What we must keep in mind is that God is a holy God and, as such, He cannot bear to look upon sin, even when that sin covered His beloved Son. As Christ hung on the cross, God had to turn away. As much as it must have broken His heart, He simply could not look upon the ugliness of our sin. That means that at the very moment God was turning away and saying, "I'm sorry, but I cannot bear to look at you," Jesus was uttering the words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
That prayer was not only for the soldiers that mocked him or the people who cheered for his death. No, I believe that prayer was intended for us too. For every time we would sin, Jesus uttered, "Father, forgive them." In a sense, He was saying, "I'm paying for that sin. Don't hold them accountable." And because of His request, we can take our requests to God and know that He won't deny them because of our unworthiness.
It's important to bear in mind that forgiving is not the same as condoning. In the book of Romans, Paul asks, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" He answers his own question with two words: God forbid! Forgiveness doesn't mean that we have a license to sin. On the contrary, forgiveness is meant to remind us of the price that was paid so that we can be forgiven. And that thought ought to cause us to sin less, not more.
As we approach Easter Sunday, may we not lose sight of the cost of Calvary. May we remember how Christ carried the weight of the cross, but more importantly, the weight of our sin. May we meditate on how He bore the shame and humiliation, not to mention the marks of the guilty. But most of all, may we think long and hard about what He gave up so that He could offer us forgiveness. And may we never, ever take it for granted!