Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Word of Forgiveness

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Just a few miles down the road from where we’re recording today there is a cemetery that has in it a large now crumbling monument to a man named Joseph Coveney.

Leslie Basham: This is Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy: He was a disciple of some men whose names you might know—Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Coveney died on February 12, 1897, at the age of ninety-two. He was known for his hatred of God and the Bible and for his profane lifestyle and beliefs.

The day after he died, the New York Times reported that on his deathbed his children begged him to renounce his atheism and to ask God for forgiveness. The story is that he responded in just a faint whisper: “Die as I have lived—I disbelieve in God, the Bible, and the Christian religion.” Those were Joseph Coveney’s final words.

In that same cemetery, there’s another grave marker where Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. is buried. Del was the founder of Life Action Ministries, the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts. I had the privilege of serving under his leadership for a dozen years or so, until he died of a brain tumor at the age of forty-two.

I remember sitting in his room, as others were around during that season, just a day or two before he slipped into unconsciousness shortly before his homegoing. At this point it had become extremely difficult for him to talk. As I was watching, he appeared to be sleeping, but all of a sudden, eyes still closed, he started to speak. The words were faint, but unmistakable. Here’s what he said:

Lord, please bring back Your glory to Your church. Send the fire. Turn the hearts of Your people. May they know that You alone are God.

Those were among Del Fehsenfeld’s final words.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

For the last several weeks we’ve been in a rich study called "The Incomparable Christ." Today we begin examining the final words of Jesus.

Nancy: Last words have a lot of significance. When somebody is speaking what you know are going to be some of their very final words, you listen carefully because you want to find out: What’s on their heart? What matters to them when it comes down to the end? What did they really believe?

Scripture records seven statements that the Lord Jesus made during the six hours that He suffered on the cross. These statements are short—not surprising because hanging from that cross, it was a supreme effort just to breathe much less to talk.

As Oswald Sanders says in the book we’ve been working through over these last weeks, The Incomparable Christ, he says, “Each of these sayings is an ocean of truth compressed into a drop of speech.”

We could spend a week or more just on each of these sayings, but over the next days, we want to take one day on each of these sayings, the seven words of Christ from the cross. Each of these have important, rich insight into the gospel and into the heart of our incomparable Christ. I have found a lot of blessing and benefit from these days leading up to this recording of meditating on these sayings and letting them exhort my heart and speak to my own life.

In fact, in his commentary, Matthew Henry says that,

One reason why Jesus died the death of the cross was perhaps that he might have liberty of speech to the last, and so might glorify His Father, and edify those about Him.

Still today, now 2,000 years later, our lives are being edified because of these powerful sayings of Christ from the cross.

Let me ask you, if you would, to turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. I’m going to be reading at verse 32.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left (vv. 32–33).

Now that word Skull, if you’re using some translations, it will say Calvary. The Greek word here is the word that would be translated "skull." The Latin word is Calvary, and the Hebrew is Golgotha. So all these words you’ve heard used, they’re just different languages for the same word, and they think that perhaps the hill where Jesus was buried was in the shape, roughly, of a skull—a rounded top, or perhaps it was called that because this is a place of crucifixion and death. But they came to the place called Calvary, Golgotha, The Skull, and there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

The context here, as we’ve been seeing over the last few sessions in this series is that Jesus has just been through a horribly unjust trial. He’s been reviled, taunted, abused, humiliated, treated with contempt, deserted by His disciples. He’s been through it all, and it’s been this horrible, torturous experience, as death by crucifixion was intended to be.

In fact, they say that crucifixion was so painful that many of its victims would scream and curse so profusely that the Roman soldiers would often cut out their tongues. This was a horribly painful way to die.

So in light of the way that many people would speak from the cross, it makes the first words that came out of Jesus’ mouth even more remarkable.

The first word was spoken as soon as He was nailed to the cross, maybe even while they were in the act of nailing Him to the cross. So about 9 o’clock in the morning, Jesus is just being hung on the cross, already weakened from the beatings, the torture, but now being nailed to the cross, and we come to verse 34:

And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Now, we’ve got to picture this scene here to whatever limited extent we can. This is so out of our own imagination because we don’t see things happen like this today as a rule. The crowd is unruly; they’re out of control. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of taunting, a lot of jeering, and Jesus is hung to die between two hard-core criminals. And what is He doing? He’s praying—first words out of His mouth—He’s praying.

You remember that Jesus began His earthly ministry praying. At His baptism, He was praying. This was the pattern of His life throughout His ministry was to talk with His Father, and now He ends His earthly life praying—talking with His Father, communing with His Father. He’s no longer in a position to heal or to teach or to minister to others as He had for the previous three years, but He could pray.

I think of friends I have. I’m thinking of one in particular who’s in her nineties. She is infirmed. She’s wheelchair bound. For many years she taught the Bible and has ministered as a pastor’s wife in many different ways, but now she’s very alone, very homebound. When I see her at church (people bring her to church) she’ll often say, “There’s not anything I can do to serve the Lord anymore, but I pray.”

She feels sometimes really useless, and I have to remind her over and over again, “Miss Jean, you are not useless! Those prayers are so, so important.”

In fact, I think about these who cannot do anything but pray, and I wonder if that may not be the most important ministry of their lives, and if they may not be the most effective ministers on the face of the earth—those who pray.

As Jesus prays, He prays not for Himself, but for others, and not first for His friends, but for His enemies. We don’t hear Him asking God to spare His life. He’s wrestled through in Gethsemane the realization that in order to redeem the world He must drink this cup. He is surrendered to that. So He’s not asking God to spare His life. He’s not asking God to destroy His enemies.

In this prayer we have a beautiful fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah chapter 53—that whole chapter is a prophecy of the suffering Savior, the suffering Messiah, but verse 12 of Isaiah 53 tells us that:

He was numbered with transgressors [crucified between two criminals—numbered with transgressors]; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet had said, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior would make intercession for transgressors. “Father, forgive them.” That’s exactly what was being fulfilled when Jesus prayed from the cross. He was making intercession . . . pleading on behalf of transgressors.

In his wonderful book on the cross, Alfred Edersheim says,

Thus does the conquered truly conquer His conquerers by asking for them what they indeed had forfeited.

They didn't deserve forgiveness. They forfeited that by what they were doing to Jesus. But the one that they thought was conquered on the cross actually conquered His conquerers by asking God to forgive His offenders.

In this prayer Jesus was simply living out what He had taught others to do. Remember when He said earlier in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6, "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who persecute you; pray for those who abuse you"?

As Jesus prays, He starts out by addressing His prayer to His Father. "Father." He trusted and turned to His Father, even when all visible evidence seemed to say that God did not love Him and had withdrawn from Him. That lack of visible evidence did not shake His faith. He still cries out, "Father." He addresses himself in trust to His Father.

Then He prays, "Forgive them." Now, we have to ask, who is "them." Who was Jesus praying for?

  • I think it was a multitude. I think He was praying for those Roman soldiers who were at that moment nailing Him to the cross.
  • I think He was praying for Pilate, for Herod, for the religious leaders who had unjustly condemned Him to death.
  • I think He was praying for that wild mob who had cried out, "Crucify Him."
  • I think He was praying for His disciples—His closest friends who had betrayed, denied, and deserted Him. And I think He was praying for us.

Remember the old spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"? The answer is, "Yes." You were there. I was there. We crucified Christ. It was for our sins that He hung on that cross. So it was for us that He prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Implied in His prayer is the concept that His death on the cross was as a substitute. He was saying in effect to God, "Punish Me for their sins." He knew that sin had to be punished; that forgiveness had a price; that God in His justice could not wipe out the sins of the world, someone had to pay the price. "Punish Me for their sins, and forgive them. Plunge all their sins into the depths of the sea. Let them go free." That's what He is praying.

He died in the place of sinners as our representative so that we could be forgiven, and that's implicit in this prayer.

Oswald Sanders says in the book that we’ve been looking at together, The Incomparable Christ, “With the words of this petition, ‘He covered the heads of His murderers with the shield of His love, to secure them from the storm of the wrath of God.’”

We don’t have to experience the storm of God’s wrath because Jesus covered us with the shield of His love when He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

Now, He said, “They know not what they do.” We have to ask there: In what sense did they not know what they were doing? They knew they were crucifying Him. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. He said that at least twice. But the fact is that they did not know Who they were crucifying. They didn't know Who He was.

I love that song we hear at Christmastime, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy." It talks about the death of Christ. It says, "We didn't know who you were."

They were ignorant, now only of who Jesus was, but of the seriousness and the enormity of the crime against God.

Just weeks later, shortly after Pentecost, Peter was preaching, and he said in Acts chapter 3:

You killed the Author of life. . . . And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers (vv. 15 & 17).

"You killed the Author of life, but you didn’t know that’s what you were doing. You didn’t know that’s who you were killing.”

Ignorance is not innocence. They were willfully ignorant—as are we so often. They refused to believe in Him. Our blindness, to whatever extent we don’t understand, the significance and the enormity of our sin, our blindness is inexcusable because it is the result of unbelief and rebellion. Our ignorance, our blindness is just another evidence of our guilt, of our utter depravity.

We realize as we read the Old Testament that even sins committed in ignorance must be atoned for. Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers, 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us, and so until God opens our eyes, we don’t realize the enormity, the nature of our sin. We don’t realize how God views our sin and what it did to Jesus. We’re oblivious to many of the ways that we have sinned until the Holy Spirit convicts us and shows us our sin.

That’s what I think the apostle Paul was referring to in 1 Timothy 1 when he said: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” He didn’t realize that at the time. It was only in hindsight that he realized the nature of his sin. Then he says, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” He thought he was serving God by persecuting those Christians, but his unbelief led him to act ignorantly. But then he says, “And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13–14).

Praise God for mercy and grace for ignorant sinners! Aren’t you glad? That’s what Paul received; that’s what we receive.

Now, was Jesus’ prayer answered? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I want to say, “Yes! Of course!” It was answered in many different ways. I think it’s probably this prayer that prepared the way for the penitent thief to request forgiveness for his sins as he saw Jesus extending forgiveness to those who sinned against Him.

I think it’s this prayer perhaps that was part of what softened the heart of that Roman centurion who, after Jesus died, said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Faith instilled in his heart as he heard these words come from Jesus’ lips.

And then seven weeks later, when 3,000 were converted at Pentecost, it’s likely that some of those converted that day had been at the cross and had heard Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness and had their hearts softened and prepared to believe.

And hasn’t Jesus prayer been answered in generations yet to come who would repent, believe, and be saved, including those of us sitting here today? Thank God He prayed that prayer for pardon!

So you see, in spite of our sin and our rebellion against God, in spite of what our sin required of Christ, His heart toward us is one of forgiveness, and long before we knew who He was or the enormity of our sin against Him, He prayed for our pardon.

He paid the price that made it possible for a holy, just God to pardon sinners, to release them from their debt, for, as we’re reminded in the book of Hebrews, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (see 9:22). This prayer could not have been answered apart from Jesus being willing to shed His blood so that our sins could be forgiven. He died as our substitute so that this prayer for pardon could be granted.

As Martin Luther said, “Had Christ not pardoned, the world would have been burned to an ember and sent to hell.”

When I read those words, I think, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Thank You, Christ, for praying that prayer for pardon.

To this day, not just at the cross 2,000 years ago in an objective event in past history, but to this day He is the sinner’s Advocate, the one who pleads our case before the Father, who offers Himself and His blood, to expiate, to do away with our sins, and to satisfy the Father’s righteous anger and His judgment against sin.

I’ve shared with you several times during this series from a book called The Suffering Savior by Krummacher, written in the 1800s. He says,

O what hope beams on Calvary for a sinful world! Mountains of sin vanish before His intercession.

He prayed for pardon for His enemies, for those who sinned against Him, and as a result, mountains of sin have vanished before that intercession.

As we close here today, let me just remind you that the cross of Christ not only provides pardon for our offenses against a holy God, but it also calls us to extend forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. To be crucified with Christ requires that we let our offenders go, that we pray for their pardon. For no one can say as we fix our eyes on Jesus . . . At times when this is so incredibly hard to forgive, no one can say, “I have been more greatly wronged than Christ was; therefore, I can hang on to this unforgiveness.” We can let it go, and not only can we, but we must let it go because He prayed for our pardon.

Before he was crowned King of France in 1498, Louis XII already had many enemies. Once he took the throne, he made a list of the opponents and place a black cross next to each of their names. When his enemies learned about the list, they fled thinking they were surely doomed to die.

But when the king heard about it, he sent for them saying, "Come back." He assured them that they were not to be destroyed, but they were to be pardoned. He explained that the reason he put a cross beside each name was as a reminder to himself of the cross of Christ. He intended to follow the example of the One who had prayed for those who put Him to death—"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Jesus prayed for the most vile, the most depraved to be pardoned, for His enemies. I just want to remind us that there is no one—no one—no one outside the reach of His love and grace and mercy. Not you, regardless of what sins you may have committed, and not anyone who has wronged you, regardless of how great their sins against you may be. No one—no one—has sinned so greatly that He does not want them to be forgiven. And thank God, thank Jesus—it’s His cross that makes that pardon possible. Amen? Amen.

Father, we thank You for the Savior who prayed for pardon for those who put Him to death; for forgiveness; who let us go and paid the price to let it be so. From our hearts we say, "Thank You, what a Savior!" Lord, give us grace now to extend forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. As we have been forgiven by Christ, so may we forgive others. We pray with thanksgiving for such great pardon, in Jesus' holy name, amen.

Leslie: You’ve been called to forgive others the way you’ve been forgiven. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has shown us the power of that statement by looking at the example of Jesus. That message is part of the series "The Incomparable Christ."

We’re so thankful that the Lord is using messages like this to speak to listeners according to His timing. Nancy has an example.

Nancy: God didn’t call me to teach men, so Revive Our Hearts is a program that’s targeted toward women, but we know that sometimes men do listen in. For instance, one gentleman wrote us recently to say:

The Lord woke me up last night at 2 a.m. to hear your program. It spoke to my heart. I don’t know where you came from, but your message is a God-send to me.

That’s just one example of the way God chooses to use Revive Our Hearts—by putting us in touch with listeners right when they need to hear a message.

The program was available to that particular listener that night at 2 a.m. thanks to listeners like you who support the ministry through prayer and financial gifts. Day after day, month after month, this ministry is sustained by the generous giving of God’s people.

Your donation at this time really would make a difference, and if you give a gift to Revive Our Hearts this week, we want to show you our gratitude by sending you a book from my dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick. It’s a wonderful book. It’s been a great encouragement to me and to several of our staff here at Revive Our Hearts. This book consists of thirty-one short devotional readings, and it’s called Comforts from the Cross.

Do you ever feel confused about why the death of Jesus was so significant? Do you ever still feel condemned even after asking for forgiveness? Do you sometimes feel, as many women have shared with me, that God could not really love you? Well, this book speaks to those very concerns. You’ll come away knowing what Jesus did on the cross and how His work makes all the difference in your life day after day.

Just ask for the book Comforts from the Cross when you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, or give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. And when you contact us, be sure to let us know whether you listen online or to a particular radio station.

Thank you so much for supporting this ministry with your prayers and your financial support.

Leslie: Do you ever struggle with doubts over where you’ll be when you die? Nancy Leigh DeMoss offers encouragement to anyone who needs that assurance. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

We’ll close with one of our listeners. She heard Nancy deliver today’s message as part of our audience. It had a big effect on her.

Listener: In 1995 a circumstance came into our family, and it had to deal with some family member mistreating another family member. Instead of receiving the grace that God was giving to me at that time, as well as the other people who were experiencing it, I realize now that I had rejected God’s grace.

For years, every time someone spoke about forgiveness, God would convict me. I would think that I was over it, and then another issue would happen, and it would pop up again. Even before I came this morning, I was thinking about how anything done to me or my family pales in comparison to what my sin did to Jesus, and for several months the Holy Spirit had been convicting me about considering that person’s attack on our family as greater than my sin of unforgiveness.

I just thank the Lord for helping me to receive His grace, and I repented of the years of stubbornness in my heart for rejecting the Holy Spirit. So today I just feel like it’s complete freedom, complete surrender, and complete forgiveness because of the work at the cross.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.