Whenever you’re by the side of a dying family member or friend, you lean in to catch even the faintest of their expressions, not wanting to miss anything. The final words uttered by a person before their death are often of great significance. Never has this been truer than in the case of the Lord Jesus (God the Son), whose deathbed was a cruel, rugged cross!
While suspended between Heaven and earth, Christ made seven statements that are like windows through which we can see what was foremost on His heart and mind. Three of these statements were made before darkness, three after, and one during. The first, last and middle were prayers.
Listed below are those three of those seven statements in their chronological order. No Gospel account gives all seven, requiring us to compare and compile the accounts in order to discern the order. The other four statements will be discussed in my next post.
1. A Word of SYMPATHY – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23.34)
How different was Jesus’ response and spirit from ours most of the time! When we are mistreated we want revenge. We hold grudges. We become sullen and bitter.
Here are Jews and Gentiles alike, Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders, killing the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world, the perfect and spotless Lamb of God. And amazingly, Jesus is praying for their forgiveness.
Now some would contend, “Since they don’t know what they are doing, they’re not guilty. And if they’re not guilty, they don’t even need forgiveness”? But John Piper argues that Jesus draws attention to their ignorance of what they are doing and asks God to forgive them because they are guilty for not knowing what they are doing.
In other words, they should know what they are doing and are guilty for not knowing what they are doing. For over three years, Jesus has been demonstrating his power over death and disease. He’s been teaching with unprecedented authority. The evidence of His being the Messiah was as plain as the nose on their face! They didn’t know, but they should have.
Essentially, the prayer of Jesus, was an appeal that time should be granted them for repentance, time for them to hear preaching, time to awaken their consciences to their desperate and eternal need of a Savior. And because of God’s amazing grace, this prayer was indeed answered (Acts 3:12-15,17; 4:1-4)!
2. A Word of SALVATION – “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23.43)
The two men who were crucified on either side of Jesus were hardened criminals, perhaps insurrectionists. Robbery, murder, and assassination may have been their “tricks of the trade.”
Initially, both thieves reviled Jesus (Mt. 27:41-44). But, as one thief witnesses Jesus’ behavior while being nailed to the cross, as he hears Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” as he reads the inscription above Jesus’ head (“This is the King of the Jews,” Lk. 23.38), he evidently feels the pangs of conviction for his own sins and has a radical change of mind regarding “the Man in the middle.”
He rebukes the other criminal and gives indirect evidence of his own fear of God (Lk. 23.40). He admits his own guilt (41) and accepts the punishment for his crimes (40-41). He agrees with Pilate’s assessment and finds no fault in Jesus (41b), acknowledges Jesus’ royalty (42), and humbly asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into His kingdom (42)!
Jesus’ response is phenomenal: “Today, you’ll be with Me in Paradise!”
While hanging on a cross, this thief “bows his knee,” accepts Jesus as his Savior and Lord, and soon thereafter joins the Lord in Heaven! Note: His destiny was not secured by baptism or good works! What a wonderful demonstration of Jesus earlier declaration: “He that comes unto Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6.37).
3. A Word of SELFLESSNESS – “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother” (John 19.26-27)
While suffering excruciating pain, Jesus selflessly turns His attention to His earthly mother. From the pulpit of His cross, Jesus preaches to all ages a sermon on the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your parents!” While the years of juvenile obedience come to an end, the years of honoring one’s parents are not supposed to end.
Essentially, Jesus was asking John to adopt Mary as his own mother and provide loving care for the balance of her life. What a compliment to John to be so trusted. John became a substitute for the Substitute!
If you are wondering why Jesus didn’t entrust Mary to the care of His brothers, it’s because they did not yet believe in Jesus (Mt. 13:53-58; John 7:1-5). Evidently, Jesus preferred to put Mary in the care of an “adopted, believing son,” rather than her own unbelieving sons.
I plan to address the other four statements in my next post, but for now, please know that Jesus Christ made these statements while making atonement for sin, YOUR SIN: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2)!