The Last Words of Jesus
On the first Palm Sunday almost 2000 years ago, there was great excitement in and around Jerusalem as Jesus entered the city. Some people laid down palm branches, thereby proclaiming He was the source of victory and joy. Others laid down articles of clothing, thereby proclaiming their willingness to be subject to Jesus. Almost everyone in the crowd surrounding Jesus shouted. Most of them blessed God and asked Jesus to save them.
What a wonderfully exciting day it was on the first Palm Sunday. However, as we know, the positive excitement of that day, by the end of the week, turned to a very negative, ugly, violent excitement.
The result of that was the arrest of Jesus on Thursday night. The result of that was a number of trials between late Thursday night and mid-morning on Friday. The result of that was Jesus being led to Golgotha, where He was crucified, which means He was nailed to a cross, lifted up on the cross, and left to die a horrible, painful, humiliating death.
While on the cross, Jesus, before He died, said some things. Let’s think about those things from the perspectives of those who heard them that Friday.
While on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
That was of course a prayer. A communication with God. But what an unusual prayer.
Unusual because Jesus had, over the past several hours, been unjustly tried before religious leaders and Roman officials. He had been accused of religious, then civil crimes He had not committed. He had been physically and emotionally mistreated.
Now He was on a cross, hanging from His hands and His feet. Most of those around Him, common people and religious leaders alike, taunted Him, ridiculed Him, mocked Him, adding to His humiliation.
Jesus deserved none of what had happened. He deserved none of what was happening. But there He was on a cross, which, it could be assumed, would have made Him very angry.
But there was no anger from Jesus as He hung on the cross. There was love, which was expressed in the first thing He said. “Father, forgive them.” What love was displayed in those words. Though He was horribly mistreated, He still loved the people He had come to save.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What love was expressed by Jesus on the cross. I wonder how puzzled the people at the crucifixion were to hear kind words from Jesus. I wonder how surprised they were at the love He expressed. I wonder if they were confused.
Love was also expressed in the second thing Jesus said. Something He said to someone else being crucified that day. Jesus said, “I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus said that to one of two others crucified that day. Jesus was in the middle of those other two, one of whom joined in the mocking of Jesus, saying things like, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself, and while You are at it, save us, too.” That said, not in a nice way, but in a nasty way.
The other one being crucified rebuked the nasty one, reminding him they deserved to die because they were guilty of crimes. But not Jesus. Tat other one being crucified realized Jesus was innocent of any crime, let alone one deserving death.
The one who rebuked the nasty one then spoke to Jesus. He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Think how wonderful those words sounded to the one who asked to be remembered. To know that despite his crimes, which he admitted - despite what had apparently been a non-spiritual life - it was not too late for him to accept the salvation Jesus had been preaching for three years.
What wonderful love was expressed in the first two things Jesus said as He hung on the cross. Love that was then expressed to two others - His mother Mary and the disciple John. Jesus said to Mary, “Behold, your son.” He said to John, “Behold, your mother.”
Imagine what Mary was going through as she witnessed Jesus - her son - being crucified and as she heard all the taunting, ridicule, and mockery aimed at Him.
It was as if Jesus knew Mary would need someone to comfort her, watch over her, support her. In His love for her, Jesus chose John to be that someone.
Imagine what all the disciples were going through during the crucifixion. The one they had followed for three years was being tortured. They knew He was going to die. What anguish they experienced, which was perhaps especially severe for John, known for being so loving.
It was as if Jesus knew John would need someone to encourage him. In His love for John, Jesus chose Mary to be that someone.
The relationship between Mary and John - a mother/son relationship - started that very hour. It is recorded that shortly after Jesus spoke to them from the cross, John took Mary to his home.
It is possible that spared Mary from having to witness her son’s death, but for both of them, what a wonderful gift. A gift they both appreciated. A gift of love.
The fourth thing Jesus said was another prayer. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Remember God cannot look upon sin. Since Jesus had, at His crucifixion, taken on the sin of the world, there was a separation from God. A separation Jesus had never before experienced. Not in all of eternity.
What spiritual anguish that added to the physical and emotional suffering Jesus was already facing. But even that was an expression of love because Jesus could have put a stop to what was happening. He had the authority to stop it. He had the power to stop it. But He did not stop what was happening. He did not stop it because He knew His death was the only sacrifice that would pay the price for sins.
Jesus felt forsaken. It was tremendously hurtful to Him to be separated from God, but He endured it for us. It was His love that led Him to complete His mission of being our Savior.
The fifth thing Jesus said was two words. “I thirst.”
That was in fact the truth. Jesus had had nothing to eat or drink since the evening before His crucifixion. Plus, He had been beaten and whipped and had a crown of thorns thrust onto His head. Blood loss adds to thirst. Jesus was in fact thirsty.
But think of the significance of the words, “I thirst.” They remind us Jesus was not only God, but also human, and the words show His humility. It is so easy for us to try to treat our enemies with a certain arrogance, refusing to let them see us suffer. That was not the case with Jesus. He confessed His need.
A need answered by one of those standing by watching the crucifixion. That one took a sponge and soaked up some vinegar, placed the sponge on a branch of hyssop, and lifted it to Jesus.
Of course, it was vinegar rather than water, which was not the same as we think of vinegar. It was not that pungent. But it was not very good. And it was just a spongeful, not a bowlful. But one man did serve Jesus, which Jesus, in love, allowed Him to do.
The sixth thing Jesus said on the cross was three words. “It is finished.”
I wonder how Jesus said those words. Were they as it shouted in victory, or did Jesus speak quietly, maybe with satisfaction He was completing His mission?
However they were said, what important words they were because indeed, Jesus’ mission was about to be completed. Thirty-three years earlier He had left Heaven to come to earth. After a childhood that included obedience to God and to His earthly parents, He began a ministry. For the three years of that ministry, He had taught, not only by His words, but also by His actions. He taught what it means to be a person of God. He had also performed great miracles to show the power and the love of God.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had taught salvation from sins. That He was and is the one and only way to salvation. He had even predicted what He would do to secure salvation for all who would believe in Him, that being His death by crucifixion. Now He was about to die in that way.
It was with victory and with satisfaction that Jesus announced His mission was about to be completed. He said, “It is finished.”
After that Jesus said the seventh and final thing on the cross. He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
With those words, Jesus died, but consider the significance of those words.
First, they were a quote from Psalm 31. A quote about the Savior. Jesus’ final words before His death were one final reminder He is the Savior.
But second, His spirit was not taken from Him. He gave Himself. He allowed Himself to die for us.
* * * * *
Think of the ones to whom and about whom Jesus spoke as He was on the cross - His enemies, the ones who had been and were mistreating Him, a criminal, Mary and John, and God.
Think of the ones who positively responded to Jesus’ words - the criminal, who that day was saved from his sins, Mary and John, who from that day on had one another to care for and receive comfort from, and the one who gave Jesus some vinegar to help with the Lord’s thirst.
The enemies? We do not know how they reacted to what Jesus said on their behalf.
Except for the very quick report that a Roman centurion, upon Jesus’ death, realized Jesus was the Son of God and that He was innocent.
And there is the report that following His death, those who had watched the crucifixion of Jesus returned home, beating their chests. That indicates they might have at least begun to realize an innocent man had been killed. A horrible realization since at least many of those people had, earlier that day, been the ones crying out for Jesus to be crucified.
But then there were two others who reacted with kindness. One was a man named Joseph, who asked for and was given Jesus’ body. The other was a man named Nicodemus, who, with Joseph, prepared Jesus’ body for burial in a tomb owned by Joseph.
* * * * *
As Good Friday came to an end, Jesus was placed in the tomb. The tomb was closed. It would later be sealed by the Roman government. For the next 36 hours or so it would seem like all the hope, all the joy, all the promises of Jesus were gone.
Of course, we know that what happened on Good Friday is not the end of the story. Sunday - Easter Sunday - was coming.
But for now, let’s remember the seriousness of what Jesus did for us. Let’s remember His words of love as He died. Love not only for those around the cross almost 2000 years ago, but for us as well.
If you have not accepted Jesus and what He did for you - and me and all mankind - please change that. Pray to accept Him. Do that now so you join those of us who have accepted Jesus in being thankful for His sacrifice.