By Dr Peter Lim
This being Passion Week, may I suggest that our personal devotions be focussed on the last days of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ, in particular His sufferings. Perhaps you could take some time to meditate on the final words of Jesus Christ from the cross. The four Gospel writers recorded a total of seven utterances by our Lord Jesus Christ from the cross. Matthew and Mark each had only one while Luke and John included three each. Some reflection on these words will prove salutary to our spiritual life.
1) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Crucifixion is one of the most painful and agonising methods of execution. As Jesus Christ hung from the cross in excruciating agony, His first utterance was not a scream of intense pain. Instead, it was a plea of intercession for those responsible for His summary execution – not just for the Roman authorities but also for the Jews, especially for the priestly cohort, the Sanhedrin, who schemed for His death sentence. His teaching from the well-known Sermon on the Mount had advocated an attitude of not only forgiving one’s enemies but also of loving them (Matthew 5:44, 6:14-15) – a hard lesson indeed. But if we are to follow in His footsteps, this teaching needs to be incorporated into our life.
2) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Initially, both criminals who were crucified with Him reviled Him (Matthew 27:44). Subsequently, one of them sensed Jesus Christ’s innocence and acknowledged His divinity. His plea of faith was met by an assurance of immediate salvation. The theologically unschooled but contrite thief was satisfied with some future Messianic acceptance. Little did he realise that he would be ushered into instantaneous presence with the Lord Jesus Christ upon his demise. Indeed, salvation is for all humankind in any situation. The door is still open today. However, do not wait until the eleventh hour as there may not be one. “. . .today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. . .” (Psalm 95:7-8).
3) “. . .’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ ” (John 19:26-27)
His thoughtfulness and devotedness ensured that His grieving mother would be well-taken care of from henceforth. To those among us grieving for the loss of loved ones, may we find comfort in the knowledge that He cares for us and fully sympathizes with what we are going through (Hebrews 4:15). By entrusting the care of His mother to John His disciple, He had just instituted the community of believers who were to care and share in each other’s welfare and wellbeing (Romans 12).
4) “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark. 15:34)
Indeed, why did God abandon Jesus Christ? Firstly, Jesus had always maintained His unity with the Father e.g. “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Secondly, why was this cry of anguish directed to “My God” and not to “My Father”? Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus had always referred to God as His Father. Even His plea for forgiveness for the authorities uttered earlier from the cross was addressed to His Father. However, at Calvary, the sacred bond of relationship between God the Father, and God the Son, had to be severed while the Son bore the sin of the world – “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The cry of desolation in the eerie darkness at noon was the climax of the suffering of Christ. The anticipation of this event while He prayed at Gethsemane made “His sweat like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). As we see the Christ on the cross let us behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, including mine and yours.
5) “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
While He had earlier refused to drink wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23) offered as an analgesic, He now accepts a sponge of wine and vinegar to wet His parched tongue and mouth. I believe John recorded this plea to emphasize the humanity of Christ. Jesus Christ is fully God and was fully man (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14-18) - a condition necessary for Him to be our Redeemer. Furthermore, being fully human He is able to empathize with our frailties and being fully God, He can help us cope with them.
6) “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
Through His crucifixion He had completed the work of redemption and inaugurated God’s plan of salvation. “The (Greek) word translated “It is finished” was used in Greek commercial life. The term signified the completion of a transaction by the full payment of a price or the discharge of a debt by a completed payment.” (J.D Pentecost – The Words and Work of Jesus Christ pg. 487).
7) “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Three of the four Gospel writers recorded that He cried with a loud voice when He gave up His spirit. The words used implied an act of the will. His death was voluntary in accordance with His own words - “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18)
“Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!