Every Thought Captive

Father, Forgive Them

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. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

Luke 23:32-38; Luke 6:27-36

Love is an interesting and confusing thing in our culture. We use it to describe how we feel about pretty much anything (sports teams, food, bands, vacation spots, and many other things). In our culture, one of the first things the word “love” makes us think of is romantic love that is rooted in feelings that can come and go. As The Beatles once sang about this kind of love:

From this moment on I know  
Exactly where my life will go  
Seems that all I really was doing  
Was waiting for love  
Don't need to be afraid  
No need to be afraid  
It's real love, it's real  
Yes, it's real love, it's real  

This captures how our culture defines real love: when we don’t have it, we think if we finally do, we’ll be satisfied. If we find it, we think it’ll last forever. The question is, is this love reliable, sustainable, safe, and fulfilling? If we’re being honest about our own lives and the culture we live in, it seems like this understanding of love actually brings about more destruction than joy.

The truth is that, like The Beatles, we all have this deep desire for real love. In fact, this good, God-given desire is underneath so many of our problems, because we try to fulfill it in thousands of places smaller than Jesus. When we look at God’s Word to see how He defines and demonstrates what real love is, we will see that He’s leading us to the most vibrant, life-giving, sustaining kind of love there is, because it’s a love that’s other-worldly. He takes us to a place that is very difficult to comprehend, and outside of His work in our hearts, there’s no possibility of understanding and experiencing the kind of love that He is going to explain and show us. Let’s look at, according to Jesus, what real love is not, what it is, and how to get it.

Before we look at His words on the cross, we can look at an earlier section of the Gospel of Luke in Luke 6:27-36, where Jesus describes what real love is and isn’t. The way that love works in the world is that we must earn it, keep it, and give it to people who deserve it while withholding it from people who don’t. We treat well the people who we like or want something from (which means even our love can be self-absorbed, and therefore not real love for others), and we retaliate toward people who hurt us. In short, the world’s practice and the natural inclination of our own hearts are to treat others in direct relation to the benefit to oneself.

In observing the relational trends in our society today, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “It seems that the smarter we get about technology, the dumber we get about relationships. We live in a society in which loneliness and depression are on the rise. We seem to be treating each other worse. The guiding moral principle here is not complicated: Try to treat other people as if they possessed precious hearts and infinite souls. Everything else will follow.”

Why do we struggle to do this? What’s underneath this surface? We are all driven by a desire and quest for love and affirmation. Our souls need something or someone outside of ourselves to validate us, someone whom we value to value us, what sociologists call a “decisive validator.” Out of our emptiness, we seek to be filled with the world’s love, but the world’s love is conditional, unstable, unsatisfying, and based on feelings. Where have you experienced this in the past week? This year? In your relationships?

In Luke 6, Jesus contrasts this kind of love with a radically different kind of love that He commands from His disciples: to love enemies, difficult people, and people who don’t offer anything back. Jesus describes real love as more of an action than a feeling, to seek the best for another person, to respond to curses with prayer, to assault with nonviolence, and to exploitation with generosity. This is a costly love that is different than the self-interest in human societies and relationships. As C.S. Lewis explains in The Four Loves, Christ defines the ultimate love as “agape” love, that is steadfast, sacrificial, and self-giving, serving love instead of self-seeking, sentimental love. Most of the main world religions share a large amount of ethical common ground, but Jesus breaks through all the normal principles of ethics and proclaims the most radical ethic of love anyone has ever presented as He calls His followers to be people marked by mercy, not by vengeance. This love is to be the distinctive mark of a disciple (John 13:34-35).

This seems impossible! How do we get this kind of love? When we look at today’s passage as Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them” from the cross, we realize that this is exactly how Jesus loved us. In Romans 5:6-10, we see that the gospel means that we who were once God’s enemies are now His friends, and we constantly receive His generous love. Jesus did not love us because we were lovely, but He loved us at our unloveliest and when we were not thankful to Him. This is the only love that will satisfy our souls, melt our hearts, and free us to live FROM love, not FOR love.

This Holy Week, as we reflect on and soak in this love that Jesus has for His people and that He demonstrated on the cross, may the natural overflow in our lives be to joyfully praise God and proclaim to others along with Charles Wesley:

And can it be that I should gain
An int'rest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

About the Author

Photograph of Will Washington

Will Washington

Ministry Leader of High School

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Will grew up in Dallas and is a graduate of Highland Park High School, the University of Oklahoma, and Dallas Theological Seminary, where he earned a Masters in Christian Education. Before joining PCPC in 2017, Will served in the youth ministries of several churches, as a counselor and Program Director at T Bar M Sports Camp, as a Bible teacher at Cornerstone Crossroads Academy, and as the Executive Director of Armour Up Ministries. In ministry, his passion is teaching God’s Word in the context of relationships, and seeing Scripture fuel a love for Jesus and His mission in someone’s heart and life. He is also passionate about the Oklahoma Sooners.