Healer of Hearts (Luke 23:33-37)
My dad’s mother was a very stubborn woman. In many ways that stubbornness served her well, because she kept going physically long after she should have been dead. You see, she had very severe coronary disease. I don’t think she knew she had coronary problems until she had a heart attack when she was 60 years old. I remember being in the fifth grade and staying with my mom’s parents for several days while Mom and Dad were in Indiana. Only later in life did I learn how touch-and-go things were for several days. The paramedics about lost her three times (I think) on the way to the hospital, and only their skill kept her alive until they could get her to the ER. For many days, she remained in ICU, hovering between life and death.
That heart attack caused muscle damage that would plague her for her remaining 22 years. Because of the muscle damage, her cardiologist recommended a pacemaker a couple years after her heart attack. But, she refused. If the Lord wanted her to live longer, He would make it possible and no pacemaker was going to change that. I can remember how aggravated Dad became, and one weekend we drove up to Indiana so Dad could tell his mother that she was getting her pacemaker. She did eventually get the pacemaker–in fact, she had three or four. But, her heart never quite did right after that heart attack.
Heart disease is terrible. Some of you have struggled mightily with heart disease in one way or another. But, you also know that disease of the physical heart pales in comparison with disease of the spiritual heart. Disease of the spiritual heart impacts everything that we are and everything that we do. “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23). “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).
One major source of spiritual heart disease is an unforgiving heart. Joseph’s brothers got into trouble because they could forgive neither Joseph nor their father. They hated Joseph and sold him into slavery. Many years would pass before reconciliation. When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow to him, he was determined to destroy all the Jews. He built gallows upon which to hang Mordecai and all the Jews. The irony, of course, is that Haman himself was hanged upon those gallows.
If we want a healthy heart spiritually, we need to be a forgiving people. We Christians are called on to be forgiving. “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mk 11:25). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).
Jesus at the cross provides a powerful lesson in forgiveness. The cross itself is an emblem of forgiveness. You know it’s because of that old rugged cross that God is able to forgive us of our sins. But, Jesus Himself uttered a cry of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34). That’s an amazing statement. Jesus forgave those who were killing Him. While most of us would have been calling down curses from God upon the multitude, Jesus is forgiving. While every breath would bring excruciating pain, Jesus offers forgiveness. Those who were crucifying Jesus had done nothing to merit forgiveness–they had not asked for Jesus’ forgiveness, they had not changed their lives, they had not changed their minds and tried to stop His execution–but He still forgave.
We want to think about Jesus’ forgiveness this morning and learn about forgiveness, the “Healer of Hearts.” As we think about forgiveness, we will learn that “To forgive is to be like Jesus.”
Text (Luke 23:33-37)
They crucified Jesus between two thieves.
Crucifixion was a horribly painful process of dying. The Lord had already been beaten; spikes had been driven through His hands and feet. He was put in a position where breathing was very difficult, with the goal of making breathing impossible. You died on the cross by suffocation.
He’s placed between two thieves. The Lord is innocent, but there is, I think, a desire to make the Lord guilty by association.
While the soldiers cast lots for His clothing, Jesus prays for forgiveness. We wouldn’t really expect the Lord to forgive. We’d expect the Lord to call down curses from heaven on His crucifiers. That’s what Zechariah did when he was killed by Joash: “The LORD look on it, and repay!” (2 Chr 24:22). But, Jesus demonstrates that a new day has dawned.
Stephen learned from Jesus, and Luke, like other ancient biographers, parallels the hero of his story–Jesus–with another character–Stephen. Ancient biographers used this practice to show that the hero was a good example to follow. Luke, by pointing out that Stephen followed Jesus, is saying that his readers should follow Jesus. Stephen’s final words are these: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60).
If you know your Bible, you know that Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness did not absolve these folks of their sin. In other words, God still held them accountable for their sin. That’s obvious; at Pentecost that multitude was still guilty of Jesus’ death. “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The multitude was cut to the heart because of their sin, they asked what they should do, and Peter told them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:37-38).
So, if this prayer did not cause God to forgive this multitude, what was the point? I believe that Pentecost is partially an answer to this prayer–Jesus prays for His crucifiers’ forgiveness; in Acts 2, many of those who helped condemn Him find forgiveness through His blood. This prayer also gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ heart. The Son of God in human form forgives.
Jesus forgave, but the people continue their onslaught of attack. The rulers of the people sneer at Him, calling on Him to save Himself if He really is the chosen of God. The soldiers also mocked Him–they weren’t content to nail Him to the cross, but they must continue to sneer at Him.
“To forgive is to be like Jesus.” Scripture is full of folks who healed their hearts by forgiving.
“Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus” (Acts 9:19).
That may not seem like much of a text about forgiveness at first. But, remember this is the same Saul who had come to Damascus to kill these Christians, and after Saul is baptized, the disciples allowed him to spend some time with them.
The Corinthians had a man who was living with his father’s wife.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the brethren needed to disfellowship him (1 Cor 5:1-13). Apparently, the church withdrew fellowship, this brother turned back to God, and Paul writes in 2 Corinthians to welcome him home: 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.
Paul and Barnabas had quite the disagreement about taking John Mark on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).
John Mark had turned back on the first missionary journey, and Paul refused to take him on the second. But, at the end of Paul’s life, we read some interesting words: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11).
Our early brethren forgave and became like Jesus. Will we do likewise? Maybe a more pertinent question would be: How do we go about forgiving those deep hurts?
Examine your own heart.
Jesus was right; His heart was pure. Those who put Him on the cross did so out of hate and ignorance.
But, when we have been wronged, our hearts may not be so pure. Haman was angry with Mordecai because his pride had been hurt. On the other hand, Paul gets angry with and confronts Peter because Peter plays the hypocrite.
We want to clean out our hearts this week. Think back over some hurts that you have–things you really need to forgive, but you’re having a hard time because the hurt is too deep. When you get a list of ten or so hurts, make three columns. In one column, put occasions where you can honestly say that you were right–someone else sinned against you in a big way, that other person even sinned against God. In the next column, put occasions where your pride was damaged or where you were oversensitive or any other way you were wrong. In the third column, list occasions where you can honestly say both things were happening–you were sinned against but you were also in the wrong.
When you get those three columns, you’re going to set aside that first list and concentrate on the other two, where you were at least partially to blame. I want you to take your wrongs to God. I want you to ask Him for His forgiveness. I want you to ask Him to make you stronger. I want you to ask Him to tear that pride from your heart.
It might be, depending on the circumstance, that you need to go to the other person and make things right.
Ask God to forgive those who have wronged you.
You take that first list–where people really messed up against you and God–and take those names to God and ask Him to forgive. That’s the example of Jesus, our Lord. That’s the example of Stephen, the first soul to lay down his life for the Lord Jesus.
I know your brain might be working fast, and you might have many objections. “Justin, what if the person who wronged me is not a faithful Christian? You know that God cannot forgive.” “Justin, what if the person hasn’t apologized to me? Jesus says in Luke 17 that we’re to forgive when someone returns and says, ‘I repent.'”
Jesus’ prayer was answered at Pentecost when that multitude repented of sin and were baptized in His name. No, I don’t think that every person responsible for Jesus’ death came to Jesus. In fact, Stephen accuses the Sanhedrin of killing Jesus (Acts 7:52), and the Sanhedrin killed him (Acts 7:54-60).
Pray fervently for those who have wronged you. Pray that God will be able to forgive them completely–Pray that they will turn from their sin, confess the name of Jesus, and submit to baptism on His authority. Pray that your own heart is always ready to turn from sin. Do you have sin to put away this morning?