The Power of Forgiveness in the Cross of Christ

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

Jesus – hanging on the Cross. 

A few days before, He forewarned His friends over a final Passover meal together. Feeling the weight of what lay ahead, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to His Father that the cup might pass from Him. Then, betrayed by Judas with a kiss, He is arrested by religious authorities. In a frenzy of cast-off justice, He fades all manner of false charges before the Jewish High Priest. Finally, accused of blasphemy and fomenting revolution, He is interviewed by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. With no basis for their accusations, the crowd clamors with demands for His crucifixion. He is chosen for execution while Barabbas, a revolutionary murderer is set free. Brutally scourged by the Romans, Jesus loses flesh and blood. His hands and arms spread wide and affixed to a crossbeam, He is roughly lifted and dropped into place, with His feet painfully nailed to the upright. Two criminals join Him, one on either side. Jesus: a public spectacle as busy people pass by outside Jerusalem.

The crucifixion has begun. Jesus, dangling there in excruciating pain, says: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). 

What is at the forefront of our minds in times of trouble? Often, we express our thoughts with intense exclamations, like “why is this happening to me?!” or “When will this all be over?!” But not Jesus. For Him, it is: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

First, Jesus says, “Father.” Jesus’ relationship with God the Father is more real and present to Him than anything else, even His own suffering. He once said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Earlier, when He was twelve, Jesus lingered in the Jerusalem Temple, talking with the teachers of the Law. When Joseph and Mary found Him, Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). And now here He is on the Cross…fulfilling His Father’s business.

Next, He says, “Father, forgive.” With gasping breaths, Jesus asks His Father for one thing: forgiveness for others. We know from other episodes in Scripture that Jesus had unique, divine authority to forgive. When asked, “who can forgive sins but God alone?”, Jesus responded by not only speaking forgiveness of sins over a paralyzed man, but also healing him as a proof of divine authority. Now, on the Cross, Jesus sees with stark clarity the real human need for forgiveness. He has seen that need for forgiveness in the disappearance of His friends and the cohorts of soldiers approaching Him. He has felt it in the moisture of a kiss and the scourges ripping into His flesh. He has heard it in the leaders’ mockery and the cry of the crowds. Yet, God’s desire and nature to forgive is most vibrantly real to Jesus.

He says, “Father, forgive them.” Forgive them – the Roman authorities who scourged Him, mocked Him, crucified Him. Forgive them – the Jewish leaders, who, out of envy and self-interest, intentionally victimized Jesus to preserve their own position and protect their own version of religion. Forgive them – the crowd who alternately admired and condemned Jesus, who hailed Him as King when he entered Jerusalem, and now, were crying out, “Crucify Him.” Forgive them – the followers who had voiced their stubborn commitment to never leave Jesus’ side, yet now had mostly disappeared like dust blown away by the wind.Father, forgive them – us today, still yet to come at that moment many years ago. We stumble around in life, trying our best. At times we unintentionally wrong others through ignorance or prejudice. But even worse, at other times we intentionally wrong others with cutting words, angry actions, misguided deeds, or holding onto bitterness as the soil in which evil grows. Though we may feel so far away from that moment two-thousand years ago at the Cross, yet, even for us, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them”

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Ignorance abounds in Jesus’ crucifixion: ignorance of His identity, ignorance of His power, ignorance of the fading power of evil, ignorance of God’s greater plans for humanity through the Christ. But even ignorance is not an excuse. It’s not enough to plead ignorance in the taking of a life, the misguided exclusion, or the failures of responsibility. Even ignorant wrong calls for justice and requires forgiveness.

If that is true, how much more do the intentional wrongs we inflict on others and God through our willful rebellion and self-centered intentions call for change and the need forgiveness?

Jesus – in all the agony of the Cross – was most mindful of talking with His Father about the forgiveness needed for the humanity He had come to rescue.

Scripture tells us that human beings are made in the image of God, and that we are the pinnacle of creation. Because of this, underlying every wrong toward another person is an ultimate wrong against God who has made us in His image. Now if that ultimate wrong against God underlies all the shadows of condemnation that cover us, then we cannot truly make things right with one another, the world, or God on our own. It requires something different.

It would require God standing not only as the One who is wronged, but also the One who takes the weight of that wrong upon Himself; to redirect it, to reframe it, and forgive it. 

God must not only be wronged but also receive the relational and cosmic impact of wrongs upon Himself. Only God has the power to name wrong for what it is but also to deal with the condemnation of wrong. 

And so, Jesus enters our world and our lives as fully God and fully man. He identifies and names the shadows of wrong touching every human life and aspect of our creation. And He enters the shadows of that wrong, ultimately at the Cross.

There, fixed at the crossroads of humanity and divinity, of wrong’s condemnation and wrong’s reparation, Jesus speaks with all authority and all compassion the word we all most need to hear, but could never utter ourselves: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Demand of Jesus: we must die in order to live

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

Jesus demands our first love and allegiance. He has not come to be one among many loves, but first over all loves. Even our familial ties—the closest of our relationships—must fall lower in priority than Jesus, who is Lord. It is not that Jesus wants to decrease our other loves, but that He wants them to find their right place in relation to the primacy of our love for Him. It is only in light of Jesus and our love for Him that all other people and things find their right place and our love for them is set in order.

Who or what do we love most in our lives? If the decision was before us and we had to choose between that person or thing and Jesus, which would we really choose? We may readily say it would be our Savior, but does our daily life, use of time and money, and all other pursuits show that to be true? Do the inner dialogues of our life reveal something to us about our love?

Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life in pursuit of Him. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the good life, sacrifice is essential to what is good. We all know this from our various life experiences. We know that pursuing a goal requires sacrifice. We know that loving another person requires sacrifice. Why would this be different in spiritual matters? The good life spiritually is one that is marked by Jesus’ Cross. It calls for sacrifice at the center of our being, a sort of death to self, which serves as a gate into the real, abundant life with God. As Jesus said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). What we often call “life” is not truly life. It will not bring what we hope it will or, at times, what it promises to bring to us. And so, Jesus must be the touchstone of all existence for us, which requires first a dying to self and then a living in Him. When Jesus is that touchstone, we will begin to see what true life and love is all about.

Are we willing to “die” as we turn toward Jesus? What do we still grasp for desperately that we need to release so we can live in Him?

The Wonder of the Cross: my 2022 Good Friday message

A few people asked me if I would post my message from yesterday’s Good Friday services at Eastbrook, so here it is. The message was based out of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”


“Oh the cross…what You’ve done…It was more than enough…Oh the cross…what You’ve done…the power of Your blood was more than enough.” Those are the striking words we’ve just sung together.

In a letter to early Christians in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes these striking words: 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

How can it be that this message – this gospel – can simultaneously be foolishness to one group and simultaneously reflect God’s power to another group? How can it be that on the one hand some people discount the message of the Cross as utter stupidity (the Greek is the same root word from which we derive our word “moron”) while on the other hand other people would describe it as the wisdom of God? 

I believe it is both puzzling and somewhat understandable. Let me lead us today in a reflection on five aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus which could be seen as utter foolishness and yet reveal the power and wisdom of God.

First, in His incarnation, which leads to the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah took on human flesh so that God might restore broken humanity from the inside out, bringing us back to God.

The insurmountable gap between a holy God and a sinful humanity could not be crossed from the human side. It required God’s initiative. Not only did it require God’s initiative, but God took initiative by doing something that may seem utterly shocking and incomprehensible. God entered human experience and life to bring human life back from the inside. God took on human flesh and bone and, in a sense, lived in our skin. God entered the everyday aspects of flesh-bound human experience. As Eugene Peterson captures it in The Message, “The Word [that’s Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Jesus lived a perfect human life within the flesh. He was not an alien being in our midst, but became one of us, to bring our everyday flesh-bound human experience back to God. Our everyday lives are made sacred with God because Jesus lived an everyday life for God, too.

Second, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah died under sin’s power that we might be set free from sin’s power.

Since the time of Adam and Eve, humanity has been caught under the power and influence of sin. It is something we see and experience in the world around us: the violence of one person against another, injustice and prejudice that pit one group against another, the misuse of money that enriches some at the expense of others, the tendency of nations toward war, and so much more. We see and experience that also in ourselves: the way we desire things we shouldn’t have while ignoring the gifts right in front of us, the lies we tell, both big and small, the cycles of addiction we cannot seem to get free from, the hurts some inflict on us that warp our thinking and the hurts we inflict on others that do the same to them. We are, as it were, trapped in a prison of sin. To remove someone from prison, you can send a message that they are free, but eventually someone must come and open the door. Someone must come into the prison to liberate the captives. And this is exactly what Jesus did.

Although it may seem strange or foolish to say that Jesus must die for our sins, Jesus could not deal with sin partially. He had to take the full effects of our captivity upon Himself. And if we, as human beings, are trapped in an endless imprisonment of sin that is not only a life sentence, but also a death sentence… 
Well, Jesus must take that death sentence for us. And so, He enters the prison of sin, takes the death sentence due us, and through the crucifixion and resurrection sets us free from a prison we could never escape from. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Third, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah was beaten and torn that we might be healed and whole in God.

“How could it be,” some might say, “that God would not only enter our human experience and then be beaten and torn for us? If God was powerful, He would not allow such a thing to happen.” Yes, this seems far-fetched, perhaps even like a form of insanity, but God knows this is the only way. If broken human lives are going to be made whole, it requires more than a surgeon. If broken humanity is going to be made right, it requires more than someone watching from the outside and giving advice. In fact, it takes someone fully living life with God from the inside. Otherwise, human beings might always say, “No, it is not possible for meto be whole. No, it is not possible for me to be healed. No, it is not possible for me to be made right.” 

When a budding athlete wants to know how to excel at their sport, they look to those who have gone before them and have excelled. When a writer wants to know how to do their best at their craft, they look to those who have gone before and have mastered it. So, too, if we want to know how to live whole and healed in God, we need a picture of what that can look like, not in abstraction, but in flesh and bone. Jesus walks within human flesh and bone so that we see what it looks like and know, by God’s power, what is possible “Yes, we can be healed in Christ. Yes, we can be whole in God. Yes, things can be made right through Christ.” As Isaiah the prophet tells us:

“The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5b). 

Fourth, in the crucifixion, Jesus was mocked and vulnerably exposed that we might receive a new identity and restored dignity with God.

One of the most apparently foolish things to claim about Jesus is that He was God, but also that He was vulnerable on earth. In one sense, we know that God is vulnerable all the time. People say all sorts of things about God in the abstract and seem to get away with it. Some people bless God, but others curse Him. Some people say wonderful things about God, while others say terrible things about Him. Amazingly, God seems to handle all that and we don’t think much about it.

But on the Cross Jesus takes on another level of vulnerability. He is terribly mocked by several voices. He is derisively mocked as the Messiah. He is sarcastically mocked as the Son of God. He is mocked in relation to His teaching. He is mocked in relation to His claims to power. 

Beyond the vulnerability of mocking, on the Cross Jesus becomes vulnerable in an even more unimaginable way. I know you may have seen all sorts of artistic renditions of Jesus’ crucifixion, but I hope you don’t mind me telling you that Jesus was stripped absolutely naked to be crucified. Nakedness is the epitome of vulnerability and exposure. And here is Jesus, affixed to a cross in public view, absolutely vulnerable and mocked.

Why would God do this? It may seem foolish. Yet God enters human vulnerability so that no matter what sorts of mocking or exposure we have endured, no matter how vulnerable we have been in our lives, God has been there too. The God of the universe entered that experience to breathe the spiritual breath of His Holy Spirit upon us there. He gives us a new identity as sons and daughters of the most High God, and says that we—mocked, exposed, vulnerable—are worthy of dignity from God. He went to great lengths to show us this. 

Fifth, in the crucifixion and His death, Jesus the Messiah endured pain and separation from God that we might experience the love of belonging with God. 

You may remember that at one point in His crucifixion, Jesus cried aloud, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus experienced real physical pain, but that pain was surpassed by the rending Jesus experienced in relationship with His Father. This is the Father that Jesus had described at one point with this phrase: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But on the Cross, Jesus experienced a chasm between Himself and the Father as He took our sin, our pains, our wounds, our mocking, our vulnerability, and more on Himself. 

“How can this even happen? What foolishness is this?”, some might way. We respond, “Only God could do such a thing.” We were lost, like the prodigal son, in a far country but Jesus the true Son came in search of us to bring us back to God. He experienced the agonizing pain of separation from God yet did so that we might find belonging and love in God. As we read in one of Paul’s letters, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

So, ponder with me the wonder of the crucified Jesus. Some may say such a message at the heart of our faith is foolishness, but we say it is the power of God. Or, as the Apostle Paul continues: 

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

Thank God for His grace amidst all our false and failed sacrifices that have led Jesus to this Cross. 

And as we savor the gift of salvation won for us at the Cross, may we thank God for Jesus, the real sacrifice, on this Good Friday.

Look at Him :: Horace Pippin, “Christ Crowned With Thorns”

christ-crowned-with-thorns-1938.jpeg
Horace Pippin, Christ Crowned with Thorns; oil on canvas; 1938.

Good Friday is a time when we in a serious and focused way turn our eyes upon Jesus our Messiah crucified. It is a time when remember the cost of our salvation in the grisly death of Jesus. Isaiah the prophet speaks to us: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-5). We call to mind the reality that Jesus let go of so much, emptying Himself, in order to bring so much to us. The Apostle Paul describes it: Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). Horace Pippin served in World War I, witnessing the brutality of that conflict and suffering an injury to his shoulder. He took up painting in part as a form of therapy for his injured arm after the war, and quickly became one of the most celebrated African American painters of the ear. Always staying close to the church, Pippin often painted on religious themes. Here Pippin’s portrait of Christ crowned with thorns captures the humble, unadorned Savior right before He is beaten and crucified. His eyes stare at us, inviting us to keep our eyes fixed on Him as He enters the brutality that will bring us life.

Begin with Brokenness: An Ash Wednesday Sermon

Last week at Eastbrook’s “Journey to the Cross” service, I shared this message for Ash Wednesday rooted in Joel 2:12-17.


Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before.

In the Japanese artform kintsugi broken pieces of pottery are taken by an artist and repaired by mending the imperfections with a lacquer infused with powdered gold. Instead of flaws to be hidden, the imperfections become part of the beauty and strength of the vessel worth highlighting.

Kintsugi speaks about two realities we experience in our lives and in the world all the time. One the one hand, things are not the way they should be, and on the other hand, beauty can break forth unexpectedly from brokenness.

The journey of Lent is like this. On the one hand we travel a shocking, broken road with Jesus in Jerusalem. He is hailed as King at His triumphal entry. Many people flock to hear His powerful words and teaching. They watch Him cause a scandal in the religious center. He shows the fruitlessness of dead religion and turns expectations upside down. But what started with great acclaim turns to dark destruction as Jesus eventually is crucified in Jerusalem. His body beaten. His blood poured out.  His suffering for us. 

“He took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4).  On the one hand, Jesus’ journey is difficult.

On the other hand, we discover that Jesus’ difficult pathway to the Cross is God’s pathway for bringing what is good. God brings life, healing, forgiveness, change, and transformation through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross. He turns an upside-down world right-side up. It’s the sort of thing we describe with the Bible word “salvation.” The Apostle Paul describes the wonderful paradox of Lent in 1 Corinthians:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25)

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and powerful than before. We see this in the life and ministry of Jesus.

We see that with God’s work in our own lives as well. On the one hand, we all know that despite appearances we’re not all we’re cracked up to be. We have sinned and we are broken. We experience that in our relationships, in our pursuits, and inside of ourselves. Lent gives us an opportunity to pull off the mask before God and before others and just be our real selves. 

To name before God and others that things are not right and we still need God’s healing, redemption, and salvation in our lives. As Paul says: “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).

On the other hand, God can bring beautiful transformation in our lives by His grace and truth. We are never castoff by God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We are all trophies of God’s grace, prizes of Jesus’ rescue mission.

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before…and that’s even true of us.

But sometimes we can forget all this. Like someone with a case of amnesia we forget why we’re here and what we’re all about. Like someone lost in the forest, we become disoriented and forget which way we are supposed to go. And so, we move through our daily routines without thinking or feeling. Like someone who wakes up in the morning without having a jolt from their daily cup of coffee, we’re groggy in a dreamworld and lacking touch with reality. This touches our life with God as well, both individually and as a community. Amnesiac, disoriented, and groggy, when Lent arrives, we tend to just go through the motions. We give up something. We read the devotional. We participate in the Journey to the Cross service. 

But the prophet Joel snaps us awake with his stark words:

“Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13)

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before. The prophet Joel calls out to a people sinking in the waves of sin and idolatry. He calls them to turn around from their wrong ways and seek after God. Drawing on the action common with repentance, an outward tearing of garments, the prophet tells the people to tear their hearts, to break them up, before God. 

Right alongside his invitation to break our heart with repentance—to turn to God—Joel reminds everyone that God is ready to meet us with His patience, forgiveness, and unyielding love. He takes the broken places of our lives and restores them, infusing these imperfections with His inestimably valuable grace, truth, holiness, and love. 

Lent begins with brokenness. It begins with realizing the ways we have strayed from God. We turn back, tearing our hearts open with confession, bringing to Him the places where we are broken, and presenting to Him our lives. Twentieth-century novelist Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Now, that may be true generally, but with Lent, we do not place ourselves at the mercy of an anonymous world, but in the hands of a loving God who graciously remakes us through Christ.

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before.