23:32-38 Two others who were criminals were brought to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place which is caned the place of a skull, there they crucified him, and the two criminals, one on his right hand, and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And, as they divided his garments, they cast lots for them. The people stood watching, and the rulers gibed at him. "He saved others," they said. "Let him save himself if he really is the anointed one of God, the chosen one." The soldiers also mocked him, coming and offering vinegar to him, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews save yourself." There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
When a criminal reached the place of crucifixion, his cross was laid flat upon the ground. Usually it was a cross shaped like a T with no top piece against which the head could rest. It was quite low, so that the criminal's feet were only two or three feet above the ground. There was a company of pious women in Jerusalem who made it their practice always to go to crucifixions and to give the victim a drink of drugged wine which would deaden the terrible pain. That drink was offered to Jesus and he refused it. ( Matthew 27:34 .) He was determined to face death at its worst, with a clear mind and senses unclouded. The victim's arms were stretched out upon the cross bar, and the nails were driven through his hands. The feet were not nailed, but only loosely bound to the cross. Half way up the cross there was a projecting piece of wood, called the saddle, which took the weight of the criminal, for otherwise the nails would have torn through his hands. Then the cross was lifted and set upright in its socket. The terror of crucifixion was this--the pain of that process was terrible but it was not enough to kill, and the victim was left to die of hunger and thirst beneath the blazing noontide sun and the frosts of the night. Many a criminal was known to have hung for a week upon his cross until he died raving mad.
The clothes of the criminal were the perquisites of the four soldiers among whom he marched to the cross. Every Jew wore five articles of apparel--the inner tunic, the outer robe, the girdle, the sandals and the turban. Four were divided among the four soldiers. There remained the great outer robe. It was woven in one piece without a seam. ( John 19:23-24 .) To have cut it up and divided it would have ruined it; and so the soldiers gambled for it in the shadow of the cross. It was nothing to them that another criminal was slowly dying in agony.
The inscription set upon the cross was the same placard as was carried before a man as he marched through the streets to the place of crucifixion.
Jesus said many wonderful things, but rarely anything more wonderful than, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Christian forgiveness is an amazing thing. When Stephen was being stoned to death he too prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." ( Acts 7:60 .) There is nothing so lovely and nothing so rare as Christian forgiveness. When the unforgiving spirit is threatening to turn our hearts to bitterness, let us hear again our Lord asking forgiveness for those who crucified him and his servant Paul saying to his friends, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." ( Ephesians 4:32 .)
The idea that this terrible thing was done in ignorance runs through the New Testament. Peter said to the people in after days, "I know that you acted in ignorance." ( Acts 3:17 .) Paul said that they crucified Jesus because they did not know him. ( Acts 13:27 .) Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic saint, used to say to himself every morning, "Today you will meet all kinds of unpleasant people; they will hurt you, and injure you, and insult you; but you cannot live like that; you know better, for you are a man in whom the spirit of God dwells." Others may have in their hearts the unforgiving spirit, others may sin in ignorance; but we know better. We are Christ's men and women; and we must forgive as he forgave.