So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard being with them.Matthew 27:66 ASV
THE SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS
- “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
- “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
- “Woman, behold thy son … Behold thy mother” (John 19:26,27).
- “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
- “I thirst!” (John 19:28).
- “It is finished” (John 19:30).
- “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
I. “Father forgive them …”
The chief business of the cross was forgiveness, and Christ moved quickly to get on with it.
Were those men, then and there, forgiven? No!
Their forgiveness in heaven took place when they repented and obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:36-38).
That forgiveness of Christ on the personal level, even while they were crucifying him, was in line with his command that men must forgive if they are to be forgiven (Matthew 6:14,15).
Luke 17:3 is not a permit to withhold forgiveness pending others’ repentance, but is an admonition against the withholding of it even after they repent.
Thus, Stephen forgave Saul of Tarsus on the human level, even while Saul stood by consenting to his death (Acts 7:60); but Paul was forgiven in heaven when he had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17).
To view this otherwise would be to make a special case of the soldiers who crucified Jesus.
Some of those, at least, who were guilty of his crucifixion (Acts 2:36) were forgiven when they repented and were baptized; to suppose that those soldiers did not need to do so, merely because Christ prayed for them, is to set aside the plain word of Scripture that all must believe, repent, and be baptized unto the remission of sins.
Thus, we view the prayer of Christ in this first solemn word from the cross as an example for his disciples in their behavior toward those who sin against them, and not as an abatement of the Scriptural terms of redemption.
II. “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Was the thief on the cross saved? Assuredly, yes!
Granted the premise that there is a separation of the righteous and the wicked in death, there can be no doubt of it.
The thief died BEFORE any of the distinctive obligations of the Christian life were published.
He was dead and buried nearly two months before the Great Commission was given; he was never commanded to be baptized; and no person on earth today may claim any such status as that which pertained to the thief. Baptism, for example, is mandatory upon all men, “even to as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him” (Acts 2:39).
Furthermore, all efforts to disassociate oneself from the commandments and obligations of the Christian gospel, on the basis of the robber’s salvation, arise from a total disregard of the truly remarkable exhibition of faith on his part.
Any thought that the robber was saved in some easy and perfunctory fashion disappears in the contemplation of what he actually did:
(1) He believed on the Lord at a time when even his staunchest disciples had forsaken him and fled. Of all the men on earth, that greater thief alone stands in glorious isolation as the unique witness of our Lord’s passion who appreciated it and moved to appropriate the blessing.
(2) He believed on him and confessed him as “Lord” while others were reviling him.
(3) He made that amazing confession when he himself was in an agony of nakedness, suffering, death, and humiliation. Can anyone fail to see the difference in his confession, under those circumstances, and the ordinary profession of faith today, when one is all dressed up in his Sunday best and encouraged by a whole church singing and praying to urge him forward?
(4) The robber confessed Christ in the presence of Christ’s bitterest foes in the exact moment of their triumph, those foes being none other than the leaders and most influential men in all Israel.
(5) He confessed Christ in the moment of Christ’s deepest humiliation, but those who confess today do so with the concurrent testimony of nineteen centuries affirming his glorification!
(6) The robber gave evidence that he indeed had seen “God,” by his humble acceptance of the horrible death by crucifixion as a “just” reward of his deeds. In the light of these and many other considerations, it must be clear that those who would either claim for themselves or extend to others the promise of salvation without obeying the gospel, using the salvation of that ancient robber as a basis for it, are not worthy to be named in the same breath with that robber.
The thief died before the Lord’s will for all mankind was put in force (Hebrews 9:16) and was saved even before Christ died on the cross.
Therefore, his salvation cannot possibly contain any precedent for redemption under the New Covenant; and as for the insistence that, after all, he was not baptized, we have already noted that no such command had yet gone out to all mankind; but even if it had, that thief had nails in his hands and feet and was in a position making it absolutely impossible for him to have been baptized.
The nails were holding him, but what is holding men today?
Pride, prejudice, the opinions of divines, and an obstinate unwillingness to obey the Lord – these are the impediments now.
The confession of that thief, and the Lord’s reply, constitute a divine prophecy that the Son of God will have his worshipers and men their salvation under every possible circumstance forever!
III. “Woman, behold thy son … Behold thy mother!”
The words addressed to Mary the mother of Jesus and to John the beloved disciple were for the purpose of providing for the earthly care of Mary.
Why did Christ wait until the agony was upon him before taking care of that detail?
Note that Christ called her “Woman,” certainly not “Mother of God”!
If such a title had been her due, Christ would have honored it and would not have withheld it on that occasion.
Mary was not the mother of God, nor a perpetual virgin, but bore four sons and an unnamed number of daughters after the birth of Jesus (see Matthew 1:25 and Matthew 13:55).
IV. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The awful depths of those words are unfathomable. What sorrow flows from that pleading cry!
What can it truly mean?
Should men believe that God forsook Christ on the cross? If so, why?
Was it that he could not physically die until that occurred?
None may dare to give a dogmatic answer.
If that was the case, it would have been in perfect keeping with the constant example of his whole life in meeting every crisis with a quotation from the Holy Scriptures. “It is written; it is written; and again it is written” (Matthew 4:4-7).
In support of this view is the remarkable number of specific prophecies relative to the crucifixion which are contained in Psalms 22, and which were at that very moment being fulfilled so graphically before all.
My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Psalms 22:1
A reproach of men, and despised of the people. Psalms 22:6
They … laugh me to scorn. Psalms 22:7
They shake the head. Psalms 22:7
Let him rescue him. Psalms 22:8
Seeing he delighteth in him. Psalms 22:8
For there is none to help. Psalms 22:11
Many bulls have compassed me. Psalms 22:12
I am poured out like water. Psalms 22:14
My bones are out of joint. Psalms 22:14
My strength is dried up. Psalms 22:14
My tongue cleaveth to my jaws. Psalms 22:15
Into the dust of death. Psalms 22:15
Dogs have encompassed me. Psalms 22:16
A company of evil doers have enclosed me. Psalms 22:16
They pierced my hands. Psalms 22:16
And they pierced my feet. Psalms 22:16
I may count all my bones. Psalms 22:17
They look and stare upon me. Psalms 22:17
They part my garments among them. Psalms 22:18
And upon my vesture do they cast lots. Psalms 22:18
This remarkable word picture of the crucifixion contains at least twenty specific details, some of which are not even found in the gospels.
For example, only in Psalms 22:16 above do the Scriptures reveal that Jesus’ feet were pierced.
No infidel can scoff this away. The crucifixion of our Lord fulfilled to the very letter the marvelous prophecies which foretold it.
In view of the remarkable detail of this great prophecy, it is not unthinkable that Christ was calling attention to it by quoting its opening lines.
Still, the “why” of this passage haunts men. It echoes down the centuries.
There was no immediate reply. Angels did not descend and take him down from the cross, or smite the Pharisees blind, or compel Caiaphas to kneel before him!
Christ simply died with that awful question seemingly unanswered.
Yes, there was an answer, but not of the kind men would probably have expected, nor did it come at once, but afterward. From this, it is learned that answers to life’s most perplexing questions do not appear immediately, but afterwards.
The iron entered into the soul of Joseph, and there were long years when the answer did not come; but it did come when Pharaoh lifted him up to the throne to preserve Israel.
John the Baptist heard the grating of the prison door as the executioner came to behead him, but Herod heard only the music and dancing. Why?
The answer came not to John, but God will surely speak his golden answer when the herald is summoned on high.
V. “I thirst.”
The last three utterances are shorter, possibly due to the Saviour’s ebbing life (see Matthew 26:29). What a paradox is this scene!
He who upholds all things by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) is here himself upheld upon the rude and torturing beams of the cross.
The thirst was prophesied in Psalms 22:15.
VI. “It is finished.”
What was finished?
The law of Moses (Colossians 2:14-16), the sabbath institution (Amos 8:5-9), the works of his personal ministry, the power of Satan (Hebrews 2:14), the atonement for the sins of the whole world (Hebrews 9:26), the purchase price for the church (Acts 20:28), and the remission of sins prior to Calvary, as well as the remission of whatever sins will be remitted for all eternity – these are among the things finished that day on the cross of Christ.
But only the score was finished. All the joy of that great oratorio would have perished forever unless other hands had taken it up and other voices had sung its glorious harmonies.
In like manner, the finished work of Jesus leaves ample place for others to take up the cross daily and follow him.
Other hands must do his work; other lips must preach his word; and other hearts must warm to his great love.
Indeed, “it is finished”; but man’s work is before him. “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!”
VII. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
What an argument for immortality is this! In a moment the body of Christ would fail, but that would not be the end.
Man has a body, but he is a soul.
No wonder an apostle said that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
Happy are the followers of Jesus, who, as the end nears, may feel the Father’s nearness as did Jesus, and commend their souls to his eternal safekeeping.