The Prayers From the Cross

The First Prayer

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:34.

The first word that came from the cross was a prayer of Christ, not for Himself, but for those who were crucifying Him. It was addressed to the Father and asked forgiveness on the ground that “they know not what they do.”

Under the circumstances, it would be expected that Christ’s first prayer would be for Himself and not for others, particularly since at this time they were driving nails through His hands. However, not a murmur is heard, only a prayer; and that those who were torturing Him! Pain, excruciating, unbearable, racked His body, but calmly He prays, “Father, forgive them.” Behold, what love, what compassion!

We accept Christ’s statement that they did not know what they were doing; but we have to accept it by faith. They may not have known that they were crucifying “the Prince of life,” but they certainly knew that they were taking part in a supreme tragedy, the torturing of an innocent victim of whom Pilate had said that he found no fault in Him. Acts 3:15; Luke 23:4.

Christ’s prayer included not only those who were doing the actual crucifying but also those who instigated it, the scribes and Pharisees, and those who bore false testimony against the Lord. However, this only makes Christ’s prayer the more wonderful. How could Christ pray for such men? How could He find an excuse for them by saying they did not know what they were doing? Only infinite love could do this. We exclaim again, what amazing love, incomprehensible, almost unbelievable!

Christ “carried up our sins in His body to the tree.” 1 Peter 2:24 (American Revised Version, margin).  This included the sins of the weak Pilate, hypocritical Caiaphas, cruel Herod, timeserving Annas; all still had the opportunity for repentance; their cup of iniquity was not yet full. Christ prayed for them; and this He could not have done had the time of their salvation been past. However, Christ prayed. Moreover, God waited.

A Mighty Incentive

Christ’s prayer should be a mighty incentive for the Christian not to give up praying even for such as seem beyond hope. This prayer from the cross gives hope to the vilest sinner, even for such whom at the time are reviling and cursing Him.

This prayer holds another lesson for the believing soul. If Christ could pray for such men, are there any conceivable circumstances under which we should not pray for our enemies? They may have spoken ill against us, they may have borne false testimony, they may have reviled and cursed us, they may even have spit upon us and mistreated us, but they have not nailed us to a cross. They did all this to Christ. In place of retaliation, He prayed for them. He could do no more. “Pray for them which despitefully use you,” Christ had said. Matthew 5:44. Christ lived this prayer. So did Stephen. As they stoned him, he “cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60.

“If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8. We have been trying to think of some virtue or some good thing in those who crucified Christ. We can excuse those who did not actual nailing, for they were under orders. However, we can find nothing good in those ordered the execution. Christ did. He found enough to justify asking His Father to forgive them. Again, we stand amazed at the wonderful God we are serving. He is not will that any should perish. 2 Peter 3:9. Christ praying for those who are crucifying Him! Wonder, ye heavens, and be astonished, O earth! In death agony, forgetful of self, He prays for others, for poor, deluded, evil men.

The Second Prayer

“At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, My god, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Mark 15:34.

This cry was that of an anguished soul in mortal agony. In it, we get deeper insight into the cost of salvation and a greater appreciation of the wonderful plan of redemption. A sudden outburst under tension, a suppressed cry of heart anguish, an involuntary release of pent-up emotions, is a better index of the struggle of a soul that a ream of words. Christ’s outcry is an awe-inspiring revelation of the inmost heart of God.

Much has been written on the question of whether the Father had actually forsaken Christ or Christ merely thought He had. This we will not discuss. In either case, Christ’s suffering would have been the same.

Christ was to tread the wine press alone, and of the people, there was none with Him. See Isaiah 63:3. This was literally fulfilled when all the disciples fled and left Him alone. Mark 14:50.  As men had forsaken Him, would God also? His cry clearly indicates that the Father’s sustaining presence had been withdrawn.

God’s Reaction

The plan of redemption included the death of Christ in the sinner’s place. He must feel the wrath of God against sin, die in the place of those who should accept Him, die as the sinner dies, forsaken of God. Moreover, if God is to justify depriving sinners of life, He must by personal experience know the severity of the punishment that He inflicts on His creatures. He must taste of death, and He must also suffer the punishment. The greatest punishment of the sinner is not the final destruction, but the sense of loss that will come to him as he finds himself left out of the kingdom. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Luke 13:28.

When Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It must have wrung the heart of God as He was unable to say, must not say, “Son, I am right here to help You; I have not forsaken You. Be of good courage.” However, God did not speak these words. Christ must die alone. Not a ray of light must penetrate the deep darkness. Had He at that time been conscious of the Father’s love, had He known that His sacrifice would be accepted and that by His death many would be saved, He would have been upheld by triumphant joy, and no despairing cry would have escaped Him. However, every ray of hope must be removed.


“In yielding up His precious life, Christ was not upheld by triumphant joy. All was oppressive gloom…. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation…. He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face…. The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race.” – The Desire of Ages, pages 752, 753.

There are those who hold that Christ only suffered and not the Father, but this is not supported by Scripture nor by reason. Christ suffered, but the Father no less. To stand helpless and see the Son spat upon, scourged, reviled, and nailed to the tree must have been supreme torture. No, as the Son suffered, so did the Father. Let no one measure either the suffering or sacrifice of Father and Son and attempt to compare or contrast them. They are beyond human comprehension.

The Third Prayer

“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus,
He gave up the ghost.” Luke 23:46.

In Gethsemane Jesus said, “Thy will be done.” Here He says, “Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” Both statements mean the same. He leaves His case with God. After Christ’s experience in Gethsemane He had been betrayed, arrested, beaten, scourged, reviled, spat upon, forsaken by all, judged by His own creatures, condemned and now He was at the point of death, being nailed to the cross. This is what it meant for Him to say, “Thy will be done.” He had suffered extreme agony and both physical and spiritual torture. However, the worst was the hiding of the Father’s face and the blotting out of all hope. What more suffering was in store for Him, He did not know; He could not know. He had drained the dregs of the cup offered Him, and He might be expected to say, “it is enough; I can go no further.” However, He does not say this. With the last ounce of strength, He commits Himself to God; the God who had permitted Him to suffer as no man has ever suffered, with not a murmur of complaint.

In committing Himself to God, Christ approves all that has been done and leaves to God His future. He does not for a moment withdraw Himself from what further suffering God may have in store for Him, but confidently commits Himself to God. Then He gives up the ghost and dies. With Job He says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Job 13:15. “Into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” is the greatest tribute ever paid God.

Those Three Hours

“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. Moreover, at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Once more Jesus “cried with a loud voice.” Mark 15:33,34,37. Mark does not tell us what Jesus said at this time, but John informs us that “He said, It is finished: and bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.” John 19:30.

What happened in those last three hours we are not told. It is clear that it had to do with the new relationship between Father and Son as Christ took upon Himself the punishment for the sins of the world, took the sinner’s place, and thus exposed Himself to the wrath of God against sin. They were now in the same place where Abraham and Isaac stood as they arrived at the altar and Abraham took the knife to slay his son. Genesis 22. “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, “Jesus said,” and he saw it, and was glad.” John 8:56.

Christ had looked forward with some apprehension to this hour. “Now is my soul troubled,” He had said, “and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” John 12:27. Again He had said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Luke 12:50. This weighed so heavily upon His mind that God had sent two men from heaven to talk the matter over with Him, who had gone through death, and one who had been translated. Christ had gone up into the mountain to pray, “as he prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:29-31.

We are not told what was aid, but we know they “spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” That is, they talked of His death, that which was on His mind and caused Him concern. However, in Christ’s mind the matter was settled. Should He say, “Father, save me from this hour”? That could not be; because “for this cause came I unto this hour.” John 12:27. 

Father and Son had always been close to each other. Christ says, “I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” Proverbs 8:30. He could truthfully say, “He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.” ‘I and My Father are one.” John 8:29; 10:30.

However, in the closing hours at the cross Christ could say this no more. The Father was withdrawing Himself. While Christ had been prepared for this, the actual experience was overwhelming. In Gethsemane the preliminary test had come, the test that would demonstrate if Christ could endure the ordeal. There was yet time for Him to turn back. “Christ might even now refuse to drink the cup apportioned to guilty men. It was not yet too late.” The Desire of Ages, page 690. At the cross, it would be too late.

“Thy will be done.” Three times has He uttered that prayer. Three times has humanity shrunk from the last, crowning sacrifice.” At last, His decision is made. “He will save man at any cost to Himself. He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life.” Ibid., pp. 690,693.

Having made this decision, Christ must face the actual test of His ability to endure the reality of the ordeal. “He fell dying to the ground from which He had partially risen…., Angels beheld the Savior’s agony. They saw their Lord enclosed by legions of satanic forces, His nature weighed down with a shuddering, mysterious dread. There was silence in heaven. No harp was touched. Could mortals have viewed the amazement of the angelic host as in silent grief they watched the Father separating His beams of light, love, and glory from His beloved Son, they would better understand how offensive in His sight is sin.” Ibid., p. 693.

“In this awful crisis, when everything was at stake, when the mysterious cup trembled in the hand of the sufferer, the heavens opened.” Help was at hand. “The angel came not to take the cup from Christ’s hand, but to strengthen Him to drink it, with the assurance of the Father’s love …. He told Him that He would see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.” Ibid., pp 693,694.

Christ had stood the test. He had demonstrated that He could come to the point of death and not yield. This was not the final test. That would come at the cross. Here He is given the assurance of the Father’s love. There at the cross, there would be no such assurance. Concerning those dreadful three hours, it is written: “Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours, He had relied upon the evidence of His father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. An as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father’s favor was withdrawn. By Faith, Christ was victor.” Ibid., p. 756.

Memory Verse:

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. John 10:29,30.


1.   After reading this lesson, can you see the incomprehensible love God has for His children?


2.   Have you learned to forgive your enemies like Christ did His. Explain.



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