By Anthony Wayne Goforth
About 9:00 A.M. on a Friday morning, the Romans raised three crosses outside the walls of Jerusalem. It has well been said that the cross of redemption was placed between the cross of repentance and the cross of rebellion as seen in the characters that hung upon them.
During the six hours that our Lord spent on the cross, we have recorded seven of the most amazing comments ever made by a dying man. When we consider how difficult it was to utter even one word from a cross, we see that these seven sayings must be quite significant. The first three sayings were spoken in the early morning light, while the last four were spoken in the mysterious darkness that shrouded the earth in his death. Here are the final words of our Lord:
1. One for forgiveness (Lk. 23:34). It was a word spoken in excuse of them that sinned ignorantly, in unbelief. Jesus seems to be saying, “They see only a malefactor, open their eyes that they may see and know.” How striking is this passage! As they place the nails in him, he seems to feel the injury they did to their own souls.
This is so much like the prayer offered by Stephen in Acts 7:60. We need this forgiving spirit of Christ, for forgiveness is all important. First, our forgiveness is based upon our forgiveness of others. General Oglethorp once said to Charles Wesley, “I never forgive, and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then sir, I hope you never sin” (Mk. 11:25-26). Second, our worship is based upon it (Matt. 5:23).
2. One for the faithful (Lk. 23:43). The thief asked for mercy, and got more than he bargained for. In his own suffering, Jesus took time to comfort others. Let us refuse to be so busy or so full of self-pity, that we forget others around us may be suffering also.
Paradise! What a picture this must have brought to mind for the penitent thief. These words which passed from the sacred lips unmoistened with stupefying wine, contain healing and promise to many.
3. One for family love (Jn. 19:25-27). The blood-shot, half-closed eyes of Jesus turned and “saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved. ” The fount of love was not stayed, the holy heart was well nigh breaking, yet it still beat with family affection. Her heart was pierced by the sword of sorrow as predicted by the elderly Simeon (Lk. 2:35).
Sometimes we fail to show concern for family and loved ones, which Paul strictly condemned (1 Tim. 5:8). It has been said, that at the scene of the crucifixion, Rome was represented by its executioners, Judaism in its formalities in the rulers and people whom they swayed, and Christianity with its tender fidelity in the woman who with John stood by.
4. One for feeling forsaken (Matt. 27:46). This fourth word came from the very abyss of suffering. Perhaps from a greater depth than any word arose from the lips of man. Darkness was now over the land, and darkness was over the pure sufferer’s soul.
These words present the deepest of mysteries. Was it a combination of mental anguish and physial pain? Or, was he in a real sense separated from the Father? The bitterness of the cup of suffering is known only to the one who drank of it.
Do not we all feel forsaken from time-to-time? These feelings are caused by the fear of what is ahead, the fear of not being loved, and the fear of being left out. To the Christian, the cross is the answer to all of these fears. In that verse of superlatives, John 3:16, we find that we can know what is ahead, that we -are loved, and that we are included in God’s plan. In him is the answer.
Jesus understands these feelings. At first, crowds surrounded him, soon there were only a few, eventually it seemed as though even God had abandoned him. Here our Lord drinks down the last dregs of the bottom of the cup he began in Gethsemane.
5. One from the fevered frame (Jn. 19:28). As the former cry ascended to heaven, so this one sinks upon the earth. We see in this cry for physical needs the fact that Jesus was indeed human. In his birth we see purity, in his life we see charity, and in his death we can see His humanity.
As Jesus thirsted on the cross, he thirsted through his earthly life for the will of God. He desires that we too thirst for the righteousness of God (Matt. 5:6; Rev. 22:17). Just as only physical water can satisfy the physical man, so there is a part of man that can only be satisfied in the obedience to the Father, for man is a dual-natured being. Both parts must be fed, nourished, and allowed to grow. Some try to satisfy this thirst by substituting civic work, charitable deeds and the like. These are good, but will never satiate the thirst of man, nor quench the need of the soul.
A moistened sponge on a hyssop rod brought him temporary relief and strength to utter two last sayings.
6. One for fulfillment (Jn. 19:30). When Jesus triumphantly cried out, “It is finished,” he marked a completion in the chain of events which was neither accidental nor incidental, but according to God’s determining council (Acts 2:23). This was the “fulness of time” spoken of by the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:4. This was the moment God had spent 4,000 years preparing the world for. He began His ministry with “time is fulfilled” (Mark. 1:15) and ends with “it is finished.” The great work of salvation complete, the ancient covenant made forever obsolete and a new inaugurated. The ones who crucified Him unconsciously wrought out the divine plan. . . It is finished!
7. A last word of finality (Luke 23:46). In a seventh word, with one supreme effort to the Father from whom he seemed momentarily separated, he yields up himself. When all was accomplished, when the work of atonement was perfected, when the foundations of the kingdom of evil had been overthrown, then he yielded up the spirit. The writer seems to be pointing out that Jesus was not killed, but that he gave up his spirit, thus fulfilling John 10:18.
Are we resigned to doing God’s eternal will? Is our life wrapped up in service to the Lord? Can we say “Father, into your hands I give my life, talents, wealth and soul?” Jesus gave all He had for us and asks us to give our lives in return – we can do no less.
The first word was for the intercession of others, the last was the submission of self. His love stooped to the most wretched, even to His murderers. His life was tranquil because it was in his father’s hands. We know little of our state after death, but what Jesus said while dying is enough for us.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 15, pp. 449, 470
August 6, 1987