Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. 35And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One." 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Notice, in verse 34 Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Forgive those who murder me because they don't know what they are doing. Now this raises a question: Why forgive a person for what he does not know he is doing? Wouldn't we say: "Father, since they don't know what they are doing, they are not guilty and don't need to be forgiven"? Isn't it either-or? Either you know what you are doing and need to be forgiven. Or you don't know what you are doing and you don't need to be forgiven. Why does Jesus draw attention to their ignorance of what they are doing AND ask God to forgive them?
The Guilt of Ignorance
Answer: Because they are guilty for not knowing what they are doing. Forgiveness is only needed for the guilty. Nobody can forgive an innocent person. That's why all this talk these days about forgiving God is so wrongheaded, indeed, I would say, blasphemous if you really mean it. Forgiveness is for the guilty. So when Jesus says, "Father, forgive them," he means they are guilty. Then when he says, "For they don't know what they are doing," he must mean, "And they should know what they are doing. And they are guilty for not knowing what they are doing." In other words, they have so much evidence of the truth that the only explanation for their ignorance is they don't want to see it. They are hard and resistant and have a guilty blindness. That is why they need to be forgiven.
So here are Gentiles and Jews killing the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel and the most innocent and loving man that ever existed. But they did not know whom they were killing. For this ignorance they were guilty and in need of forgiveness. And amazingly, Jesus is praying for them that his Father would open their eyes and help them to see their sin, repent, and be forgiven. That is the beautiful thing about this prayer of Jesus: It declares guilt and offers forgiveness at the same time. So this morning here in this room, if you are rejecting Jesus as Son of God and Lord and Savior of your life, he declares that you are guilty AND he offers himself as the sacrifice to pay for your sins and forgive all the sins you have ever done and ever will do. "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
There was evidence, and there is evidence, that Jesus is the sin-bearing Messiah and Son of God who he claimed to be. For example, 1) his supernatural healings; 2) his authority over nature; 3) his power over demons; 4) his compassion for outcasts (like lepers) and his association with the lowly; 5) his simplicity of life and indifference to wealth; 6) his unparalleled wisdom and his seeing through hypocrisy; 7) his indifference to human praise and devotion to the good of others; 8) his living for the glory of God; 9) his willingness to die for others; 10) his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God (was he a liar, insane, true?). Those are some of the evidences that made the ignorance of his killers a guilty ignorance.
Therefore, they needed to be forgiven even if they did not know what they were doing, because they should have known.
Application to Abortion
Now my point this morning is this: so it is with abortion. If we claim to be ignorant that we are killing human beings and that therefore we are innocent, Jesus prays for us, "Father, forgive them, for . . ." But here I have to stop. I don't know if I can say, "They don't know what they are doing." Maybe some don't. But many do. But the important point is this: Whether we know what we are doing or don't know what we are doing, we are guilty and need forgiveness, because we should know what we are doing. Indeed, we do know what we are doing.
So hear me loud and clear at the outset: Jesus offers you forgiveness this morning for aborting your child, or encouraging your girlfriend or your daughter to abort your child, or for working in an abortion clinic, or for being apathetic and doing nothing about this great evil and injustice in our society. And in offering forgiveness, Jesus declares that we are guilty. Our ignorance is guilty ignorance. We should know what we are doing even if we don't. And we do know!
So let me show you why I believe we know what we are doing, or should know, and are guilty for knowing or not knowing what we are doing – namely wrongfully killing unborn human beings whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a gift of God (Acts 17:25).
We Know What We Are Doing
1. States Treat the Killing of the Unborn as a Homicide
We know what we are doing because 27 States (including Minnesota) treat the killing of an unborn child as a form of homicide (see United for Life). That is, they have what are called "fetal homicide laws." Other states (besides these 27) have different kinds of penalties for attacks on women that result in harm to the baby she is carrying.
For example, in Minnesota in 1987, a teenage girl 6 ½ months pregnant went with her boyfriend on a suicide pact into the woods. She shot herself in the head, and he changed his mind and covered her over with brush and walked away. He was apprehended and charged with assisting a suicide and "inadvertently murdering the fetus during the commission of a felony." The fetal homicide law carried a stiffer penalty than assisting in a suicide. The verdict was upheld in 1991.
As I read about this in the newspaper one sentence leaped off the page because of its stunning implications. "The law makes it murder to kill an embryo or fetus intentionally, except in cases of abortion." Think about that for a moment. We have some laws that condemn the killing of a fetus as murder, and we have some laws that condone the killing of a fetus as abortion.
Why is this? What is the basis for the difference? Usually the proposed basis for the difference is simply this: It is illegal to take the life of the unborn if the mother chooses that it not be taken, but it is legal to take the life of the unborn if the mother chooses that it be taken. In first case the law treats the fetus as a human with rights; in the second case the law treats the fetus as non-human with no rights.
Do you see what this means? It means that according to our laws in Minnesota (as well as other states), the humanness of the unborn is determined from case to case not on the basis of its intrinsic qualities, but on the basis of someone else's choice. If the one who has the power says it is right for the unborn to be killed, it is right; but if the one with the power says it is wrong for the unborn to be killed, it is wrong. There is a name for this state of affairs. We call it anarchy: Each one who has the power defines what is "right" on the basis of what he or she wants to be right.
Now at this point those of us who care about racial justice should hear some ominous and threatening sounds. And those who care most about justice for the unborn should see the profound implications of this for racial justice – and every other form of justice. And there should be no sense that you can pick one of these issues to care about with no concern about the other. When human justice is disconnected from a person's intrinsic humanity and made to depend simply on the choice of the strong, no one is safe from being arbitrarily defined out of personhood – whether it is a Jew in Nazi Germany or Black Slave in South Carolina or an unborn infant in the womb. If the right to life and liberty hangs merely on the will of the strong, there is no justice. The issue for racial justice and justice for the unborn is: What constitutes human personhood and the human responsibilities and rights that flow from it.
But here's my point this morning: The existence of fetal homicide laws show that we know what we are doing when we abort the unborn or condone abortion or take no interest in it. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
2. The Inconsistency of Fetal Surgery and Abortion
We know what we are doing because of the inconsistency of doing fetal surgery on a baby in the womb to save him while his cousin at the same stage of development is being killed. The evidence mounts on all hands that the unborn are persons and patients alongside of their mothers. They can be medically treated just as the mother can. But many people turn a deaf ear to observations like Dr. Steve Calvin's in a letter some years ago to the Arizona Daily Star: "There is inescapable schizophrenia in aborting a perfectly normal 22 week fetus while at the same hospital, performing intra-uterine surgery on its cousin." Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
3. Size Is Irrelevant in Determining Personhood
We know what we are doing because the size of a person is irrelevant when deciding if the person is a human being or not. The five-foot-eight frame of a teenage son guarantees him no more right to life than the 23-inch frame of his little sister in her mother's arms. Size is morally irrelevant (1 inch, 23 inches, 68 inches) in determining who should be protected. Forgive, Father, we know what we are doing.
4. Developed Reasoning Powers Are Irrelevant for Determining Personhood
We know what we are doing because developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood. A one-week-old infant, nursing at his mother's breast, does not have these powers either, yet we don't put his life in jeopardy because of that. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
5. Location or Envionment Are Irrelevant for Determining Personhood
We know what we are doing because in all other areas of life we do not allow location or environment to determine a person's right to life. So Scott Klusendorf asks, "How does a simple journey of seven inches down the birth canal suddenly transform the essential nature of the fetus from non-person to person?" (http://www.str.org/free/bioethics/Seriously.pdf) The so-called "partial-birth abortion" is so obviously infanticide that only the most guilty blindness could deny it. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
6. Dependency on Another Is Irrelevant for Determining Personhood
We know what we are doing because we consider persons on respirators and dialysis as human beings whose lives are precious and to be protected. In other words, the unborn cannot be disqualified from human life because they are dependent on their mother for food and oxygen and protection from toxins. In fact, we operate on the exact opposite principle: The more dependent a little one is on us, the more responsibility we feel to protect him, not the less. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
(Those last four observations were summed up by Scott Klusendorf under the acronym SLED: Size, Level of development, Environment, Degree of dependence – none is morally relevant for the definition of human life.)
7. The Genetic Make Up of Humans Is Unique
We know what we are doing because we know that the genetic make up of a human is different from all other creatures from the moment of conception. The human code is complete and unique from the start. We know what we are doing. Father, forgive us.
8. All the Organs Are Present at Eight Weeks of Gestation
We know what we are doing because we know that at eight weeks of gestation all the organs are present. The brain is functioning, the heart pumping, the liver making blood cells, the kidney cleaning the fluids, the finger has a print. Yet almost all abortions happen later than this date. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
9. We Have Seen the Ultrasounds and the Photographs
We know what we are doing because the marvel of ultrasound has given a stunning window into the womb that shows the unborn, for example, at 8 weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. And, besides that, we have the amazing books and magazines capturing the intrauterine photographs of every stage in a baby's development. We think especially of the photography of Lennart Nilsson. When pro-choice people say pictures don't count, they are inconsistent. The way things look is a crucial part of how we make choices. You don't shoot a man, you shoot a deer, and you use your eyes to tell the difference. If the world could see clearly the babies being killed, millions of people would recoil. And O how great the guilt of our ignorance, because we can see them – if we would. Father, forgive, we know what we are doing.
10. When Two Rights Conflict, the Higher Value Should Be Protected
We know what we are doing because we know the principle of justice that when two legitimate rights conflict, the right that protects the higher value should prevail. We deny the right to drive at 100 miles per hour because the value of life is greater than the value of being on time or getting thrills. The right of the unborn not to be killed and the right of a woman not to be pregnant may be at odds. But they are not equal rights. Staying alive is more precious and more basic than not being pregnant. But in abortion, we reverse this order. And we know what we are doing. O Father, forgive us.
And there are so many more reasons we could give why we know what we are doing – especially we Christians with all God's precious special revelation like Psalm 139:13 ("You [O God] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.")
As we dream toward Planting a Passion – planting a strong, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, justice-pursuing church, let us remember that Jesus Christ indicts and forgives in one and the same act of death. He died to show us the greatness of our sin, and he died to forgive the greatness of our sin. And, we add, he died (according to Titus 2:14) "to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." O may God raise up coronary, Wilberforce-like, never-give-up Christians in the battle for racial justice and justice for the unborn, mingled with mercy for everyone involved, because we live by mercy.