In His prayer, our great High Priest and Mediator intercedes according to truth. He said, “they know not what they do.” They did not know the exceeding sinfulness of their sin, that they crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8), the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15), the Just One (Acts 7:52). Oh, they were sinners, there is no doubt of that! And Christ did not claim they were anything but sinners. He asked His Father to forgive them, which necessarily makes them sinners. Yet the Lord Jesus speaks of their ignorance in unbelief as a supporting reason to forgive. This is what David prayed. “For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great” (Ps. 25:11). Those words have always been mysterious to me. If I were caught in a crime, if I stood before the Judge, I would naturally try to minimize my sin. I would never plead the aggravation of my sin as a reason to forgive, as a consideration for pardon. But that is what the Psalmist does. Why does he do this? Because his sins were greatly evil. He therefore needed great forgiveness! And because they were against God only (Ps. 51:4; Luke 15:18). Because God alone could forgive his sins, since they were offenses against Him (Mark 2:7; Matt. 19:17). And because only in knowing that the Lord has forgiven our sins, can we rightly fear Him (Ps. 130:4). And, yet, the greatest reason of all is that because forgiving the iniquities of His people is God’s great glory (Ex. 33:18-19; 34:6-7). It is a jewel in His crown of glory. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and I will not remember thy sins” (Isa. 43:25). That, I believe, is what the Psalmist pleads. “Lord, do this for your own sake. Blot out my sins. Why? Because my sins are greatly evil, because they are against you only, because I need great forgiveness, because you alone can forgive them in accord with your righteousness, because I can only reverence and love you if I know my sins are forgiven, and because it is your glory to forgive sins” (Ex. 33:18; 34:6-8; Dan. 9:16).
“There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). There is only one God, and only one who is both God and Man, one God with the Father and the Spirit. Therefore, there is only One who can mediate between both God and men. He alone knows and can do for God all that God requires. And He alone knows man’s sinful plight and can truly sympathize with sinners, having borne, before God, the sins of His people in Himself (1 Pet. 2:24; Ps. 31:5, 10). He felt the guilt and knew the shame and endured the penalty for their sins. He does not minimize our sin in His prayer. He brings it to the fore. “They know not what they do.” This is both an admission of guilt and an overlooking of sinful motives. He admits their sin by asking His Father to forgive them. But He passes by all as Mediator because of their ignorance and unbelief (1 Tim. 1:13-15). He does not charge them with their sins, because of His great love for His people as their Mediator.
Love “doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:5-6). Love “thinketh no evil.” Christ did not charge, He did not impute, our iniquities to us. He does not condemn His people for their sins, because He took them and bore them Himself, in our place before God (John 8:11; Rom. 8:34). And while pouring out His sin-atoning, life blood, while hanging on the cross of cursing, to remove God’s curse from us (Gal. 3:13), He who is God and Man, asked His Father to forgive the sins of His people (John 10:15-18; Isa. 53:12 & John 17:9, 20). What unspeakable joy and love whelms up in the hearts of believing sinners for this so great and loving and gracious Savior (1 Pet. 1:21-23)! He passes by the sins in His people. He knows them, but as our eternally God-appointed High Priest (Heb. 5:4-5), He confessed our sins as His own, over His own head, laying them upon Himself, the Lamb of God (Lev. 16:21; Ps. 31:10; Ps. 38; Ps. 40:12; Ps. 69:5, 7, 8-9, 19-20)! Moreover, He laid Himself under the penalty for our sins. And while dying in substitution, He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)! Can any sinner who hears His words with God-given faith not love this Savior (Luke 23:42)?! Oh, soul of mine, do you not see and love this glorious Savior of sinners!? Many sinners, like the unbelieving thief, heard that He was Christ, the Chosen of God (Lk. 23:35) and the Son of God, and therefore equal with the Father (Matt. 27:40, 43; John 5:18; Php. 2:6). Many have heard Him pray this prayer as High Priest and Mediator for His people, while shedding His sin-atoning blood as the Lamb of God. Many an unbeliever also hears believing sinners speak of the Lord and King of glory (Luke 23:40-43). And yet, as the unbelieving thief, many remain hardened in their sin and unbelief. May the God of all grace and saving power not leave out you or me! May He save us by His electing, redeeming, life-giving, conforming, keeping, preserving, perfecting grace (Rom. 11:5-6; Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 9:12-14; Eph. 2:4-10; Rom. 8:28-39; Jude 1:24; Heb. 10:14; 7:25)!