The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus on the Cross
Last night, we had our first Tenebrae Service and Michael Gonzalez & I (Gino) shared reflections on The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus on the Cross. Our observance of this time was greatly helped by the artwork of Scott Erickson (thanks, Scott).
1. Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. [Gino]
What is Jesus saying? In his last hour, Jesus is praying to the Father. What’s remarkable is that Jesus isn’t praying for his pain to end. He’s not praying for his suffering to be taken away. He is praying on behalf of those who are crucifying him. Pleading even for their forgiveness while simultaneously enduring the result of their actions.
A little context: when people were put to death through tortuous crucifixion, it would be common for people to mock and ridicule the one hanging on the cross. It would also be easy for those hanging to beg for forgiveness and mercy for themselves OR to curse and cuss back and the ones who were putting them to death. I think each of us could understand those reactions.
But Jesus is different. Jesus, to the very end, was the complete embodiment of love. Where we might offer him a pass and say he would be justified in being angry, he chose a demonstration of love in pleading for our forgiveness. As we meditate on this first saying of Jesus on the cross, we may be reminded of some other words about love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
The love of God is powerful and stubborn. Not even the sentence of death could overcome the love of God in forgiveness through Jesus.
2. Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. [Michael]
Setting the Scene: Jesus has been crucified between two criminals. One on his left and one on his right. At this moment, as the people watch, Jesus is verbally mocked by his own people, the Jews, including many of the rulers and leaders saying, “He saved others, let him save himself.” After this, even the soldiers join in shouting “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” After this, one of the criminals join in: “Aren’t you the Messiah, save yourself and us!”
And yet something strange happens. The other of the two criminals is somehow able to see that something is different between Jesus and himself. He has eyes to see that by Jesus’ refusal to save himself, he in no way vindicated the mockings. His death was the means of his victory. He rebukes the criminal who taunts Jesus and asks Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Proclamation of Good News: This friends is the love of God. Even as we suffer the wounds and consequences of our sins in this life, Jesus suffers with us in solidarity; the righteous with the unrighteous. And he offers the consolations of paradise with him. Ask and you will receive.
3. John 19:26–27: Dear woman, here is your son. And here is your mother. [Gino]
Jesus is dying in agony. Literally gasping for each breath. He sees his mother -- the one who he probably ran to as a young boy. The one who cared for him. He sees her in utter despair, overcome with grief as she watches her beloved child die in front of her.
In compassion, Jesus says, “beloved woman, look at your son” and he’s not referring to himself. This isn’t Jesus looking for pity or attention. He is actually directing her to his disciple John. In the midst of his own pain, he loves others through their pain. He, in a sense, initiates a new family reminding them/us that they are knit together in the love of God.
There were very practical implications to this statement too. In declaring that this disciple is now Mary’s son, this new son has practical responsibilities to care for this widowed mother. She moved in with him and was cared for by him. Apart from this care, Mary may not have been able to survive. So in a very real way, Jesus’ love, demonstrated on the cross, saves her.
This is the love of God! In taking on our separation, he in love brings us together as a family.
Our union with Christ, our being the recipients of his love, teaches us that we are able to see others as family. And, we are emboldened to live this out by practically loving one another
4. Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? [Michael]
Setting the Scene: From noon to 3 in the afternoon, darkness covers the whole land. Jesus cries out, “Eli Eli, lema sabacthani,” which says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Let us pause and sit under the weightiness of Jesus saying such a thing.
Darkness covers the whole land. Humanity has reached an anti-climatic moment by crucifying the Author of Life. This truly is our darkest moment in human history. Creation itself joins in the moment.
And at this moment, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1. A psalm of agony, desperation, and of suffering, yet it is a psalm of real hope. But suffering comes before hope. It comes before a glimpse of God’s goodness. The evil and sin of the world have been placed on his shoulders. Jesus’ vocation of redemptive love takes him into the depths of our condition; he shares in the experience of our God’s forsakenness so that he could draw us near. N.T. Wright says, "it’s as if the darkness in the sky blocking out the sun reveals a troubling experience where the sins of the world laid on him block out his ability to perceive the love of God.”
Proclamation of Good News: Friends, this is the love of God; that Jesus not only suffers for us, taking our sin into his own body, but he suffers with us, experiencing our collective God-forsakenness. In this, he reveals a God who is present and at work even in our darkest moments, even when it seems our sin has reached its height.
5. John 19:28: I thirst. [Gino]
At this point, Jesus has had to physically struggle to simply take a breath. His arms outstretched and his body exhausted after nearly six hours on the cross, he is near death. He is physically coming to his end. He is demonstrating his humanity.
Perhaps the most important thing to observe in this saying is that Jesus actually was fully human and fully God. He didn’t endure the cross with some special privilege and avoid the devastation this torture would have on a human body. He fully endured the reality of the cross as any human would. He completely identified with humanity in our suffering. He was and is God WITH us.
The scripture also tells us that Jesus said the words “I thirst” to fulfill the prophecy. A lamentation of David in Psalm 69: "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." (Psalm 69:21)
They didn’t offer Jesus water; he was given wine. But the Messiah who should be celebrated was given sour wine. The cheap stuff. He who earlier turned water into wine at a wedding -- wine so good people remarked at it -- he is given terrible wine in his time of agony.
And this is the good news of the love of Jesus: He who deserved the best wine drank the very bitter wine so that we who deserved the bitter wine, are welcomed to his table -- where only the best is served!
6. John 19:30: It is finished. [Michael]
From the Greek "Tetelestai" which is also translated "it is accomplished," or "It is complete."
Setting the Scene: It is finished. Lets us sit with this.
The phrase “It is finished” or “It is complete” comes from the Greek Word Tetelestai. It has a double meaning. On the one hand, it was used in the Greco-Roman world when a debt had been fully paid off. But it also harkens back to the creation narrative as God creates the world and on the sixth day God completes his work.
Jesus is on a mission to heal and rescue creation from the power of sin and death. He overcomes not through worldly power using sword and threats, but through casting out demons, healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and raising the dead.
Jesus loved the world even to the point of death. The righteous for the unrighteous. It is finished.
Proclamation of Good News: Friends, this is the love of God; Jesus was faithful to the end, pouring out his life and love to the last moment of his final breaths for the salvation of the world.
7. Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. [Gino]
Notice that Jesus’ last word didn’t come in a whisper but as a shout. This shout wasn’t one of confusion as he went to death, but the proclamation of his trust in this work and commitment to love.
These words are from Psalm 31:
"Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth." (Psalm 31:5)
They are part of an evening prayer used daily by devout Jews.
These are words of intimacy and trust. Jesus knows that the Father is present, that separation is over, that death is not the end, and that he can fully and completely submit and trust in this work.
Jesus is simultaneously acting out love in his death and the cross while also demonstrating what love looks like within the triune God. In plain words, he is being love and doing love so that we might see what love is like, be caught up in his love, and understand how to love God and others.
Nothing can separate Jesus from the love of the Father.
And because nothing did, nothing can separate the love of the Father, through the Son, to all of us.
Jesus went to the cross to take on all the ambivalence, disdain, and hate that humanity has for God.
We crushed him.
Snuffed him out.
He absorbed it all even unto death. And only gave love in return.