Introduction: At 9 a.m. on the day we call “Good Friday,” Jesus Christ was crucified. During the six hours He hung on the cross, Jesus spoke seven times. Each of His statements is like a precious spiritual jewel. Each is something for us to treasure because the words of our Savior impart rich blessings. Today/tonight we will carefully examine each of the seven statements our Lord make in those final, agony-filled hours of His life. We pray that as we listen the Holy Spirit would grant each of us a deeper understanding of these precious messages and a greater appreciation of their blessed meaning.
1. The Word of Forgiveness: Luke 23:33-34
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The first words that Jesus spoke from the cross were these words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” These words are very surprising to hear, especially when we consider the circumstances in which they were spoken. In the previous 12 hours, Jesus has been coldly betrayed, unfairly arrested, cruelly abused, unjustly put on trial and wickedly condemned to death. When He spoke, He was undergoing a Roman crucifixion. Crucifixion was one of the most painful ways ever devised for a human being to die. Jesus was nailed hand and foot to a wooden cross and then elevated to an upright position with His body suspended a foot or two above the ground. In full public view, the Christ was exposed to the merciless insults and curses of His enemies on all sides. Jesus’ followers had largely forsaken Him. Just a few were there and they could only stand by helplessly.
The words one might expect to hear in a situation like this would be words of anger and vengeance, words of condemnation and curses for those responsible for this great miscarriage of justice, for the execution of the perfectly innocent God-Man. Yet, the Savior did not speak words of divine justice. Instead He expressed words of divine pardon for those who were mistreating Him. Jesus would die as He lived, freely and sincerely extending God’s pardoning love and mercy to all. Even though most of Jesus’ tormentors were not even thinking about their need for forgiveness, Jesus asked God the Father to grant it.
When Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” He was praying for all who sinfully oppose Him by violating God’s laws. Jesus prayed for the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who had sentenced Him to death. He prayed for the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. He prayed for the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people, both those who instigated His crucifixion and those who supported it.
We should know that Jesus also prayed for us. Although you and I were not physically present on the day Jesus died, our sins were there as were the sins of all people of all time. In an action that overwhelms our understanding, God the Father took all the sins and deserved punishment of all people of all time and transferred them to Jesus. This transfer of our moral failures and their terrible consequences was what Isaiah spoke about when he prophesied about Jesus: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b)
God the Father took all our unholy hostility toward God, all our shameful sins against His Laws and all our godless guilt and placed those terrible things on the pure, sinless, innocent soul of His perfect Son. A fair amount of what Jesus suffered on the cross was for the sins of us who are gathered here right now. In the sense that God gathered up our sins and their punishment and placed them on Jesus, we also were present at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In an act of pure grace, Jesus included us in His request for forgiveness.
Jesus asked God the Father to forgive people who did not know what they were doing. Now, don’t misunderstand. People often know when they are doing something wrong. However, people do not always realize the full extent of their sin. In this way, they sin in partial ignorance. The Jews and Romans who had a role in Jesus’ death knew that He was innocent and did not deserve to die. What they did not fully grasp was that Jesus was the sinless Son of God. Saint Paul says that if they had known that truth, they would not have dared to crucify Him. Their sin-darkened hearts had blinded them to this truth. In a similar way, the sin-darkened hearts of many people living now blind them to the truth of God.
Jesus’ prayer is a remarkable fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 53:12b. The verse says: “For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
God the Father heard and answered Jesus’ prayer. We know that at least one man believed in Jesus and enjoyed God’s forgiveness that day. We also know that God brought thousands of people to saving faith soon after Jesus’ resurrection. In addition, we know that God has permitted the Good News of forgiveness of sins through Jesus to be proclaimed to billions of people all over the world. Only eternity will reveal all the glorious results of that merciful prayer.
As we consider the first statement Jesus made from the cross, we take comfort in know that God’s Son asked that we be forgiven for our sins and that, even now, He is interceding with the Father for us. Our Savior wants the forgiveness for which He paid such a dear price to be ours. He has told us and God that Father that He wants us and all other sinners, to enjoy the fullness of His pardoning love.
2. The Word of Salvation Luke 23:39-43
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
The second statement from the cross is a promise Jesus made to one of the criminals who was crucified with Him. As the prophet Isaiah had predicted: Jesus was “numbered with the transgressors.” During the first few hours of Jesus agony on the cross, both of the men crucified with Jesus joined members of the crowd in insulting Him. As time passed, a great change took place. One of the robbers stopped his insults and started to rebuke the other robber for mocking Jesus. Then, in an expression of humble faith, this man admitted his guilt and declared Jesus to be an innocent victim. He turned to Jesus and asked Him to remember Him when He came into His kingdom.
Up until that time, this violent lawbreaker had probably cared little about God. His life of crime had been a great denial of God’s holy will for him. But now, as he spent his dying hours in the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit worked a great change of heart in him. The robber heard Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness for His enemies. He saw how patiently Jesus suffered great agony and abuse. He heard the claims mockingly made that Jesus was the God-sent Messiah. His unbelieving heart was crushed with the realization of his sins. The Spirit created a new life of faith in him.
This now repentant criminal expressed great confidence in Jesus. He trusted in Jesus of Nazareth as His Savior and King. He did this, although there was very little heroic or royal about Jesus’ physical appearance. While on the cross, Jesus resembled a battered worm more than the mighty Lord of all. Jesus had no power or visible majesty. His throne was a rough, wooden cross. His crown was a ring of sharp, piercing thorns. His robe was the crimson blood that flowed from His wounds. His scepters were the iron spikes driven through His hands. His guards and servants were the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. These unimpressive symbols were all that the robber could see with his eyes. But the Holy Spirit had given him another way to see Jesus, a spiritual way that allowed his soul to see the truth hidden beneath Jesus’ outward appearance. So, he believed that the Jesus, who was so despised by others, was his sinless Savior and almighty King.
The repentant criminal’s faith is a great example for us. We have been given much more information about Jesus than this man had. God has told us in the Bible the great things that Jesus said and did during His public ministry. God has revealed to us the truths that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared alive to many witnesses, ascended to the right hand of the Father, enjoys heavenly glory and exercises divine authority over all. God has given us those and other great evidences of Jesus’ kingly position and power. Yet, we still struggle, at times, to believe that Jesus is our great Savior and mighty Lord. We are sometimes reluctant to confess Him boldly before others and to serve Him eagerly and faithfully.
Although this man was a justly condemned criminal, Jesus was not ashamed or offended by His new convert. Jesus gave this contrite, believing sinner a most wonderful promise. Jesus told him, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” Jesus assured him, that before the sun would set that day, the dying robber would be in the joyful presence of God forever. His soul would immediately enter heaven after his death. Jesus used the word “paradise” to describe heaven. His choice of this word gives us the picture of the perfect Garden of Eden. It reminds us that everything that Adam and Eve had lost for people because of their sin, Jesus has regained for us by His suffering and death.
The prayer of the dying, believing criminal, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” is a prayer for us to remember and to pray for ourselves. As we pray these words in repentant faith, we, too, are sure that when we die, our souls will be with our Savior and King in His heavenly kingdom enjoying God’s grand paradise forever.
3. The Word of Affection John 19:25-27
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “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.
In His third statement from the cross, Jesus made a loving provision for His widowed mother, Mary. In his Gospel, the apostle John tells us that although many of Jesus’ followers had fled in fear at this time, there was a small group of women who remained with Jesus to the end. In that group was the loyal, loving mother of Jesus. John also tells us that Jesus took time to care for His grief-stricken mother. It is amazing to consider that while carrying the crushing burden of the weight of the sins of the whole world on His soul, Jesus could still address a rather small, but personally important need of the woman God had chosen to be His mother.
It must have been heart-rending for Mary to have witnessed the death of her Son. She had been Jesus’ mother for 33 years and had loved Him dearly. At the cross, Mary saw Jesus crucified before her very eyes and was helpless to do anything about it. She saw Him suspended in the air and could not touch Him. She saw Him dripping with blood from His wounds and could not bind them up. She noticed His parched mouth and could not give Him a drink. As the prophet Simeon had foretold years before, Mary’s heart experienced bitter, piercing pains. Each form of suffering she witnessed was like a sharp, steel sword forced through her eyes into the depths of her soul.
While Jesus hung on the cross, He noticed His sorrowing mother. As a faithful, responsible, compassionate Son, Jesus did what He could to care for her. He knew that this woman (by now a widow and probably in her early 50s) would need someone to take care of her. Jesus entrusted her to the care of His beloved disciple, John. Even though Jesus was wrestling with the torments of hell and was at the doorway of death, He was still mindful and obedient to God’s command to honor His parents. Jesus’ loving care for Mary sets a powerful example for us to follow. We, too, are to honor our father and mother and those whom God has placed over us and give them our love, respect and support. We are to come to their aid in their times of need, even when it may be hard for us to do so.
By telling Mary, “Dear woman, here is your son”, Jesus was not only transferring her to the care of the apostle John. Jesus was also releasing Mary from her responsibility toward Him as His mother. Mary would now be free to focus on Jesus as her Savior and Lord.
One special comfort we can take from these words from the Savior’s lips is His concern for our earthly welfare. Jesus has promised to be with His believers always and to provide for all their needs. Because of those promises, we can be sure that just as Jesus provided for the earthly welfare of Mary, He will also provide for us.
4. The Word Of Anguish Matthew 27:25-46
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Jesus’ fourth statement from the cross was the cry of God-forsaken loneliness. The first three statements Jesus made were spoken during the first three hours He hung on the cross, from about 9 a.m. – Noon. Jesus addressed these statements to people or about people who were there around the cross.
At noon a great darkness came over the land. God specially created this darkness for the occasion of the suffering and death of His Son. This darkness came at a time of year when natural eclipses of the sun are not possible. During the three-hour period of special darkness, Jesus would descend into the greatest depths of anguish and agony possible. He would suffer physical and spiritual pains and strains so severe that no one, except God Himself, could fully comprehend them.
At almost three o’clock that afternoon, the anguished Lord cried out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” The English translation of these Aramaic words is: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Although no human words can fully express the agony Jesus endured, these words from our Savior’s mouth give us some indication of what was happening. Jesus’ words were a quotation of Psalm 22:1. This psalm was one of several that poignantly predicted the severe suffering the Messiah would endure to remove our sins from God’s solemn record of wrong-doing.
For the first time in His life, Jesus, the Son of God, who had always been in perfect harmony with God the Father, was now abandoned and forsaken by Him. In a way beyond our limited understanding, God the Father turned against His Son. He afflicted His only beloved with His divine wrath and terrifying torments. God the Father punished His sinless Son, as if Jesus were the one who deserved to suffer the eternal punishment that should have fallen on all the sinful people in the history of the world. This was Jesus’ position and situation on the cross. Although Jesus was Himself without sin, He had volunteered to pay for the guilt and punishment of all the sins of every single person. On the cross, He made the payment for us.
God the Father’s punishment of Jesus was merciless. In the person of His Son, the Father exacted the full payment for all the sins of all people of all time. He made Jesus suffer the extreme torments of hell which the rest of humanity deserved to suffer. We know that it was the horror and torments of hell itself that Jesus suffered. He made that clear when He said that He was forsaken by God. To be forsaken by God is to experience hell. To be separated from God entirely, to have God withhold all His love and mercy and to have Him inflict His fierce punishment for sin is damnation.
The punishment that Jesus endured was horrible beyond belief. Yet it was necessary for our salvation. Jesus had to be forsaken by God if He were to pay for all our sins. These words from our Savior remind us how serious our sins are and how tragic are the consequences for those sins. Our violations of God’s commands deeply offend a just and holy God. These deserve nothing less and nothing else than eternal damnation.
That damnation Jesus willingly endured for us. Let everyone who hears these words of Jesus catch and keep their blessed significance deeply in their hearts. Jesus, the innocent Son of God, was forsaken by God the Father for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved to suffer. He paid for the sins we committed. He suffered hell in our place. Anyone who fails to see this divine truth is blind, captive to a spiritual darkness that is thicker than the supernatural darkness that surrounded Jesus’ suffering on that first Good Friday. May God grant each of us here the spiritual sight to see and believe that Jesus Christ was abandoned by God the Father to the depths of hell to pay the full and fearful price for our sins.
5. The Word of Suffering John 19:28-29
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
Shortly before His death, Jesus spoke His fifth statement from the cross. He announced that He was thirsty. Our Lord had been thirsty for a long time. It is likely that the last drink of liquid that Jesus had was the wine He shared with His disciples the previous evening at the Passover meal. Crucifixion created a tremendous thirst. The severe wounds Jesus had received created great pain and caused serious infections. The high fever brought on by these infections made a person feel as if he were burning up.
As a merciful gesture to the dying, the Roman soldiers on the crucifixion detail, would often keep a pain-killing beverage on hand. The mixture of vinegar, sour wine and water would be given to those crucified. This drink would numb some of the pain that the crucified would feel. The soldiers had offered this pain-reducing drink to Jesus at the start of His crucifixion. Jesus had refused it. He did this because He was determined to feel all the anguish God the Father required Him to experience as the Substitute for sinners.
But now, after Jesus had completed all the suffering the Father had required, He asked for the drink He had previously refused. One of the soldiers heard the request and granted it. He dipped a sponge attached to a reed into the liquid. Then He extended the sponge up to Jesus’ lips so that He could drink.
By taking this drink, Jesus fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah’s suffering. He fulfilled the words of Psalm 69:21, which says: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
Jesus’ words: “I am thirsty” refer to the very real physical thirst He had. However, they are also indicative of another thirst, a spiritual one, that Jesus had. The Savior’s words reflect His deep yearning and thirst for a restored fellowship with His Father in glory after His suffering. They also reflect a longing for our deliverance from sin and death.
Jesus’ words: “I am thirsty” comfort us. They let us know that our Savior made sure that every last detail of His redeeming work would be carried out, just as the prophecies from God’s Word had said. They also remind us that Jesus longs to have us enjoy His forgiveness and fellowship in glory forever.
6. The Word Of Victory John 19:30
30 When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
The sixth statement from the cross is perhaps the most meaningful one for us. The apostle John records that after Jesus received the drink, He said, “It is finished.” This short statement is Jesus’ great announcement of victory. It is His grand declaration that He has won the tremendous battle for our salvation.
The words “It is finished” are a translation of the single Greek word “tetelestai.” The word “tetelestai” was a commonly used commercial term. This word was written on financial bills to indicate that the person in debt had made full payment for what he or she owed someone. By using the word “tetelestai”, Jesus triumphantly proclaimed that the spiritually staggering payment for the sins of the world has been paid to God in full. Jesus had satisfied all the lawful claims that a holy God has against a sinful humanity. Jesus had paid our debt. He had finished His saving work. Everything had been taken care of. Nothing remained to be done.
The words “It is finished” assure our fearful hearts that everything necessary for us to have God’s forgiveness and to enjoy eternal life has been done. God’s holy demands of us have been completely satisfied. God’s just wrath toward us has been fully appeased. All of our sins have been atoned for. All of our well-deserved punishment has been removed. Satan’s power over us has been crushed.
When Jesus spoke the words “It is finished”, it was as if He looked down through the corridors of time from the world’s first sinner to its very last and saw that He had earned forgiveness for everyone. Everyone was covered by His sufficient sacrifice. No one was forgotten. Jesus had paid the full penalty for every man, woman and child. He had won eternal life for all.
“It is finished.” Or if you prefer: “The debt is fully paid.” Everything that you and I owe God for our forgiveness and life with Him has been paid. You and I can be supremely sure of it. Jesus Himself has said so. And He has signed that assurance with His own blood.
7. The Word Of Confidence Luke 23:44-46
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”[ When He had said this, He breathed His last.
Now, that the great victory had been won and the sins of the world had been paid for, our Savior could speak His final words before He died. Near the end of the three hours of great darkness, Jesus spoke His seventh and final statement from the cross. It was His word of confidence.
Luke tells us that at the time of Jesus’ death, the temple curtain was torn in two. This tall, massive 15-inch-thick curtain hung in the Temple in Jerusalem. This ornate curtain separated the parts of the Temple called the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. At the death of His triumphant Son, God the Father tore this curtain from top to bottom. He did it as a powerful, visible testimony to illustrate that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for them, sinners now have free and open access to God.
Our Lord’s final words are a prayer to the Father. When He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”, Jesus quoted the words of Psalm 31:5. These words were commonly used as an evening, bedtime prayer by God’s people. Through this prayer, Jesus expressed His perfect trust in the Father’s care for His soul as He entered death. Jesus voiced His confidence by calling out in a loud voice. Jesus cried out in complete confidence that the Father was perfectly pleased with His work of atonement and that the Father would keep His promise to raise Him from the dead.
After Jesus completed His confident cry, He willingly died. Jesus did not die because He was required to die as you and I must die when God summons us. Death had not conquered Jesus. Jesus had conquered death. Jesus died in order to fulfill all that God required of Him. Jesus died of His own free will and choosing. The early church leaders described Jesus’ death in this way. They said, “Death did not come to Jesus. Rather, Jesus came to death.” Our Lord breathed His last breath, entrusting His life to the Father so that He could receive it back again when He was raised from the dead.
Our Savior’s final words before He died help us face our death. Because Jesus knew that His suffering had ended death’s dreaded power over people, we can die with great confidence. All who believe in Jesus as their Savior enter death with His assurance that God will raise them to life – new and everlasting – on the Last Day.