By Nick Batzig
It’s been quoted that on his deathbed, Ben Franklin told his daughter—upon her asking him to turn over on his side—“a dying man can do nothing easy.” This is a sobering statement in light of the accomplishments of the one who said it.
How much more astonishing are the dying words of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world! No one spoke like the Son of God. Immediately after the soldiers crucified Him, Jesus said the first of His seven words from the cross. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This dying word is a word of mercy, grace, and love.
This is a word of mercy for sinners. Jesus was not thinking only of Himself on the cross. He was thinking about those He had come into the world to save. Jesus was not praying for innocent people. He was not asking his Father to be merciful to people who had done something deserving of that mercy. He asked for mercy for those who had nailed Him to the cross. He was interceding on behalf of His enemies. Jesus came to be the sacrifice for sinners and the Great High Priest of His people.
Christ came to offer Himself as a sacrifice to God and to intercede on behalf of those who needed His sacrifice applied to their lives. Jesus was not simply praying for mercy on behalf of the soldiers who had crucified Him; He was praying for His own people who had cried out, “Crucify! Crucify him!” (v.21). Jesus was entrusting His enemies into the merciful hands of His Father. This is no less true of them than it is of us. Scripture teaches that we are all enemies of God, living under His wrath and curse by nature.
This was also a word of grace in that Jesus asked His Father to give His enemies salvation and eternal life. To have our sins forgiven by God is our greatest need in this life and for eternity. Charles Spurgeon captured the essence of this prayer when he wrote,
“[Christ] seeks the best thing, and that which his clients most need, ‘Father, forgive them.’ That was the great point in hand; they needed, most of all, there and then forgiveness from God. He does not say, ‘Father, enlighten them, for they know not what they do,’ for mere enlightenment would but have created torture of conscience and hastened on their hell; but he crieth, ‘Father, forgive.’”
Finally, this was a word of love. What could compel the Son of God, while in pain from being nailed to the tree, to think about the good of those crucifying Him? Simply put, it was love. As Jesus drew near the cross, the Apostle John explained, “Having loved His own in the world, He loved them to the end.” No one loved his enemies like Christ. This is seen in how Jesus prayed for the salvation of those who hated Him while He took their sin, the wrath of God, and the powers of hell on Himself.
If it’s true that “a dying man can do nothing easy,” how astonished ought we to be at what the Son of God prayed while engaged in the most difficult work any man has undertaken? In that first word He spoke on the cross, we peer into the rich treasury of God’s mercy, grace, and love in Christ.