By Bob Mize
The seven statements Jesus uttered while dying for our sins guide us through the darkest hours of this universe. They also precede the most glorious event of all times—the resurrection. May these words bring us to contrition before our God and then to gratitude for his mercy.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Crucifixion was a ghastly and painful way to die. Most who “died on a stake” would shriek and beg their tormenters for relief or else curse them and spit upon them. But Jesus was the personification of his teaching to “pray for those who spitefully use you” (Matthew 5:44, New King James Version).
He prayed for forgiveness. For whom? For the Jews who wanted his blood, for Herod, for Pilate, and for those who tortured and crucified him. Theirs was a rejection of God at its peak, but the Lord Jesus prayed for their forgiveness. Why? Because he was actually praying for God to condemn him and forgive all of humanity (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
We are intrigued by the words of a dying person. These dying words were uttered in response to the penitent thief saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
Think of all the taunts and jeers to which Jesus gave no answer. Yet he took instant notice and did not ignore this plea. Are we surprised that he would say this to a common criminal?
The crucifixion portrays humanity at our worst and God at his best. Jesus does not want me to die in my sin, but wants to say to me, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26, 27).
This is the wounded Word speaking a word of provision for his mother, Mary, standing there watching her son die. Perhaps she recalled the words of Simeon, spoken shortly after the birth of Jesus: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel
. . . And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34, 35).
Mothers, consider how that sword would pierce your soul if you had to watch your son die by crucifixion. “Every stroke of the hammer on the nails, every thorn in his crown, every piercing word of an enemy, every twitch of his nerves, even his loving words; all pierced her to the heart,” wrote Simon Peter Long in The Wounded Word.
In dying Jesus did not forget his childhood; he remembered his mother, giving her to the care of John. Tradition has it that John gave Mary a good home for another 15 years until she died. Then Mary inherited her eternal home that she saw Jesus purchase with his own blood.
“About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice . . . ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46).
After the three hours of darkness that began at noon, this cry of Jesus pierced the heavens. The Word, who had framed the worlds in creation, had just experienced the fulfillment of Amos 8:9: “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”
After suffering for those three hours, separated from God as the sin-bearer of all humankind, he put into words his feelings of forsakenness. His cry quoting David’s Psalm 22 made his tormentors think he was crying for help from the dead prophet Elijah. They snorted their skepticism, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him” (Matthew 27:49). No, Elijah did not come. Jehovah God did not come to rescue him either.
As Jesus was misheard and misunderstood during life, in his dying he was also misunderstood. Some heard a physical cry but missed the spiritual import of his death—his God forsakenness for our salvation. He cried out to God like you and I cry out to God when we feel forsaken.
When God seems to have forsaken you, do you maintain a strong faith? Wasn’t Jesus saying, “I can understand my kinsmen, my fellow citizens, my nation, and even my disciples forsaking me, but why, God, have you forsaken me?” I am touched with the depths of my Lord’s God-forsakenness. By contrast, I rejoice with God-nearness, my salvation that came out of that darkest three hours in the history of the universe.
“I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
Many dying soldiers in war have testified that a horrible burning thirst overshadows all pain. Within the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh, Tennessee, there is a pond that was turned red with the blood of wounded soldiers who dragged themselves to its bank to satisfy their dying thirst. At Calvary, our Lord was on the eternal battlefield, giving his blood that you and I might live. He was thirsty. Death by crucifixion meant foreign matters in the body, lacerations, burning fever, cracked lips, dry tongue, parched throat, and swollen vocal cords. Jesus, a human being in every sense, suffered horrible physical torture.
But Jesus was not merely showing us how to suffer nobly; he suffered to provide our emancipation from the ugliness and cruelty of sin. At the beginning of the crucifixion, Jesus refused the sedative of wine mixed with gall so he could fully suffer for us (Matthew 27:34). Later, after he cried out that he was thirsty, another drink was offered, which he accepted (v. 48). Why did he accept the second after refusing the first? “Jesus refused the intoxicating draught, before the crucifixion began, that his senses might be kept clear . . . he accepted the [second] refreshing draught for the same purpose,” wrote Herbert Lockyer in Seven Words of Love.
Because of my sin and yours, Jesus refused to sidestep the experience of the crucifixion. This moment was orchestrated eternally, before time began, so that the Son of God could suffer in order to deliver us from eternal suffering. Our gripes and complaints seem petty against the backdrop of the cross, don’t they?
“It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Like the previous statement, this was simply one word in the Greek, tetelesthai. Jesus did not whimper it in a tortured whisper but shouted it in a loud voice, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The drink Jesus accepted from a soldier allowed him to shout this triumph with clarity and power. This was an active word of victory. It is neither the sniveling of a vanquished victim, nor is it the sound of a passive demise. Who heard it? His enemies who falsely accused him and nailed him to the cross. The devil; to him it was the universal defeat and doom of all his influence.
Those who heard it knew this was a commercial word, used to mean an account was paid in full. They knew it as a farmer’s word, describing the perfect birth of a baby animal; it was an artist’s word, spoken as the finishing touches were added to a painting; it was a priestly word, describing the perfect sacrifice brought to the temple.
What was completed—or paid in full—when Jesus died? First, access to God. The veil of the temple was torn. Second, the debt of sin through “the finished work of Christ.” Third, fear of death, for he came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).
Jesus died that I might live! The greatest battle ended with the King of Heaven as the victor.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The winning shout, “It is finished!” blended into this prayer. One who gives God the credit each day in life has no hesitation committing his spirit to the Father in death. Remember, Jesus’ death was not an accident but a choice he made. He had told his disciples, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again” (John 10:17). Do I fully understand that he died for me?
The death of Jesus has no meaning if it is isolated from the empty tomb. As Philip Yancey wrote in Disappointment With God: “What God did Easter Sunday on a large scale he can do on a small scale for each of us . . . Easter Sunday shows that suffering will not triumph.”
Bob Mize is a chaplain, pastor, and freelance writer living in Lubbock, Texas.