The Gospel of Jesus Christ:
… He was born – to be our substitute;
… He lived the perfect life – to be our righteousness by faith;
… He died – to earn the forgiveness of all sin;
… He rose from the dead – that we too might rise from the grave one day; and
… He ascended with the promise to return and give all believers in Christ eternal life in heaven.
1. Luke 23:34 – Forgiveness
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The crucifixion of Jesus brings seven “words” (sayings, really). The first of these is the word of forgiveness.
Of all the things that Jesus could have said while he was being crucified, words of forgiveness might be the unlikeliest. We might expect him to pray for justice or divine retribution on those killing him.
But “like Father, like Son” and in John 3:16 Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus also loves all people and his love rises above even this cruel suffering. This kind of love is beyond comprehension. But it does reveal the source of our redemption and pardon.
It takes a little journeying to get to our own forgiveness, however. If we take just the immediate context, we may miss who Jesus is asking God to forgive.
Just looking at Luke 23 we would be tempted to think that Jesus is asking his Father to forgive those who are crucifying him. And that is true. He is doing that, but not just them.
Peter says in two different sermons, recorded in Acts, that more than just those Roman soldiers who drove the nails were included in this word of Jesus from the cross.
In Acts 2 Peter says that those who were in front of him on that Pentecost Day were those who “crucified” and “killed” Jesus. This audience was literally from around the world – and as such serves to include all people of all time.
In Acts 3 Peter says that those gathered in Solomon’s Portico (Temple area) were also responsible for Jesus’ death.
Jesus was asking God to forgive them all.
Note that Jesus is asking his Father to forgive. Why not offer the words of absolution himself? Because that would be unbiblical. Forgiveness can only be received by those who are repentant.
2. Luke 23:43 – Salvation
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Where in the first “word” Jesus intercedes for all to the Father “Father forgive them…” here Jesus actually pronounces absolution on the thief. The difference is that the thief is repentant. Absolution can only given to someone who is repentant.
From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism:
‘The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”
What Jesus says to this thief being crucified with him is exactly what Jesus came to do for all people: to unlock paradise (heaven).
It is important to note that Jesus says “today.” Not in the sense that Jesus is saying today that the thief would be in paradise, as opposed to saying it tomorrow or Sunday or some other day. Jesus is saying that the thief will be in paradise today. This implies that the thief – and Jesus – will die that very day (they did).
But we also may have a question about paradise. What did Jesus mean by paradise?
The word “paradise” comes from an Old Persian word that means “a walled domain” – often translated “garden.” The Septuagint used the word to describe the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Connect these two with what is described in Revelation 21 & 22, and we come up with that Jesus is referring to heaven.
To try to force this text into an idea of purgatory or some other kind of “holding place” for the dead is to force this text in a position it doesn’t want to go. There are those who try to use the argument that Jesus’ use of the word “paradise” is following the teaching of the Pharisees. But when did Jesus ever follow or use the teachings of the Pharisees?
Others approach this text from the perspective of the thief. They try to figure out what the thief thought paradise meant. But it wasn’t the thief’s word, was it? Jesus Himself uses the word. Jesus is in a unique position – as the Son of God and the Word made flesh – to talk about the life beyond this life.
And so Jesus does with the thief and with us in this “word” of salvation from the cross.
3. John 19:26-27 – Relationship
When Jesus 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!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
This is Jesus’ “word” of relationship. This word – relationship – can sum up the reason that Jesus came in the first place. Jesus came to restore the relationship God has with his creation. Jesus does this by keeping the Law of God perfectly.
Here we see Jesus keeping – fulfilling, in fact – the 4th Commandment (Honor thy father and mother).
The two people here – Mary and John – are chosen by Jesus in a very deliberate way. Mary, Jesus mother, of course, was the one who carried Jesus below her heart for nine months and carries Jesus in her heart ever thereafter.
John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and leans back on Jesus’ heart at the Last Supper (John 13:25).
Why does Jesus refer to Mary as “woman” and not “mother”? This is the second time Jesus does this. The first time was at the Wedding in Cana some three years before. This isn’t a lack of respect on Jesus’ part (how can it be?).
What Jesus is doing is elevating the relationship he has with Mary. For about 30 years, Jesus would undoubtedly refer to Mary as “mother” (or “mom”). But when Jesus begins the final chapter of the plan of salvation, he makes it clear that he is not just Mary’s son, but also Mary’s Lord and Savior. This is the reason for the use of “woman” and not “mother” in both instances. Mary accepts it without comment nor, it would appear, without hurt feelings.
Jesus addresses both Mary and John. Certainly John would have followed Jesus’ wishes without having to be asked directly. But Jesus is formally asking John to do this. Jesus is, in effect, making out his last will and testament. This would be a legally binding agreement for Mary, John, and Jesus – again fulfilling the whole of the 4th Commandment.
That Jesus took the time to focus on Mary and John at this particular moment is incredible. Who would fault Jesus for not taking care of others during his time of ultimate agony and dying? Yet, Jesus teaches us to not focus only on ourselves but to look to the needs of others as well.
Indeed, this is the very reason Jesus is suffering and dying on this cross. Jesus is here not for himself but for us!
4. Matthew 27:46 – Abandonment
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Mark 15:34 – Abandonment
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This “word” of Jesus is the only one not recorded by John or Luke. It is also the only one recorded twice – in Matthew and Mark. There is a slight difference between Matthew and Mark – that is explained by knowing that “Eli” is Hebrew, “Eloi” is Aramaic – with the rest of the saying in Aramaic. Jesus spoke Aramaic – thus Mark records this “word” as Jesus would have most likely spoken it.
Matthew gives the original Hebrew of “My God.” This would have stuck in the ear and heart of those who heard it, as it would immediately call to mind Psalm 22.
Psalm 22 is the Psalm of the Crucifixion. Verse 6 echoes Isaiah 53 and describes how the crowds called for Jesus’ death. Verses 7-8 describe the mocking of the chief priest, scribes and elders (Matthew 27:43). Verse 16 describes the nailing to the cross. Verse 18 tells of the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothes. Verse 1 is cried out by Christ on the cross.
This is not an instance of Jesus recalling a memorized verse of Scripture in an extreme moment of suffering. Actually, King David wrote these words 1000 years before the birth of Christ precisely because Jesus would cry them out while hanging on the cross.
These words are cried as the earth goes dark for the last three hours of Jesus’ life.
The darkness and this “word” from the cross mark the abandonment of Christ by God. This is the condemnation that we deserve because of our sin. It is what hell will be – complete separation from God. As St. Paul says, Jesus became sin for us. He was then punished by God the Father with complete abandonment.
Jesus cries out “why” because, in his state of humiliation, some things were kept hidden from him. This includes the purpose for being forsaken. While impossible to understand completely, it seems to be part of what makes the righteousness Jesus gives us by faith. Even though Jesus doesn’t know “why” he still cries out “my God.” He doesn’t know why, but that doesn’t keep him from calling out to God, trusting in God. This gives us the courage and the strength to do the same – even though we never have to fear being forsaken by God!
5. John 19:28 – Distress
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
John records “after this” – and the construction of this in the original Greek indicates that some time passes. In fact, three hours have gone by since Jesus spoke the “word” of relationship in verses 26-27. Jesus has endured three hours of complete abandonment by God.
What does Jesus “know”? That all was now finished. Jesus had completed all that was necessary to save us from our sins.
“To fulfill the Scripture” is not a reference to “I thirst” being an Old Testament prophecy. Yes, thirst is a part of the agony of crucifixion. And the agony of crucifixion was prophesied in Psalm 22. But Jesus saying, “I thirst” is not a fulfillment of a specific Old Testament prophecy.
“To fulfill the Scripture” means here that Jesus was about to conclude His earthly life. He was going to fulfill what he came to do. There is one last thing to do – that is die. Jesus needs a little bit of moisture in order to speak the final words from the cross.
6. John 19:30 – Triumph
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Tetelestai It is finished.
But what, exactly is finished? Jesus suffering? Yes. Some of the ancient prophecies? Yes (but there are still a few left to be fulfilled, like the exultation, the resurrection, the second coming). Jesus earthly ministry? Again, yes. All these are true. But they are not enough to provoke such a triumphant cry from Jesus after six hours of excruciating pain and three hours of being abandoned by God.
What “is finished” is Jesus’ redemptive work. Jesus’ work of reconciliation of God and man is now “finished.” The atonement is “finished.”
The one declared by John the Baptist to be “the Lamb of God” has made his sacrifice for the entire world (John 3:16). Our substitute has now done what we could not do – keep the whole Law perfectly. Our great substitute has now paid the price that we should have paid for our sin. “He who knew no sin became sin for us” and has now finished the work of earning the forgiveness of that sin.
Now we, through faith, can enter paradise with the thief.
7. Luke 23:46 – Reunion
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.
The “loud voice” is noted in Matthew & Mark, yet Luke is the only one that tells us what Jesus actually said.
Both “it is finished” and this “word” here are spoken loudly, for all to hear.
They are not words of intense agony. They are words of intense joy! With the previous word, all the redemptive work that Jesus came to do has been completed. The entire world has now been saved.
Where Jesus says, “My God, my God” in his agony, he now speaks of his “Father.” The separation is completed. Jesus and the Father are again one.
At first glance, this “word” appears to be a quotation by Jesus of David in Psalm 31:5. However, the differences are significant. David does not call on God as his “Father.” David commits his spirit into the “hand” of God, not “hands” as Jesus does. David recognizes that God has redeemed him. Jesus is the actually Redeemer of the world. David would be committing his spirit into the hand of God for all time. Jesus is actually only committing his spirit in the hands of his Father for “three” days.
“Spirit” is used deliberately. There are two words can be used.
Our being is often said to reside in our “psyche.” But for Jesus – and truly for us, well – our true selves are found in our spirit.
Jesus commits his spirit (pneuma,) to his Father, and then breathed (evxe pneusen). “Spirit” and “breath” both come from the same root word in Greek (and Hebrew).
In this final act of redemption, Jesus is again our substitute. Doing for us what we would have been required to do on our own. He dies just as we do. His spirit leaves his body. He approaches the throne of Grace of his Father – in his spirit – while his body hangs, for a time, lifeless on the cross and very soon will be laid to rest in the tomb.
All is now complete. Jesus has spoken the seven “words” that earn our forgiveness.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:3
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.