Forgiving Those Who Killed Him?

J.C. Ryle

Notice in this passage (Luke 23:26) how Jesus intercedes on behalf of those wanting Him dead. We read that when He was crucified, His first words were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." His own agony did not make Him forget others. The first of His seven sayings on the cross was a prayer for the souls of His murderers.

The fruits of this wonderful prayer will never be fully seen until Christ returns. We have no idea how many of the conversions that took place during the first six months after the crucifixion were the direct response to this marvelous prayer. Perhaps this prayer was the first step towards the penitent thief's repentance. Perhaps it was one means of affecting the centurion, who declared our Lord "a righteous man," and the onlookers who "beat their breasts and went away." Perhaps the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost owed their conversion to this very prayer. We may be sure, however, that this amazing prayer was heard.

In our Lord's intercession for those who crucified Him we find one more proof of Christ's infinite love for sinners. The Lord Jesus is indeed most merciful, most compassionate, most gracious. None are too wicked for Him to care for. None are too far gone in sin for His almighty heart to take interest in their souls. He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. He heard the prayer of the dying thief. He stopped under the tree to call the tax-collector Zaccheus. He came down from heaven to change the heart of the persecutor Saul. He found time to pray for His murderers even on the cross. Love like this is a love that passes knowledge. If we need encouragment to repent and believe, this passage surely supplies enough.

Finally, let us see in our Lord's intercession a striking example of how His people should act. Like Him, let us return good for evil and blessing for cursing. Like Him, let us pray for those who persecute us. The pride of our hearts may often rebel against the idea. This world may call it foolish to behave in such a way. But let us never be ashamed to imitate our divine Master. The man who prays for his enemies shows the mind that was in Christ - and will have his reward.

Adapted from The Gospel of Luke by J.C. Ryle (Chapter 23).

Originally published July 19, 2010.