Luke 23:26-49, Matthew 27:45-50, John 19:23-30
Preaching Date: March 30, 2018
Key Sentence: We mourn and rejoice as Christ shows his faithfulness on the cross.
Thanks for coming out this evening. We don’t often have a Good Friday service here at Trinity, but both the topic and the circumstances made it a good choice this year. The circumstances are a result of that hurricane we had last year. We would normally have a worship service on Thursday of Holy Week, and we did, sort of, but we had it together with the team that was here this week and with the Crisis Response staff and with some of our homeowners. We focused yesterday on community, on the table fellowship we share as we remember the work of the Savior, his body given and his blood shed for us.
But tonight’s topic is really appropriate for Friday, for Good Friday, because we’re looking tonight at the seven last sayings of Christ, the words he spoke from the cross. Everything we talk about tonight took place in the few Friday hours between the beginning of the crucifixion and the beginning of the Sabbath.
There were seven of these sayings, three of them found in the Gospel of Luke, three in the Gospel of John and one found both in Matthew and in Mark. The way we’ll do this this evening is to worship briefly, to read one of those Scriptures, and then to meditate briefly on what Jesus said in that Scripture. There are seven candles up here, and we’ll light one for each of the seven words.
Luke 23:26-43 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” / light first candle /
And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Each of the Gospels records the actual crucifixion of Jesus in one sentence, and they don’t give an abundance of detail to his time on the cross either. But they do record these seven sayings, this ministry of Christ from the cross. Of all the terms we could use to link these sayings, the one that stood out to me was the word fidelity. It more or less means faithfulness, but it ended it the letters ty, which was my connector for these holy week messages, and, more important, fidelity implies faithfulness to one's duties. It also implies loyalty to those we love and exact correspondence to some quality, such as humility or obedience.
The first saying from the cross shows this fidelity. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgiveness was a key aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. He taught us in the Lord’s prayer to seek forgiveness from God and to extend forgiveness to others. In one of his earliest encounters with the Pharisees he claimed that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And less than 24 hours before the crucifixion he told the disciples that the cup of blessing was his blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Despite the pain and horror of crucifixion, one of the cruelest deaths ever devised, Jesus continues to be faithful to this mission of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them.” I think the ‘them’ in this statement probably referred most immediately to the Roman soldiers administering the death penalty. They had no idea that this crucifixion was any different than the thousands of others Rome regularly executed. But notice that their ignorance didn’t make them less guilty. They still needed forgiveness. Some people say that Jesus was only referring to the soldiers with this statement. But just as those ignorant of their sin are still guilty and need forgiveness, so too those who are aware of their sin are guilty and need forgiveness. That’s the larger purpose Jesus is accomplishing on the cross, the larger fidelity he is displaying, the pouring out of his blood for the forgiveness of sins. So in that sense this saying applies to all of us. None of us can really know the depth of our sin or the wound it is to God’s holiness or the judgment we deserve. Nonetheless when any of us cries out to Jesus for rescue, he acts as our High Priest and says “Father forgive her, forgive him.” He is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The second word of the cross makes that incredibly personal. Two criminals, you and me, were crucified with him, deserving of death. And one of them, I guess it was me, mocked Jesus, like almost everybody who was there, saying “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” The other criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” The other criminal gets it. He sees that Jesus is the only sinless person on that hill. We don’t know how he learned about Jesus, or how much he knew, but it was enough for him to cry out “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He does, in fact, what all of us need to do, the only thing we can do. He recognizes his sin “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” He recognizes Jesus as sinless, and as Messiah King, having the power of life after death. He knows he’s going to die, but he says, “remember me, give mind to me, know me in your kingdom.” And that cry for rescue elicits the second word from the cross “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Even on the cross, especially on the cross, he was faithful to that mission. He still offers us criminals, you and me, those deserving of death, forgiveness and eternal life. He remembers us. And he promises us that we too will share in his eternal kingdom, his paradise.
John 19:23-28 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, 25but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 28After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
Matthew 27:45-50 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And 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?” 47And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
The third word, or saying, from the cross is perhaps the most surprising. The first two offered forgiveness and rescue, which we already knew was the mission of Jesus. He came to seek and save the lost, and he was faithful to that purpose. That’s fidelity. But this word is more personal even than the second word. Jesus is showing his fidelity, his faithfulness in family life. And so he reminds us that we too, no matter how important our work or exciting our ministry have both the responsibility and the privilege of being set in families.
Jesus’s mother was at the foot of the cross. When Jesus was born Mary had been told that a sword would pierce her soul. This is that sword, the son whom she loved and had come to believe in is now condemned by her people, sentenced by the Romans and cruelly treated. He hangs on the cross in agony. Yet he still has the needs of others in mind.
Also at the foot of the cross is ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ Who is this? It’s John. We later find out this same beloved disciple is the one who wrote this Gospel. He was one of the three closest to Jesus, along with Peter and James. He was the only disciple who followed Jesus into the High Priest’s house, leaving Peter in the courtyard to deny His Lord. Now we find that he is at the foot of the cross, the only male disciple courageous enough to be there.
In the agony of the cross Jesus took thought for the care of his mother, who was almost certainly a widow. Jesus’ brothers, who would eventually become believers, were notably absent at this moment, and Jesus had a legal as well as moral responsibility to care for her. So he somehow indicates John and says to his mother ‘I’m placing you into the care of another – behold your son.” And to John he says ‘behold your mother.’ John, as the author of the Gospel adds that from that time he took her into his home. Jesus shows how practical and how deep his love can be. He reaches out to his mother in her agony and sets her in a new family, and really into the family of believers.
The fourth word is the center of this list, and in many ways the center of Christ’s fidelity, the center of his work on the cross. After three hours of darkness and agony, Jesus cries out “Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani,” which is Aramaic, Jesus’s native language, and which means “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” It’s a quote from Psalm 22, which is an amazing and awful prophecy of the crucifixion. David wrote the Psalm during his persecution by King Saul. But the details do not have much to do with David’s life. They have everything to do with Jesus’ crucifixion, describing with awful accuracy. But it was what was happening spiritually that Jesus describes with this cry. He is forsaken or abandoned. He no longer feels his Father’s presence. Why would this be? God had promised his people “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Surely his own Son would never be forsaken. Further, Jesus the Son is one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. How can they be cut off from each other?
We’ll probably never fully understand how this could have been, but we do know why. Isaiah says “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." God is holy and righteous, so much so that unholy men are in danger if they try to draw near him. Our sins and iniquities cause a separation between us and God, a great gulf, a deadly chasm. He has "hidden his face from you," which means can't experience communion with him or sense his presence. This is what was happening to Jesus, on our behalf. Paul says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus is forsaken by God because he’s taken our sins upon him. He is atoning for our sins. He is, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
This is what separated him from the Father on the cross. This is the cup, the destiny, he dreaded in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wasn’t fearing the crucifixion. His "cup" is the necessity that the holy Son of God, bear our unholy sins and receive in himself the judgment and punishment of God. In the Garden Jesus knew that the cross would mean separation from God. He struggled hard against it. Yet in the end, he prays, "Not my will, but yours be done" Now the horror and magnitude of this "cup" come in full fury as the wrath of God’s judgment is poured out and he feels the Father's comforting presence sucked away. He who has been with the Father from all eternity is now utterly alone!
Jesus' agonizing cry gives us just a tiny glimpse of what it must have cost Him to die for our sins. Our forgiveness is not free, dear friends, neither for the Son nor the Father. It wrenches them apart, puts them on opposite sides, as enemies, for a little while. This is the awfulness of our sin. As the hymn says “Ye who of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the Sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; 'Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
And so, fifth, Jesus cries out “I thirst.” This no doubt reflected true physical thirst. He was both fully God and fully man, and the agony of Roman crucifixion fell fully on his mortal frame. The blood loss from the cruel flogging would only increase his thirst. More than that, his saying, John tells us, was to fulfill another Scripture. Psalm 69 is another of David’s psalms of trial and lament. Verse 21 says “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” This was fulfilled on the cross. A soldier soaked a sponge in ‘posca,’ the diluted vinegar and water mixture, non-alcoholic, drunk by soldier’s all over the empire. Earlier Jesus refused a drink of wine, probably because he chose to experience all the agony that we deserved, but he does take this vinegar.
I want to mention one more thing about this word, a speculation that occurred to me while I was writing about the previous word. I wonder if Jesus is also reflecting on his own well-known teaching. The fourth beatitude says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” I wonder if, for the first time in eternity, Jesus, experiencing the penalty of our sin, knows what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He knows the separation and death that come from sin. He’s experiencing that so that we don’t have to. But that means that he is, at this moment on the cross, not righteous, but unrighteous, and thirsting for what he has given up for us.
John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Luke 23:44-49 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
“It is finished.” “Tetelestai” This verb is derived from the same Greek root, telos, which means "end," and by extension, the end to which all things relate, the aim, the purpose. As a verb it means "to complete an activity or process." The verb is in the perfect tense: tetelestai. In Greek this signals a past action, the effect of which continues into the present. It has been perfectly completed.
It is accomplished. In the last couple of centuries scholars have found thousands of papyrus scraps with Greek writing on them. Many of these are mundane commercial documents in which we find this same word. Scholars who pored over these scraps to better understand New Testament Greek noticed that receipts are often introduced by this phrase, tetelestai, indicating the bill had been paid in full, the obligation completed, the debt paid off.
What was finished? That is, what was Jesus’ mission? Why had he come? Let's look at how Jesus defined his mission, and how his apostles understood it. Consider these purpose verses: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." "But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins." This was his mission and purpose. Now, with this loud cry, his mission is accomplished. The victory shout of Jesus echoed across the small flat hilltop and to the world beyond. It is a cry of accomplishment and an announcement of obedience fulfilled. This shout began in the painful will of the Father, with which Jesus concurred: the cup, the baptism, the suffering, the cross.
"It is finished" announces the full obedience of the One who, though equal with God: "... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!” Or as the Caitelen song we looked at last year says “Betrayed with an unholy kiss, Our curse became his heaviness, the Father's wrath upon his only Son. They pierced his side, blood and water flowed. The curtain torn they laid him low. The sky went black, but darkness had not won. It is finished.”
And so, as Luke records, the final word of the cross is “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Notice that he is again “Father.” When abandoned Jesus had said “My God, My God,” but now he says “Abba.” These words are also from a Psalm of David: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.” They psalm is an evening prayer used daily by devout Jews. By this prayer Jesus entrusts himself to his Father. In Psalm 31:5 the Hebrew word "commit" could also be translated “entrust,” or more fully, "to entrust to someone for safekeeping.” It is used when you entrust someone to the care and protection of someone else. Jesus is doing what Scripture calls all of us to do, trusting God no matter what. No matter what he has gone through he trusts himself to the care and protection of his father.
And so he breathes his last. He gives up his spirit or his “breath.” Though Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and though he never went to a funeral he didn’t disrupt, he finally embraced his own death with peace, knowing that he had accomplished the Father’s will and that he was going to the Father. He also knew that he would return and “take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” His last word to the Father is the first word of the new era that would dawn on the third day following.