In the events leading up to Good Friday, Jesus and the Disciples have shared the Last Supper together. He has been betrayed by Judas, arrested, questioned by Caiaphas and the High Priests, deserted and denied by his friends, interrogated and tortured by Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor.
Jesus, innocent of all crimes, has been beaten and abused, rejected by the people who called out ‘crucify him’ and now, handed over to the Roman military, is to be executed.
Whilst we can read each of the Gospel writers’ accounts of what follows, I would like to share an interpretation of events in the form of a news report that John Gullick wrote.
“Jerusalem, at Passover time. Pouring into the City were all manner of visitors, pilgrims, traders and merchants. The streets were packed with people, donkeys, camels all burdened with merchandise.
Struggling against this tide of religion and commerce was the procession of Jesus, his cross slowly moving against the incoming tide of humanity.
Ahead and behind, battle hardened legionnaires pushing and cajoling; always brutally moving the procession forward through the crowds to its destination at Golgotha and death.
And, in this sea of disturbance was the suffering servant of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Stumbling – weakened by merciless whippings and surges of pain – Jesus son of God.
When we arrive at the place called the Skull, Golgotha, Calvary, the agony is paused for a moment as preparations are made for the final and most brutal torture so far.
The thieves with him wait in terror as crosses and hammers and spikes are readied. Even the taunting crowd are hushed as they await the horror that was to follow. Gruff soldiers gesticulating, ordering, organising and in the thick of all this, is Jesus.
Weakened almost until death, the brutal ritual begins; dragging, then throwing Him onto the cross – the crash of steel, the cries of taunting voices, “He saved others, let him save himself”, the cursing of thieves.
The cross is wrenched high, sinking into its hole, the screams of the son of man and the criminals alike, piercing the air, ignored by apathy”.
Amongst all this, Jesus somehow could pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34), “Father, forgive them”.
At a time like that, Jesus, in excruciating agony, prayed. He prayed not that they would be destroyed, but He prayed to God for forgiveness for others. Earlier, he had said “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27), here he is showing us the unimaginable depths of that love.
And who is He praying for? He is praying for Judas who betrayed Him. He is praying for the Jewish leaders who had Him falsely arrested and lied about Him. Jesus is praying for the crowd who yelled, "Crucify him!"
He is praying for Pilate who found Him innocent yet still gave Him up to be crucified. He is praying for the soldiers who whipped Him, mocked Him, spat on Him, and nailed Him to the cross.
Jesus is praying for all of these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.
He wasn’t asking for them to be forgiven because they didn’t understand what he was about; that they were executing the Son of God. It wasn’t their ignorance that justified forgiveness.
In the hymn, ‘Meekness and Majesty’ Graham Kendrick wrote, ‘suffering to give us life, conquering through sacrifice – and as they crucify, prays, Father forgive’.
Forgiveness was through the grace, mercy and love of God. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
And here is what makes Good Friday good. Jesus is praying also for us and all people; for the times we betray Him; for the times we deny Him; for the times we reject Him and let him down by our actions, our words and our dealings with others.
This Good Friday and onwards, let us live in the reality of Jesus’ loving forgiveness made available to all: to us.
Let us pray.
Saviour of the world, what have you done to deserve this? And what have we done to deserve you? Wounded and crushed, strung up between criminals; cursed and spat upon, you wait for death, and look for us, for us whose sin has crucified you. You gave your life that we might live.
To the mystery of undeserved suffering, you bring the deeper mystery of unmerited love.
Forgive us for not knowing what we have done. So often we blunder through life oblivious to everything except our own small world of concerns. Open our eyes to see what you are doing now, as through wood and nails, you bring forgiveness and transform us by your grace.
Let us go in peace, embraced in the love of Christ. Discovering, as we go, that in spirit and in truth, we are walking towards the joy of Easter Day.
God’s blessing on us all this Eastertime.