THE SEVEN LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS
LUKE 23 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
When Jesus’s life was almost at an end, when the pain was worst, Jesus didn’t pray for his mother Mary watching nearby. He didn’t pray for his dear disciples Peter James and John. Jesus didn’t pray for the church which would come into being as a result of His death.
At that moment of agony instead we find Jesus praying for His enemies. And not praying in revenge that God’s judgement and punishment would fall on those who were torturing and executing Him. But praying for their forgiveness!
“Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Jesus is praying for those who were torturing and murdering him. Praying not that they be condemned and punished, but that they be forgiven. Father forgive them!
False accusations. Condemnation for speaking the truth. Rigged trials. Unjust imprisonment. Misunderstanding. Jealousy. The innocent dying while the guilty get off free. Good men doing nothing! “Father forgive them.” LUKE 23:34
Flogged, crowned with thorns, and mocked. Bystanders, chief priests, elders, teachers of the law, soldiers, Pilate, even his own disciples lettting him down – “lone and friendless now he climbs the cruel hill!” Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,
J.C. Ryle, the famous Anglican Bishop of Liverpool expressed so well, “While the blood of the greatest sacrifice started to flow, the greatest of all high priests started to intercede.”
Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
LUKE 23 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
43 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’
Scourged and mocked, nailed to a cross, crowned with thorns, on the point of suffering an agonizing death, here we see Jesus speaking some of the most wonderful words he ever spoke. Not to the religious leaders, not to his own disciples, but to a complete stranger, the criminal hanging on the next cross.
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” LUKE 23:43
The story of the thief on the cross reminds us that the only person God cannot forgive is the person who will not ask for forgiveness. However evil we are – however much we have hurt God and rejected God, however many of His laws we have broken, we can be forgiven. NO-ONE is too wicked. Our sins may be very great – but God’s mercy is greater! If those very people who crucified Jesus can be forgiven, so can we! If that thief can be forgiven, so can we!
Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see
I’ve quoted before, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” John R. W. Stott
When we sin – receiving the punishment we deserve would be justice. Not getting what we deserve would be mercy. But getting what we don’t deserve – eternal life, the hope of heaven, the gift of the Holy Spirit, getting all these blessings we dont deserve – that’s what the Bible means by grace.
When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award–yet despite that he receives all these and much much more – that is God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God. We could never earn or deserve our salvation – it’s all of grace! Praise God!
And that’s what this thief receives – amazing grace!
I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.
You – you singular – the repentant thief. Only he is saved, and for no other reason than that he asked to be saved. In his hour of need he reached out to Christ and Christ answered his prayer. He feared God! He recognised he had done wrong and that he deserved his punishment. He recognised Jesus’s holiness and he recognises Jesus as King! And this thief cries out for help. Jesus, remember me
Not the labour of my hands Can fulfil thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked come to thee for dress. Helpless come to thee for grace.
Foul I to the fountain fly. Wash me Saviour or I die.
Here is the scandal of grace. That a prisoner on death row, or a lifelong sinner on his death bed, can cry out to God and find forgiveness and assurance of all the blessings of heaven. Today you WILL be with me in Paradise.
JOHN 19 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
There on the cross, almost on the point of death. Jesus is still thinking not about himself but about his mother Mary. He entrusts her to perhaps his closest disciple, the disciple whom he loved, the apostle John.
MARK 15 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).
Jesus was rejected by His own people as a blasphemer. He was condemned by the Romans as a dangerous rebel. He was deserted by His closest friends. But more important than all these rejections, on the cross God the Son felt the full reality of being abandoned by God the Father. Mark’s Gospel chapter 15 verse 34 records Jesus’s cry of dereliction from the cross. “My God, my God, why did You abandon me?” (Mark 15:34) Why have you forsaken me?
Here is an experience of complete rejection. These were not just feelings of apparent desertion, but the reality of total abandonment. The Son had come to reveal God as the heavenly Father. Jesus had shocked traditional Judaism by daring to teach His disciples to address God as Abba, Daddy. But on the cross for the first time in His life Jesus cannot pray “My Father” but only “My God”. Why have you deserted me? Why have you forsaken me? Why have you abandoned me? Why have you handed me over? Given me up? Betrayed me? WHY have you forsaken me? How those words would have pierced the Father heart of God!
These words as Jesus was on the point of death give us a glimpse into eternal realities. As Jesus was suffering on the cross something very profound was happening deep within God Himself. Martin Luther put it this way. “Christ saw Himself as lost, as forsaken by God, felt in His conscience that He was cursed by God, suffered the torments of the damned who feel God’s eternal wrath, shrink from it and flee.”
In his book “The Crucified God” the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann explains the cross this way. “It was a deep division in God Himself, insofar as God abandoned God and contradicted Himself. The Son suffers in His love being forsaken by the Father as He dies. The Father suffers in His love the grief of the death of the Son.”
So the cross of Christ was just as hard, just as painful, just as heart-breaking for the loving Father as it was for the obedient Son. Any father would suffer handing his son over to such agony and desolation. God the Father was not an aloof spectator at Calvary. The Father was looking on with grief and tears that the world could only be reconciled and redeemed at the inestimable cost of alienation from His only beloved Son.
Amazing love, oh what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me!
My debt he pays and my death He dies, that I might live!
The sacrifice of the omnipotent Father is as great as the sacrifice of the helpless Son. God’s deity is divided! The Holy Trinity, God eternally three-in-One, is split apart by OUR sin as Christ the Son shares our rebellion and experiences our separation from God the Father!
“Christ was without sin, but God made Him to BE sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God!” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
In place of rejecting us – God the Father rejects his one and only Son. The Son who was one with the Father from eternity, before space and time were created. The Son who from the very moment of his human birth lived in unbroken fellowship with God. The Son who was always the delight of God’s heart. There was absolutely nothing in the Son to cause the Father to turn His back on Him. Yet there on the cross that is what happens. The Son of God is hung up to die, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
Again Moltmann helps us to understand. “The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God His Father. Jesus humbles Himself and takes upon Himself the eternal death of the Godless and the Godforsaken, so that the Godless and the Godforsaken can experience communion with Him.”
“My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Why have you abandoned me?” THAT is how much it cost God to bring us back from hell! THAT is how much God loves you and me! Give thanks as we remember just how much it cost Jesus to die for us.
JOHN 19 28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’
Somebody has commented, “Who would have thought that the one who came as a source of living water for all men would one day suffer from thirst?” Simple words reminding us that Jesus of Nazareth was 100% human. Everything he suffered on the cross was as agonizing for him as it would have been for us.
JOHN 19 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’
Jesus was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. He was lifted up to defeat the devil and set human beings free from the grip of evil.
John 12 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
John 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
Jesus was the seed sacrificed so that there could be a harvest.
John 12:23 ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
And Jesus died as the Lamb of God.
John 1 29 John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
The Lamb of God is a reminder of the Passover Lambs, sacrificed so that the Israelites would be spared when the angel of death passed through Egypt and the Tenth Plague killed every firstborn child and animal. The Lamb of God was also the sacrifice made once a year on the Day of Atonement to take away the sins of the people. And seven centuries earlier Isaiah had foretold a Lamb in his the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
But sacrifice of the Suffering Servant was God’s way of dealing with the sins of the world.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
And though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
And this sacrifice by the Lamb of God indeed took away the sins of the world
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
That was what was happening on the cross as the Son of Man was giving his life as a ransom for man. And at the end of it all we find Jesus saying just one word, which translates into English, “It is finished!” Not “I’m finished” but “IT is finished.” Not “I’m done for”, not “I’m done in”, but “It is done”, “I’ve done it!”. It is completed. It is finished!! God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation has been accomplished. The lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world. The price is paid!
And so we come to the end of the story of the life of Jesus Christ with one final abrupt saying.
LUKE 23 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.