1. Forgiveness: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Luke 23:26-35
He was the king of glory, the Morning Star, the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation—by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He was before all things, and in Him all things held together. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
And yet, He was born for this moment. It was for this humiliation, it was for this shameful injustice, it was for this torture that He came into the world. He was made incarnate so that his holy brow might be crowned with thorns. He was made in the likeness of a servant so that He might be mocked by the very ones He had come to seek and save. He left His throne in glory so that his back might bear the stripes for our iniquities, so that His hands and feet and side might be pierced for our transgressions.
Though Pilate had acquitted Him three times—in vs. 4, 14, and 22—He was cruelly, unjustly, ignominiously punished, even to death on the cross. He who had obeyed perfectly, He who bore no sin, He who had only loved, only healed, only reconciled was wounded on our behalf. Though He was very God of very God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, He was crucified for us and for our salvation.
On the cross He cried out seven times—with words of redemption, covenant, substitution, suffering, triumph, and resolution. But His first cry was a prayer of forgiveness: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Ever selfless, ever concerned for others, in His greatest agony, in His greatest humiliation, He intercedes for His torturers, His murderers. He had taught His disciples, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which spitefully use and persecute you.”
It was of course a prayer the Father heard—and answered. Just fifty days later, on the day of Pentecost, a great forgiveness, a great salvation swept across this very city, piercing through the hardened hearts of these very sinners.
O sacred head, sore wounded, with grief and shame weighed down. O kingly head surrounded with thorns thine only crown. How pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn, how does that visage languish which once was bright as morn. Thy grief and bitter passion were all for sinners gain. Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
2. Redemption: "This day you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:35-43
The second cry of Jesus from the cross was one of redemption. A common criminal on one side, a common criminal on the other. The God of wonders beyond our galaxy between them. Both heard Christ’s earlier cry of forgiveness—one railed in derision, the other repented.
Is it ever too late to say “I am under condemnation justly?” Is it ever too late to cry out to Jesus, “Remember me?” Is it ever too late to possess a holy fear of God, a heart to do right, and an apprehension of the Kingdom? The experience of the thief on the cross tells us that no matter what we may have done, no matter how long we may have delayed, while we yet have breath there is hope. And the words of Jesus in response to him only confirm such a hope of redemption.
Lord, when thy kingdom comes, remember me. Thus spake the dying lips to dying ears. O faith, which in that darkest hour could see, the promised glory of the far off years.
3. Covenant: "Behold, your son; behold, your mother." John 19:23-27
The third cry of Jesus from the cross was one of covenant. The huddle of grieving disciples at the horrific scene became His concern, the object of His affection. Forgetting His own agony, He reminds them of their solace.
Earlier when He had prayed for them He did not ask that they be taken out of this world—rather that they be kept from the evil one, that they be sanctified in truth, and that they be one.
He had taught them of the beauty, comfort, and substance of covenant community. He had taught them to bear one another’s burdens. He had taught them what it meant to commune with one another, to have fellowship with one another, to be friends and not just have friends, to know the bonds of love. Now even as Simeon’s prophecy is fulfilled—that Mary’s soul would be pierced, troubled, and acquainted with grief—He beckons the disciples to partake of the blessings of the covenant; He beckons them to love one another in such a fashion that all men might know that they are His disciples indeed.
Thou didst not leave us here, forsaken, alone, and sore pressed. Thou givest right freely Spirit, Word, and covenant rest. In brother, sister, son, and mother, thou callest us to be the church and bearest one another.
4. Substitution: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani." Matthew 27:45-54
The fourth cry of Jesus from the cross was one of substitution. Sin cannot simply be excused. God cannot simply wave off rebellion, perversity, and effrontery. Transgressions must be atoned for. Iniquities must be paid for. The wrath of God must be appeased. Propitiation must be made.
So, He who knew no sin, was made sin for us. He who had known perfect fellowship with the Father clothed Himself in the filth of our concupiscence and lasciviousness—and thus became anathema, separated from God that we might not be, forsaken that we might never be. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all—just as Isaiah had prophesied. As Paul later would write, He became a curse for us.
He prayed for forgiveness for His tormentors—a forgiveness they did not deserve. He beckoned the thief at his side to enter into a reward the thief could never have earned. He offered His mother and His disciples the hope of a solace they could never have hoped for before. He called upon them—He calls upon us—to believe the unbelievable, to receive the inconceivable. And all because He has suffered for us, paid our debt, suffered for our crimes, was our substitute.
Hark that cry that peals aloud, upward through the whelming cloud. Thou the Father’s only son, Thou His own anointed one, Thou dost ask Him, can it be? Why hast thou forsaken me? Twas me, twas me that placed thee there, twas me that shouldst have pierced the air. Twas me that shouldst have borne that grief—yet t’was thou forsaken instead of me.
5. Suffering: "I thirst." John 19:28
Every aspect of His incarnation, life, ministry, and substitutionary death was prophesied beforehand. Hundreds of messianic prophesies were fulfilled at his birth, through His healings and miracles, and by his rejection at the hand of the Sanhedran. But the prophesies of His death were perhaps the most explicit.
The great messianic hymn, Psalm 22 confirmed long before, His suffering, His torture, and His humiliation: that His garments would be divided by gamblers, that His holy Name would be mocked by evildoers, that they would gloat over His sorrowful mien, that His hands and feet would be pierced. And that He would be poured out like water, that His strength would be dried up, that His tongue would stick to His jaws, that he would be as dust.
He who was the fount of all goodness and truth. He who offered us living water that we might never again thirst. He who make streams flow forth from our inmost being. He who quenches every dry and dusty place. He now thirsts that we may ever be slaked.
His are the thousand sparkling rills, that from a thousand fountains burst, and fill with music all the hills, and yet He saith, I thirst.
6. Triumph: "It is finished." John 19:30
He came for this. He lived to die. And now, after His long agony, the work was done. Finished. Completed. Nothing more to be done. Nothing was lacking.
Through all the ages men and nations have attempted some kind of an encore, some sort of an addendum, something that might round out the work of Christ—His declaration is clear: there is nothing to add, no further steps need be taken. This is the Gospel: the Good News the angels announced so long before: It is finished!
O perfect life of love! All, all is finished now. All that He left His throne above to do for us below. No work is left undone of all the Father willed; His toils and sorrows one by one, the Scriptures have fulfilled. In perfect love He dies; for me He dies, for me! O all-atoning sacrifice. I cling by faith to thee.
7. Resolution: "Into Your hands I commend my spirit." Luke 23:44-49
Seven times the dying savior spoke. One He had made a universal declaration that He had completed the task He had set out to do. Three times He addressed men: to the thief He promised Paradise; to His disciples He proffered covenant; to this tormenters he professed His agony. Three times He prayed to His Father: once in intercession for His murderers, once in a mournful plaint of separation, and now commending the resolution of it all.
For more than twelve hours Had been in the hands of men. But now He was again in the Father’s hands. The victory was won. Soon even death would lose its sting.
Sing my tongue how glorious battle, glorious victory became: and above the cross, His trophy, tell the triumph and the fame; tell how He the earth’s redeemer, by His death for man o’ercame.