Seven Words from the Cross

Good Friday
The Seven Words on the Cross
March 25, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

I

When they came to the place called Skull, they crucified Him there with the criminals, one at His right and the other at His left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” They divided His clothes among them by throwing lots for them. The people stood there watching. The rulers were sneering, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he’s the Christ, God’s chosen One.” The soldiers also made fun of Him by going up to Him and offering Him sour wine. “If you’re the King of the Jews,” they said, “save yourself.” There was a notice placed above Him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke 23:33-38).

TLH #180

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

In the name of + Jesus.

The very first words from the mouth of Jesus are so incredibly drenched with grace, you hardly need six more. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. With these marvelous words, Jesus reveals the divine nature hidden under the flesh that is pierced with nails and thorns. No ordinary man would ever pray for forgiveness for the very people who are in the process of murdering you.

But this is no ordinary man.

The Son prays to the Father, not to rain down judgment and send legions of angels to drive out the wicked, but to forgive them. They know not what they do. This is not to excuse ignorance, but that it would not be held against them. Surely some of the same people who cried for His blood later received His blood from a chalice after coming to believe that the Man who died on the cross was truly the Son of God, and that His death is what makes forgiveness possible.

In the name of + Jesus.

 

II

One of the crucified criminals was mocking Him, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other warned him, “Aren’t you afraid of God?” he asked him. “You’re condemned just as He is. Our punishment is just. We’re getting what we deserve for what we’ve done. But this One has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to him, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

TLH # 181

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

In the name of + Jesus.

John and James, brothers and disciples of Jesus, once asked if they could sit at Jesus’ right and left side when He came into His kingdom. But those places are not for Jesus to choose; they are prepared by His Father. When Jesus comes into His kingdom, His right hand and left hand are reserved for two criminals. Because Jesus is a King crowned with thorns, enthroned on a cross. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, read the sign above Him (Jn 19:19). A crucified king in the midst of criminals.

One of the two mocked Him. “Save yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other one was humbled by his punishment. Perhaps he, too, had been falsely accused of crimes he didn’t commit. Or perhaps he was guilty as hell. Regardless, he knew hell was what he deserved. Nevertheless, he proclaims Jesus’ innocence and prays for grace: Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom (Lk 23:42).

Death was staring him right in the face, but he knew from the bleeding Man at his side that the kingdom he longed for was not of this world. In a few short hours he also would be dead, but that very day he inherited Paradise. Not by any strength of his own, but by the Word and promise of the Crucified King who hung beside Him.

Some people use thief on the cross as evidence that you don’t need to be baptized to be saved, and try to denigrate baptism is a useless ceremony. But when James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left, Jesus responded, You do not know what I am asking. Are you able to drink from the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? See the thief baptized with the baptism that is also found in your baptism. Because even as he was crucified with Christ, by the water and the Word, you also are crucified with Christ. You join Him in a death like His. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. Today, paradise is yours.

In the name of + Jesus.

 

III

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier, and the tunic was left over. The tunic was without a seam, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another, “but let’s throw lots and see who gets it” — what the Bible said had to come true: “They divided My clothes among them, and for My garment they threw lots.” So that’s what the soldiers did.

Now, His mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary from Magdala were standing near Jesus’ cross. Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing near. “Woman,” He said to His mother, “there is your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “There is your mother!” The disciple took her and from that time on had her in his home (John 19:23-27).

TLH #182

Woman, behold your son…Behold your mother (John 19:26, 27).

In the name of + Jesus.

To the woman He said, “I will give you much trouble when you’re pregnant, and in pain you will give birth to children” (Gen 3:16). But Jesus also reminds us that the sorrow of childbirth is soon overwhelmed by the joy of a new life born into the world (Jn 16:21). Yet that joy is tempered by the fact that the child is born into a fallen world, and must suffer many things.

Jesus was not the only One who suffered that Good Friday. His mother, who had borne Him in her belly, who had nursed Him at her breast, who had clothed Him, fed Him, nurtured Him, loved Him. Who sang of the Lord’s great and majestic work to Him. She knew this day would come, yet it didn’t numb the sting she felt in her own heart. It’s not right for a mother to watch her son die.

Even in His greatest pain and agony, Jesus cared for His mother. He kept the Fourth Commandment for all of us rebellious children. Woman, behold your son…Behold Your mother. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, took Mary into his home as his own mother that day. Tradition holds that John settled with Mary in the city of Ephesus, where she fell asleep in Jesus. And she who received and bore the eternal Word was received again by her Son into His eternal kingdom.

Jesus gave His mother the gift of adoption, but He doesn’t reserve such love only for her. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son to be born of a woman, to be born under the Law, in order to redeem those who are under the Law, in order that we would receive adoption as sons (Gal 4:4-5).

In the name of + Jesus.

 

IV

At twelve o’clock darkness came over the whole country and lasted until three in the afternoon. About three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema, sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why did You forsake Me?” Hearing Him, some of those standing there said, “He’s calling Elijah.” And just then one of the men ran, took a sponge, soaked it in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave Him a drink. The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him” (Matthew 27:45-49).

TLH #183

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani—My God, My God why did You forsake Me? (Matthew 27:46).

In the name of + Jesus.

The evangelist draws our attention to the central word from the cross by reporting it in Jesus’ native language. It’s the first verse of Psalm 22, but in Biblical tradition, one verse of a Psalm brings the rest of it along with it. There is a tradition in the Church that Jesus prayed the entire Psalter while He was on the cross, though only this one verse is recorded for us. Jesus praying this Psalm from the cross shows us that the entire Psalter, indeed the entire Old Testament, points us to Christ; it is about Him. Jesus doesn’t speak these words because they were written in the Old Testament, but they were written in the Old Testament because they are words spoken by Jesus.

This one verse, though—My God, My God, why did you forsake Me?—shows exactly what is happening on the cross. Not only physical pain and suffering, but Jesus also suffers the fires of hell on the cross. He is forsaken by God, left alone. This is the end of works righteousness and self-justification; God will finally turn you over to yourself. But you have not yet experienced what it’s like to be forsaken by God. Neither has the most wicked person ever to have lived. Because God gives daily bread even to evil people, and causes the rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just.

Jesus was abandoned by His friends and forsaken by God. But He will never leave you or forsake you. He is with you always, to the end of the age. This is His baptismal promise to you.

In the name of + Jesus.

 

V

After this, knowing everything had now been done, and to have the words of the Bible come true, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stem and held it to His mouth (John 19:28-29).

TLH #184

I thirst (John 19:28).

In the name of + Jesus.

On the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles, Jesus cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him who believes in Me come to Me and drink, as the Scriptures have said, ‘Out of His belly will flow streams of living water’” (Jn 7:37-38). Now on the cross, Jesus is the One who thirsts. The blood and sweat He shed had robbed Him of hydration. He had been the one to whom the sick and diseased had cried out, “Lord, have mercy!” but now He needed mercy. A small drink to wet His mouth that was dried up like a potsherd and to unstick His tongue from the roof of His mouth; there were two more words to speak, after all.

A sponge of vinegar was all they had; the acid certainly burned when it touched His parched and cracked lips. But it did the trick. A little drink so He could say His final prayers and blessings.

This drink was necessary. It fulfilled the Scriptures. But not only that, it filled Jesus’ belly so that when a Roman guard came to Him and found that He was already dead, and plunged the spear into His side, a flow of blood and water came out. “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give,” Jesus tells a woman at a well, “He will never be thirsty—forever. But the water that I give to Him will become in him a well of water springing up for eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

In the name of + Jesus.

 

VI

When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).

TLH #185

It is finished (John 19:30).

In the name of + Jesus.

One word. Perfect, passive, indicative, third person, singular. Tetelestai. It is finished.

Perfect. The work began at His baptism, the work for which He came into the flesh to begin with, the work that He indeed accepted from the foundation of the world, was now at its completion.

Passive. Divine passive. Something only God could do. You cannot complete your salvation. He who begins it also completes it.

Indicative. Not maybe finished, not might be finished. No wiggle room. It is finished.

There is nothing you can add, no work you can offer that can complete what Jesus has done on the cross. It is finished. One little word. But in that one little word you can find all of heaven. It is finished. No man or devil can tell you that you need to do more. One little word can fell them. Tetelestai. It is finished.

In the name of + Jesus.

 

VII

It was about twelve o’clock when darkness came over the whole country, because the sun stopped shining, and the darkness lasted until three in the afternoon. The curtain in the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” After He said this, He died. When the captain saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “This Man certainly was righteous.” When all the people who had come there to see this saw what happened, they beat their chests and turned back. All His friends were standing at a distance, also the women who had followed Him from Galilee and now were watching these things (Luke 23:44-49).

TLH #186

Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46).

In the name of + Jesus.

When it is finished, there is nothing more for Jesus to do. The obedient life He lived, the suffering He endured, the insults, the mockery, the pain, the stripes, the blood, everything that Jesus has done He gives into the Father’s hands. His spirit means His entire self. Everything that is who He is, everything He has done. Given to the Father.

He is the perfect Sacrifice. No other son of Adam could both display the Father’s mercy and satisfy the Father’s justice. Only the Son of God, become the Son of Adam.

Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. The curse is ended. Death is defeated. But the story doesn’t end in death, because the hands of the Father gave His Son a Sabbath rest in a tomb, but raised Him up on the third day. There is new work to be done. New life, new creation.

 There is no better prayer for a Christian to pray. Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit. My body. My soul. All that I have. There is no better place, no safer place to be than in the Father’s loving grasp.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA