasons, the first in unique to our Lord, the second applies to you and me as well.

      First of all, our Lord was a High Priest and—as such—He was required to make an offering for the sin of His people and also to intercede for them—that’s what the High Priest did on the Day of Atonement.  Well, this, is the True Day of Atonement, and our High Priest is doing His job.  The sacrifice He offers to God for us is Himself.  After doing that, He prays for us, that God would accept the sacrifice and give us the blessings that flow from it—the first of which is…forgiveness.

      In the second place, our Lord prayed for His killers because He loved His enemies.  If He tells us to do it, He does it Himself.  Other preachers don’t always live up to their sermons—me, for example!  But Jesus Christ does!  Everything He demands of us, He demands of Himself—and gets it.

      Never has a man been treated so unjustly, so cruelly.  The Bible says, “He was hated without a cause”.  Yet He prays for the guilty.

      How unexpected this is.  We’ve read it so often—heard so many sermons on it—that we’ve lost the wonder of it all.  How splendid our Lord Jesus Christ is to pray for the ones who crucified Him.

      And how petty we are when we harbor wicked thoughts against people who haven’t done us nearly as much harm as they did Him.

“Amazing love, how can it be that Thou My God, shoulds’t die for Me”.

      And pray for me, too!

THE GENEROSITY

      Henry goes on to note the generosity of the prayer.

“For they know not what they do…There was a veil upon His glory and upon their understanding. How could they see through two veils?  They Wished His blood upon themselves and their Children, but had they known what they did, They would have unwished it again”.

      There’s a kind of man who always thinks the worst of others.  If others do good, he says their hypocrites.  If they make a mistake, he says they did it on purpose.  If they sin, he exaggerates their guilt.  If they apologize, he says they don’t mean it.  He’s the kind of person who searches every silver lining for the dark cloud around it.

      But the Lord is not this way: He assumes that the men who crucified Him had no idea of how great their sins were.  He does not whitewash them as though they were sincerely trying to do the right thing—He knew better than that.  Yet, instead of maximizing their guilt, He minimized it.

      Was He right?  Yes He was.  If Jesus Christ says, “They know not what they do”, then they didn’t!  Again, they’re not innocent—Peter says so on the Day of Pentecost—but they didn’t realize the enormity of what they did.

      Here, too, the Lord shows great love for sinners.  In I Corinthians 13, Paul says,

“Love thinks no evil”.

…That is, love is not suspicious, it’s not eager to find fault or to think men worse than they really are.  What love the Lord Jesus Christ had for sinners—and has!  How kind He is, how patient, how good and generous His thoughts are toward us!

      Once again, how far short we fall of His example!  Are you generous with the faults of other people?  Or do you put the worst construction on everything they say or do?  We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!  If our Lord says His murderers didn’t know what they were doing, how can we impute the worst motives to people who do us wrong?

“Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you”.

      Henry says one more thing here:

“There is a kind of ignorance that does in part excuse sin: ignorance through a lack of means to obtain knowledge or a lack of capacity to receive it.  The crucifiers of Christ were kept in ignorance by their rulers and their prejudices.  Such are to be pitied and prayed for”.

      When someone treats you badly, just assume they didn’t know any better—that, maybe, their parents didn’t teach them better or that their prejudice got in the way, or, maybe they’re just not very smart.  Pity these people, and pray for them.

THE ANSWER

      Henry goes on to remind us that the prayer of our Lord was soon answered.

“This prayer of Christ was answered not long after when many of those who had a hand in His death were converted by the preaching of Peter.  This is written also for an example to us”.

      The Day of Pentecost occurred fifty days after the crucifixion—and in the same place.   When Peter said, “You took Him and with wicked hands crucified and slew Him”, he didn’t mean “you” generically.  No, he mean you in particular did it!  Not your fathers, not the Jews, not the whole human race, but you did it.

      What happened?  When they heard it, Luke says, they were “Cut to the heart and cried out, `What must we do?’”

      Peter said, “repent”, which they did.

      This is a great encouragement!  When we pray for our enemies, we can hope that God will hear us and give them repentance!   He did it for the Lord—and not just for Him—but for others too.

      Three of the wickedest men who ever lived were forgiven because the man they tortured prayed for them.  Their names?  Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar.  Their friend was named Job.  When he prayed for them, God pardoned them.

      We can hope for the same when we pray for those who do us wrong.  So do it!  To help you pray for your enemies, do two things:

      Put yourself in their place.  If you were the sinner—instead of the sinned against—wouldn’t you want someone to pray for you?  If so, “Whatever you would have men do unto you, do unto them”.

      Meditate on what your Savior did for His crucifiers—and for you, too.

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