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Words from Cross

               

Jesus spoke to us from the Cross

 

(1) Were you there?—When he said, “Father, forgive them…”

Imagine: You stand on Calvary while they crucify Jesus. It’s happening now. It’s terribly real. You shudder as you see the nails driven through his hands and feet; you see his blood spatter; you see his body writhe in pain. Jesus has prepared you for this; you know with your mind he is paying for the sins of humanity, but your feelings rebel against the injustice and cruelty. There is a rift in your soul between the spiritual and physical realities.

They hoist the cross upright and secure it. He hangs by wounds in his flesh. Then the unexpected happens: he utters a prayer for his executioners, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

While you still struggle to comprehend this plea, someone behind you asks, “Is that prayer for me as well?” It is Barabbas; Jesus took his place today literally. Your first reaction is to tell the brute to get lost—this is holy ground! Then the prayer resounds in your mind, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It dawns on you: He prays that prayer because he is now carrying the sin-debt of humanity. He is mediating between God and us.

You turn around and say to Barabbas, “Yes, that prayer is for you too… and for me… for all sinners who accept his atoning sacrifice. Only say, ‘Lord, I accept your forgiveness from the cross,’ and it will be yours.”

Maybe Barabbas says it, and is saved. Have you?

 

(2) Were you there?—When he said,
       “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
 

You imagine being on Calvary while Jesus hangs on the cross. You are one of his supporters, standing with him in his agony. Most of the gawkers around you are hostile toward him. His physical pain is not enough for them. They want to add insult to injury. They hurl sarcastic remarks at him: “He saved others but he can’t save himself! If you are the Messiah, come down from the cross so we can believe in you!” Even the soldiers and one of the criminals join the mocking. Psalm 22 is being fulfilled, shockingly and impudently.

The other criminal has his moment of truth. Instead of keep blaming others, he admits his crime, accepts his punishment as fitting, and asks Jesus for mercy. Conversion differs from person to person, but the essential elements are the same: he realizes the truth about himself and about Jesus, his attitude changes from self-righteous to repentant, he asks Jesus to save him, and he accepts his promise as true: “You will be with me in paradise.”

In seconds, parts of his wicked past flash through the criminal’s mind. Then the reality of Jesus’ promise sinks in. Despite the aching pain in his body, a wonderful sense of relief flows through his soul—like a stream in a dry land. The most horrible moment of his life is becoming the most wonderful experience he has ever had.

The taunting of the crowd fades away… he hears angles sing. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. A lost sheep has been found. (Luke 15)

 

(3) Were you there?—When he said,
       “Here is your son; here is your mother.”
 

You imagine standing on the Place of the Skull while your Saviour pays for your salvation by his blood and pain. He has interceded for all sinners by uttering a forgiving prayer; and he has granted eternal life to the repentant criminal next to him.

Instead of focusing on his own calamity, he keeps on helping others. He notices his mother supported by the disciple John. Apart from them and a few women from Galilee, there are not many supporters.

Old Simeon’s prophecy has come true: a sword is piercing Mary’s soul. It must be hell for her to watch her Son dying this terrible death. With a dry mouth and hoarse voice Jesus provides for her: “Dear woman, here is your son.” Looking at John he adds, “Here is your mother.” He knows that she will be cared for. Do you care for your parents?

Apparently, she later went with John to Ephesus. At the ruins of this city, there is today a chapel in Mary’s honour. While there, John was exiled to the nearby isle of Patmos where he received the book of Revelation. Most likely, Jesus already saw from the cross how he would appear to John in a totally different form: Dressed in a royal robe, a golden sash around his chest, his hair white like snow, his eyes like blazing fire, his feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of rushing waters (Rev. 1:14).

Likewise, our present trials don’t compare to the glory waiting for us (Rom. 8:18).

 

(4) Were you there?—When he said,
       “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
 

Imagine: You are a Jewish follower of Jesus; you are standing on Calvary where he is crucified. What goes through your soul while you watch how he buys your freedom with his blood? He has spoken three times in three hours to provide in the needs of others.

Now, at noon, the sky darkens with ominous clouds. You have never seen such darkness at midday. You wonder if an eclipse is taking place with the storm.

The mockers expect a cloudburst and hurry home. Only the soldiers and a few supporters remain. In the eerie hush before the storm, your friend—gasping for air on the middle cross—groans out, “Eli…Eli…lama…sabachthani?” (Mat. 27:46).

For a moment you think he quotes from Psalm 22. Being a Jew, you know this Psalm in Hebrew. You realize the first three words are the same (Eli, Eli, lama), but the last word differs. David said “azavthani” and Jesus said “sabachthani.”

Both words mean to give up something, the first by forsaking it and the second by sacrificing it. Jesus actually asks, “My God, my God, why have you given me up as sacrifice?” It includes abandonment, but it incorporates much more.

Jesus wants angels and saved sinners to cry out: “You were slain, and with your blood you have purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9).

Jesus’ question on the cross is not a forlorn cry of a desperate victim but the bold statement of a victorious general, eliciting a triumphant shout of his army.

 

(5) Were you there?—When he said, “I am thirsty.” 

Your redeemed imagination has brought you to Calvary. For a while, you are his follower in the first century. Late last night you got the news that your benevolent teacher has been arrested. You waited outside the palace of the high priest.

When Peter stumbled out, sobbing in brokenness, you feared the worst. You joined the leaders when they took the beaten-up Jesus to the Governor at daybreak. Fatigued and thirsty after a sleepless night, a drawn-out trial, and a grisly execution, your body yearns for a sip of water. Then your Master groans, after twelve hours of torture and blood-loss, “I am thirsty.”

You realize immediately with shame that your thirst is nothing compared to his. The last time he wet his lips was last night at the Last Supper. However, you know he suffers much more than physical thirst; as Saviour, he thirsts for redemption of lost sinners. That was and is the main focus of his mission. He is now—by his thirst—earning living water for those who thirst for reconciliation with God.

The sons of Korah voiced man’s thirst for God: “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps. 42). Jesus answered that call: “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38).

Jesus suffers another thirst: he yearns to be reunited with his Father who turned his face away, giving him up as sacrifice for you and me.

 

(6) Were you there?—When he said, “It is finished!" 

In this time of Lent, you have visited Calvary in your imagination. You have seen once again salvation in progress. Jesus has spoken five times from the cross. Hanging by outstretched arms, makes breathing difficult. Occasionally, he pushes up with his legs, allowing him to take a few deep breaths before the pain in his feet forces him to bend his legs again. In sincere empathy, you behold how he fights for breath, how he fights for you. His thirst stirs a little compassion in a soldier; he holds a sponge soaked in vinegar and gall to Jesus’ lips. It soothes his parched lips and dry mouth for a shout of victory: “It is finished!”

John uses only one word, a word that means “the goal has been reached.” Salvation is complete. The task is done. His suffering is over. He is no longer abandoned by his Father. As with his baptism about three years ago, the Father can once more proclaim, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He has finished the job he set out to do.

God likes to finish what he started. At the end of each creation day, he enjoyed his handiwork. Likewise, he will finish the good work he has begun in every believer (Phil. 1:6).

We, too, must spur ourselves to persevere and complete every good work we have started. Completing our lives may be a kind of crucifixion as well. The ailments of old age increasingly drain our strength. It prepares us for heaven: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).

 

(7) Were you there?—When he said,
        “Father,
 into your hands I commit my spirit.” 

You have imagined yourself standing on Calvary during the crucifixion of Jesus. He has made six statements of vital importance regarding forgiveness, mercy, care, sacrifice, physical and spiritual thirst, and the completion of salvation.

Six hours have slowly ticked by while he suffered the horrors of the cross in body and soul. On top of that, he carried the sins of humanity and the wrath of God on those sins. He suffered hell in our place. With his last bit of strength, he declared that his work is finished. He is reunited with his Father. With complete peace of mind, he surrenders himself: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

When his head falls forward on his chest, you are glad for his sake that the suffering and dying is over. A soldier pierces his side with a javelin to make sure he is dead.

Joseph and Nicodemus arrive with their helpers, linen, and spices. The sun is descending on the horizon. Soon the Sabbath will start. They work fast to wrap the body with linen and spices, and then carry it to Joseph’s nearby garden tomb. John and the women who served him see where the body is laid to rest.

You return home with them for a long evening of sighs, silences, and expressions of grief. All wonder why it had to end this way. You begin to realize that though Jesus foretold his death several times, you all hoped it would not happen and that the good days would last forever. But if his prediction about his death was fulfilled, will the same not happen regarding his resurrection? He foretold that too, didn’t he?

~~~~~~

 THE BAKER OF CAPERNAUM

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