“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
The men who nailed Jesus to the cross didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.
They didn’t have a bad conscience, and they didn’t feel they needed to ask God for forgiveness. They were in the middle of committing the most terrible sin in the history of the human race, and Jesus said that they did not know what they were doing.
That tells us something of huge importance: You cannot know what sin is from your own feelings about right and wrong. If you trust your intuition, you will miss even big sins, and you won’t even know it.
We need God to tell us what sin is, and he does that through his Word. That’s why we need to live under the Scriptures. We need the Scriptures to tell us what’s wrong, not for us to say what we feel is wrong with them. Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Romans 7:7).
What Sinners Do When They Sin
They shut themselves out of a glorious heaven.
Spurgeon paints a compelling picture:
I see a pearly gate, and beyond it is a world of light and joy.
A man is standing outside, with a hammer and nails.
He is nailing bars across the gate to shut himself out. [i]
Wouldn’t you say, “This man is mad?” Sin shuts the sinner out of heaven. If you could see the joy you’re spurning, you would not sin. Here are men with a few short years left, and then they’ll enter eternity. They’re face-to-face with the Son of God who owns heaven.
A thief was crucified with Jesus, and he seized his opportunity and reached out to Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” But not the soldiers––they are nailing the Savior to the cross. They were spurning grace, even as some of you may be doing right now. But they did not know what they were doing.
They prepare for themselves an eternal hell.
Sin brings sorrow in this life and judgment in the life to come. If the sinner knew the sorrow and judgment that a single sin would bring in light of eternity, they would not do it. Spurgeon says that hell is “drinking a cup of gall, every drop of which is distilled from your own sin” [ii].
God always acts in perfect justice. God’s justice means that nobody will be judged for a sin they did not commit. The judgment for each sin will be in proportion to the weight that the sin has, not in your eyes, but in the eyes of God.
This leads me to the conclusion that a person in hell would give anything to have committed just one less sin. What kind of hell is prepared by nailing the flesh of the Son of God? No wonder Jesus said, “They do not know what they are doing.”
They crucify the Son of God.
When the soldiers were nailing Jesus to the cross, they did not know who he was. If they had known that they were nailing the flesh of God incarnate, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). Spurgeon says, “Every time a man sins, he aims a blow at the crown of God” [iii].
You may not ever stand up and say, “I defy God,” but every time you curse or lie or swear or break God’s law in any way, that’s what you do. We don’t understand sin until we grasp that when we sin, we sin against him. Sin is much more serious than breaking a moral code. It’s an offence, an affront, an insult against God. That’s what makes it so serious.
The Sinner Doesn’t Know What They’re Doing
I know there’s such a thing as sinning knowingly and willfully. But whether a sin is intentional or unintentional, whether the sinner committed it on the spur of the moment or whether the sinner premeditated and planned it, if they really knew what that sin would cost and what it would bring, they would never do it.
Every sin is an act of folly, and if you knew the full extent of the folly, you would not commit the sin. Think of some sin to which you may be tempted this week. If at the moment when you are tempted, you could see the full horror of the hell that this sin brings, and the full glory of the heaven that sin shuns, and if you could see how this sin spits in the face of God, you would not fall into that sin.
So, use this as a defense against sin and against temptation. Say to yourself, “This sin that Satan is tempting me with is a sin that shuts people out of heaven and prepares an eternal hell. This is a sin that crucified Christ!” Wake up to what you are doing!
Your Sin and His Love
Are you awake to the extent of your own sin? Are you beginning to see not only that you are a sinner, but that your sin is far greater than you had ever imagined? Prostitutes and tax collectors came to Jesus, while the Pharisees stood back. Why was that? They saw the extent of their own sin, and they came to know the extent of Christ’s love.
Don’t go through life thinking you’re a good person! You will never learn the love of Christ that way. Those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). When you see how much you need to be forgiven, you will begin to know how much you are loved.
Christian, when you see the brightness and holiness of heaven, you will say, “I never knew I was so far from being righteous. How in the world am I here?” There will only be one answer—you are there through the righteousness and the forgiveness of Christ made yours by the shedding of his blood.
When you know the full extent of your own sin, then you can know the full extent of Christ’s love. But don’t wait till heaven for that. Ask God to show you more of your own sin, so that you may discover more of his love.
Make a habit of identifying and confessing your sins. Ask a friend to help you. Examine yourself. Use the prayer of Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (vv. 23-24)
If you think your sins are few, if you struggle to name a single sin that is yours, then you will never have great thoughts about the love of Christ. But when you see that your sins are many, and that Christ forgives you, you will begin to discover the extent of his love.
Do you see that?