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Pastor Jake Schram
The First Word: A word of forgiveness
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Think of everything Jesus had just gone through, having been beaten and battered, insulted and mocked. Had we been in the same situation as Jesus, we’d probably have found the strength to utter some memorable words. With our last gasps we probably would have uttered words of vengeance. Maybe we would even spit on the very idea of forgiveness. Yet here Jesus is, asking forgiveness for the very ones who are hurting him.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easy for us. When the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, then sometimes we don’t even give it at all. A combination of anger and the twisted notion that forgiveness must be earned leads us to turn our heads and treat a person with the icy cold attitude that sometimes reflects our hearts. Yet Jesus speaks here of forgiveness.
I think it’s clear the people in our text are indeed guilty. They are putting the very Son of God to death for no good reason whatsoever. Jesus has done nothing wrong. Their guilt is not up for debate. Yet Jesus asks God here to delay his justice, to not immediately hold the people accountable. He asks God to give them more time to come to a recognition of their sin, and also, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to faith.
Did you know that Jesus’ prayer was answered? About 7 weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, some of these people heard the message of Jesus and were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). They recognized their sin, they repented and were baptized. They were forgiven of their sins. People were saved from Jesus' prayer!
God has been patient with us as well. We have sinned, but he didn’t immediately smite us from the face of the earth. Instead, God still answers Jesus’ prayer by bringing us to faith in Jesus. His word of forgiveness has extended to us. On the cross Jesus’ is about to earn that forgiveness for all of us.
The Second Word: A word of promise
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Perhaps the worst part of being crucified is asphyxiation. While nailed up there, gravity pulls a person down so that a person would slowly suffocate unless they painfully pushed themselves up again by the nail piercing their feet. In other words, breath was hard to come by. Here, when the criminal pours out his soul to Jesus, Jesus could have answered his question with a simple “okay.” Or “see you there.” Wouldn’t that still answer the question?
Jesus wanted this word to be one of promise. A sure promise. This was no casual, throwaway answer. He wanted the criminal to be certain of his fate. The request the criminal makes is the same one we make. We want to know, need to know, that Jesus will remember us when he comes into his kingdom, especially during our last hours. Therefore, Jesus begins by saying, “Truly I tell you.” Have no doubt about it. What Jesus is about to say is trustworthy and true.
The next word Jesus speaks is “today.” Again, notice the certainty that comes with that word. The criminal won’t get to heaven “sometime” or “eventually” or with any sort of condition whatsoever. Simply “today.” And there is no misunderstanding Jesus says, “you.” The criminal will be with him in heaven. I’m going to say that again. The criminal is going to be in heaven that very day. There was room and welcome in heaven even for him.
You know the depth of your sinfulness. Maybe not everything you’ve done has been caught by others, but you know. And you know what you deserve because of your sins. Most of all, God knows. He sees it and still offers this promise to those of you who have clung to the faith he gave you.
Jesus tells You. “You will be with me in paradise.” And that’s the really exciting thing about paradise. Jesus will be right there with you in heaven. This is not a wish or a chance or random occurrence. This is a word of promise. When you die, you will be with Jesus in heaven forever.
The Third Word: A word of love
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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.
How could love possibly be on Jesus’ mind at this point? He had nails in his hands and feet. His back was cut to shreds. Thorns are embedded into his scalp. He is about to take on the wrath of God for the sins of the world and he is still thinking about someone else, his mother.
Now we could make all sorts of arguments about how it’s his mother. Of course he’ll act kindly to her. But we have never been in as dire a situation as Jesus is in our text and think of all the times we haven’t loved even the people we care about most, including our own mothers. We’ve given words of dismissiveness and rebellion, anger, and disrespect—the very opposite of love. Often, we can’t even make up an excuse other than we felt like it, because the one thing on our minds at that moment was ourselves.
It just makes us realize how precious and perfect Jesus’ love is. In his love we see him constantly keeping the commandments so that his perfect obedience would cover the many times we did not. But we also see something else. We see Jesus’ overwhelming love for his family, a love so strong it even superseded the anguish he was going through. Jesus’ mother was family, but so are we. Galatians 3:26 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” This word reminds us that every bit of you, faults and all, is covered with Jesus’ love. That’s why he was on the cross in the first place. Because he loves you.
The Fourth Word: A word of anguish
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
The greatest pain I have ever felt was probably due to my illnesses. The shocks that ravaged my nerves and muscles were the breaking point of what I could bear. It was funny though, because as I would get tests done, doctors would warn me about how painful the tests could be. But they didn’t understand their tests were like pin pricks, nothing compared to the pain I was already feeling. They didn’t know what pain really was. If you’ve ever been in excruciating pain, you know it is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced, and not in a good way.
Everything we’ve ever been through; I don’t think it would even register on the same scale as what Jesus is going through in our text. His anguish…I don’t think that word does it justice. I don’t think any existing word accurately describes what Jesus was going through. He is being punished for every sin every person has or will ever commit. God, the Father, is forsaking him in our place. Take the deepest emotional sorrow you have experienced and multiply it by the worst physical pain you have ever endured. Then take the result and crumple it up and throw it away—because that number can’t do justice to Jesus’ words here anymore than the word anguish can.
I can find no word or picture to accurately describe what Jesus is experiencing. You know what? I’m glad. Because of what Jesus went through, you and I will never have to understand or experience that same inexpressible pain. Out of thankfulness, we just get to stand in awe and wonder at the love that led Jesus to suffer hell in our place.
The Fifth Word: A word of fulfillment
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
Jesus was thirsty. There’s no doubt that he was. A raging thirst was one of the effects of crucifixion. It does us good to hear this, for it reminds us that although Jesus acted and spoke differently on the cross than you and I would have—words of forgiveness and love rather than words of anger and self-pity—what he was experiencing on the cross was real. Jesus was a living breathing human being, he was feeling very real pain just as you and I would have.
The nails were real, the bodily damage to tendons and nerves were real, and yes, the pain was real too. It’s all real, and so was Jesus’ thirst. But why ask for a drink now? I doubt the wine vinegar they gave him could help Jesus much at this point.
Our text gives us the answer. Jesus asked this so that Scripture would be fulfilled. The same Savior who said that he had come to fulfill every last bit of God’s commands had also come to fulfill every last prophecy made about him. In Psalm 22:15 Jesus had prophesied about himself, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd (a broken piece of pottery), and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Then in Psalm 69:21 he said, “They gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
Given everything that Jesus had been through, it seems ridiculous that Jesus would be expected to fulfill such a small portion of Scripture. Yet, Jesus did it all. He didn’t take any days off from being your Savior. He never took a coffee break from being your perfect substitute. He left nothing undone.
Therefore, there’s no need for you to do something to earn salvation. There is no need to try and finish off what Jesus started. Even in this seemingly most minor of matters, Jesus has done it all.
A Sixth Word: A word of completion
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
There are not a lot of things that stay finished. Now, I suppose you could finish a book, or an assignment. But there are just as many things that never stay done: laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, car and home maintenance, etc. They need our constant attention.
And who of us would dare to say that we are finished working on our relationships with others? Even if there isn’t something that needs fixing, there’s always something we can do better, something we can work on to move the relationship closer to perfection.
Many people think the same way about their status before God, as if it’s always something under construction. They think it’s something that is never finished to remain on God’s good side. It’s a shame because they are ignoring Jesus’ words when he said, “It is finished.” Now we can grow closer in our relationship with God, but our status is secure through Jesus.
The sacrifices for sin? Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” In 10:12 the writer says, “This priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins.” It’s Finished!
What about the condemnation from God’s law? The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Again, he says in 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” It’s Finished!
How about needing to measure up perfectly to God’s standards? The writer of Hebrews says, “By one sacrifice [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (10:14).” It’s finished!
When Jesus said the words, “It is finished” on the cross he used one Greek word to do so: tetelestai. It was a word that represented a bill or debt that had been paid in full. The bill for our sins has been paid in full! His salvation work was completed. It is finished.
The Seventh Word: A word of confidence
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
All of Jesus’ disciples must be heartbroken. It looks like Jesus is defeated. He speaks his last words and dies. But let’s look at what he says with his last words. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus knew he stood blameless before God. He knew he lived the perfect life and fulfilled all prophecy. These words are not the words of defeat. They hint at eternal victory. These are words of confidence.
We’ll talk more about this on Easter Sunday, but know this. Even when you go through a dark moment in your life, you can have confidence in what Jesus did. Even in death we may be confident because we know what Jesus has promised. We need not fear having our souls sentenced to everlasting suffering by an angry judge. Rather, at our last hour, we look forward to having our loving Father take our souls to heaven, because we too will stand blameless before God. We will stand before God with confidence because our sins are already paid for.
*Many parts/ideas of this sermon were borrowed from a sermon from “The Crucial Hours” series by Paul Rutschow