Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:34)
Most people find forgiveness to be a hard thing. Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive his brother. He wondered if 7 times would be good enough. I get the feeling that he felt he was being generous by offering to forgive someone that often. But Jesus didn’t view it that way. He told Peter to forgive seventy times seven, which is 490 times! (See Matthew 18:21-35)
You may have heard the story about the boy who read this account. He decided to keep track on a piece of paper how often he forgave a certain person. Eventually, he gave up and decided that he would just forgive him and be done with it.
I think this is exactly what Jesus meant by what He said.
Sometimes people feel they can’t forgive someone unless he is sorry for what he did. At the very least, they want the gratification of seeing the offender begging for their forgiveness. But Jesus forgave His executioners when they weren’t even sorry for killing Him.
Other times people feel they can’t forgive someone unless he changes his ways and stops offending. But Jesus forgave His executioners before they stopped killing Him.
Some people may decide to “forgive” someone because they know that God will punish him someday. But we don’t see Jesus attaching any strings to His forgiveness. I think that Jesus’s forgiveness was so complete, and so sincere, that He really hoped that His executioners would repent so that God wouldn’t need to punish them for their sin.
An illustration: Some years ago, in one of the western States, a man drove across the median of a four-lane highway. He swerved in front of a pickup coming the other way, and they crashed, head on. The man who caused the accident wasn’t seriously hurt. But five children were killed in the other vehicle. Their father was seriously injured.
The man who caused the accident was severely criticized for what happened, but he says he doesn’t know why he crossed the median. He can’t remember the accident.
A lot of people were very upset at the driver, but the father and mother of the five children decided that they would publicly forgive the man. One can only imagine the heart-wrenching experience this was for them. But they decided to respond like Jesus did.
If you want another illustration of someone else forgiving like Jesus did, read the story of Stephen in the Bible, in Acts 7:54-60.
Christians can forgive like Jesus did. For more thoughts on this, read Matthew 5:44 and Romans 12:14-21.