Just before the Valentines Day the sporting world was shocked to learn that Oscar Pistorius popularly known as the “blade runner” allegedly killed his girl friend Reeva Steenkamp a 29 year old South African Model. Another tragic loss of life! Following the tragedy Reeva’s uncle Mike Steenkamp made a refreshing statement saying, “I would like to meet Oscar Pistorius and forgive the man who killed my niece “That way I can find more peace with the situation,” he told CNN’s Drew Griffin during an interview that he would forgive Pistorius whether the shooting was an accident or not. “Whatever, whatever the outcome. I feel with my belief and if Christ could forgive when he died on the cross, why can’t I?”
What a courageous statement of forgiveness! When I hear such statements it makes me think that that this world we live in is not all that bad; there are some who still believe in the message of forgiveness. The world needs this message so desperately. While Jesus was hanging between life and death on the cross said. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Why should Jesus offer any forgiveness, especially towards those who ordered His execution? Yet Jesus prayed for forgiveness because it was his mission to forgive, though it cost Him His life. It is not easy to forgive, yet forgiveness is what the Cross is all about. God placed all our sins on Jesus on the cross so that you and I might be forgiven of our sins.
Let’s look at how Christ exhibited “Radical Forgiveness” in Luke 23: 33-43. According to the traditional church calendar we are entering the Holy week. The Holy week is the week preceding Easter and the final week of Lent. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.
During the Holy Week, Christians commemorate the Passion of Christ, on Good Friday we remember his death for the sins of mankind. Before we delve into the message of the Cross let me point out some ironies. In fact the crucifixion itself is the great irony. It doesn’t make sense to the common mind. The scriptures say that, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” I Cor 1:18 (NLT) Oh! How we thank God for the Cross without which we have no redemption.
I. THE GREAT IRONY:
The whole act of crucifixion from beginning until its end is filled with one big Irony. The innocent one who committed no violence was accused of subverting the nation and stirring up trouble. The king of the universe stands meek before Governor Pontius Pilate. There was no reasonable evidence to suggest that Jesus committed any of the allegations against him. In fact Pilate himself said three times, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23:4) Yet the crowds sought for the highest punishment according to the law; the death penalty. The crowds: some of them perhaps were healed by him; ate the bread and fish and blessed by his teachings now have turned against Him, shouting Crucify him! Crucify him! A man who knew no sin was cowardly handed over to be crucified while a rebel and a murderer was released.
The creator of the world now in the hands of those he created; mocked; beaten up; humiliated and finally hung on the cross like a criminal between two robbers. Has this humiliating situation changed his relationship with the father? In no way it was jeopardized He still called God, “Father” How would you address God if you are to go through such pain? Do you curse him or still call him “Father? Jesus interceded for both Jews and Romans. Jesus not only asked God to extend forgiveness to his tormentors but he himself granted forgiveness to a repentant criminal in his final hours as the true Messiah.
II. RADICAL FORGIVENESS:
The gospel writer Luke included more details of the crucifixion in his gospel where the other writers either have omitted or paid not much attention. Luke explains in detail about the mockery of the religious leaders, the Roman soldiers and the executed criminals. Though all these three groups mocked at Jesus the most dishonoring mockery came from the criminals whose place in the mainstream society has already been categorically dismissed.
Let me set the scene for you. Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left. We read in Vs 39, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! This insult was loaded with sarcasm and aimed at undermining the very purpose of Christ’s coming into this world which is “to seek and save what was lost.” Luke 19:10, The first thief lacked the fear of God. He did not recognize Jesus as the true savior of the world. As always Christ refused to act on the demand of the first thief. Was Christ not really capable of saving himself and the thieves? No! Then what can we make of his refusal? We must realize here that Jesus’ unwillingness to act was not a sign of impotence instead it was a sign of absolute humility and the act of ultimate submission to God.
The Apostle Paul while writing to the Philippians explains this unparalleled obedience of Christ. Philippians 2: 5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross.” Coming back to the story! The second thief got a few things right. Firstly he rebuked his friend for his irreverence and sarcasm. Secondly, he accepted the fact that he was guilty of doing wrong and was justly being punished for it.
Thirdly; he affirmed Christ’s innocence by saying, “this man has done nothing wrong.” Fourthly; He recognized Christ as the true king and one day he was going to come back and establish His Kingdom on the earth. Fifthly; he repented and accepted Christ as his personal savior, by just calling him “Jesus” just how the sinners; tax collectors and the ordinary folk in the society used to call him just “Jesus” Unlike the first thief who was only concerned about his earthy rescue so that perhaps he could go back to his robbery and murderous life style; the second thief was concerned about his eternal destination. He just could not assume that he was going to get there because he knew how lost he was if anything was going to save him, it had to be the sheer mercy of God, so he said; “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus assured him and said, “I will tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.”
This statement has raised quite a few theological questions. What did he mean when he said; “today According to Randy Alcorn the author of “Heaven” when Jesus said today you will be with me in paradise he was referring to the intermediate Heaven.”
As we approach Good Friday; let’s reflect on the events surrounding the cross and the conversation between Jesus and thieves. They remind us of a few simple truths. Firstly; in our sinful nature we too are like those two thieves who hurled insults at Jesus. Secondly; though both the thieves saw Jesus from a close proximity one hardened his heart and died in his unrepentant state while the other repented and was assured eternal life. The choice is ours. Even after seeing what Jesus has done in our lives and in the lives of others we can remain hard hearted or choose to repent. Thirdly; Christ not only forgives our sins but also expects us to forgive others when they sin against us.
In closing let’s pray the prayer our Lord has taught his disciples: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts (sins) as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever Amen.
 Randy Alcorn, “Heaven” page 55