The Seven Last Words
Good Friday John 19:17-19
The text for tonight’s sermon is from John 19:17-19. “They took Jesus. He was bearing his own cross to the place called the “place of the skull” which in Hebrew is called Golgotha, and there they crucified him with two others, one on either side and Jesus was between them.”
I would like to share with you a story which has been meaningful to me. One time, a group of pastors were talking with each other about many things, and we were having some arguments with each other. We were discussing which was more important, Easter or Good Friday. I bet none of you laity have that kind of discussion but preachers do. We were arguing which was more important, Easter or Good Friday. Finally, one particular pastor became emotional and he said simply, “Good Friday.” “Good Friday is the most beautiful day for me. Every day is Good Friday for me.” We asked, “Why do you say that, Lee?”
And he told the following story. Lee had been in the Korean War, where he was a CIA agent. He and a group of CIA agents had been flown up into North Korea, and had been dropped behind the lines. They went secretly into North Korea, blew up some ammunition dumps, made a raid on a secret installation and after that, they were coming back to their point of pick up. They were going to rhondevous and be flown back to their ship. On the way back, Lee, made a mistake and he got separated from the other CIA agents. He made a mistake; he was clear about it. It was his own dumb fault. And then things turned ugly. Lee got caught in this sniper fire. He jumped behind a rock and there were a group of enemy soldiers up above him, shooting at him below as he was hiding behind a large rock. The bullets were pecking against this rock and making the rock smaller. Every time that a flick of the rock would hit him in the back, Lee thought that he was dead. He would roll over in panic, thinking that he had been shot in the back. It was a petrifying experience for him. His mouth was dry, white mouthed, dehydrated. Suddenly, his fellow agents came back to rescue him. It was like the cavalry had come in the old west movies. The cavalry had come back to save him, to cover up his mistake. But…six of his fellow agents, his good friends, were then killed by the snipers…because of the mistake that Lee had made. As he told this story, he said, “Yes. I have carried this guilt with me for a long time now, and Good Friday will always been the most important day for me because Good Friday was that day that God came down to die for us, to pay for the enormous mistakes that we have made. I will always preach a Good Friday sermon because every sermon for me is about the cross. That God came to die for us in our mess. I believe that.” Yes, I remember Lee’s story. It has become symbolic for me about the meaning of Good Friday.
Today there is still a fascination with the cross. People still want to hear the story of the cross. Intuitively, we sense that the cross is the central symbol of the Christian faith. We are drawn to the cross because we sense that the cross is the key that unlocks the whole Christian faith. The cross is the key that unlocks the mystery of God. The cross is the key that unlocks the meaning of Jesus; his death and resurrection. The cross is the key that unlocks the mystery of our lives. We sense that in the cross.
Tonight’s sermon focuses on Jesus’ seven words or seven sentences from the cross. You will experience the seven last words orally in a sermon; you will experience the seven last words musically by our choir. Laird Thornton, our Senior Choir director, has asked me to preach on the Seven Last Words. As the choir sings about the seven last words of Jesus, you may meditate of some thoughts that I want to share with you now.
I want to remind you that Jesus was in enormous physical pain, the worst human pain imaginable, as he spoke his famous words, his seven last sentences from the cross … The Roman soldiers all expected Jesus to shout out with obscenities and cursing and swearing. One Roman philosopher, Seneca, said that all people, when being crucified and nailed to the cross, they cursed the day they were born. Another Roman philosopher, Cicero, said that the cursing was so violent and wicked that the soldiers often cut out the tongues of men who were being crucified, because their language was so filled with pain, rage and hatred. Instead, we hear nothing of this. Jesus did not curse his tormenters, the soldiers, at all; he did not curse the religious leaders; he did not curse the gawkers. Instead of cursing as we would expect, we hear the seven last words of Jesus.
l) Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Pure grace. A word of pure grace. This may be the most powerful example of grace and forgiving love in the whole Bible. While in so much pain, Jesus asked God to forgive his tormenters. They didn’t ask for forgiveness; they didn’t deserve it; but Jesus gave them forgiveness. They didn’t even ask. His prayerful words to God were pure grace.
The first word from the cross that Good Friday was the word, “Father.” And the last word will begin with the simple word, “Father.” The first sentence from the cross is a prayer and Jesus teaches us to pray. Jesus begins his words from the cross, addressing not the grieving women who followed him nor the religious leaders nor the other men on the cross nor the gawking crowd below. Jesus did not down at his tormenters but up to God and Jesus began his prayer, “Father…” All prayer begins with an intensely personal word to our loving God: Father. From the cross, Jesus teaches us how to pray: “Father.” Personal and intimate.
Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing. The soldiers, the gawkers, the Jewish leaders and killers of Jesus: they didn’t fully comprehend what the were doing when they were killing the Son of god.
Sometimes, often times, we do things are wrong and we don’t see the full consequences of what we have done. This happens all the time.
So it was on that Good Friday when Jesus was being crucified. The soldiers just thought they were doing a job; they didn’t’ really comprehend that they were killing the very Son of God. The religious leaders just thought they were framing another religious fanatic; they didn’t really believe they were planning their schemes against the very Son of God in the flesh.
Father, forgive them. Pure grace
2) Today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus makes a huge promise to the robber next to him on the cross. Today you will be with me in paradise.
Today. In your hearts, write down the word, “today.” Immediately. Instantaneously. Now. Not tomorrow. Not in a hundred years. Not in a in a thousand years. Not in a in a million years. Not after the rapture and before the millennium. But today. Immediately.
We don’t understand it. We cannot prove it. We can’t tell you where paradise is. But Jesus said, Today you will be with me in paradise.
You. In your hearts, write down the word, you. That means you and me. We too will be in paradise with God when we die. At Christmas time, we often say, your name needs to be on the present for you to receive the gift. Christ’s promise is not only towards the thief on the cross but Christ’s promise is directed towards you and me as well. To be a Christian, you need to realize that God’s gift is for you personally.
With me. In your heart, write down the words, with me. In paradise, the emphasis in the Bible is not on being reunited with our loved ones from earth. We then go to paradise to be reunited with our long lost mother, father, brother, sister, spouse who have died before us. That is not the emphasis in the Bible. But what the Bible emphasizes is better, is much better. We will be with Christ, and when we are with Christ in paradise, we are with pure grace, with God’s Presence with is pure love, who forgives us all our sins.
In paradise. There is that word again, that word found in the very beginning of the Bible and at the very end of the Bible. Paradise. We will see the incredible beauty all around us. We will seen the face and glory of God. We will be with loved ones. There will no war nor starvation nor evil for these things will have been all destroyed. And our hearts, knowing all of this, will be filled with praise and thanksgiving.
3) Woman, your son; Son, your mother. Again, we find Jesus is in the middle of enormous pain and he is thinking about someone else. When in pain, he is still compassionate for others. His focus is not his own pain but the pain of his mother and the pain of his closest friend, John. He asks the two of them to take care of each other. He makes a new family. Again, in the midst of pain when he could focus on his own pain, instead he is caring and compassionate for his mother and best friend.
Mary was with Jesus at the foot of the cross. This would have been the most awful and gut wrenching experience of her life, to see and experience his crucifixion on the cross. The nails that sent through his wrists could have just as well gone through her wrists. The sword that pieced his side could have just as well been thrust through her side. Jesus’ pain was her pain. That is the way it is with mothers. I have known and watched many mothers during my life as a pastor, and I have watched such mothers when their children are deathly sick and suffering. It is always the same: the mother totally feels the pain of her child, and Mary totally felt the excruciating pain of Jesus. … Mary’s best friends and sister were there with her, but their love and compassion did not diminish the sadness and agony she was feeling. Her friends and sisters shared her grief, but her grief was not diminished.
So for me, Mary is a model of mothering for all of us. Every child needs a great mother. There is no other occupation in the world that compares to quality mothering from birth to death. As the book of Proverbs says, a fine mother is more valuable than jewels.
One of the last acts of Jesus was to care for his mother by entrusting her future to his best friend and cousin, John, the faithful disciple.
4) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In this statement, Jesus is the most human. He shares with us his emotional pain, that God has abandoned him. That is what all human beings feel sometimes during their lives. As human beings, we all at some moments feel abandoned by God, and we all cry out to the sky, “Where are you God?” So did Jesus. Here, Jesus is most human.
Sometime during life, we all feel abandoned by God. This happens in life, especially when tragedies happen to you personally. Let me give you some examples from the Bible.
From the Old Testament, King David wrote the famous words in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His words continue: “why are you so far from saving me Lord? Why are you so far from my groaning? Why do I cry out to you, but you do not answer?” King David had these feelings in his heart that God had forsaken him, abandoned him, deserted him. Why? Because of the personal tragedies of his life.
Similarly with Job in the Old Testament. Job experienced many personal tragedies. He lost his farms, lost the animals, lost his children, lost his wife. Job lost everything. And he felt that God had abandoned him, deserted him, and Job was angry with God and even raged at God. Those feelings were all normal.
God still loved David when he expressed those feelings and God loved Job when Job expressed those feelings and God loved Jesus when Jesus expressed those feelings and loves us when we express those feelings.
5) I thirst. Jesus experiences physical pain. The whip lashing on his back hurt. The thorns in his head. The ten inch spikes through his wrists and feet. Jesus knows the feelings of piercing physical pain like many of us do as human beings. I thirst means that Jesus was thirsty and experienced the physical pain of life. Again, this reveals the humanity of Jesus.
It is the shortest of the seven last words. In English, it is two words long. In the Greek language, it is only one word.
It means that Jesus/God knew physical pain. His physical pain was not make believe or pretend but was real. The previous question focused on the intense emotional pain of Jesus; this single words focuses on the intense physical pain of Jesus.
Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain There were 39 lashes across his back. There was a crown of thorns stuck into his head. There were the ten inch spikes through his wrists. There was his hanging for three hours. Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain, and thereby, so did God. God’s heart knows the enormity of human pain because God became human flesh and suffered on the cross.
One does not need to exaggerate the physical pain of Jesus as in the movie, THE PASSION. Jesus’ pain was real without exaggeration. And so is our physical pain in life. Many or most people are going to live with immense physical pain during life.
The Son of God, the Mind of God, the Heart of God, was fully human just like we are. Jesus was a true incarnation of God. Jesus was fully God but also fully flesh or fully human. He suffered intense emotional pain. He suffered intense physical pain.
That means that God knows and truly understands are physical and emotional pain.
There are times in life when we feel physically awful. The pain is excruciating and so the medical experts dope us up with morphine and other drugs to mask the pain we are feeling.
6) It is finished. This sentence needs to be translated: It is accomplished. The word, finish, means the race is over and done with. It is a different mood to say, it is accomplished. That is, the plan of God for my life is accomplished. The plan of God for Jesus was for him to be perfectly obedient unto death and Jesus accomplished that plan. This sentence is a note of victory. When we die, how wonderful to be able to say, “It, God’s plan for my life, is accomplished.” And then, the mood of the phrase is quite different than we have been talking about with the pessimism of “it is over and done with.”
Let me give you an example. The best painter of the world, Leonardo, is standing back from the canvas, admiring the work that he has just finished, the Mona Lisa, the most famous portrait of all painting of all history. It is exquisite. The artist, Rembrandt, steps back from the canvas, looks at his work, puts down his paint brush for the last time and says, “It is finished! It is perfect. The job is done. There is nothing I can do to improve it. This is as perfect a painting as I can make. It is finished!, he exclaims inside.”
An example in the Scriptures of “it is accomplished.” The Apostle Paul, as he came to the close of his life, wrote similar words in II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” So as Paul came to the end of his life, these were his feelings: that he had fought the good fight of life, that he had finished the race that God had placed before him; that he had kept the faith.” So Paul was feeling victorious about his life, not that his life was perfect but that he had done God’s will in his life.
God wants us to feel that way about our lives, “It is accomplished. I have accomplished what God has given me to do.
7) Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit. The last word and last sentence begins with the same word that was found in the first sentence: Father. Our heavenly father. Our personal father. The Father who will welcome us with open arms when we die and travel to heaven to be with God.
When we die, our Spirit goes to be with God. We give our Spirit up into the living and loving hands of God. We simply don’t become dust and ashes. We don’t simply say, “sayonara” or “close the door on life” or goodbye. Rather, we commit our Spirit into the loving care of God.
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