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Luke 23 verse 34. “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

The soldiers crucified Jesus without realising the full significance of what they were doing. To them he was just another malefactor, a criminal to be executed. Notice carefully the prayer that Jesus prayed for them, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer has moved the hearts of millions over the centuries and has become the universal example of what it means to love your enemies and to seek their good in spite of everything they do to us.

However we should not lose sight of the fact that this prayer was prayed on behalf of the soldiers who in all truthfulness did not know what they were doing. Hardened, and callous though they were, they had no idea of the enormous significance of the drama of which they had become a part. We must be careful to separate the core principles here, Christ was not praying for all who were involved in the crucifixion because to pray for a man who does indeed know what he is doing and has no intention or desire to stop would be immoral. It would eventually become a sort of condoning his sin. Christ did certainly not do that. There are some people who because of their hardened and unrepentant hearts seem to put themselves beyond the point of praying for them. In making that remark, we must however not presume to be the judge of these people, nor do we have the ability to decide who they are. Our duty is to pray for all, and love all sinners. But the words of Jesus’ prayer and its ramifications serve to instruct us that there are those who in the realm of spiritual understanding, do indeed go against all instincts of decency and justice, while there are others “who do not know what they are doing.” If such people become Christians, they invariably are filled with shame at both their former ignorance and their former behaviour. Others, sadly, have no ability to feel remorse.

In this context we must not become falsely sentimental and make Jesus’ words apply to all and sundry who had a hand in his condemnation and crucifixion. And yet we must also remember that Jesus died for all who turned to him. If we repent there is mercy and grace. If not, we go into a very bleak eternity. This prayer of Jesus helps us to remember that there is a great division in human society. The apostle Paul underscores this in his letter to Timothy with the words: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1 verse 13).

There is an ignorance that we all have because of our human fallenness, but it appears there is also another ignorance that is more sinister and culpable because it is deliberate rejection of the light God gives us.

For all sinfully ignorant, blind and deaf people let us always strive in prayer. For those who laugh in the face of God, let us tremble.