‘Father Forgive Them’: Teaching Jesus’ Words from the Cross to Teenagers

father forgive them

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he told his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44).

In Luke 23, Jesus we see Jesus on the cross. His enemies have lied about him, shamed him, spit on him, tortured him, mocked him, and wrongfully accused him. His friends have left him and denied him. The religious leaders and Roman officials are now executing him in public next to actual criminals. And his heart in the midst of his own suffering is to intercede on behalf of his accusers for God’s forgiveness, because they don’t know what they are doing. 

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Luke 23:34

What we see in the words of Christ gives us a framework for forgiveness. As we teach this passage to our students, the gospel—the good news that God saves sinners through the work of Christ—becomes the lens through which we view our own suffering and mistreatment.

Jesus’ words show us that people who do not know Christ are blind and deaf to the gospel. If they could see and hear the reality of what Jesus has done for them, they would follow and believe. These people have no idea what they are doing. God knows this, Jesus knows this, but people themselves do not. In the throes of our enemies’ anger, hate, lies, and fear, Jesus teaches us to pray that God would forgive them, for they know not what they do. 

Notice what Jesus is not saying: Father, punish them for their sin. In the midst of his suffering, Jesus acknowledges and intercedes for those blind souls who put him there. Instead of the common frustration, disdain, fear, and contempt people hold for those who speak or act negatively toward Christians, Jesus expresses compassion, interceding to the Father for their forgiveness.  

Application for Teenagers

Jesus’ words have much to say to our students, who will often be mistreated because of their faith, or simply as a byproduct of living in a fallen world. They may be afraid to admit they are Christians at school, in a social group, or on a sports team. They may fear receiving unloving comments or actions if they proclaim their faith. We don’t need to try to convince them otherwise. Jesus tells us we are to expect mistreatment as we follow him. Instead we can shepherd our students to identify with Jesus’ own unjust suffering on their behalf. 

To follow Christ is to wisely walk into relationships with those who don’t believe in him, to love them. With this willingness comes the potential and probability of unjust treatment. We can counsel teenagers to remember that those who do not have Christ do not know what they are doing. If they could see, they would be following him. We must never lead our students to accept abusive behavior or to tolerate bullying; yet we acknowledge they will find themselves in situations in which people say or do hurtful things to them. Because of Christ, they can respond with “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What their non-Christian friends need, and what the world needs, is someone with the power to open up blind eyes and remove the deafness in ears. 

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul counsels his brothers and sisters in how to view unbelievers, writing, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:3-5). 

Paul explains that it is not only sin that blinds us, but Satan himself. Therefore we look to the one who has the power over sin and death: Jesus. Apart from Christ, we had no idea what we were doing either—we too needed to have our blindness taken away. As a result of God’s work in our lives we are able to show grace to those who do not know what they are doing toward us.

Truth for Gospel Living

If we must be perfect as God in heaven is perfect, then we have no hope in clearing the record of our past sins. There is no act, or culmination of works, we can accomplish to perfect ourselves before a holy God. No steps to take that would satisfy God’s wrath towards all this unholiness in the world, and in us. Far worse than a builder with no plans or a sailor without a compass—this is how we find ourselves outside of the saving work of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So Jesus showed himself to be the perfect Son we all have failed to be (Matt. 5:44) by loving his enemies even unto his own death. Through his work in our lives and the lives of our students, we have the opportunity to join him in displaying our sonship by loving those who persecute and mistreat us.

Jesus’ love for sinners and his prayer for his enemies reflects at least two amazing things: 

First, the only hope for human beings is God’s powerful intercession on our behalf. It’s not about trying to be good enough or comparing ourselves to others, but about trusting God’s salvation for sinners. 

And second, God desires to saves sinners through Jesus Christ. We are free to radically love others at their worst because Christ has loved us at our worst. We can teach our students: Those who hurt you don’t know what they are doing, let’s ask that God would forgive them and open their eyes to see who Jesus really is, so that we may be sons of our Father who is in heaven. 

“Son of David” lyrics by Ghost Ship

The blind won’t gain their sight
By opening their eyes
A King is coming
To his city and crowds around are following
If I could see, I would follow, too

He heals the sick with his hands
As he walks by, they reach for him
If I could see, I would reach out, too
The blind won’t gain their sight
By opening their eyes

Son of David, have mercy on me
Son of David, have mercy on me
Son of David, I want to see
Son of David, have mercy

I cannot leave this gate
Since I cannot see my way
But I can stand and call his name
No, I could never leave this gate
But I will stand and shout his name
And I will count on his grace

Son of David, have mercy on me
Son of David, have mercy on me
Son of David, I want to see
Son of David, have mercy

I was blind, now I see
Jesus, saved meI was blind, now I see
Jesus, saved me

Joey Turner is a young husband and dad who is obeying the Spirit's prompting to evangelize and equip parents and students in Beavercreek, OH through the written Word. He is privileged to be married to his wife Jenny, with whom he has four amazing children. Joey serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, OH.

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