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Who pierced the hands of Jesus?
The Roman soldiers on duty that day were the ones who physically held down Jesus’ arms so that they could take a hammer and drive a nail through his hands, probably at the spot where the hand meets the arm, and into the wood of the crossbar. They probably didn’t know who Jesus was or why he had been condemned to be crucified. They were just doing their job. They were facilitating the orders they received to carry out the crucifixion of three men that they would assume had done terrible things and had been justly condemned and convicted in a Roman court. They were getting what they deserved.
When I hear the words of Jesus- father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing—I think first of all of these soldiers. Of all the people on Golgotha that Friday, they understood what they were doing the least.
What about the Jewish leaders, Annas and Caiaphas and the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned him for blaspheming, for claiming that he was the Messiah, the Son of God?
They knew what they were doing. They were getting rid of the man who called them hypocrites, whitewashed graves. They were getting rid of the one they considered a false teacher who was misleading the people, who they thought would cause the people to revolt against the Romans and bring destruction on them and on God’s temple. In spite of their jealousy and hatred they could justify themselves because God had commanded that a false prophet should be executed.
But they really didn’t know what they were doing did they. They didn’t know that God was using their jealousy, their hatred, their sinful actions, to accomplish his gracious will. God was using them to accomplish what Caiaphas unwittingly said – It was better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish. He and the Jewish leaders pierced the hands of Jesus, and Jesus prayed for them, father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.
What about Pilate? He knew that Jesus was innocent. He knew that the Jewish leaders were trying to get rid of Jesus because they were jealous of his power and the crowds he attracted. But when he couldn’t even trick them into giving up on their quest against Jesus by letting them choose between Jesus and the worst criminal he could find in his prison, he folded. He literally washed his hands of the whole thing and signed the execution order of a man he knew was innocent.
He knew what he was doing right? Well not really. I’m sure he didn’t realize that his declaration of Jesus’ innocence would help us still today see Jesus as the spotless lamb of God led away to the slaughter for us. I’m sure he didn’t realize how true the placard he had placed on Jesus’ cross really was. He was using it as a way to antagonize the Jews for putting him in the awkward position of having to condemn an innocent man, but Jesus really was the king of the Jews, the son of David, the rightful heir to David’s throne, the one who would sit on the throne of David forever.
Pilate had a role in piercing the hands of Jesus, and Jesus prayed to the father to forgive him too.
Who pierced the hands of Jesus? You did. I did.
How can that be, we weren’t even born yet? God says through Isaiah, he laid on him, on Jesus, the iniquity of us all. He made the one who had no sin to be sin for us, in our place. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Like the Roman soldiers on Golgotha, like the Jewish leaders, like Pilate, we know what we are doing when we sin, but then again, we don’t.
We know it’s wrong to use God’s name in vain, to use it needlessly or foolishly, but all too often we do it anyway. We know it’s wrong to say things about others, even though what we say might be true, because it’s going to hurt them or their reputation, but all too often we say them anyway to get a laugh or to make ourselves look good.
We know it’s wrong to be lazy at work, or to ignore our homework at school, but we excuse it by thinking we do more than others, or that we need some time for ourselves.
We know it’s wrong to covet, to want what others have. We get taken in by the rhetoric of society that justifies coveting by claiming that anyone who has those things must have taken advantage of others, of us, to get what they have.
We know that we have sinned, but do we truly realize what we are doing? Do we see ourselves on Golgotha pounding the nails through the hands of Jesus? Do we see that it is really the punishment we deserve that is being heaped on Jesus’ shoulders? If we truly realized that we were the ones piercing Jesus’ hands, that our every sin was like a blow of the hammer, would we have done what we knew was sinful? Our sinful nature is so strong, and Satan’s temptations are so powerful that we might have. And then there are those things that David mentions, those hidden faults, those sins we committed without even realizing they were sins, but God counts those against us too. Not a single sin escapes his notice.
Jesus is praying for us, father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.
Because Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, by the soldiers, by the Jewish leaders, by Pilate, by us, the father has answered Jesus’ prayer. Because Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, the father is able to be just, and at the same time, forgive us, the unjust. When Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, he was being pierced for our transgressions, he was being crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. When Jesus allowed his hands to be pierced, God was making him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He made Jesus the sacrifice of atonement so that he could be a just God who punished sin, both the sins we knew we were committing, and all our hidden sins, and at the same time he could be the God who declares us not guilty because all our sins have been paid for in full by Jesus’ sacrifice in our place.
When you think about Jesus’ nail-pierced hands remember that you pierced his hands. They were pierced because of your sins. But don’t just think about what your sins did to Jesus. Think about what he did for you. Think about the fact that those nail-pierced hands are saying, this is how much I love you. Hear him praying for you, father forgive them. Look forward to seeing those nail pierced hands stretched out wide to welcome you home to heaven, and then wrapping themselves around you in an eternal loving hug that will make all your fears and troubles disappear forever.