Easter is one of my favourite times of the year. I know we can celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection any time of the year, but I find this season a particularly good time to reflect and appreciate all that Jesus did for us. I have sent this out slightly early so that you can set some time aside from your busy schedule and just dwell again on this amazing event and these 7 short but not insignificant sentences uttered by Jesus at the lowest and most difficult point of His life, as He hung on the cross.
1. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The whole point of the cross was forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus was making a way for us to be forgiven by the father. Killing animals was never the ultimate plan. These sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus was now making. We could never save ourselves so God had to step in.
It was quite clear that no-one present grasped the enormity of what was happening, except Jesus himself. Jesus had stated plainly what He was going to do, but God veiled people’s minds, so that they couldn’t understand the significance of what was happening. Not even the Devil knew what was going on or he would have done everything in his power to stop it (1 Corinthians 2:8). No, he thought he was winning.
Just as on the road to Emmaus when the disciples eyes were suddenly opened and their hearts warmed, it would only be later that the revelation would come that what appeared to be the greatest defeat would actually be the greatest victory.
What amazes me is that God still forgives us even when we do know what we are doing. His grace is that amazing.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
2. And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders, the soldiers and especially by the two criminals who were being crucified with him. One of the criminals came to his senses though and started to realise that there was something amazing about this man being crucified with them and that He had actually done nothing wrong. After rebuking the other criminal he turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus responded to this criminal, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). The word paradise, from the Greek word ‘paradeisos’, which means ‘garden’ was used in the Greek Old Testament as a word for the Garden of Eden. This was understood to be heaven when God would restore all things to how they were in the garden of Eden before sin entered the world. Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place where righteous people went after death. This seems to be the way Jesus uses paradise in this passage.
When you think about it, this is an astounding statement from Jesus. This man doesn’t appear to have been a follower of Jesus, has not previously believed in Him, done no good works, hasn’t properly repented or been baptised. It is a troublesome verse for anyone trying to establish how people can be saved. Jesus, in his amazing grace and mercy, makes this man the first beneficiary of His impending sacrifice.
We need to leave the judgement of who gets saved, to God, we proclaim the good news, but it is only He who can see into people’s hearts and establish how genuine they are. I wonder how many surprises we will get in heaven when we see people who had shown no interest in God, reveal they had a ‘death bed experience’ or something similar.
3. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” (John 19:26)
As Jesus was dying, his mother and a few other women were the only ones brave enough to stick around while all but one of the disciples had fled. The solitary disciple is not named but it is believed to be John.
If you are a parent, can you imagine the horror of not just seeing your son die in front of you, but the manner in which He was dying? This man she had nursed and received amazing promises about was hanging in front of her; bruised, broken, torn to shreds and naked. What unspeakable horrors she was going through.
Even in this most agonising of moments, Jesus was making plans for the protection of His mother, He was doing His best to look after her. He was perfectly embodying the command in the law that said “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law and this was just one of the many ways He did it. But He also, in this act, reveals further His humanity and compassion.
4. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Jesus knew His scriptures, He had been studying them since He was a boy. I’m sure He would have had the whole lot memorised. So it is no surprise that He should quote scripture, especially as it referred to all the events that were happening to Him. In this 4th sentence He quotes Psalm 22 as he references verses 1 & 2:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
Think of it, Jesus had enjoyed perfect fellowship with the father for all eternity. We will never fully comprehend what Jesus was going through at this moment, but it must have been more painful than all the physical torture He had been going through combined. From intimate and loving community to utter abandonment. But not just that, He was taking on the horror and filth of every heinous sin that had ever or would ever be committed. This from the man who had led a perfect, sin-free life, suddenly exposed to the horrors of mankind’s depravity.
Hanging there, Jesus was more alone than anyone has ever been. The weight of the world was literally on His shoulders. All for you and me. What love, what sacrifice!
5. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
The reference to fulfilling the scripture is probably from Psalm 69 where it says “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21)
The process of crucifixion would have made Jesus extremely thirsty. He would have lost a lot of bodily fluid including; blood, sweat and tears. The soldiers did indeed give Jesus sour wine, a cheap beverage common among lower class people at that time.
It occurred to me that during Jesus’ ministry he has mentioned thirst twice and both in the context of coming to Him to quench that thirst. The first time was during his conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The second time is when Jesus stands up in the temple on the last day of the feast and proclaims;
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
In effect, He became thirsty physically so that we would never need to be thirsty spiritually. His sacrifice has forever quenched our thirst!
6. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
It is finished is 3 words in English and just one in Greek and is hugely significant in meaning. Jesus used the Greek word ‘Tetelestai’ which means ‘paid in full’. When a merchant at the market or wherever had a debt and it was paid off, the creditor would write “Tetelestai” on the certificate of debt signifying that it was “paid in full” The transaction is completed. Jesus was saying that He had accomplished what He had set out to do. He has now paid the debt for our sin and we can now approach God the father free from condemnation. It means we can’t add anything to our salvation and we have security for all eternity. This one word reverberates through history and is probably the most significant word that anybody has ever spoken.
7. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
This is now Jesus’ third quote from the Psalms, it comes from Psalm 31:5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
It shows Jesus’ complete trust in the father. He has just felt completely abandoned when He takes on the weight of mankind’s sin, but He knows that once that has been dealt with the father is going to lift Him up and seat Him in the place of all power and place all things under His feet. Because He has been completely obedient, Jesus is going to receive full vindication. His mission has been accomplished. What a saviour!
Enjoy the rest of Easter.