“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I remember reading Wesley a “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” In there, Wesley asserts that sins have to be done knowingly and intentionally. This is a watering down of the law. But it is one of those things that has infiltrated that thoughts of many people. The truth is, there are many sins we do without even knowing it. The O.T. made special provision for this with special sacrifices a person would do for sins committed unintentionally and unknowingly. I imagine there are many sins that we never come to realize. Some sins we only realize, perhaps in old age. And with each sin we crucify our Lord, the same as these soldiers who had no idea who they were crucifying or what they were doing. They were just following orders, and they had no reason to suspect that these orders were somehow unjust or should be not obeyed.
Yet they sinned, they needed to be forgiven. And God forgives them. I’m sure they had no idea of the forgiveness either. They had to be completely oblivious to it. Yet it was forgiveness all the same. Jesus died on the cross to win forgiveness for the soldiers crucifying him. They were justified, that is they were forgiven, though they had no faith. And this forgiveness is just as real for them as it is for us.
This is the nature of justification. It is rooted in the cross where Jesus died for the sins of the world. Where Jesus forgave everyone their sins. It is by its very nature objective, it cannot be anything else. It is also universal, it applies to everyone. There is not one soul you meet in the course of the day for whom you can say Jesus has not died for that person. There is not one soul for whom you can say Jesus has not forgiven that person. The minute you find that person, is the minute your own salvation breaks through thin ice. Either he died for them, or he did not die for you. Scripture is clear, he died for them, he died for the world, that you who believe in him would have eternal life.
But believing comes through hearing, faith comes through hearing. You cannot believe in that which you do not hear. I would not get too caught up in the nature of hearing, though. To hear the Gospel is to have the Holy Spirit work in you. He works on the deaf, he works on the infants. He brings us all to faith. He does through baptism, through written word, through oral communication and sign language. Finally, the hearing of the gospel is as deep a mystery as the gospel itself. This gift of faith is given by the work of the Holy Spirit.
He is the one who convicts us of our sin, and then heals us with the gospel, and all because Jesus is willing to forgive even those who know not what they do. People like you and me.