Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:32-38 – Needing God’s Forgiveness

Grace For The Journey

Jesus is making His way along the road of suffering, the Via Dolorosa; making His way to Calvary where He will be crucified, killed on a cross.  We pick up where we left off at verse 31 from last time and pick up the events now in verse 32.  One of the reasons we are slowing down a bit to focus on the crucifixion of Christ is because . . .

Christ’s death, and

Subsequent resurrection,

Is the pivotal event of Christianity.

A Christianity with no cross is no Christianity, at all.  Some wish to have merely Christian teachings and Christian principles, but no suffering Messiah bleeding on a cross; no substitutionary death, no vicarious atonement.  But a Christianity like that – a Christianity with no cross – is a religion with no life.  Without a cross, we have very little and we have very little to offer.  Without the cross and resurrection, we have nothing to offer when people scratch their heads in wonder, when they struggle with inexplicable real problems, and when they hurt deeply, all we have to offer them are hollow words, tired cliches, and empty platitudes – forms of godliness void of power.

It is hard to make sense of tragic events. Who pretends to fully understand what motivates an individual to randomly kill people.  This is precisely why a Christianity with no cross is of absolutely no lasting help here.  If Jesus were merely a good man, merely a moral man, merely a good teacher and nothing more, then we have nothing to offer the victims of such tragedies.  We have no real hope to offer those who mourn, no answers for those with questions, no light for those sitting in darkness.

But Jesus Christ goes to the cross for these tragedies.  He dies to provide hope for fallen people living a fallen world.  The cross means we may have life beyond the often senseless tragedies that are the byproduct a post-Eden world.  And the cross also means that God cares deeply about justice.  He is a God who will judge the wicked for their wicked deeds.

Our focus this morning is on the cross.  We have only 7 verses here and I want to give a simple descriptive outline of these verses and then I want to share with you the significance of this passage and what we are to make of this text; three things we note about Christ in this passage . . . :

I. He Suffers Crucifixion – Verses 32-33.

In verse 32 Luke tells us that Jesus is not alone as He is led away to be crucified, “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.”  We do not know who these two other guys are.  Luke calls them criminals.  You will remember that the rebel rioter named Barabbas had been released and it could well be that these two other guys were revolutionaries along with Barabbas, but we do not know for sure.  Luke simply tells us that they were criminals and that they were led away with Christ to be put to death.

Verse 33 tells us, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.”  That word “Calvary” is the Latin rendering of a word meaning “skull.”  In Aramaic it is “Golgotha,” which is how it is rendered by the other Gospel writers.  It was probably called “skull” because the place looked like a skull.  It was there “they crucified Him.” They nailed His hands and feet to a cross where He would suffer a slow and agonizing death.  Mark tells us Jesus was on the cross for six hours, from the 3rd hour to the 9th hour or from 9 AM to 3 PM.  The pain He suffered was “excruciating,” the very word meaning, “of the cross,” (“ex-cruciare,” “ex “ – “from,” or “out of,” cruciare, “the cross.” We use that word today to denote extreme pain and suffering.

Luke’s use of the phrase, “There they crucified Him,” suggests we should avoid embellishing Christ’s death by adding extraneous details of His pain and suffering.  Luke does not paint a huge, vivid picture here and neither do the other Gospel writers; just three words in Greek translated into four words in English, “There they crucified Him.”  You see . . .

The Gospel writers, along with the writers of the epistles,

Do not wish for us to focus upon the suffering

Of the Savior, but on the reason for His suffering.

We spoke of this last time when we talked about an over-focus upon the passion of the Christ in movies, plays, and Christian art that merely evokes our sympathies and tugs at our heartstrings, but does nothing to tell us why He suffered.

If we become merely emotional

At the scene of the crucifixion,

But know nothing of the purpose

For which Christ came,

Then we will remain only emotional.  

Jesus wants from us more than emotion.

Remember that He had said to the women back in verse 28, “Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves.”

As God in the flesh,

Jesus needs nothing.

He does not

Want our sympathy;

He wants our souls.

The focus of the Gospel writers in reporting the crucifixion is . . .

A focus not so much

Upon the wounds of Christ,

But on the work of Christ.

Luke does not wish for us

To think so much about

The pain of the cross

As he does

The purpose of the cross.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

This is why He suffers crucifixion.

Secondly . . .

II. He Makes Intercession – Verse 34.

Verse 34 says, “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”  From the cross Jesus intercedes for others.  To intercede is, “To intervene on behalf of another,” usually through prayer.  Jesus prays, asking the Heavenly Father to forgive what these people are doing to Him.  He practices what He had preached.  Do you remember the Sermon on the Plain back in Luke 6:27-28?  Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”  This was the way of Stephen prayed in Acts 7:60.  He had been persecuted for his faith and was being stoned.  Before he died this verse tells us, “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

Some of us may have forgotten that this is what our Lord requires of us, to “Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who spitefully use us.”  Jesus says, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Now that is not quite right, is it?  They knew what they were doing, did they not?

  • Didn’t this crowd know what they were doing?
  • Didn’t Pilate and the Roman soldiers know what they were doing?
  • Didn’t the Jews know what they were doing?

Of course, everyone knew what they were doing: they were crucifying Jesus of Nazareth. Why, then, this statement? 

They knew what they were doing,

But they did not understand

The significance of what they were doing.

They were blind to the sovereign will of God in giving His Son to die for their sins.  This is the essence of Peter’s message later in the Book of Acts.  Peter is preaching in Jerusalem to the Jews and he says in Acts 3:17, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”

Paul says the same to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, “But we speak…the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages…which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

This is why Jesus prays as He does.  This is why He intercedes for the people.  He knows that they fail to understand the significance of His death.  And we have changed little in 2,000 years.  We stated the case a moment ago, didn’t we?

Many today are merely taken

With the passion of the cross,

Failing to understand

The purpose of the cross.

The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

He suffers crucifixion . . . He makes intercession . . . thirdly . . .

III. He Receives Condemnation: Verses 35-38.

The second part of verse 34, “They divided His garments and cast lots.”  There were usually 5 Roman soldiers charged with the task of overseeing a crucifixion and one of the perks of the job was getting the garments of the condemned person.  Like throwing dice, they determined who would get what.  They divided His garments.

It is easy to read that statement and fail to consider fully the implications of it.  If they divided His garments, then they must have taken His garments off of Him, which suggests He was perhaps entirely naked as He hung on the cross.  We can hardly imagine a more shameful and humiliating scene than the scene of Roman crucifixion.

Verse 35 tells us, “And the people stood looking on.  But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’” The “rulers” are the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin Council.  They taunted Jesus. They “sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself.”  Do not miss the irony of their statement.  They could not deny that Jesus had, “saved others.”  

  • He had saved a sinful woman in the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:50).
  • He had saved a demon-possessed man (Luke 8:36).
  • He had saved a woman from bleeding to death (Luke 8:38).
  • He saved a little girl from death by bringing her back to life (Luke 8:50).
  • He had saved 10 lepers from leprosy (Luke 17:19).
  • He saved a blind man near Jericho who had sat by the road begging (Luke 18:42).
  • He had saved others.

They couldn’t deny that truth.  More condemnation in verse 36, The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine.” Sour wine or wine vinegar was the kind of wine the Roman officers drank.  They were probably offering Christ this wine to prolong His agony, prolonging His suffering by quenching His thirst.  They join the rulers in taunting Christ, as verses 37-38 tell us, “And saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’  And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  It was customary to have one’s crime stated in a title or placard above the condemned.  As far as Rome was concerned Jesus was crucified on political grounds, guilty of proclaiming to be King of the Jews.

What’s the Significance of This?

This passage demands from us at least two actions.

First . . .

1. Realize Scripture’s Fulfillment In Christ.

What we are reading in these 7 verses is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy concerning the coming Messiah.  The Old Testament Scriptures predicted that the coming Christ would . . .

  • Die among criminals (Isaiah53:12; Luke 22:37,
  • That His garments would be divided among others (Psalm 22:18).
  • That He would be offered vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21).
  • That He would be taunted (Psalm 22:7-8).
  • That He would make intercession for others (Isaiah 53:12).

Consider Psalm 22:7-8, written 1,000 years before Christ, “All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

Consider Psalm22:16-18, “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Consider Isaiah 53:3-7, 12, written 700 years before Christ, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Scripture’s fulfillment is in Christ.  It is nothing short of a miracle of God that these Scriptures written about a thousand years before the events are fulfilled precisely and perfectly in Jesus Christ!  Christ’s death on the cross was not an accident.  Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of a plan.  In God’s providence, because of God’s love, He gave His Son to die. He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This truth takes us to the second action.  First, Realize Scripture’s fulfillment in Christ. Secondly . . .

II. ReceiveSin’s Forgiveness In Christ.

Why does Jesus not save Himself?  Why does He not come down from the cross?  

He does not save Himself

So that He may save others.  

He does not save Himself

That He may save others.

Jesus had prayed in verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Do not miss this truth . . .

His prayer for their forgiveness

Is answered by His death,

Which brings them

Forgiveness of sin.

He died for you and me!

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

That is why He didn’t save Himself, that He might save you.  He died for you.

So, Christ does not save Himself so that He may save others.  He had prayed, “Father, forgive them . . .”  That is, “Do not impute their trespasses to them.”  The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthian 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.”

God does not count our sins against us,

Because He counts our sins against Him.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Christ does not save Himself so that He may save others.

“He saved others,” Has He saved you?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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