Luke 23:34 “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Matthew 26:73-75 “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
It should be no surprise that unbelievers will act like unbelievers. A person who acts true to their own character, i.e., one who is not a hypocrite, will think, speak and act as they really are. Those who killed Jesus saw nothing wrong with their actions. Those who mocked him, spit in his face, and gambled for his clothes apparently felt justified in doing so. They acted this way because they really and truly saw themselves as better than the one they had hanged on a cross. He was a criminal in their eyes, worthy only of ridicule and the capital punishment administered by the Roman government. How ignorant they were of their own sin and of the holiness of the Son of God. Jesus, incredibly, in his agony, cried out to the Father in their behalf, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
On the other hand, Peter, in his denial of Christ, knew exactly what he was doing. Jesus, this one whom he had earlier confessed was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:17) he now, in his fear, claimed he didn’t know at all. Here we have hypocrisy in reverse – someone who actually knew God but denying it. This, one could argue, is the greater sin. Believers, when they sin, are acting against knowledge, and the result can be overwhelming guilt, driving a person to despair. This is exactly what happened to Peter. It seems Jesus would have been totally justified to respond to Peter with “Father don’t forgive him, for he knows exactly what he’s doing!” And perhaps you’ve felt such condemning thoughts as well. However, here we see the love of Christ even more. Jesus knew full well that Peter, who in his self-confidence boasted that he would die for Christ rather than deny him (Matthew 26:35), would actually deny him when the heat was on. And to this, Jesus said “But I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail” (Luke 22:32). Jesus loved Peter, in spite of his great sin, and later restored him.
What great love that our Lord forgives the failures of His followers. How great the love of our Savior Who has told us in His Word “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:1-39).
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