By Earl Kimbrough
Seven times during the six hours Jesus was on the cross he spoke words that have been preserved in the gospel story. All of these together would make no more than a short paragraph, yet they comprise a microcosm of his earthly ministry. These sayings radiate from Calvary like a spectrum diffracting the everlasting rays of redemption’s plan. Here all facets of salvation are represented. The traits of God that drew the plan are evident, as are the sins of the world that made it necessary, if sinners are to stand sinless before God and live with him in eternity.
The Prayer For Forgiveness
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34). These words came soon after the Roman soldiers crucified the Lord, if not while they were nailing him to the wooden beams. “Them” includes all who had part in his death – the rulers, the mob, the soldiers. But their ignorance, whatever its nature and scope, was not absolute. While most did not realize they were crucifying the Messiah, at least some knew Jesus was innocent of the Jews’ charge for Pilate three times declared him innocent (Lk. 23:1-22).
Their ignorance did not excuse them, but it kindled the compassion of Jesus that brought forth the prayer. “If ignorance does not excuse a crime, it at least diminishes the atrocity of it” (Adam Clarke). The prayer proves Jesus’ qualification to be our High Priest, which requires “compassion on those who are ignorant and are going astray” (Heb. 4:15; 5:1,2). It also helps explain the meaning of his death (Heb. 2:9). He died for all and this prayer shows that, as God was willing to forgive his Son’s murderers, he will forgive all who turn to him for salvation.
The prayer fulfilled the words, “and he made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). But his intercession did not obtain instant or unconditional pardon. The prayer was answered by the gospel of Christ and depended on the sinners repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:38; 3:14-17). It was then that those for whom he prayed were forgiven. The intercession Jesus made for them presaged the intercession he now makes for us at the right hand of God (Heb. 7:25).
In this prayer, the Lord left a beautiful example. There is nothing more lovely than forgiveness, nor more unlovely than unforgiveness. But some who claim to follow Christ have not learned this, or else ignore it. They grow so bitter toward others that they will not forgive. They exchange love for hate, dishonor Christ, and jeopardize their souls. Paul said, “And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
The Promise to the Robber
“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). When Christ was crucified, he was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). He not only was counted as a criminal, but he was executed in the midst of criminals. Earlier the robbers joined in reviling him (Matt. 27:39-44). But as the day climbed toward noon, one repented and turned to him in faith. He confessed Christ, saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:39-42). Questions flood the mind at this point.
Why did the robber repent? How deep was his faith? What did he expect? How much did he know? Was he saved without baptism? Obviously his knowledge and faith were weak and limited. Some may have demanded a more perfect measure of these. But the man knew enough and believed enough to satisfy the Lord and that should satisfy us. Christ said he would be with him that day in paradise, the state of “pleasure and delight” where the Lord’s spirit remained between his death and resurrection. By his promise to the penitent robber, Christ gives assurance to the fallen race of Adam that he died to open heaven’s gate to all who receive him (Jn. 1:12). Here also is proof of immortality and everlasting life.
This man is not an example of salvation under the Great Commission. Before Christ died, he had power on earth to forgive sin upon any condition – or no condition if he chose (see Matt. 9:6; Lk. 8:48). But after the New Testament became of force following his death, all must meet its conditions to receive its benefits (Heb. 9:15-17). No one today can be saved like the “thief on the cross.” Jesus now says, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16).
The Concern for Mary
Woman, behold your son! ” “Behold, your mother (Jn. 19:26,27). Jesus did not forget his mother when the sword of Simeon’s prophecy pierced her soul (Lk. 2:35). He had no material wealth to leave her, but he left something far more precious: someone to provide her with loving and sympathetic care. How often are aging parents denied this simple want by their children? The commitment of Mary to John occurred shortly before darkness covered the land and while she could still clearly see the living face of her Son.
John understood the Lord’s words and took Mary to his own home. The beloved apostle’s obedience here cannot be discounted as a factor of his long life (see Eph. 6:3). But why did Christ commit Mary to John since she had other children? The reason is not disclosed and speculation is worthless. It is sufficient to know what happened. John, perhaps more than any other, possessed the qualities Jesus wanted in one to look after Mary. “Honor your father and your mother” is the first moral precept of the Mosaic Law (Ex. 20:12). This shows the priority God places on this duty and it was in keeping with it that Jesus gave us a supreme example of filial piety.
The Offering for Sin
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mk- 16:34) This was not illusion, but reality. But how and why did it happen? Behind the Lord’s cry is a mystery we cannot penetrate. Eternity alone can fully explain it. It took place when the ninth hour drew near and while darkness covered the land. “These words can only express the idea that he was treading the winepress alone” (B.W. Johnson). He was left on the cross for a time to struggle in pain and agony without a sense of his Father’s presence.
This seems to have been the most grievous of his sufferings and it lies at the very heart of his mission. “We may not know the significance of that act on the part of the Father, but it seems that the sacrifice of Jesus had to be complete. The sinner is separated from God; and God, for the moment withdrew his presence from Jesus as if he were a sinner. That, at least, is what occurred, even though we may not know the significance of the act” (R.L. Whiteside). The cry can only be understood in the light of the sinless Son of God bearing the sins of the world.
In discussing the ministry of reconciliation, Paul said, “For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ was made sin for us, a curse for us; and therefore, though God loves him as a Son, he frowned upon him as a Surety” (Matthew Henry). Christ became sin, but he did not remain sin. He for the moment took the place of sinful men that they might receive the righteousness which he, in consequence of his sacrifice, could give. At that hour, he experienced separation from God, completing his identity with the human race. Because he went through it, he can help those who go through it. “But none of the ransomed ever knew; How deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark the night, That the Lord passed through, Ere he found his sheep that was lost” (Elizabeth Cheplane).
The Physical Suffering
“I thirst” (Jn. 19:28). This sprang from Christ’s awareness that “all things were now accomplished” regarding the offering of himself and that the Scripture might be fulfilled. One purpose of John is to prove the humanity of Jesus (Jn. 1:14) and here he brings the reader face to face with the reality of his fleshly anguish. These words not only establish his suffering on the cross, but they connect him directly with prophecies that foretold and describe his suffering (Psa. 69:19-21; 22:11-17). He endured the cross without complaint until near the end, and he complained then only to complete the proof that he is the promised Messiah, making sure that all prophecies concerning him were faithfully fulfilled.
The Fulness of the Sacrifice
“It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). The original means, “It is finished and is forever done.” This implies a consciousness that his mission was done. He spoke not in weary defeat, but in glorious triumph. His words are connected with his sufferings, the core of his atoning sacrifice, by the preceding words, “I thirst.” “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to his mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished'” (Jn. 19:29,30).
Having suffered physically and spiritually, Jesus completed his sacrificial service. Many things ended with the death of Christ, but what is meant here especially is the work of man’s redemption in so far as it pertained to the offering for sin. What is left for us but to hide in the cleft of his pierced side and to seek the cleansing power of his shed blood (Rom. 5:9; 1 Jn. 1:7).
The Commitment of His Spirit
“Father, ‘into your hands I commend my spirit'” (Lk. 23:46). The prayer is from Psalm 31:5, with the addition of “Father.” We are told this verse was the first prayer Jewish parents taught their children to pray at night, somewhat like we were taught to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Even in the agony of the cross, Jesus died with a prayer of assurance on his lips, as peacefully as a child falling asleep in his father’s arms.
Here Jesus offered up his life as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He recommended his spirit to his Father’s hands to be received in paradise and returned the third day. In this he sanctified the words of David to the comfort of all dying saints. Stephen used them in substance, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). When David Lipscomb died, his beloved companion who kept a vigil at his side, bowed her head and said, “Lord Jesus, receive his spirit.” Thousands of faithful Christians have died with these words in their heart and on their lips.
“Lifted up was he to die, ‘It is finished, ‘ was his cry; Now in heav’n exalted high; Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 20, pp. 624-625
October 15, 1987