Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he looked down at the soldiers who had nailed him there and prayed these words. They were dividing up his garments (after stripping him naked) and casting lots. The response of our Savior, who was suffering unimaginable pain, was to ask his father to forgive them, “…FOR THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING.”
I believe that Jesus gave us an example in that moment of how we need to pray as we look upon those who, “Don’t know what they are doing.”
Yesterday, a friend who was reading my article about praying for “Saul’s to become Paul’s” commented and reminded me of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. Stephen prayed a very similar prayer as Jesus had prayed during the time of his execution (stoning). This is what he prayed as he took his final breath,
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60
As I read my friend’s comment, I remembered that Saul was at Stephen’s stoning, and the witnesses laid their coats at Saul’s feet as they stoned him. Saul heard Stephen’s prayer and I agree that at that moment, Stephen’s prayer was planted into Saul’s heart. Just two chapters later we read of Saul’s experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus where the Lord spoke audibly to him. Following that experience, Jesus speaks to him clearly, heals his blindness, and sets him as an apostle to the gentiles. This man who was most known for “persecuting and killing those who followed Jesus” suddenly become one of the greatest preachers of the gospel of Christ ever to live.
I believe that we must practice the ways of Jesus in this hour and begin to pray, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Or “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” The fact is that those who are deceived are exactly that…deceived. If you are deceived, then you do not know that what you are doing is wrong. You, like Saul, believe that you are upholding truth and executing justice upon the “infidels.” We are seeing this throughout the world right now. The situation in Afghanistan with the Taliban is like a mighty Saul coming forth in absolute deception to destroy the infidels.
But we have the prayer of Jesus in Luke 23:34 and of Stephen in Acts 7:59-60 to show us how to pray. May we even pray that if any are martyred will release this prayer with their final breath. Let us ask our Father to forgive them—for they do not know what they are doing. Let us ask the Lord to not hold this sin against them. It is time for us to release the heart of Jesus into the atmosphere of hatred and deception so that many will encounter Jesus on the way to persecute men and women who do not believe as they believe. Then the scales will fall off their eyes (just as it did for Saul/Paul) and they will see truth, they will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they will be baptized.
We have been given instructions on how to pray through Jesus and through Stephen. Let us begin to pray in this way so that we can be witnesses of the conversion of many who are caught in blindness and deception. “God, forgive them and do not hold these great sins against them.”
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Inscribe Ministries