************ Good Friday Sermon on 7 Words of the Crosss ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 9, 2004
1. Luke 23:32-34 - The First Word
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
This is a creed, a statement of faith. It says something about God and it says something about ourselves.
First, about ourselves. Have you ever wondered about the meaning of the second part of this first word from the cross, "they do not know what they are doing"? To whom was our Lord referring? Where can you draw the line? Did He simply ask forgiveness for the soldiers who must do their duty and go through with the bloody business of crucifying Him? Can you limit His forgiveness that narrowly?
Or, did He also ask forgiveness for the priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees, whose jealous plotting had sent Him to the cross? Did His cry include the crowd who yelled, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"? What about Pilate and Herod? Can we, in fact, set any limits? Does not this word reach out to everyone in Jerusalem and Judea and Rome? Does not this word reach out to include you and me, some 5,000 miles and 2,000 years away from the cross?
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." This is a word that includes all who have ever lived. It includes all for all need forgiveness. This is what we believe about ourselves.
But this first word from the cross is also a statement of belief about God: "Father, forgive them."
Just like it is in our nature – our fallen nature – to sin, so it is in God's nature to forgive. "Father, forgive them."
Topic: LoveHere is a parable of God and man. God loves and forgives, while we sting and fight and resist.
Once upon a time, according to an ancient parable, a holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck out at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, "Don't you know that's a scorpion, and it's in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?" To which the holy man replied, "That may well be, but it is my nature to love, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change his?"
"Father, forgive them."
What is the basis for asking this? Does Jesus expect God to forget about our sin? No, of course not! God's justice demands that sin be punished. Does Jesus ask God to let standards slip, to look the other way? No, of course not! God does not change, He cannot change. Does Jesus want God to simply shrug it off as no big deal? No, of course not! All sin is sin against God, His majesty, His holiness.
"Father, forgive them." Jesus is on the cross when He asks this. It is because of that cross, because He is hanging there in our place, that Jesus asks God to be merciful to us sinners.
2. Luke 23:35-43 - The Second Word
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Hanging beside Jesus is a man whose entire life has been one of violence and murder. Hanging beside Jesus is a man who, very likely, had never so much as seen Him until they were led out together to die. Yet, this hardened criminal prompts our Lord's second word from the cross. He asks, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Again, we are told something about ourselves and something about the Lord.
First, about ourselves. In the penitent thief we see that it is never too late, by grace, to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance. At the last possible moment the thief repents and believes.
We would be drawing the wrong lesson from this, however, if we think we can wait until the point of death to repent and believe. Most of us are not given the luxury of knowing when death might come. It might hit us at any moment. An earthquake might strike. We might have an accident on the way home. Also, the thief was able to repent and believe because he did so during the time of God's favor, during the day of salvation. But there will come a time when Christ will sit as judge and not as Savior. So the lesson we are to learn is that while it is never too late to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, the time to turn to Jesus is now, before it is too late.
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." This also tells us something about God.
What do we learn about God? We learn about His victorious grace. "For it is by grace you have been saved," says Paul (Eph 2:8). Consider the thief. He did nothing to deserve salvation; he had no good works, no righteousness, no morality. Here is a man whose entire life has been godless and wicked. Yet, he is saved. Why? Because of God's grace.
We learn also that God's grace is sovereign. There were two criminals crucified with Jesus. They were equally near to Christ. Both of them saw and heard all that happened. Both were wicked, both were dying, both urgently needed forgiveness. Yet, one of them died in his sins and went to hell fire. As for the other, he repented and went to life everlasting in paradise. Why this difference? Only the sovereign grace of God can account for this difference.
Finally, we learn that God's grace exceeds human expectations. What did the thief ask for? Nothing definite. Unlike two of the disciples, he did not ask the Lord for a special place of honor in His kingdom. He did not even ask for forgiveness. All he said was, "remember me."
It was a very modest request. But look at the response! "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Not, "I will remember you when I come into my kingdom." No waiting for this man. No postponement until the future. TODAY already Jesus had something in mind for this man.
The grace of God far exceeds our modest human expectations. In fact, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
3. John 19:25-27 - The Third Word
"Dear woman, here is your son." "Here is your mother."
There is something very touching and tender about this third word from the cross. Who can't be moved by the sight of Jesus' concern for His mother?
Looking at His mother Jesus was filled with compassion. Obviously by this time she was a widow, for there is no mention of Joseph anywhere in the story. And when the father of the family was gone, it became the duty of the oldest son to provide for his mother or, if he was unable to do so, to see that she was provided for.
It was this duty as son that our Lord now performed. He put His mother's care into the hands of John, the disciple whom He loved above all others.
Jesus is in pain and agony, He is suffering and dying, yet He concerns Himself with His mother's well-being. Not only is He the perfect Son, but we are also reminded here that God's concern for us always outruns and outreaches our concern for Him. The message here is that He Who on the cross could not forget His mother can not forget us either.
You may well ask why Mary was given into the hands of John rather than into the care of Jesus' brothers or sisters?
As compared to Jesus' brothers and sisters, there is something special about Mary and the Beloved Disciple. Mary and John believe in Jesus, they accept Him as Savior and Lord, whereas Jesus' brothers and sisters, says Scripture, "did not believe in him" (Jn 7:5).
Now notice what happens. Jesus is on the cross. Below Him are two of those who still believe in Him.
(Jn 19:26-27) When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," (27) and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.Do you realize what was happening here? Beneath the cross of Jesus a new fellowship was created. The blood of Christ formed a new community. Through His redemptive work upon the cross Jesus forged a new fellowship of the redeemed. We know it as the Church!
Up to that time the community of God's people was based on physical descent. To be one of God's people meant to be a physical descendant of Abraham. Almost everyone in the family of God was a blood relative.
But now there was a new community, a new family, a new fellowship of God's people. This one was not based on physical descent but on spiritual descent. It wasn't blood lines but a common belief in Christ that united this new fellowship.
In His third word from the cross Jesus forged this new community:
he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother."Mary and John were joined together by the Lord because of their common belief. And, if we believe, we too are part of that new community, that new fellowship, of love and concern.
4. Matthew 27:39-46 - The Fourth Word
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
Our Lord is speaking here of a spiritual abandonment, a spiritual forsaking, by the Father. The Father forsook Him – physically and spiritually, in body and soul.
To be forsaken by God is to suffer the pangs and torments of hell. Hell, you see, is the complete absence of God and all that is good; hell is a total separation from God.
Notice when and where it was that Christ cried out. He cried out upon the cross and after the three hours of darkness in the middle of the day. Both are signs that God has abandoned and forsaken Christ. Both are signs that God has even cursed Christ. Galatians 3:13 tells us, "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." And, the story of the plagues in Egypt reveal to us that darkness during the day is a sign of God's curse (Ex 10:22).
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" – "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
These words of our Savior are nothing less than amazing. Time after time God is presented on the pages of Scripture as being so faithful. His promise to His people is,
(Heb 13:5b) Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.Never once did God fail to live up to this. But here, at the Cross, with His only begotten Son hanging there, God remained silent.
This cry demands an answer. Why did God forsake Jesus in both body and soul? The reason was sin. It was because of sin – your sin, my sin – that Christ was forsaken and abandoned by God. I think of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus became sin for us. He became sin, He took on our sin, He was cursed and abandoned and forsaken, all to save us from our sin.
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
5. John 19:28-29 - The Fifth Word
"I am thirsty."
Seven times Jesus spoke while He hung upon the cross. But of the seven words which He spoke, here is the only one that you or I could have said.
The last time Christ had anything to drink was at the Last Supper. Since then He had lost a considerable part of His body fluids. In the Garden His sweat was like drops of blood. When the soldiers whipped His back and jammed the crown of thorns on His head, we know He lost more precious body fluids. On the cross His wounds continued to bleed. He hung beneath the heat of the noonday sun. So of course He was thirsty.
I am told that of all the needs of the human body, thirst is by far the most agonizing. One can endure hunger for a fairly long time. It is amazing how much physical pain the body can take. But thirst is like a consuming fire.
Here is the God of the gospel, a poor, pathetic, dying man Who pleads for a little water to moisten his lips and tongue and throat.
"I am thirsty." We see here the full humanity of Christ. We see here the intensity of Christ's sufferings.
"I am thirsty." Jesus says this right after those three awful hours of darkness, right after those three awful hours when God had forsaken Him. Yes, Jesus is crying out for water. But, He is also crying out for God. You know Psalm 42:
(Ps 42:1-2) As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
"I am thirsty." Whether we admit or not, that is the cry of every man and woman and child. Deep down what we need, Who we need, is God. Our deepest and greatest need is for fellowship with God.
6. John 19:30 - The Sixth Word
"It is finished."
What was finished? His life? If that's all that Jesus meant, then this is a pathetic yet very human cry of weakness and defeat. "It is finished." It is all over now – the suffering, the pain, the scorn. Death will carry me away. There will be no more burdens, no more pain, no more torment.
What was finished? His life, to be sure. But so much more as well. His work as Redeemer, as Mediator, was finished. No more sacrifice for sins was necessary. Never again would He be whipped and scorned, mocked and jeered. Never again did He have to experience the curse of the cross. Never again would God forsake Him.
When people die at a young age they usually leave much unfinished business behind. Many wonder, for instance, what President John F. Kennedy would have all accomplished if he wasn't killed at such a young age. The same goes for Martin Luther King or Alexander the Great.
No one who studies Christ's life can fail to perceive that He was a man with a mission. Even as a boy of twelve He was conscious that He ought to be about His Father's business. Our Lord completed that business. He accomplished His mission. "It is finished."
7. Luke 23:44-46 - The Seventh Word
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
When we put our children to bed at night we teach them to pray, "Now I lay me down to sleep ..." In the same way, every Hebrew child was taught to pray, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Undoubtedly, Mary had taught Jesus that same prayer when He was a little boy. And now that same Son, grown to manhood, climaxing His ministry on the cross, says the words again. Jesus can find no better way to say farewell to life than with the words He learned at His mother's knee. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
In His final moments of suffering Jesus spoke not some great and lofty theological insight; He spoke not a word of obscure wisdom. In His final moments of suffering Jesus spoke a childhood prayer, very likely the first prayer that He had ever learned, one that had stayed with Him throughout the years.
The shadows have lengthened and the evening has come. The busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and His work is done. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Jesus was in the hands of men, sinful men, brutal men. But now He is going into the hands of God. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Notice, the Father Who had forsaken Him has forsaken Him no longer. Notice, the Father Who had cursed Him has cursed Him no longer. Notice, the Father Who had condemned Him to die a criminal's death has condemned Him no longer. In the end, the Father was there. And into His hands Jesus could commit His spirit.
The most precious thing you have is your spirit. And, that spirit is secure only when it is in the hands of God. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
This final word reveals to us the secret of victorious living and dying. Do we face problems that we cannot even begin to solve? "Into your hands ..." Do we experience sorrow we cannot bear? "Into your hands ..." Do we face temptations stronger than we can endure? "Into your hands ..." Is life with its many complications too much for us? "Into your hands ..." Are we facing death, staring with fear across the sands of time into the great sea of eternity? "Into your hands ..."
We know we don't have to fear, we know we don't have to worry, because these words are guaranteed by Christ. He was nailed to the tree. He was forsaken. He faced darkness. Yet, in the end the Father was there. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
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