The way people die can sometimes tell us how they lived. Jesus died forgiving enemies, redeeming a thief, caring for his mother, overcoming the darkness, confessing human need, finishing His assignment, and trusting His Father in death. What a way to die! What a way to live.
FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.
“Yes they do, Jesus. They’re killing you, an innocent man. Why aren’t you angry?” It’s hard to forgive, especially when it’s unjust, like when a young man who was homeless and stayed at my home ripped me off when he left. Jesus really got ripped off!!
When East Germany asked forgiveness of Israel, they responded, “The shame of the action cannot be removed.” But Corrie ten Boom managed to forgive a guard who showed up at one of her meetings. She had gotten ripped–her sister Betsy died in prison. “Father, forgive them…” No more gracious words were ever uttered. They were given on behalf of His killers. They had heard foul messages coming from crucified ones—never like this.
TODAY YOU SHALL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.
Jesus was getting ridiculed from every direction. Even the two thieves joined in (Mark 15:32). But then one told the other, “We deserve what we are getting (conviction), but he has done nothing wrong” (revelation). First came the deep awareness of his own guilt. He was not a victim of Roman imperialism; he was a guilty sinner. He was getting what he deserved. How kind of Jesus to do evangelism in his darkest hour. Salvation is extended to a criminal, who has nothing to contribute before passing into eternity. He will still shine with the stars of heaven, and he will praise the blood of the Lamb. Better people will go to hell because of their refusal to do what he did.
Listen to his request: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In eight words he acknowledged that the Man next to him had the power to forgive, was a king, had a kingdom, and was going to defy death and go there. What revelation! Imagine Peter asking him at the gate, “How can you come in? You’re a thief.” He would respond, “Jesus said I could.” “Really? When?” “A little while ago.” At his dying moment he took more than he had ever taken as a criminal—eternal salvation. We will meet him in heaven, thanks to Jesus. One blasphemed–the other believed. What a difference for eternity. Wouldn’t you like to share the Good News with some unlikely person like that? Such simple faith: “Remember me…” And what a response: “Today…”
WOMAN, BEHOLD YOUR SON. BEHOLD, YOUR MOTHER!
In times of pain, we tend to think of ourselves first. Jesus is thinking about the people who are killing him, the robber next to him, the mother below him. The word of Simeon was being fulfilled; a sword was piercing her heart, even as a sword would soon pierce his side. The unique Son of God was also the son of Mary, her firstborn. That meant that in the absence of Joseph he took responsibility for her care. With younger brothers who were skeptics, Jesus put his mother into the capable hands of his beloved friend John! Such care!
MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?
Jesus was a reject from the get-go, a humiliating birth out back of a motel.The whole country knew he was illegitimate. His parents were on the poor side. He was an itinerant preacher, an embarrassment to his mother and brothers. The hometown folks sort of accepted him, until he preached his first sermon. Then they tried to throw him over a cliff. Hardly a welcome. “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). “He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah 53:3). The rejection continued at the trials. He knew it was going to happen. He had told the disciples that “the Son of man (would) suffer many things and be rejected by the elders…” (Matthew 16:21). But by far the worst had to be when God rejected him. He had never known even the slightest moment of separation. Now he is condemned, even as scripture says: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23). He had only known God’s favor. Now he feels the curse. “He who knew no sin became sin for us…” (2 Cor. 5:21). Separated–that we who trust in Him would never be.
Jesus knew when the fight escalated in intensity. God poured the sins of humanity into the body of the spotless Lamb of God. He became the trash dump of the human race. This is the cup He knew He had to drink. He was now bearing sin in his own body, the receptacle of unredeemed humanity’s bad choices. Putrifying. The foul stench of rebellion. The sun acknowledged the battle and shut down. Hand-to-hand combat with the powers of darkness. The Lord lays on Him the iniquity of us all, the most violent laying on of hands. Jesus is being “stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” The Father is beating up His own Son, who feels the agony and cries out, not to His Father, but to God. No darker hour exists in human history. No place is He more a representative of a fallen race. His cry, “My God, my God, why…,” is the most wrenching prayer of the universe. Unspeakable horror, undiminished shame. Jesus paid a high price for our sin. Consider it the next time you think Jesus doesn’t care, or when you feel the need to indulge yourself. No one understands suffering like Jesus. What great sorrow! What extravagant love!
It wasn’t until He looked to the needs of others that He said, “I am thirsty.” He dealt with the thief’s thirst for salvation before He asked for a drink. He drank when all things were accomplished. In the heat of battle, one does not yell, “Time out.” That Jesus now confesses thirst is not only a sign of thirst. It indicates that the battle is over. And He said it in fulfillment of scripture. At no point did Jesus ever lose control. Caiaphas did—and tore his robes in anger. Peter did—and swore his denial of having ever known Jesus. Pilate did—and tried to wash a guilty conscience away with water. The crowd did—and shouted, “Crucify him,” like bloodthirsty dogs tearing at their victim. But Jesus, the victim, never lost it. He knew what was happening all the time and what He needed to do. History was on schedule. The king was about to be crowned. And He said, “I thirst.” He was the Son of God and Son of Man. His confession of need encourages me to be human, to be honest about my needs, and especially my desperate need for God.
The one who created Niagara Falls, who made the lakes high in the Rockies, is now dehydrated. He had given a drink of living water to a guilt-ridden Samaritan woman. He had been preparing through suffering to give eternal water to the thirsty, and now He grows thirsty in the process. He had poured out His soul to death. He deserved to be thirsty. He had just cried out, “My God, my God.” That was the most awful exposure to the elements of darkness without the help of God. But He was also facing physical exposure. The soldier understood Him and gave Him some of the sour wine, cheap stuff given to soldiers as part of their rations. Earlier it had been offered to Jesus and He had refused it. Why now? Because He was about to die and His work was over. He did not want to be drugged earlier, because He chose to be in full awareness of what He was doing. He needed to “taste death for everyone.” Receiving the wine, He gained sufficient strength to say…
IT IS FINISHED.
He didn’t say, “I am finished.” He didn’t die a victim but a victor. He completed it all. That means that there is nothing left for you and me to do. Jesus plus…nothing! “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1). He accomplished it all single-handedly. It had started at the dawn of creation. Satan, who had led a mutiny in heaven, then convinced Adam and Eve to rebel. The devil wounded the heel of Jesus, but Jesus stepped on his head. Everything on the other side of the cross would be the mop-up campaign. Heaven must be rejoicing. This is why He left—not to preach or to heal but to die. He had accomplished His mission. He was able to tell His Father in faith the eve before His death, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). What do we add to the cross? Our good efforts? Our church attendance? Our zeal? Our devotions? Our tithe? Nothing. Our salvation in Jesus Christ is the cross plus nothing. We have amassed a great debt, but it has been paid in full. We too can say thankfully with Christ, “It is finished.”
FATHER, IN YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.
He ended as He started, praying to His Father. The Father must be so pleased. The Son will soon be coming home. He has always rested in His Father. Now He entrusts His spirit in death. He believed the Father to raise Him up again. Jesus chooses to die. He yields up His Spirit, almost like a child praying tenderly. The 3lst Psalm was one of the first psalms Jewish children memorized. Jesus was saying His closing prayer, quoting from that Psalm. This was the third time He quoted Scripture from the cross, as He walked through the valley of the shadow of death, like a man on a mission. He came to die–and now He does. God is conforming His children into the image of Christ. The Father would teach us to live–as Jesus died.