Monday, March 11, 2019

Words from the Cross: Forgive Them

A man was taking a walk through the neighborhood and noticed a boy who was too short to reach the button straining to ring a doorbell. The man stepped up to the porch and aggressively pushed the button for him. "Now what, young man?" he asked the boy. 

“Now we run like crazy!" Sometimes we do things that if we knew better, we wouldn’t have done.
It has never felt right to me that ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law. If we didn’t know it was against the law, we wouldn’t have broken it, generally. But, the law is black and white. Either you did what the law said not to do, or didn’t do what the law said to do, therefore you violated the law.

Lev 5:17 Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. 

We understand this judicially. The word judicial means of or relating to judgments – rules, laws, commands. A judge declares you guilty based on the fact of what you did.

But we struggle with it judiciously. The word judicious means having good judgment. A judge may declare you not-guilty, even though you did what you are charged with, if, in his judgment the circumstances warrant it.

Justice lies somewhere between the two.

The judge has the right to determine what would be best in any given situation. For justice to be served, the verdict may demand punishment, or it may require pardon. But the judge has the right to decide. A judge can even factor in ignorance when determining guilt if he chooses to look at the crime through intent.

But why was God’s rule so harsh? Where is His justice? Leviticus and the Law in general are the standards God set to teach His people how to live as His people. He’s telling them what’s right and wrong. That standard has to be rigid if people are expected to adjust their lives to it. You can’t adjust to a standard that keeps changing. It must be impartial, holding everyone to the same standard. And there must be consistency in the outcome for disobeying. For people to learn accountability for their actions there can be no excuses. That’s the judicial side of Law.

Paul said: Rom 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 

When it comes to God’s standard, there is no excuse. He’s fair and impartial. Here is the line. Don’t cross it. If you do cross it, here are the consequences.

One of those laws was Do not kill. So, it is interesting to me when Jesus was on the cross He would say: Luke 23:34 "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

It sounds like He is asking the Father to excuse them in this act of killing Him on the basis of ignorance. How can you ignorantly kill someone?

What was Jesus doing? He was appealing to God the Judge as their advocate. The role of the Advocate is to seek justice. John wrote: 1John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 

An Advocate is one who comes along side to help. Like an attorney pleading our case before the Judge, Jesus is asking the Father not to hold this against them.

As Judge God can act judicially, or He could act judiciously. He could throw the book at them for what they did, or He could determine justice would be better served in setting them free from the charges. Why, in the cruelty of this moment, would Jesus ask Him to pardon them? Because what was being accomplished was greater than their actions.

Consider what was going on. John 10:15-18 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

Though the Romans and Jewish leaders were instrumental in His death, they were not taking His life. He was giving His life up to serve the purposes of the Father.

Gen 22:8 Abraham said [to Isaac], "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

Isa 53:5, 10 He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are made wholeThe LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; as He rendered Himself a guilt offering

John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 

If Jesus was declared by prophecy to be the sacrifice for sin, slain as the sin offering which granted forgiveness which John affirmed He was, what was going on here?

Heb 9:26 Jesus has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Manifested: displayed, exposed, identified.

John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. Explained what about God?

2Cor 5:19, 21 God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against themHe made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 

The mission of Jesus was greater than the accumulation of the actions of the people crucifying Him. Even though their actions were against Him, and violated God’s command not to kill, they played into God’s plan to sacrifice Jesus for the sins of the world.

Last week we mentioned Elisabeth Elliot. She was the wife of Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed in 1956 along with four other missionaries as they tried to make contact with a tribe in the jungle of Ecuador. Years later another group of missionaries returned to that same village and shared the gospel. The very native that had led the attack received Jesus as his Savior and became a Christian. He’ll go to the same Heaven as Jim. Where’s the justice in that? Why was he not held accountable for his crime? Because the purpose of God had been accomplished in his life.
The sum total of that man’s life was reduced to one collective need – forgiveness. He was forgiven, not just for taking Jim’s life, but was washed clean of all that separated him from God. From that total forgiveness he became a Child of God.

It was the same for the men who performed the literal work of bringing about Jesus’ death. When it was all over, they needed to cry out for cleansing of their whole lives, not just one sin.
So, what was Jesus asking for? "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."
Jesus wasn’t calling for the spiritual experience of removing their penalty but acknowledging they were making divine history happen without knowing it.

John 19:9-11 and Pilate entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above

Jesus was telling Pilate he wasn’t in charge of the story. God had placed Pilate there to fulfill prophecy. To carry out the mission of sacrifice, Jesus had to be in control.

After Pentecost, Peter shared a second message: Acts 3:17-19 And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 

There was no greater sin to be forgiven of than them having rejected Jesus as Messiah and Savior. In fact, what the Romans and Religious leaders did in ignorance is not what they are held accountable for. We would think: “Oh, you killed Jesus. You deserve the hottest space in Hell.” The Nazi’s made much out of this accusation against the Jews. And like the Nazi’s, they actually thought they were doing God a favor: John 16:2-3 They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 

So, to accomplish the plan, God kept them from understanding who Jesus was: 1Cor 2:8  the wisdom [of God’s plan] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 

They were without personal knowledge of who Jesus was and why He came, so their ignorance helped them participate in God’s plan. But their ignorance didn’t remove the guilt they carried for rejecting Him as Messiah. They had rejected their only hope. And in the end, that’s what they would be held accountable for, not killing Jesus but refusing to crown Him King.

During the Revolutionary War, a spy appeared with an urgent message at the headquarters of the enemy commander Colonel Johann Rall. General George Washington and his Continental army had secretly crossed the Delaware River that morning and were advancing on Trenton, New Jersey where the enemy was encamped. The spy was denied an audience with the commander and instead wrote his message on a piece of paper. A porter took the note to the colonel, but because Rall was involved in a poker game he stuffed the unread note into his pocket. When the guards at the camp opened fire in a futile attempt to stop Washington's army, Rall was still playing cards. Without time to organize against them, Washington and his men captured the camp. Colonel Rall lost because he refused the message.

The message of the Gospel is both good news and bad news. BAD: Rom 3:23 there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… GOOD: Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for usBEST: John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 

Jesus came to die. For Him to die, someone had to kill Him. According to prophecy, the method of that killing had to be crucifixion. Remove everyone from the scene except Jesus, the cross, nails and a hammer. And you are the only person available. You, then, must nail Jesus to the cross. It has to be done, so, like Mel Gibson in the Passion, it’s your hand pounding the nails into His hands and feet.

Then, if, after having done so, you stood before God, what would He ask you? Were you the one who nailed Jesus to the cross? Or did you receive Jesus as Savior and King?

Jesus died because we all need forgiveness – not for specific sins but for the fact we are sinners separated from God. Who killed Him was immaterial. But, since they did it, the pathway to access to the Father is now available through Jesus’ death.

Paul said: 1Tim 1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 
Paul wasn’t judged by the specific things he had done before he gave his life to Jesus. He was judged because he was separated from God because of sin period. The moment he gave himself to the Lord, he received the forgiveness that washed away all his sin.

The key to understanding why Jesus died is seeing our need for forgiveness from the sin that separates us from God. Which one? The sin of rejecting Him. Thankfully there were men who helped Jesus accomplish the death. Even more so, thankfully, there was a God who would, by that death, accept us as His children.

  1. The crucifixion was a spiritual necessity.
  2. Forgiveness needed a cleansing agent to wash sin away.
  3. Jesus carried within His body the only blood that could cleanse sin.
  4. To release that blood, Jesus had to die a bloody death.
  5. Crucifixion produced such a death.
  6. All of this was planned by God so that He could offer salvation to the world, and more personally to us.

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