The Meaning of Sacrifice

(NAS) Luke 23:33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

These words of Jesus spoken while He was nailed and pinned down upon the cross of Calvary are some of the most extraordinary exclamations of humanity. There are seven utterances from Jesus while hanging upon the cross—this cry for humanity’s forgiveness was the first. His sacrifice as the Lamb of God was now at the threshold and He prays “Father, forgive them”; Matthew Henry writes of this moment, “One would think He should have said ‘Father, consume them.’”

Think for a moment what Jesus was going through. The judgment of men had condemned Him to death. He was now toward the end of a torturous execution. He had been beaten beyond recognition[1]. As a man, Jesus was feeling the weight of man’s judgment in the abusing His body. It is just after He is nailed to the cross that He offers the true meaning of sacrifice—in His judgment towards men He prays “Father, forgive them.” In contrast, theirs was not a verdict ending in forgiveness! The judgment of men was harsh, unrelenting and eventually overwhelming. And the final act of man’s judgment was nailing Jesus immovably to a cross where He remained until morality and fatality prevailed upon Him.

Do not think of the Son of Man as ignorant and naive of the whole episode. Jesus related to Pilate that at any moment His servants could end the nightmare[2] had He so chose. Instead, as a man in full surrender to the Father’s will, He offered prayer as Jesus, the Great High Priest. Even while mortality prevailed upon Him, He recognized the sacrifice was of much greater value than the vengeance and retribution that befell Him. He never cried, “What do you want out of me?” or, “Stop, the physical torture, it’s too great.” The sacrificial choice was to be separated and forsaken by men from man; and, while remaining silent toward humanity, Peter tells us of His actions:

(NAS) 1 Peter 2:23 “…and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…”

As man He committed Himself into the hands of His Heavenly Father—the one who judges righteously. Never did He rely on His deity to save Him from the situation. So the difficult question to me is, as man what enabled Him to make such a request for forgiveness of the Father? To Jesus, the prospect of calling down legions of angels for His defense (much less offense) was never an option. There really can only be one all-consuming reason to remain as a man in that painful state of Calvary’s cross—love for the Father’s will. Love is the meaning of sacrifice. Love for the Father and His will is the motivation for sacrifice. John records that Jesus said it this way:

(NAS) John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Jesus endured the judgment of men that man might escape the judgment of God[3]. That is the true meaning of sacrifice. And anyone who will be like Jesus, as sacrificial as Jesus, must learn the secret of the Father’s will in saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

J. Robert Hanson

[1] Isaiah 52:14 notes His body was marred beyond recognition. NIV reads: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”

[2] John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

[3] The Meaning of Separation



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