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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:The Lord's Prayer on the Cross
Text:Luke 23:34a (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Luke 23:26-43

Text: Luke 23:34a

Singing: Ps. 42:1,2,3; Ps. 69:1,2,7; Ps. 22:5,6,7; Hy. 21:6,7; Ps. 63
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

The Lord Jesus spoke seven times while hanging on the cross. This morning we will listen to the gospel as it comes to us through the first utterance of Christ on the cross. His first utterance, a prayer, a petition: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

I proclaim to you the Lord's Prayer on the cross.


He prays:

1. To hold back the judgment; 2. On behalf of the ignorant.

1. What a contrast between this prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ and the warnings words of judgment he spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem. Why the frightening words for the daughters of Jerusalem who were weeping for him-pitying him-and the gentle prayer for forgiveness for the vicious men torturing and killing him?

Christ prayed this prayer to make time and room for the gospel to be proclaimed-for people to be brought from ignorance to knowledge.

Many say that he prayed this to teach us to forgive those who offend us. They say: Look at Christ! He prayed God to forgive those who crucified him. Then a huge jump is made to how we are to imitate Christ and forgive those who hurt us. That's the wrong explanation and application. The one has nothing to do with the other. We are to forgive those who offend us and apologize because God has, in Christ, forgiven us. But that has nothing to do with the Lord's Prayer on the cross.

Rather, as I already said (and hope to demonstrate), Christ prayed this prayer to make time and room for the gospel to be proclaimed-for people to be brought from ignorance to knowledge.

If he had not prayed that prayer-if he had not made these words the first of his seven utterances of the cross-then God would have unleashed a storm of fury, wrath and judgment like never before seen in the history of the world. No small thing was happening on Golgotha that Friday long ago. Look what they were doing! They were killing the Author of life. How can human life go on if the Author life is killed? Dead? How can human life not be utterly destroyed?

They were killing the Lord of glory. Subjecting the Lord of glory to the greatest indignity.

They were killing the Son of God. The eternal Son of God who loved the world so much that he came to redeem it.

They were killing a righteous man, an innocent man, a man whom Pilate, the Roman governor, had declared to be innocent, not guilty.

Look how they were treating him. They had mocked him and flogged him, spat in his face. Then they crucified him between two criminals. This is what they thought of him. The King of the Jews on a cross between two criminals. They took his clothes.

Imagine the scene in your mind's eye. The Lord Jesus hanging naked on a cross in view of many, and the soldiers playing roulette for his clothes. Raffling off his clothing.

How could God the Father stand it?

The people watching, sneering, laughing and mocking. The soldiers making sport of him. One of the criminals goading him.

How could God stand it?

Oh, I know, the prophets had foretold that the Christ would suffer. Christ came for this very purpose. The eternal purpose of God for the salvation of sinners was unfolding exactly according to plan. No doubt about that. And yet, what the people were doing was condemnable-killing the Son of God.

And did not Christ say earlier, just the evening before while being arrested, that he could call on his Father, and his Father would at once put at his disposal more than twelve legions of angels? A Roman military legion was composed of differently skilled men: spearmen, commandos, skirmish specialists, cavalry, and reserves. Christ just had to ask and the heavenly Father would have put more than 72,000 angels, equipped and ready to fight for their Captain in many different ways, at his disposal.

How could God stand what man was doing to his Son?

The Doomsday Clock of God's judgment was about to strike midnight. The Doomsday Clock announcing the day of the Lord was about to chime.

In the OT you often read about the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is the day of God's wrath against a people, a humanity, that opposes God. It is the final day, the day of judgment, when God will unleash his fury upon a people that have offended him time after time. That insult him and outrage him.

Have you ever heard of the Doomsday Clock? Or, as it is more properly called, the Bulletin Clock? For nearly 56 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been displaying a clock on its cover as a symbol of nuclear danger. You see the face of a clock with the minute hand approaching midnight. A countdown to zero hour and a nuclear holocaust. Originally, in 1947, the minute hand was seven minutes to midnight. Since then the minute hand has been moved back and forth to dramatize the magazine's view of world events. Moved as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the US and the old Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another. And as far back as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 when the US and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Right now the clock is back at seven minutes to midnight.

The Lord has his Doomsday Clock. The day of his judgment and wrath which will cause a greater meltdown of creation than any thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction. When the Son of God was abused, beaten, killed and left for dead on the cross, how could God's Doomsday Clock not advance to midnight?

If God had destroyed creation for what man was doing to his Son, that would have been the end. The end of mankind. The end of the world. The end of history.

But listen. Hear Christ pray: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." He does not say: "Father, send me twelve legions of angels to destroy them." The Father would have. He prays: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He intercedes for the ignorant.

He prays for an extension of time. Time to complete his work of salvation. This prayer of Christ opens the possibility for him to make the other utterances on the cross. To promise salvation to the one criminal. To commend his mother to John's care. To cry out of the midst of his forsakeness (that we would never be forsaken). To announce the completion of his work. And to commend his spirit into the hands of his Father.

He prays so that he might die as the only atoning sacrifice for the sins of God's people, and rise from the grave as victor over sin, death, the grave, hell and Satan. That he might gather for himself a church out of all tribes and peoples and languages.

He prays for a delay in the judgment. He asks that God extend the day before the clock strikes midnight.

Once before God extended the day at the request of a man called Joshua. Jesus is the Greek form for the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua, the Jesus-Saviour of the OT, once asked God to extend the day. When he was leading Israel in war against the Amorites. Joshua asked the LORD to make the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. Josh 10:13 says: So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

The Joshua-Saviour of the NT prayed the Father to extend the day. It is a temporary extension. The end will come. The clock will strike midnight. The day will be over and the day of Judgment will dawn.

Are we aware of that? That we are living on borrowed time? That the hands of God's timing are moving. Soon the day will be over and we will all be called before the judgment seat of God?

2. Christ prayed these words on behalf of the ignorant.

The ones crucifying him did not know what they were doing. Oh, they knew they were nailing a man to the cross. Even an innocent man. And yet, they really did not know what they were doing.

For whom is Christ praying? Who are the "they" of "they do now know what they are doing"? This would include the soldiers and the people.

In Acts 3, Peter said to the people: Men of Israel, you handed Jesus Christ over to be killed; you disowned him before Pilate. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life.

But then Peter added: Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.... Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, You did not know what you were doing. Repent, turn to God for the forgiveness of your sins.

If they had recognized Jesus Christ for whom he was, if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The OT teaches that there is no forgiveness for one who sins defiantly against better knowledge whereas there is the possibility for forgiveness for those who sin because of ignorance. As the OT says, those who sin unwittingly.

The Lord was not praying that the people who crucified him be eternally absolved of their sin. Rather, he was praying that God not lash out with his judgment right then and there, but that he delay the judgment so that those people who were acting in ignorance could have time to repent of their sin, and so be forgiven.

The fruit of Christ's prayer began to show immediately. One of the two criminals said: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And the Lord could answer him: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. This criminal-the first man who benefited from the delay in judgment, from the prayer of Christ that the Father not punish the people for what they were doing in ignorance. The criminal-the first man to be brought from ignorance to knowledge. He came to understand what was being done to Christ, who he was; he repented and was saved from judgment and wrath.

And then, the centurion uttered praise to God and said: Surely this was a righteous man. Or as Mark tells it, the centurion said: Surely this man was the Son of God. The centurion brought from ignorance to knowledge.

Then you have the people, the witnesses, who, when all was said and done and Jesus was dead, went away beating their breasts (a sign of anguish, grief, and possibly even remorse).

Just a few months later, Peter calls to repentance the people of Jerusalem who had in ignorance killed the Author of life, and before long thousands are baptized into the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.

The delay of God's judgment, the time for repentance, extends even to today. It extends from Jerusalem to the whole world.

It includes Paul who wrote in one of his last letters: (1 Tim 1:13) Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.

Just as Christ bore the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, so this prayer of Christ on the cross bought time for the whole human race. Today there are still many ignorant. Their ignorance is forgiven them in that God does not punish them today for their ignorance of him. He let's them live. He continues the world and history. But only so that they can be brought from ignorance to knowledge. Knowledge of him, of God, of the gospel, of the way of salvation. For ignorant people are not saved. But God allows them to continue living so that they may hear the gospel and repent.

Their ignorance of Christ and of how Christ bore the weight of God's wrath against the sin of the whole human race does not excuse their sin or their sinfulness. They need to hear the gospel and to bow before the Lord of glory, the Author of life, who died but rose again. The delay in judgment gives them time.

It gives the church time to preach the gospel. The task of the church to preach the gospel is both a beautiful task and a dangerous one. It can be dangerous for the hearer. For if he rejects the gospel preached, he sins defiantly, and there is no salvation for him. He will be eternally condemned on the day of wrath.

But it is also a beautiful business. Faith in Christ crucified opens the way through the torn curtain into the paradise of God. Into the bosom of the Good Shepherd.

We are still in the time of delay that Christ brought about with his prayer. One day the delay will be over. The minute hand is moving toward midnight. Once the last elect child of God has been born, there will be no more delay.

Are you making ready for midnight? Let me end with the words of the Apostle Peter: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago.

Make yourself ready for midnight. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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