Our words define us. You can learn a lot about the character of a person by reading or hearing the last words they spoke. This led me to explore the seven phrases Jesus uttered while suspended on a cross on Skull Hill, just outside the city of Jerusalem.
Before reading my thoughts on the seven sayings of Jesus you need to know I’m taking the position that Jesus was totally divine and totally human. This religious tenet, while completely irrational to many, is one I believe and accept wholeheartedly. I readily admit there are times when I find it difficult to let Jesus be completely human. His sayings from the cross, I believe, reveal both his divine and human nature.
1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Since midnight on Thursday until around 9:00 a.m. on Friday Jesus had gone through six trumped-up trials and endured the excruciating ordeal of being flogged until his back became a mass of bloody pulp. He was then forced to bear his cross to Skull Hill where He was stripped of his seamless robe, nailed to his cross and left to die.
It would be logical to expect Jesus to spew out vitriolic words against the religious establishment. Instead he says, “Father, forgive them, for the know not what they do.” I don’t know about you but that reaches a level of loving I’ve yet to obtain!
2. Truly, I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
A criminal, also being crucified, said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response is instant and to the point. “Truly, I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus doesn’t stutter. He doesn’t hem and haw. His forgiveness then and now, is bountiful and without reservations.
3. “Woman, behold thy son.” (Says to John) “Behold thy mother.” (John 19:26-27)
While most of his followers hid behind locked doors a few, namely John and a cadre of Mary’s, linger nearby. In the midst of excruciating pain Jesus calls to his weeping mother saying, “Woman, behold thy son.” To John he says, “Behold thy mother!” Jesus’ concern for the welfare of his Mother is beautiful and revealing. Jesus wants his mother to know that one of his most trusted friends will be caring for her.
4. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” which means “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
For Jesus to be forsaken by God is indeed a paradox. I readily admit I don’t fully understand this phrase. In fact, I find it disturbing!
There are two classic meanings of this tear-provoking lament. One says that when Jesus voluntarily became the sin bearer for mankind that God, who is sinless, had to abandon Him. While I have no trouble believing Jesus died on my behalf I have trouble believing God, at this point, turned his back on Jesus.
I don’t believe God abandons us because of our sins nor that he abandoned His sinless Son. Abandonment, to me, is inconsistent with the very nature of God!
The second view is that Jesus is reminding his fellow Jews of a passage of scripture with which they would all be very familiar, namely Psalm 22. This psalm certainly gives a vivid description of what was currently taking place on Skull Hill.
5. “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
We sometimes forget the Christian tenet that Jesus was 100% human as well as 100% divine. Accepting his divinity is easier for most of us than accepting his humanity.
Uttered on Skull Hill around 3:00 p.m. this haunting cry for a bit of physical relief is telling. Perhaps it also refers to his spiritual thirsts.
6. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
With a triumphant shout Jesus exclaims, “It is finished!” In the original Greek, I’m told, it consists of only one word—one commonly used to mark bills “paid in full.” Unknown, even to his most devout followers, Jesus knew why he was dying.
By His death, in our behalf, Jesus gave each of us direct access to Himself. “It is finished!” No longer is there a need for endless rituals to obtain God’s forgiveness.
7. “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
When Jesus utters these words, he demonstrates a powerful humility about his relationship with his Father as well as a divine connection to God, leading to his ultimate reunification with our Father in Heaven, thus opening the path for our salvation through his life and sacrifice. Jesus “pays it all” on behalf of humanity, leading to the reunion of his spirit and body, the miracle of resurrection, three days later. The path for our salvation has been opened.
As I will talk about in my upcoming Easter Sunday blog, Jesus’ prayer is one that many of us who are afraid, sick, or facing our own death understand: “I commit myself to you, O God. In my living and in my dying, in the good times and in the bad, whatever I am and have, I place in your hands.”
Many, many years ago my first cousin and I sat on the second row at Central Baptist Church, Waycross, Georgia. I was 12 and my cousin was 11. We had come with our minds made up. Today we would profess our faith in Jesus and ask to become part of the family of believers at Central. I also remember the choir, that Easter day, singing a hymn about Jesus paying it all. I was disappointed! I wanted them to sing, “Just as I Am.” When I expressed my dismay at the song they had sung a choir member told me, “Someday you’ll understand that ‘Jesus Paid It All’ is truly a great hymn.” She was so very right! Today one of my favorite hymns is “Jesus Paid It All.”
And my heart sings, “Hallelujah! What a Savior.”
Today’s blog closes with a sobering thought. If you were conscious and able to communicate your thoughts and had only 12 hours before you would die what would you do and say?
[Click here to see the Mississippi Baptist All-State Youth Choir & Orchestra sing Jesus Paid It All.]
All scripture references from: The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press. 1973.
In these odd times of isolation during this coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been forced to turn to worshiping in our homes–perhaps connected virtually to church services, like those at my own First Baptist Church, Chattanooga. In some ways, this was a concept I had in mind when I wrote my Lenten and Advent Encounters–brief monologues for worship in church, Sunday school, or at home. If you are feeling isolated and seeking avenues for reflection and individual worship, I encourage such an approach, either from a published work or through creative thought or online dialogue with fellow church members.