Crucifixion is probably the most barbarous death ever devised. It was used by the Romans, not only as a punishment, but as a deterrent: anyone tempted to rebellion would think long and hard if once they had seen someone crucified. It is the death to which the Lord Jesus Christ went, freely and of his own will, for the salvation of the whole creation, throughout all time. Totally innocent of all sin, he took the sin of the whole human race upon himself. Offering his perfect life to the Father, he won our forgiveness, and brought us back to God.
Forgiveness lies at the very heart of the love of God which we see in Jesus. This Good Friday I want to put before you those words of Jesus, as he first experienced those great iron spikes being driven into his hands and feet. And he prays: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’. There are two inspired lines in the hymn by Graham Kendrick we call, ‘The Servant King’. The writer says of the Lord Jesus,
‘hands that flung stars into space
to cruel nails surrendered.’
In these few words he reminds us just who it is who lies upon the ground being nailed to his cross: it is the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who emptied himself of glory and took our flesh: not just to live among us, though that would have been wonderful enough, but to die with us and for us, to share our death so that we might share his resurrection. Such love, such forgiveness.
You may know the words of this prayer, found in one of the concentration camps of the Second World War: places which mark, as nowhere else, the utter cruelty and depravity of which human beings are capable. This prayer was written by an inmate of the camp, one who had to suffer at the hands of his or her captors. This prisoner prayed:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we bought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
(Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. HarperOne, 1992. page 224)
Such love – such forgiveness