Opening—and Closing—in Prayer: The Prayer of Forgiveness

In return for my love they accuse me,
but I continue to pray.
—Psalm 109:4

Last words carry special significance. Even the quietest among us utter a lot of words throughout the course of our lives, many of them conveying little of lasting importance. But those who are given the opportunity to say something during their final hours don’t typically comment on the weather or the alarming rise in gas prices. They talk about what matters most to them. They say things they want their loved ones to remember them by. They express what’s on their hearts.

We see in that moment who they really are, unfiltered and unpretentious.

Scripture records seven statements Jesus made from the cross during those final six hours of suffering—His “last words” before His death and subsequent resurrection. Each of these statements provides insight into the richness and reality of the gospel as well as giving us an intimate gaze into the depths of His love for the Father and for the needy sinners He came to redeem.

Matthew Henry, one of my favorite old-time Bible commentators, makes an interesting observation about these last words. He wonders if perhaps “one reason why [Jesus] died the death of the cross was that he might have liberty of speech to the last, and so might glorify his Father, and edify those about him.”1 I do know that my life has never stopped being warmed, blessed, and comforted—truly edified—by these choice words from our Savior’s lips, especially because they came while He was enduring a deeper, more intense form of agony than any other has ever known.

Jesus spoke . . . to the end. And we should listen.

His first utterance, spoken soon after He’d been nailed to the cross—or maybe while the nails were actively being driven—was not merely a statement. Notice the construction of this sentence: 

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

Do you see that this is a prayer? Jesus was speaking to His Father.

You’ll remember that Jesus began His public ministry praying. He prayed while standing in the waters of His baptism, and “heaven opened” above Him (Luke 3:21), bringing the voice of the Father affirming His love for the Son.

Prayer, of course, remained the pattern of Christ’s life after that. He prayed in the mornings and into the night. He prayed in secret and in public. He prayed to His Father incessantly.

It’s only natural then—if anything was natural about Jesus’ crucifixion—that here at the end of His earthly ministry He would continue this lifelong (indeed, eternal) conversation with the Father. He was no longer in a position to heal or teach or place His hands on the tired shoulders of the hurting and bereaved. But He could pray. Nothing—nothing!—could stop His praying.

They could make Him walk the long path to this place called “The Skull”—Calvary in Latin, Golgotha in Hebrew—even as the pain of each staggering step shot upward like daggers through His throbbing legs.

They could stake His bleeding body to a heavy, wooden, torturous device of death, hammering the nails through the tender flesh and cartilage of His feet and hands. They could jolt His cross upright alongside those of two criminals, “one on the right and one on the left” (Luke 23:33).

But they could not stop His praying.

Historians tell us that death by crucifixion was one of the cruelest ways a person could be executed. Not only was this the mode of punishment the Father chose for Jesus, but it followed a brutal gauntlet of harsh beatings and floggings, with reeds whipped like fiery switches against His body and a woven crown of thorns plunged into His scalp. On top of that came the mocking, the ridicule, the angry derision. Who could have blamed Jesus if He had joined the ranks of crucifixion victims who were known to scream curses at their Roman executioners, sometimes having their tongues cut out to quiet them.

Yet Jesus didn’t curse.

Instead, He prayed.

I think of individuals I’ve known who have come to a point where they can’t be as active as they once were. They may be confined to their homes, even to their beds, restricted by physical limitations or discomfort from doing things that feel purposeful and productive to them. They can’t get involved in a lot of ministry tasks anymore. Their stamina won’t hold out long enough for them to serve in ways that they equate with bringing real help and cheer to others. 

But they can pray—and they do. In God’s economy, their prayers may be the most important ministry of their lives.

While we contemplate today this first word spoken from the cross, marvel that at the end of His earthly life Jesus prayed to His Father, pleading with Him on behalf of undeserving sinners. And see in your own prayers a ministry that attracts the Father’s ear and results in mercy being sent from heaven to earth. Never allow yourself to wonder whether prayer has any impact or whether it can connect people to the outpoured blessings of God.

Christ’s first word from the cross reminds us that our prayers can make an eternal difference, no matter where and when we offer them up.

Adapted from Incomparable: 50 Days with Jesus by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth (©2024). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Did you enjoy this article by Nancy? It’s been adapted from her newest book, Incomparable: 50 Days with Jesus. Request a copy as our thanks with your gift of any amount, and then be sure to tune in to the podcast for Nancy’s series “Incomparable,” which continues today with the first in a collection of episodes on “The Seven Last Words of Christ.” 

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 5, Matthew to John (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, n.d., originally published 1896), 826.

About the Author

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through two nationally syndicated radio programs heard each day—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him. Her books have sold more than five million copies. Through her writing, podcasts, … read more …

Join the Discussion