When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked Him … (Luke 23:33–36a)
1.Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)
This was a word of mercy. You’ve heard it before: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” While high up on a mountain, Moses received The Law (Ten Commandments), engraved on stone tablets by the finger of God, straight from the hand of God. He returned to God’s people below, who were in the process of breaking every one of them. In anger, Moses broke the stone tablets and human beings have been breaking the Ten Commandments ever since. Intentionally or unintentionally, fully aware or ignorant, through sins of commission or sins ofomission, we have all sinned. We are all guilty. We need mercy.
Jesus bore the weight of our sins on the cross. Yet, He did not protest, and He did not blame or seek revenge on those who were part of the conspiracy to kill Him by treating Him despicably. Instead, the King of Kings offered mercy from the cross. He offered intercession from the cross. He made an appeal for us all from the cross. Truth and justice met mercy and forged a case for us from the cross. The sinless Son of God purchased our acquittal through His blood from the cross.
There, the One Mediator between God and men, our High Priest, offered a merciful appeal to the Great Judge of the Universe: “Father, forgive them.”
The Gospel proclaims good news. The first words Jesus spoke from the cross offered that good news. Very good news, indeed, to those of us who have spent our lives amidst the shame and blame that results from chipping away at those immovable stone tablets through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Mercy. What a beautiful word! The writer of Hebrews reminds us: “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)Today you shall be with Me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him,
2“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43)
This was a word of assurance. The first word Jesus spoke from the cross offered mercy leading to hope for the possibility of forgiveness. This second word offered assurance, a confident promise from Jesus, punctuated by the declaration, “Truly I say to you. . ..”
Hung between two thieves, the sinless Savior listened to their banter. A skeptical scoffer and a sincere sympathizer offered their commentary on their shared predicament. All three convicted criminals faced their executioners with an unambiguous certainty that this day would be their last. Most of us do not know the day of our death as these three did. Yet if you could listen in on the conversations of the seven billion people on planet earth, you would discover elements of their conversations taking place today. People judge their fellow human beings using their own measuring stick. And everyone wonders about their own fate. Which day will be my last day? What happens then?
Jesus heard their conversation, and responded to two words spoken by the sympathizer, “Remember me.” Having confessed his own guilt and the guilt of his cohort on the opposite side of the Savior, he did not state his own merit or defense. He simply asked, “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” In so doing, he was both asking for mercy and declaring his alliance with the Son of God and His kingdom.
Jesus listens to a dying person’s prayer from the heart, even if it is only two words, “Remember me.” He listens to sincere people, even those who are not knocking on death’s door. He responds, not in a condemning way, not in a condescending way, not in a complicated way. Jesus responded in an assuring way, so simple that even a child could understand: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
3. Woman, behold, your son! … Behold your mother! (John 19:26, 27)
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. (John 19:25–27)
This was a word of compassionate care. As the eldest son, with at least six other junior siblings (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3), Jesus was responsible for the care of his mother. We assumeJoseph was deceased by now, so from the cross Jesus made provision for the care and safekeeping of His mother. John, the beloved disciple, took Mary into his own home from that moment. Later, at least two of Jesus’ brothers (Jude and James) would become believers. Herod would kill John’s brother James for his faith in Christ. No one but Jesus knew these things at the time.
So to perform the duty of a responsible son, Jesus made provision for Mary. From the cross, Jesus reminded us that God cares about our welfare. He is concerned about our families. He is concerned about caring for our needs. That caring concern prompted Peter to later write, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)
4. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46)
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46–47)
This was a word of suffering. We live in a complex world with perplexing questions. Jesus’ fourth word from the cross cuts across the generations of suffering humanity as life’s most ubiquitous question, “Why?”
When tragedy strikes, we want answers. We demand answers. We want to know, who, what, where, when and how—all the complex and perplexing details of the tragic circumstances. But even then, once all of those compelling questions are answered, we are left with life’s most perplexing question, “Why?”
Why the divorce, the death, the disease, the danger, the demons, the delusion, the depression, the disaster? And in the end, “Why me?” It may be a cliché, but how we respond determines whether our circumstances and unanswered questions leave us better or bitter. Bitterness leaves us without hope, without a God who cares. Faith leaves us better, with a caring God who understands our suffering and promises to never abandon us.
During the third hour of darkness as black as midnight at midday, Jesus, in His humanity, cried out for an answer. His question rings across the ages to validate our feelings of abandonment during life’s discouraging episodes. For if Jesus felt abandoned on the cross, He understands our own feelings of abandonment. He understands the times we question the ways of God. He listens without judgment. And in the ensuing darkness and silence He showed us that if we could endure the horror of Friday’s cross, there awaits a glorious resurrection on the dawn of Easter morning.
5. I am thirsty. (John 19:28)
Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. (John 19:28–29)
This was a word of obedience. Jesus knew that everything needed for Him to fulfill His role as a suffering Messiah had been accomplished. Yet there was one more thing. One more step. One more word that would show His complete humanity, and His complete obedience to the will of the Father.
Jesus was thirsty. He also knew that His request would never be granted in a way that would satisfy his human thirst, accepted the bitter cup offered. In so doing, He experienced the disappointment we feel as we seek after the things of life to satisfy the inner thirst of our souls. Only Jesus can satisfy your thirsty soul. Only obedience to Jesus can keep our cup full.
6. It is finished! (John 19:30).
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)
This was a word of finality. We sometimes like to have the last word. But God always has the last word. We do well to listen. We are not finished until God says we are finished.
The first recorded words of Jesus in the Bible came from his twelve-year-old tongue. He spoke them in response to His earthly parents’ inquiries after searching desperately for their lost son. Interestingly enough, it involved another “Why?” question: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 12:49NKJV)
In the ensuing twenty-one years or so, Jesus accomplished His mission, His Father’s business. The Father’s business is the most important business in the world. Once we understand that, we find meaning in life because we can measure it in light of eternity. We discover our own destiny, and accept difficulties along the way because we understand, we accept, and we embrace the concept that we have given God permission to have the final word in our lives.
7. Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. (Luke 23:46)
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” (Luke 23:44–47)
This was a word of surrender. Surrender to God’s will defined the life of Christ. He left the splendor of heaven to endure this world of sin so that we could leave this world of sin and enjoy the splendor of heaven. If we have committed our life and our ways to the Lord, then we have assurance.
We have assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We have assurance of eternal life; that we will be with Him in paradise. We have assurance of God’s care and concern. We have assurance that He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter how alone we may feel. We have assurance that even a bitter cup will be made sweet as we trust and obey. We have assurance of our divine destiny. And we have assurance that in the end, God will have the final word as we surrender all to Him.
©2020 Don Detrick with permission for pastors to edit and use at their discretion. Originally posted on www.dondetrick.com