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Message for 4-13-14 THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO

“THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”

Luke 23:32-34

 

            One cannot find a greater act of forgiveness than these words spoken by Jesus as he is nailed to his cross.  Only Luke tells us that Jesus spoke these words, and some of the very earliest copies of Luke do not contain this verse, including Papyrus 75 (the earliest text of Luke) and Codex Vaticanus (the earliest copy of the complete New Testament). 

Now, as you read your Bible and find a note like this in your margin, you need to ask yourself 2 questions.  First, if these words were not in the original text of the Bible, why would someone add them?  Second, if these words were in the original text, why would someone cut them out?  I find it easier to believe that someone would throw them out than to believe that somebody invented or added them in if Jesus never said them. 

It looks to me like some early Christians could not believe that Jesus would absolve his killers.  In their vengeful desire to see the leaders of Israel suffer for their sin, these early Christians proved to be less merciful than the One who suffered the pain of the nails in his hands.

            Jesus lived what he taught.  Jesus’ words “Love your enemies” are virtually without precedent in the Greco-Roman world.  But Jesus does more than talk about it.  Here is love of enemies in action.  Jesus actually loved these guys he spoke such strong words against!  Jesus’ ultimate example of forgiveness becomes a model followed by others through history, beginning with Stephen, who cried as he was stoned, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”

            When Peter confronts the crowd on the day of Pentecost with the fact that they have killed God’s promised Messiah, it says the crowd was cut to the heart.  They cried, “Brothers, what should we do?”  They were filled with fear as they suddenly realized what they had done.  But in Acts 3, Peter reassures them, “Brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers.”

            Peter reaffirms that what Jesus said was true.  The Pharisees, the chief priests, the Romans, and the crowd did not know what they were doing when they condemned Jesus to the cross.  They didn’t realize that this Galilean prophet from Nazareth was God in human flesh.  If they had, they would have fallen at his feet.  They would have shrunk back in horror at the thought of ever laying violent hands on him. 

How else do we explain the amazing flip-flop of the adoring crowds who turned from crying “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to crying “Crucify him!” on Good Friday?  You say it was a different crowd?  You say the chief priests assembled a Rent-a-Mob to demand a death penalty on Jesus?  Perhaps, to some extent.  But I suspect that a lot of the people in that Rent-a-Mob on Friday were also in that Palm Sunday parade. 

The crowds got it wrong both times who Jesus was.  They mistakenly thought he was their revolutionary leader who would drive out the Romans.  But they also failed to understand that he was Someone far greater, that he was the Lord of heaven and earth, the ultimate Undercover Boss.  So in an incredible twist unprecedented on any episode of “Undercover Boss”, they crucified him.

Here’s how Paul explains the cross to a synagogue in central Turkey (Acts 13:27): “Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled these words by killing him.” 

            God does not hold this sin against those who were directly involved in the crime, because at the time, they acted in ignorance.  It’s a common theme in the writings of Luke.  Paul tells the philosophers at Athens in Acts 17:30, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now God commands all people everywhere to repent.”

            One could say that you and I today know too much to claim ignorance.  We know who Jesus is too well to reject Him without serious consequences.

            Jesus compares Sodom and Gomorrah to the towns that heard him speak face-to-face.  The Jews thought that Sodom had no share in the world to come.  But Jesus says, “It shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you.”  Sodom had no Bible.  And they never had the privilege of having the Savior himself walk in their streets.  They had no opportunity, compared to the towns of Galilee who had seen with their own eyes the Light of the world.

            The people of Galilee were without excuse.  And we have even less excuse than they had.  We who have the word of God piled on our shelves, we who have churches on every corner, have no excuse to ignore or say No to God’s incredible mercy.  We can’t claim we haven’t heard.  We can’t claim that we had no chance to respond.  If we end this life separated from God, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

            How can people reject the grace of God, when God has done so much to save us?  Maybe it’s because, despite how well-informed we are, we still don’t know what we’re doing when we reject the grace of God.  We don’t realize what it means when we throw the undeserved kindness of God back in God’s face.  Jesus tasted all the pain of hell, so that we would never have to go there.  Hebrews 2:3 asks, If everyone must pay a price for every single sin we’ve ever committed, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”  When we reject or despise the saving kindness of God, when we think we can save ourselves by our own goodness, or when we imagine that God would never send anyone to hell because we think God is too weak or too kind to do such a thing, we know not what we do.

            In fact, one could say that whenever we sin, we know not what we do.  When we call a young person an idiot or a good-for-nothing, do we realize what those putdowns may do to his/her self-image?  Do we realize what we do to people when we intentionally insult them?  Do we remember what Jesus says?  “Whoever says [literally] “You moron!” shall be in danger of the hell of fire.”  When we shortchange Uncle Sam, or when we fail to deal equitably with others in business, do we realize that this is robbery?  (St Thomas Aquinas says, “A contract is fair when both parties gain equally.”)

            When we fail to exercise self-control of our desires, do we realize that we are allowing ourselves to be enslaved by destructive forces?  When we fail to tell the truth, do we realize that we are undermining our credibility?   When we harbor hatred in our hearts, do we realize that we are only hurting ourselves?  When we are driven by an insatiable desire to enjoy and acquire more and more, do we realize the Bible calls this a form of idol-worship?

            When we sin with the cynical excuse that Jesus already paid the price for our sin, do we realize the Bible calls this crucifying the Son of God on our own account and holding him up to public contempt?  When we sin, do we stop to think that it was those very sins that made it necessary for our Lord to be nailed to that tree? 

When Jesus is crucified in the movie The Passion, director Mel Gibson says that the first hands that pound the nails into Jesus are his own.  Contrary to the claims that Gibson’s film blames the Jews for Jesus’ death, Gibson is saying, “It was me, too.”  The answer to the question “Whodunit?” in the greatest murder of all time is: “We did – all of us.” Jesus was right when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

             Long before we were even born, Jesus knew what we would do.  He knew that we were acting in ignorance.  And he has forgiven us.  In fact, he has willingly given his life for us so that we might live.  But Jesus is not content for us to stay in ignorance.  We need to wake up to what we’re doing when we sin.  We need to wake up to what it means to reject the gracious mercy of God.  We can’t reject that gift without serious, even eternal consequences.  When it comes to the question of whether or not we have heard the saving message of the cross, or knowing who Jesus is, none of us can claim ignorance.

            So now you know.  Yes, we will quickly forget, again and again.  But at least now Jesus has blown the cover off of our blissful ignorance.  Knowing what we know now should drive us humbly to Jesus’ cross, to the one fountain of mercy for the entire universe.  If we have never experienced salvation from sin, we need to place our faith in Jesus Christ to take away all of our sin and put us right with God.  If we have already been saved, we need to take our sins to the cross on a daily basis, to keep our accounts with God as short as possible.  Knowing what we are doing, to the extent that God opens our eyes to see, should bring us back again and again to Jesus’ cross.

            Let us pray.  Lord, we praise you for your patience.  We praise you for forgiving us in our ignorance of so much of what we’re doing in life!  Help us wake up to what we are doing.  Help us to let that knowledge drive us to repentance.  And Lord, let that knowledge drive us to the mercy of Christ, to let him take away our sin and put us right with you forever.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

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