Throughout the season of Lent, we've been painting a portrait of our Suffering Savior. The colors and details of this portrait have been painted by number. One soul distressing in the garden of Gethsemane. Two unscrupulous priests planning Jesus' murder. Three shameful denials by Peter. Four ruthless soldiers gambling for Christ's clothing. Five flesh wounds. Six hours of grief and pain.
Tonight consider the last of our Lenten devotions. We meditate on the final things that Jesus said. Seven times He spoke from the cross. Tonight we consider those seven last words.
FATHER, FORGIVE THEM
"33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'" (Luke 23:34 NKJV).
In the last twenty-four hours Jesus had been through a lot. In the garden of Gethsemane He had felt deep anguish as he anticipated the suffering to come. As He prayed, Jesus' sweat had rained down like great drops of blood.
Then Judas had come leading a mob to arrest Him. But instead of open denunciation, Judas had betrayed Jesus with a common show of affection. He had kissed Jesus, thus identifying which man the mob should arrest.
Jesus' captors had then taken Him into custody and interrogated Him. With interrogation came beatings, spittings and mockings.
In the early morning hours, Jesus was brought to the Roman governor for trial. There, Jesus was scourged, and again beaten and mocked. This time by Roman soldiers.
Here in the governor's palace Jesus felt the thorns of a makeshift crown pressed into His brow. Finally, even though pronounced innocent by the Roman governor, Jesus had been sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Preparations were made, and the procession began to wind its way through the city to the place of execution. Along the way, Jesus had fallen under the weight of His cross. A bystander was forced to carry it for Him.
Finally, they reached the hill called Calvary. The place of the Skull. Settling down to work, the Roman soldiers secured Jesus to His cross using large iron spikes and a hammer. First through His right hand, then His left. Lastly they pounded iron through His feet and lifted Him up.
It was then that Jesus spoke the first of His seven words from the cross.
So far, Jesus had remained relatively quiet throughout this whole ordeal. But now He chose to pray for the soldiers who crucified Him.
Jesus saw the world through the eyes of these godless men, and pitied He them. They knew that they were crucifying a man. They had done it before. But they did not know that this Man was the very Son of God.
What terrible vengeance would come from the Father for such a crime? Jesus didn't want them to find out. So, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do".
Jesus did all sorts of kind and gracious things during His earthly life. But, I think this one prayer pegs His character pretty good. In the face of horrible pain, Jesus didn't let bad words slip out of His mouth. Instead, a prayer slipped out, that God might forgive even this evil.
This is grace. Undeserved and unexpected love.
And this is what you and I receive from Jesus too. He did not suffer and die for these soldiers only. He also suffered and died for our sins. The whole crucifixion was one long prayer that said, "Father, forgive them, they don't understand how evil their sins really are".
WITH ME IN PARADISE
"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" (Luke 23:39-43 NIV).
During His ministry, Jesus once called Himself "the Good Shepherd". In John 10, verse 27 He says...
"27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28 ESV).We don't know much about the robbers who hung to the left and right of Jesus. But by their own admission we know that they had committed crimes justly punished by crucifixion.
But in these final hours of their lives, one of them heard the voice of the Good shepherd. One of them saw the way that Jesus carried Himself. Heard the astoundingly selfless prayer that He prayed for His killers.
The robber to the side of Jesus was a violent criminal, yes. But he was no fool. He knew an innocent man when He saw one. And more than that, He could see that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed Savior King so long foretold.
This robber turned and humbly asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus ascended His throne of power and glory. And Jesus turned to this newest lamb of His flock and reassured Him that there was nothing to worry about anymore. Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise".
There would be pain for this man before the day was over. Every hour, and minute and second would be pain. But now there was light at the end of the tunnel. He had heard the Good Shepherd's voice. And that voice had promised - TODAY! Today you will step through the gates and into the house of God. Today all pain will end. Today I will lead you to eternally green pastures and still waters.
Why would this filthy criminal be allowed into heaven? Jesus would open the gates by His suffering and death. And connected to Jesus by faith, this former robber would follow.
As Jesus said in John 10...
"14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep " (John 10:14-15 ESV).What sins do you feel God cannot forgive you? Some harsh and unfeeling words? Sexual sins? Hatred in your inner heart? Blasphemous thoughts expressed toward God?
Remember the robber to the side of Christ. Because of Jesus, he was forgiven in full. Because of Christ, you are also.
That is not my promise. That promise comes from God, and from your Good Shepherd.
LOVING AND OBEDIENT SON
"26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." (John 19:26-27 ESV).
With His first utterance from the cross, Jesus had said a prayer for the ignorant soldiers. With His second word, Jesus had comforted an infant Christian on his deathbed. With His third word from the cross Jesus turned to family matters.
Jesus' own mother had been brought to the foot of the cross. Apparently, the apostle John had rushed to tell others that Jesus was being crucified. Now they had come, not to stare and mock with the crowd, but simply to be there. What else could they do?
It appears that by this time, Jesus' stepfather Joseph had died. The last reference to him in any of the Gospels is found back when Jesus was only twelve. And although Jesus had brothers who could have taken care of Mary, He instead entrusted her to John. Perhaps Jesus did this because He knew that John would care for her physical AND spiritual needs. His brothers did not yet believe in Him.
We sometimes forget that although Jesus was the mighty God, He was also a human son. And a good son He was. Just as He had selflessly prayed for the soldiers, when He saw His mother, all He could think of was making sure she would be taken care of.
"Honor you father and mother", the commandment said. And Jesus did.
In tending to the needs of His mother, Jesus was also honoring His Heavenly Father. Just as Jesus had kept all the other commandments, Jesus perfectly kept the fourth expression of His Father's will.
He had to do this if His sacrifice was going to cover all our failures to keep God's laws. Only a SINLESS sacrifice would be enough.
How many different ways have you and I failed to honor our parents? Could we even count those failures? Yet, Jesus never failed. And because He kept this commandment perfectly and offered Himself in our place, our sins against the fourth commandment stand forgiven.
"34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34 NKJV).
Perhaps you've seen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ". It does a good job of depicting the physical suffering that Jesus experienced as He was scourged, beaten and crucified. But one place it falls short is showing what Jesus experienced here. In fact, I've never seen a movie that even got close to visually portraying the hell that Jesus felt.
On the cross, Jesus suffered much more than physical pain. He had to. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment for sin is not just physical suffering and death. The full punishment for sinning against God is eternal separation from Him. At it's core, that's what hell is. Separation from God and all his goodness.
If you had a debt that I wanted to pay off for you, I couldn't just make a down payment. If I really want to let you off the hook I would have to pay every single penny. Only then will your debt be truly removed.
The agony of an eternity of separation from God was somehow condensed into these last hours of Jesus' life. Jesus expressed the agony of feeling this separation when He cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me".
This is the true penalty for sin. This the penalty He paid . This is what He rescued us from.
Most of our services here at Redemption end with the worship leader pronouncing a blessing on the people. It's a blessing from the Old Testament that goes like this...
"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV).It is because Jesus was not blessed on the cross that we can be blessed. It was because the Father hid His face from the Son, that He can be gracious to us. It is because the LORD visited His wrath on Jesus that He can give peace to sinners like us.
As the song says, "I'm forgiven, because You were forsaken". Thank you Lord Jesus.
FULFILLER OF PROPHECY
"28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth..." (John 19:28-29 NKJV).
In Psalm 69 it says...
"21They also gave me gall for my food,When the soldiers lifted up that sponge of soured wine to Jesus' lips, they unknowingly fulfilled prophecy. One more prophecy that cemented Jesus as the Messiah foretold.
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21 NKJV).
This seemingly unimportant even of giving Jesus a drink of their soured wine reminds us that nothing is unimportant when it comes to the life of Christ. EVERY prophecy was be fulfilled. HAD to be fulfilled. If He really was the Savior that God had promised, all the prophecies associated with that Savior simply must be fulfilled.
And they were.
We don't have the time right now to go through all the prophesies He fulfilled. There were prophecies about where He would be born. How He would be born. There were prophecies describing His ministry. Prophesies describing His betrayal. Prophesies detailing His crucifixion and His death.
It's one thing when the vague prophesy from your Panda Express fortune cookie comes true. It's another thing altogether when dozens of specific prophesies from hundreds and even thousands of years ago come true.
Because those prophesies were fulfilled, we can be sure that the promise connected with them is true - our sins stand forgiven in Christ.
To emphasize this truth, Jesus Himself spoke from the cross a sixth time. He said...
FINISHER OF HIS WORK
"'It is finished!" (John 19:30 NKJV).
Jesus made this statement after receiving the sour wine offered by the soldiers below. But Jesus wasn't talking about the wine.
Jesus was talking about the cup His heavenly Father had given Him to drink. The cup of punishment which the sins of mankind had filled up.
Just hours before, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had prayed...
"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42 ESV).Jesus was truly a Man. And the anticipation suffering Hell was horrible. Jesus had prayed that He might not have to drink this cup down to the bitter bottom. But it was not possible if sinners were to be saved from Hell. Someone had to suffer the consequences for sin.
Now, as Jesus hung on the cross just moments from His death, He knew that He had drained that cup to the very bottom. It was finished.
Think on those words when you feel unforgiven. The cup of your punishment is empty. Jesus drank it empty. Think on those words when some false teacher tries to tell you that you have to do something to save yourself from hell.
It - is - finished.
In Christ you stand forgiven.
"44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last" (Luke 23:44-46 ESV).
I've said this before when talking about crucifixion. Crucifixion was designed as a form of torturing execution that would last as long as human endurance made possible. Crucifixion was designed to make sure your last breath was one of weak, humiliated defeat. That a crucified man would die with a final triumphant cry was unexplainable.
It was so shocking to the Roman centurion who stood at the foot of the cross that He exclaimed...
"Certainly, this man was innocent" (Luke 23:47 NASB)"Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NASB).This centurion had seen men die. He had seen men die on crosses. But He had never seen a spectacle like this. This man didn't surrender to fatigue. This man wasn't taken by death at all. This man took death as if to throttle it into submission.
And for us today, it's not only the way in which Jesus said these final words that is significant. The very words He chose comfort us like none others can. Father into your hands I commit my spirit.
He could boldly choose death, because His work was finished. And it had all been done perfectly. His mission of paying the price to rescue sinners was complete. Having done what was asked of Him, He could return to the Father.
When you and I die, we can rest our own hearts and minds on these words. We can even say them like Christ if we have the bodily strength left to do so when our death comes. We can say, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".
Why? Because HIS work in our place stands finished. Our sins erased in ledgers of God.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for preserving your seven words from the cross for us to meditate on tonight. Thank you for revealing the Father's love for us through your perfect life and voluntary death. Thank you for giving us what we could never obtain for ourselves. We ask one more thing from you this evening. Imprint on our hearts YOUR IMAGE, so that we always rest our hope for forgiveness in YOU and in nothing else.
Amen, Lord Jesus! Amen.